This weekend saw the pre-order window open for Games Workshop’s new all-plastic Horus Heresy boxed set, with the full release on June 11th.
The Horus Heresy has been an enduring feature of the Warhammer 40,000 mythology for well over 20 years. There have been countless models and novels released that chart the fall of the Emperor at the hands of his most trusted son.
Games Workshop kindly set me a copy of the new set to take a look at. For the last week or so, I’ve been immersing myself in the lore of the setting, the rules of the game, and the contents of the box.
What Is the Horus Heresy?
This question could take an awfully long time to answer. In short, it’s a background story for the Warhammer 40,000 setting. It charts the schism of the Emperor’s beloved Space Marine legions, some 10,000 years earlier. Warhammer 30,000, then.
The first Horus Heresy stories were written over 20 years ago, created, I think, to add some context for why Space Marines might fight Space Marines. Whilst many aspects of the lore are beloved to some, to an outsider, they feel a bit clunky. Teenaged me would have loved the lore. 50-year-old me sees the ideas being stretched like butter, scraped over too much bread.
In the latest episode of the Agents of Sigmar podcast, we took a look at why The Horus Heresy has such a lasting appeal.
Mechanically, the game is also a throwback to another age. GW massively overhauled Warhammer 40,000 for its 8th edition. The Horus Heresy rules were written long before this change, and still use the old much-loved/much-maligned rules that predate the 8th edition.
The Horus Heresy rules are complicated and this box set does not have an “easy play” option. I don’t think there is any intention that this box would be your first entry into the world of Warhammer.
What’s in the Horus Heresy Box?
Until now, the Horus Heresy miniatures and rules have always been a Forge World product (GW’s specialist arm). Forge World models are made from resin rather than polystyrene. This has its own problems. Resin is much harder to work with than standard plastic. This new boxed set and subsequent releases will see the Horus Heresy’s main lines released in plastic. There has been rejoicing throughout the Imperium of Man.
I must confess, I don’t have time to play a game of the magnitude of the Horus Heresy. The three rule books I was sent (1 Core rules and 2 army faction books) reach somewhere in the region of 1000 pages and combine to be over 4 inches thick.
To give some context, a third of the core rule book is lore, and some parts of the army books are duplicated. Not only that, but Games Workshop rulebooks are always filled with glorious artwork and photos of enviably well-painted models. Not every page is filled with dense rules or multiple options for each of your fighters, but an awful lot of them are. It feels almost like you can determine everything about your fighters, right down to what they had for breakfast, and it will have some bearing on the battle.
Some people love this. I do not.
If you’re wondering why some of the army books are duplicated, it’s because one is for Loyal legions and one is for the Traitor Legions. There are 9 of each that can be used in the game. The core troop and vehicle types are the same for every legion, which is why the first third of each book is the same. After that, each tome has the specialist troop types for each heretical/loyal legion.
The army books are things of beauty and it’s great that you have everything for all the legions in one handy place. Well, two handy places. With The Horus Heresy being primarily a narrative-focused game, you will probably be buying these books as a group. Unless you’re planning on doing traitor AND a loyalist legion yourself, you won’t’ be needing both. (The retail at $70 each.)
One thing I have wondered a lot since the new announcement is whether Games Workshop has missed a trick with this release.
I can entirely understand the desire to stick with the existing ruleset. The Horus Heresy has a loyal following, one that would have been outraged had the new edition made wholesale changes. Nevertheless, wargames rules have evolved for the better in the last 20 years and there has been much innovation in the arena, particularly in the last 5 years. This game could have been made considerably more accessible with a new up to date ruleset.
Personally, I would love to have seen a lighter version of the rules, with fewer options, probably with fewer models, so that the game was much easier to pick up and play. I would never have gone “all-in” on something like this, but an easy access, small-scale game would definitely have piqued my interest, and probably made me more likely to jump on the Horus Heresy train.
For me, it demonstrates, yet again, that GW is a company much better at creating settings and miniatures than they are rules for playable games. That said, judging by the hype and interest in this box, I am probably in the minority.
Painting Those Beautiful Models.
As an art project, the Horus Heresy box is a wonder. The miniatures’ designers have beautifully captured the retro-feel of miniatures that are created to look 10,000 years older than their “modern” counterparts. The Horus Heresy aesthetic is my favorite part of the system, and it’s easy to imagine just buying these figures to paint them.
It’s my intention to build and paint each of the Mark VI marines to look like one of each of the original 18 legions. This will still leave me with quite a few models to paint, so after that, I’ll have to see where my imagination takes me!
For now, I’ve painted one of each marine in the core troops in the box. You are given decals for the Imperial Fists and Sons of Horus, so that’s what I painted. I used a painting guide from Mediocre Hobbies, a channel devoted to easy paint schemes, that I highly recommend and the Warhammer YouTube channel for inspiration.
Horus Heresy Is Here to Stay.
Games Workshop has clearly put lots of development time into this product. The box is not a limited release, which is great for those who aren’t quite sure whether they want to invest just yet, and for those for whom the cost of living crisis means that spending $299 on a new game might take longer to justify/save for. (Though you’ll pick it up cheaper [around $254] from an independent retailer.)
The Horus Heresy box does represent good value, based on the individual contents. There’s a lot of plastic in here as well as the hefty rulebook. Of course, GW prices are notoriously high to begin with, so whether it’s “worth” the asking price is going to be a personal decision.
As ever, the quality of the physical product is first rate, but this is potentially tempered by its huge complicated ruleset. This is a premium product made for long term gamers. Gamers with lots of time on their hands.
Just One More Thing…
I had a silly idea when I was working on my Horus Heresy content. Possibly it should have stayed on the cutting room floor. The Chaos Gods make work for idle hands…