Here's a simple guide on how to become a better 40k player, and while I'll focus on 40k for the purposes of this article, this can actually apply to any game you play. If you're content with just getting a single fun, casual game in once in while, then by all means keep having fun! This article is aimed at those players who may be struggling with how to win more games without becoming the dreaded "WAAC" (Win At All Costs) player. So grab a pen, some paper, and get ready for some education!
1. The first and most important thing you need to know when getting into any game is THE RULES. Read them from cover to cover, in their entirety, at least once. DO IT. It doesn't matter how big the rulebook is, or how confusing the phrasing is. Just try to get through one complete reading of it including all of the fluff, flavor text, and designer's notes. This also applies to your Codex, as well as any other books that you absolutely need to play the game. While you're doing it, feel free to take notes on things you want to look up later, or things you need to go over again. If you particularly like any of the stories and want to build an army around them, then take notes as to the page number and concept, and then keep reading. One of the biggest issues players have in competitive play is not knowing how their army works or how their opponent's army works. I've seen it too many times, where a player will ask another player a simple rules question, and they will even have the rulebook in front of them. For casual gamers, it gets much worse and can cause quite the headache when both players have their faces planted in rulebooks, trying to figure out something that could have been resolved immediately if both players had read the rules. Here's a quote that leads into my next point:
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle" -Sun Tzu2. Once you've gotten a good understanding of the game's rules and your army's rules, it's not a bad idea to go ahead and at the very least leaf through the rest of the army books. You don't have to memorize everything right away, but ultimately you will want a firm understanding of what every unit in the game does. Unfortunately, points one and two don't work without point three:
3. PRACTICE. Play no less than two games a week. In a single night (six hours out at your local game shop) you should be able to play two games of up to 2,000 points to completion. If you can't do that due to not having enough players or time constraints, then just try to get in a single game but you should try to get in two if possible. A single game a week is not going to help you master the rules and the mechanics of the game system and certainly not your army's rules. There are so many situations that may spring up in a game that you might not have considered, and that type of realization will happen multiple times a night as you set up your army against all different kinds of threats. This also leads me into my next point:
4. Play against DIFFERENT players and different armies. Don't show up to your local game store week after week and play Joe Blow and his Space Marines exclusively. You need to play against as many different opponents and as many different armies as possible. Not only will this help you develop knowledge about how the different armies work but you'll also be learning the in's and out's of your own army, or at least the list you're bringing. Yet another perfect segway to another point:
5. Play the SAME LIST at least five times in a row for casual play, and 20 times in a row for competitive play! Some of the best players in the world play with the same army list over 20 times before they change anything, because they're trying to learn what their list is weak to and what it's strong against. Changing even a few things in your list each week won't let you learn how the army you built operates in every situation. Most things in life are learned through repetition, and this game is no exception. Maybe your bike units work better for you when you're being super-aggressive with them, or maybe they performed amazingly when held back to bolster other units. Once you have a feel for how your list operates, then it's okay to try out a unit change or a couple of wargear changes here and there (though this time you don't need to play another five games because you've already got those initial games down). If you feel the need to make an entirely new list, go ahead, but remember to do a ton of playtesting with it!
6. Don't be afraid to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire! What I mean by this is don't be afraid to play the competitive guys at your game store once you have done all of the above. Don't worry, if you're at this point then you should be able to give them a challenge and you'd be surprised how much fun the game can be in a competitive environment, whether it's at the store or at a big tournament. Give it a shot; play some competitive games and see how you like it but remember, play against different people and different lists before you make any decisions!
And that's the very basics that will certainly help you become a better player. Know your army's rules, know the game's rules, practice, be observant, learn, and adapt. Happy gaming!