Every now and then I come across a game that makes me sit up and pay attention. And every now and then I come across a game that makes me want to cower under my duvet with a bottle of aspirin. Horus Heresy from Fantasy Flight Games kind of does both.
Let me explain; Horus Heresy is a massive, ambitious, complicated, strategic wargame that takes all the elements of Risk, a CCG and Epic and smashes them together in the wargaming equivalent of the Hadron super-collider.
But, first thing’s first, for those that haven’t come across it, Horus Heresy is a strategy board game recreation of the siege of Terra at the climax of the Horus Heresy in all its various stages.
So what’s in the box? Well, unlike Level 7…bloody shit loads and much of it is plastic. The box is also very cleverly designed so it keeps everything nice and tidy even after you’ve punched it all out.
Aside from the massive board you get a rule book, an utterly brilliant scenario book, pre-painted structures, piles of playing pieces, a million counters and decks upon decks of cards. The structures, although painted to a basic standard look pretty good and certainly make the board interesting to look at, if a bit fiddly to set up.
And so begins the list of things that are fiddly and make want to cower at the feet of Fantasty Flight Games and beg them to make it stop. There’s a lot of prep when playing Horus Heresy. Event cards have to be stacked along with order, attack and bombardment decks prepared. And, if you’re feeling cheeky, Hero combat cards as well. Because you get to use Primarchs. And the Emperor. And shit. And yes, you can kill them.
In many ways Horus Heresy is a lot like Risk in so much as there are territories that must be conquered and both sides have armies with which to crush the other with. But the whole thing is just far more involved. For a start, orders are given which dictates the kind of move made and can offer up bonuses. Some are stupidly over powered – one springing to mind that allows you to kill any unit in the contested zone. So you can top a Titan without having to roll a dice. But anyway, depending on how you choose to play that order impacts on the rate at which the initiative track progresses, which in turn dictates who gets/retains the initiative and therefore presses the momentum of their attack. But there is an added bonus for the Imperial player that if the track runs out they win, it representing reinforcements turning up to help the besieged defenders. Which strikes me as open to abuse, albeit at the cost of the lives of your men. But it has been well established that life is cheap in the 41st Millennium. However, the Imperial player rather suffers as members of its Imperial army can turn traitor. This is on top of all the other models the Chaos player gets. So if you’re a jammy bastard like me you’re going to do very well out of it.
Similar to Risk, combats are resolved by attempting to beat one another in waves, although it’s all done with cards rather than dice rolls. And like Risk you keep going until one side is annihilated or withdraws. Where it differs is, however, is that units in Horus Heresy have wounds which means that Space Marines are fucking horrid to go up against unless you’re…a Titan and Imperial Army units go pop more frequently than bubble wrap in a room full of people with ADHD. Which is exactly as it should be. It’s good because it keeps the focus exactly where it should be which is the Legiones Astartes beating the living daylights out of each other. If I’m honest, the Primarchs and the Emperor don’t feel that important in the game despite the pretty power contribution they make in the game, but I think that’s largely to do with it being card based. No fist fulls of dice for you sunny Jim.
That said, because of all the cards, the various ways in which combat can occur, all the back and forth and the ever-changing initiative it’s can feel a bit of a faff. And as combat is pretty much the point that’s not brilliant. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It does. Bludgeoningly so and often times victories can have a rather impressive ripple effect. It just takes some getting use to and I think the important thing to remember when playing Horus Heresy is that it is not meant to be a quick or simple game.
When you sit down for a game of this bad boy you’re in it for the day/weekend and tactics have to be considered as a weak point in your line can quickly be exploited thanks to the aforementioned complexity of combat. Shit can get very real, very quickly, and you’ll really wish it hadn’t.
It’s also very important to remember that it’s an incredibly pretty game. The board is awesome, the counters faithfully produced (although the wound counters are a bit naff) and the building inserts are basic but look brilliant when it’s all together. The loyalist playing pieces look cool, the Chaos ones are, as one would expect, the same as the loyalist ones but with spikes. And are therefore a bit disappointing. The rule book is nicely presented and makes sense, which is the first book that I’ve read in a while that gets to make that claim. Just remember it’s a fussy rule set that demands many things of you so you will be reading it through at least twice and then again during your first couple of games.
The campaign book is brilliant. Aside from having well thought out and characterful scenarios which consistently ups the ante until it’s going mental in all directions, it has a fantastic history section at the back which basically gives you the story of events in brief. But it’s very well written and sets you up nicely for the games.
Is Horus Heresy easy? No. Is it perfect? No. Is it a brilliant fun game with legions of Space Marines and Titans stomping about the place with lots of nail-biting tactical decisions to be made? Yes, yes, yes. I’m not going to lie, it’s not for everyone as you have to be patient in understanding the game let alone playing it. But if what you want is something that’ll test you tactically as well as give you an excuse to hang our with your best made all day then you can’t really go far wrong.
Horus Heresy is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.49