Today I'm going to take some time to talk about all the fun stuff that Forge World has done with the Horus Heresy. In this article I'm going to go over the back ground of the heresy very briefly for those not familiar with the fluff and for those that may not be familiar with 40k at all but find themselves reading this. I'm also going to talk about the items that forge world has put out already for it and some of the things that they've openly discussed are coming in the pipeline. Lastly, and these items are in no particular order, I'm going to talk about some of the common misconceptions I've heard from people about how the game plays and other points I've had brought up to me.
So lets start with the "fluff" or back ground of the heresy. The game we lovingly call Warhammer 40,000 or 40k for short, really has its origins in approximately the year 30,000 give or take a couple hundred years. The events that went on in 30k were really what sets the tone for the grim dark future we call 40k. In 30k the emperor of mankind is very much fully alive and essentially kicking the butts of everyone. He decides to make these 20 beings called primarchs. Primarchs are super humans that the emperor creates in a lab in order to lead humanity on a grand crusade through all of known space in order to reclaim all the lost worlds of humanity, and in order to pretty much wipe out any species that isn't human. Something strange happens and these 20 primarchs get snatched away before they are fully matured in the lab, and they get spread throughout space as infants. The emperor then creates the space marines from the incomplete genetic remains of the now disappeared primarchs. The space marines are no where near as powerful as the primarchs, yet the remaining primarch DNA still makes the marines far stronger, faster, and tougher than a normal human being. Long story short, the emperor creates 20 legions of these space marines, each legion based on the genetic code of a single primarch, then goes searching for his lost primarchs/sons. The emperor eventually finds each of the primarchs and lets each primarch take command of his own legion in order to go stomping around the galaxy to rescue lost human worlds and kill all the aliens they can find.
At some point roughly half of the now 18 legions (2 primarchs and their legions were destroyed for unspecified reasons) end up deciding they don't like the emperor anymore and turn traitor. The leader of the traitor primarchs and legions is called Horus and thus you get the "Horus Heresy." Forge World in its Horus Heresy stuff is allowing players to recreate the awesome battles that took place between the traitor primarchs/space marine legions, and the emperors with his loyal primarchs/space marine legions. For those that don't know in the end Horus gets killed, the traitors run away into warp space and become the chaos marines we all know and love in 40k. The emperor almost gets killed in the civil war and put into the golden throne to pretty much end up as some kind of soul eating zombie that can't ever leave the throne. Thus the heresy pretty much leads to the stagnation and slow crawl to death of the imperium of mankind that we find in 40k.
Obviously that is the briefest summary I can give you and I have left out literally tons of information for the sake of simplicity. You can grasp the significance of the heresy though and the spiral of events it causes later. Without 30k you have no 40k. Feel free to check out any of the Horus Heresy novels by the Black Library for thousands of pages of additional information on the heresy back ground. I think they've surpassed 20 novels in the series at this point. Also 40k lexicanum, I believe I have that right, has a ton of stuff on it as well if you google search their page.
So what has Forge World done to bring this epic event to life for us on a table top near you? Well they're releasing a series of campaign books that go over the really pivotal moments and battles that took place during the heresy. Thus far they have 2 books out with a 3rd one coming this summer. You can think of these as your typical codex books with a ton of additional material. Instead of having rules for just 1 army each of these books gives you rules for several of the space marine legions as well as mechanicum forces. They also give you the detailed flow of the battles in them and give you rules and a campaign format to recreate them. Each pivotal moment or battle is going to be done in a trilogy of books, at least that's the plan that Forge World has for now. So the first 3 books, called Betrayal, Massacre, and Extermination each go over all the events that took place in the Istvann system. That's where the heresy kicks off. The first book goes over how the traitor legions had to cull their ranks of anyone that would try to remain loyal to the emperor. Massacre goes over the battles that took place when the emperor sends some of his "loyal" legions to destroy the "known" traitor legions while they're still in the Istvann system only to have some of the "loyal" legions also turn traitor. Extermination will detail the basic, well extermination, of several of the truly loyal space marine legions at the hands of the now reveiled traitor marines. These books do allow you to make some truly amazing space marine legions but we can get into that a little later.
So what else besides these truly amazing leather bound tomes has Forge World made? Well they obviously have a ton of heresy era space marine stuff they're made. Thus far they've come out with specific units for 6 of the 18 legions, special characters from 4 of the legions, and 5 of the primarchs. They also have a ton of vehicles and various marine units that you can paint in whatever legion colors you want to. They only have specific rules out for 8 of the legions currently but you can make a generic legion army for whatever legion you prefer. You just won't get any unique units specific to that legion. So for example Forge World has these death shroud terminators that are specific to the death guard legion. So if you want to play say raven guard you can't use those guys, only the death guard get them. You do however have access to all the generic units that every legion does. So for example everyone can take tactical squads or contemptor dreadnoughts. They will obviously cover all the legions/primarchs over time, it is just going to take a while to get there. The heresy is a truly massive civil war in scale.
They've also made the mechanicum as I mentioned before. These are essentially the guys that keep all the technology running in the imperium of man. They're also talked about how they do have their own armed forces but up until this point Games Workshop as a company has not given them an army. Since they were part of the heresy Forge World, thank God, has finally given them models and rules to play them. All the legions have access to them as allies or you can of course use them on their own. The models for these guys are pretty impressive. Lots of robots and guys with big guns for arms. The none robot models are kind of borg like except with robes added. So think cyborg priest with big guns. They have mechanicum tanks and all kinds of things planned for them in the future. Actually this week if you were subscribed to Forge World's email list, they showed a sneak peak of the first mechanicum only vehicle. Its a tank with a lightning cannon. The rules for the model will be available this summer, while the model itself will be available around the same time. Based of the little bit of back ground they gave on the tank in the email, I suspect the rules for it will be very similar to how necron vehicles work. Its armor is low but it has some kind of shields that will make the armor value functionally higher. I'm pretty sure it will also be open topped just like all the necron vehicles.
Now let's discuss the actual game play and some of the misconceptions I've heard people have. The game is mostly marine on marine crime, with the mechanicum thrown in. So if you've ever played a game of 40k with or against space marines its pretty much the same game. All of rules that apply in 40k apply in the Horus Heresy. In fact it says in the beginning of the books that you will need a copy of the warhammer 40,000 rule book in order to play. The only differences are that marines don't have "And they shall know no fear," and that the units are different in their size and equipment they can take. For instance, marines still have tactical squads but they can't combat squad, they come in squads of 10 to 20 and none of them get a heavy or special weapon. That's pretty much how all the squads work. In the heresy era the units all had very specialized rolls, so for example you still have devastator squads and they still have between 5 and 10 guys, but every single guy has a heavy weapon and they all have the same gun. So if you take a 10 man devastator squad with lascannons all 10 have a lascannon to include the Sergeant. That may sound awesome, and it is, but you have to pay for all those lascannons and you lose the flexibility that comes from being able to handle multiple types of targets with one squad. Instead your marines are going to have very defined roles and don't ask them to do something they're not equipped for.
The legions also don't have chapter tactics, obviously because they had not been broken down into the smaller chapters yet. Instead what Forge World has done is given you some additional rules, called "rites of war," you can opt to use provided you follow certain restrictions on what you can take. So the emperor's children rite of war gives your primary detachment +1 inch of normal movement, run movement, and charge distance on the first turn of the game. They also must pick between 1 and 3 elite/fast attack units to hold in reserve. They write down on a piece of paper on what turn those units are arriving, either turn 2, 3, or 4. Those hidden units arrive as normal on the specified turn and gain the outflank special rule. The restrictions this rite of war places is that you can't take units that have the immobile, heavy, or slow and purposeful special rules. You must take a legion champion as a second compulsory hq choice, you may not take a fortification or any allied space marines from a different legion, and lastly if the mission being played has the slay the warlord secondary objective, if you fail to slay your opponents warlord the opponent gains +1 victory point. So each of the legions will have stuff like that which you can take if you're willing to deal with the downside. Some of them are pretty good, the iron hands have one that lowers the strength of any shooting attack by 1.
Another thing that's different is you don't use the missions from the main rule book. They have their own set of missions and deployment zones. They even have "historic" missions that recreate a specific battle that took place. There is a deployment zone where one side sets up in all 4 corners and the opponent is in the middle.
So how is the balance? If you've ever played a game of 40k you quickly learn that as a game it simply is not balanced very well. Guess what, 30k is very balanced. The reason for this is because everyone has access to the same equipment with the exception of those legion specific units and special characters. You can't really complain that your opponent has a better codex when he is using the same one you are. Also expect the games to be in a bigger point range. When you can take 10 guys with lascannons the points tend to add up rapidly. So really 2000 points for Horus Heresy is like 1500 for regular 40k. You really need to be at 2500 to have a decent amount of physical models. Really though if you're looking for a fun game with balance you can't go wrong with the heresy.
To bring it back to simplicity, its the same game with some difference in the flavor. A moral check still happens at the same point it would in a normal game of 40k. Charging is still 2d6 inches. Cover saves still work the same, etc. Your marines just don't auto regroup anymore if they break. They can however always attempt to regroup no matter how many casualties they've taken at their normal leadership.
Maybe your still on the fence about the heresy stuff after all that. Well the good news is that if you already have a space marine army most of your stuff is usable. Marines are marines, bolt guns are bolt guns, predators are well you get the point. You can't take a melta gun in your tactical squad but chances are you can find another regular space marine to fill in that 10 man squad with bolters. They do have some fun units and vehicles that you probably won't own, but you can still use almost everything you already have. With some simply clarifications on what is what I'm sure your opponent would have no problem allowing you to use some stuff as proxies. Plus you can always just pick up a couple of those units and vehicles that you don't have. You have an ultra marines army, great. Pick up a sicaran battle tank, maybe a contemptor dreadnought or two and poof you have a legion force. Oh and yes quite a few of the vehicles can be purchased as squads. So if you have 3 predators sitting around you can take all 3 for only 1 force organization chart hit.
The last thing I want to hit on here is the price of playing the heresy stuff. The biggest hit you're going to take is getting the books, because again if you have a marine army already you don't need to spend an extensive amount of money on getting units. The books I believe run about 150 each once you factor in shipping. I really do believe they're worth the price and everyone that has seen the ones I own in person has said they are really amazing books. Once you get the books though it won't cost you that much more to play. If you don't have a marine army already and still want to play but not invest a ton of money, ebay and used models are your friend. There is a store here in Cleveland that has a ton, literally a ton, of space marine stuff. Ebay is also always a great place to find stuff on the cheap if you don't mind used stuff. And as a additional bonus to getting any of the heresy specific units, I'm sure you would be able to use them in casual games against normal 40k armies. After all prior to half the legions turning traitor they were out in space killing eldar, orks, and any other number of races.
Hopefully I've given you some things to ponder about. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I will answer as best I can. Its an amazing this forge world has committed itself to doing, and while I know the xenos lovers out there are not fans of all the marine love, its still a vital piece of back ground to the 40k universe.