Thoughts On: Horus Heresy

Posted by James (admin) on September 1st, 2010

Horus Heresy is FantasyFlight Game’s new version of the 1993 game set in the Warhammer 40k universe where the two players fight out the pivotal moment where Warmaster Horus turns traitor and tries to destroy the Emperor in an epic battle raging around the Imperial Palace and on the traitor’s flagship in orbit.

This isn’t a full review because Horus Heresy is a big game and, after a couple of plays, I’m not sure I’ve seen enough of it yet to have a final opinion but I do have some initial thoughts and concerns.  (Please note that I haven’t played the original game so this just covers the new version.)

The large game board shows the landscape around the Imperial Palace, the Traitor’s flagship, and a smaller strategic map where order cards can be laid.  The landscape section has several holes cut in the board to allow plastic formed craters and fortifications to stick through.  These look great and make it really easy to see where the fortified areas are.  The figures and components look great as you’d expect from a FFG game.

Players use order cards to move their units and attack, as well as add new units and other effects.  Almost everything the player does takes time which means the player moves their maker along the initiative track an appropriate amount.  The player who is behind on the initiative track is the player whose turn it is (similar to Thebes by Queen Games).  Playing an order card from your hand costs 0-3 time depending on the order.  However, a player can spend 1 time to place an order card on the strategic map (there’s one pile for each region) and then pay 1 time to play one of their cards on the strategic map (if it’s on the top of a pile).  So, players can pre-load the board with orders (although their opponent may cover them with their own orders).  Players can also spend 1 time to move the top card of a stack to the bottom, and spend 1 time to draw an order card from their pile or their reserve.

To resolve combat, players draw a number of combat cards depending upon the ranks of their units and then take turns playing cards to cause and block damage.  More cards can be played in each combat round and some special effects can be executed if the type of unit named in the effect is involved in the combat.

During the game some of the Imperial forces can change side during the game and are immediately under the control of the Traitor player.  A player wins the game if they control all 4 spaceport areas simultaneously or kill the Emperor/Horus.  Also, the Emperor wins if time runs out.  Like most bigger FantasyFlight games, the individual rules aren’t especially complex, but there are quite a lot of them.

I really want to like Horus Heresy as it could deliver tactical warfare without being a heavy wargame.  The board, cards and figures look great, plus it has some good mechanics.  The initiative track balances taking one big action with several small ones.  Pre-loading the strategic map can let you execute orders more cheaply but only if you tip-off the other player where you may take future action.  But, even with all these good things, I feel frustrated.

Efficiency Required
The main issue is that it’s hard to do much with each order card, especially as it often takes one card to move units and another to attack.  So, every order you play needs to count and work in harmony with your other orders, especially as the game lasts a limited amount of time.  This means a good knowledge of the game and its orders is important in advance, plus the order cards in your hand need to match what you want to do.

I can see that units need to be used in harmony with each other too, as well as in harmony with the order cards, to get as much out of every card as possible.  This seems especially important for the Traitor player as their units are quite diverse and need to be used in combination to be effective and to get the most from combat special effects.

The Importance of Luck
I think luck plays more of a part than I would like it to.  The 10 event cards in a game have big effects and some benefit the current player which means just one player could benefit from all of those.

Also, corruption of Imperial troops can really swing a game and this is random.  When I played the Traitor, only 3 units turned traitor in the whole game; whereas, many more did when I played the Emperor (and those guarding a spaceport at the time sealed my doom).  Now, maybe it’s a lesson for me not to guard a spaceport with units that might turn traitor, but it shows me the luck factor in the amount of units that turn traitor can vary wildly.

Combat cards seem less affected by the luck of the draw.  A weak hand of cards will be balanced with having stronger cards later because you’ll go through the deck one or more times.  Also, you can retreat from a battle if you know you can’t win a fight with the cards you drew.  However, there is luck involved in the order cards because you need the orders in your hand to match what you’re trying to accomplish.

Pre-Loading the Strategic Map
I like the way order cards can be laid on the strategic map but I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort.  As it costs 1 point to place a card and 1 point to execute it, the strategic map only makes 3 point orders cheaper (and that’s only if you don’t need to spend 1 point to bury an opponents card that’s on top of yours).  Therefore, the map’s key use seems to be to execute multiple orders in quick succession and even that’s difficult, especially if your card is covered.

So, the strategic map seems may be a distraction and it can easily be a time sink which plays into the Emperor’s hands; however, if the Emperor uses it, the Traitor needs to hinder them.  (I have wondered if it would be better without being able to cover each other’s cards as the cheaper cost is still at the expense of telling the opponent where you may be taking an action next.)

I do think Horus Heresy has good points too or I would have given up on it already.  It just seems like it’s an unforgiving game and you need to be efficient and knowledgeable to make it work well.  Maybe I just prefer games that allow you to mess up a bit along the way so you can still have fun during your first plays.  I expect to try Horus Heresy again; however, it’s starting to slide down my priority list as I don’t get to play larger, 2-player games often and I don’t want to use those occasions on games that aren’t as satisfying as others I own.


[Played with 2 players]

2 Responses to “Thoughts On: Horus Heresy”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Hello James,

    I bought Horus Heresy some time ago, played it twice : one with the traitor’s forces, one with the imperial ones.

    With the Imperial forces, I had to use orders directly from my hand. I never had time to pre-load orders. But, still, we had lot of action. Big battles (half of the Blood Angels, 3 Legio Titanicus, some armoured against Fulgrim, half his Legion, a Chaos Titan Legion, demons, cultists, warbands…), great manoeuvers, and an imperial victory within the two-third of the initiative track (control of the 4 spaceports).

    With the Chaos forces, I had the initiative, I had a precise plan. So I used the pre-load orders. Scary ^^
    Sometime, you want to use a card from your hand, but then you see it will cost you 3 init points, and you know that you will have to face at least two good imperial order card before gaining init again…So you pre-order the offensive for later use. And you still have the initiative. So you prepare the next move, while your opponent has no idea of what’s in your mind…

    The final battle saw Horus, leading forces from all dark gods against the last of the spaceport, defended by the Emperor himself, his Custodians, and several others imperial forces – and this, at the end of the init track.

    After these two plays, I really thing that the system used in the game permit sufficient movement and battles, even if you can’t “move and attack”. It is still possible to battle for the 4 spaceports, to try to invade the palace, etc.


  2. James (admin) Says:

    Hi Vince,

    Thanks for letting me know about your experiences. Sounds like you’ve had more active games than we have so far which is encouraging as it reinforces my hopes that there’s a good game to be had within Horus Heresy. We found we buried each other’s pre-loaded order cards quite a lot so many got stuck. Hopefully I’ll get to play it again soon. Sounds like you had a great finale.



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