Friday, June 18, 2010

Horus Heresy, brief thoughts

So me and Rob have played a few games of the recently released Horus Heresy from Fantasy Flight. Again, there are great in-depth reviews out there, so I'm just going to hit on a few points.

First off, I've never played the old version of this game. This version apparently is very different, and has a very different 'feel'.

The Good:
  • Great components. The little miniatures are fairly nice, although unpainted (but that's not a problem). The cards are nice and easy to read. The board is pretty well laid out (with one small issue). Tokens are nice and thick. You definitely get a lot of great components here.
  • The characters are 'characterful'. Great description, right. More specifically, the primarchs really give you a feel for just how incredible they are by both their special rules and the fact they get extra (and sometimes cool) cards. Jaghatai Khan, for instance, has a rule to let him and White Scar units become very mobile and get a pretty good attacking threat range. Mortarian causes opponent units to become weaker. Things like that. I find it very cool.
  • The combat system. I was really unhappy with this after the first game, but after a few more plays, I've grown to like it. The strength of your forces determines how many cards you get each battle. The cards are both for attack and defense, but have fun abilities that really make the battles individually tactical and interesting. Plus, the cards can go after your opponent's heroes in some cases, which is just a cool feel, especially when you get one of them to die. Overall, the combat system works very well.
  • Good re-play. 6 Scenarios (mainly just different set-ups), and the games have actually all unfolded differently. Of course, it's all about assaulting the Imperial Palace, and there's only so much you can do different each time, but so far it hasn't gotten old.

The Bad:

  • Seems too static. There are large parts of your army that just generally have no impact on the game. As the Imperial Player, my tech-priests never bother moving. Neither do most of the people in the palace until it finally gets assaulted. Imperial Army and Tank units don't really move a whole lot either. For Chaos, you're dropping units all over the board, but aside from one or two large pushes, you aren't doing a whole lot of actual maneuver either. I've never seen Horus leave the Vengeful Spirit (which fits the background, but is kind of boring). If you have single units of something (for either side) somewhere on the board, good bet their contribution to the game is over.
  • Victory conditions. Killing Horus or the Emperor wins the game. That part is fine with me. It's the other two I have issues with, since they seem to be the only ones that come into play. You can win by owning all 4 spaceports (after the midway point of the game), or the Imperials win by default if the game goes too long (the other Space Marine legions succeed in getting back to Terra in time to overwhelm the heretics). The time constraint makes it really hard on the Chaos player... too hard, I think, given the mechanics. Your actions (and a GOOD chunk of Imperial battle cards) cause you to get closer to that game end. The Imperial player really should just be going for this every time. And it's so easy! You win one major battle against the Chaos player, and you're set. He's not going to have time to prepare another major assault. The Chaos player, however, seems to want to go for the Spaceports. They tend to be fairly lightly defended early on, so if he can take them and hold them, he can win. I just don't think it makes for an interesting game- two of the spaceports start in the Chaos player's hands, and he'll usually get a 3rd one really early. Then it's a battle for a single space on the board. Whoo. How fun is that, really?
  • Balance. I personally think the game is too hard on the Chaos player in most of the scenarios. You can't move around the map easily, and you can sometimes have quite a way to go. And you're on a time crunch. That's harsh. I understand that Chaos lost, but this is a board game, and there are a some scenarios I just don't think Chaos has much hope, and after one or two bad things happen to them, I think it becomes impossible too easily.
  • One small component complaint. Some areas on the board are just way too small to hold the things they are going to need to hold. Parts of the Imperial Palace, specifically. Setting up 3 Imperial Fist units + Rogal Dorn in one of the smaller Imperial Palace areas just creates a jumble of things. If there's major fighting in the area, it quickly becomes overly crowded, and hard to keep straight sometimes. Seems like they could've done that a little better.

The 'I don't get it':

  • Imperials can build reinforcements... but there never seems to be a point to doing so. Imperial Army/Tank units don't really have a whole lot of use, so building more of them doesn't really help you, especially since you'll need to use those orders on other things, like trying to get things into position. I built a Titan in a game... but it didn't go anywhere (see above). What's the point of having all those reinforcement cards, when the reinforcements start in positions they aren't likely to leave?
  • The Vengeful Spirit. In the 40K background, the Horus Heresy culminates with the Emperor, two of the primarchs and several terminator squads teleporting there, and results in the death of Horus and Sanguinius. You can do it right away in this game most of the time (the card for the Imperials to do this starts in your opening hand a few scenarios), but there really doesn't seem to be too much point. Yeah, killing Horus or the Emperor wins the game, but why bother when it's easier to go the other routes?
  • Co-existence battles. I just don't get these rules. If, for some reason, you and your opponent's forces start in the same area, you fight, but the Imperial player counts as attacking, and therefore the Chaos player get to choose to play his card first or second. Usually co-existence battles happen at the beginning of the game (when some elements are turned traitor), or whenever daemons appear because of cards. So generally, we're talking small forces on each side. One card to one card fights generally are in the favor of the first player to play a card, and that's what happens. You're forced to fight all these fights that you get to die in. Oh course, it helps the Chaos player, and they need it, but it still seems like a slightly strange rule.
  • Yeah, it's a 40K game. Not all of FFG's customers are 40K fans. Do you know what Khorne's legion is called, the name of their primarch, and what color their minis would be (out of red, blue, purple, and green?). Yeah, I do too. Most people don't. Why not have a play-aid to point this out?

Overall, the game is very enjoyable (despite the fact I wrote more about the negatives than the positives). You really get into it once you start playing it, and you don't think about all the negatives. Maybe more plays will get rid of my feelings on the parts I don't find so attractive, and in that case, the game will only get better in my eyes.


  1. Good to hear it is a fun game. I love the idea of refighting the siege of earth without investing $50000 in 40k models.

    I will give this a try sometime if I can find someone to play with as the 40k background is so rich and I always like getting a vibe for the big players like primarchs.

  2. Yeah, it's definitely worth playing, the game mechanics themselves are fantastic!

    I don't think you'll have a hard time finding someone, it's pretty well regarded, and really doesn't take that long to play!

  3. Never mind that there are good reviews out there -- we'd like you to write one for our strategy board games page, if you're interested?

  4. That's very kind, but I don't think I'd have enough to say to really give you a worthwhile review.

    Real reviews are made significantly more difficult by the fact that one really has to add more information (like a basic basic explanation of mechanics). I'm not sure I can explain them well enough to make a good review, sadly.