The Horus Heresy and You: A Guide to the 31st Millennium

By Martynas Klimas 05 Sep 2017 1

If you were to browse Games Workshop website today, you would notice that the Space Marines have 138 products listed for them. You would also spot separate listings for various flavors of Space Marine: Space Wolves and other famous chapters, Deathwatch, Grey Knights… Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard) is the second most numerous faction, with 75. GW wants you to play Space Marines and chances are that you do. If memory serves, polls show that around 50% of Warhammer 40K players play Marines. That’s why Forgeworld’s Horus Heresy line is the perfect GW game: it’s all Marines, all the time.

Forgeworld is GW’s boutique branch; the place you shop at if you think that regular GW isn’t expensive enough. Meanwhile, the Horus Heresy is the pivotal event of 40K lore, as it was Imperium’s first and most devastating civil war, when fully half of the Space Marine legions turned to Chaos. HH was thought up back in the day when they wanted to have an all Titan (giant robot) game, but only had sculpts for one faction. They declared it to be civil war, and presto, those sculpts fit two factions. A few years ago, Forgeworld decided to spin-off its own version of the 40K ruleset, Battles in the Age of Darkness, set during the Horus Heresy (sometimes called Warhammer 30K as it happened 10,000 years ago) and people loved it. It’s also super expensive, else it wouldn’t be FW.


Ideally, you won’t see any of the units depicted in your game!

If you want to dip your toes into the Age of Darkness, aim small. To that end, you have two great options: Zone Mortalis and Tactical Strike. Zone Mortalis is a game mode where you soldiers are battling out in the claustrophobic and catastrophic environments of space ship boarding actions, crumbling bunkers and so on. Collecting a 1,000 point list for a Zone Mortalis game is a relative breeze. By the virtue of the format, ZM removes a lot of unpleasant gameplay experiences: you’re unlikely to have your troops demolished without even leaving their deployment zone (as line of sight is massively constrained) and there are fewer things that remove your troops without any saves (ZM bans anything bigger than a dreadnaught).

Tactical Strike (also known as Victory is Vengeance) changes the game a lot more. Based on the campaign rules of the same name from Horus Heresy book II or III, it’s a skirmish game for individually acting Marines (the rules explicitly forbid human factions). Depending on whether you go by main or Adepticon rules, you will have up to three commanding badasses in your force that will stay with you for the entire campaign and even suffer consequences of failure. Meanwhile, the gameplay is much faster – and more tactical. Marines can get pinned by shooting that doesn’t even hurt them, it’s great! The forces are also a lot smaller than you would need for a regular HH game (it’s said that HH is actually mostly geared for 2,000+ points games).


I have the unpopular opinion that your game shouldn’t look nor feel like a knife fight in a phone booth.

But let’s say that you decided to give Zone Mortalis a spin. Presumably, you already have an idea of how to build a claustrophobic battlefield out of empty tea boxes and instant ramen bowls. How do you choose who to play? This part is easy: find your favorite Space Marine Legion! Look at their play style, their history, their color scheme (I collect Death Guard because they’re easy to paint), their Primarch, whatever – 1d4chan is a good place to brush up on both fluff and crunch! You should also choose whether you’ll be a Traitor or a Loyalist, as this impacts campaign games. While we know where the loyalties of the legions at large lie, HH swears that even Loyalist legions had their own traitors (which famously happened to the Dark Angels) while Traitors had Loyalist elements in their midst (Istvaan III wouldn’t have happened otherwise).

Now that you are set on a Legion, you should build an army list. Use the aforementioned 1d4chan to learn about the crunchy bits and download the free version of Battlescribe for the ease of building the list. At 1,000 points – a game small enough that don’t have to roll for random warlord trait - you’re likely to have a cheap HQ in the shape on Centurion Consul (extremely customizable) and some troops. Your force type should be Zone Mortalis Combatant – it’s actually not that far removed from a regular Force Organization Chart. Where stuff gets really fun is Rites of War: sometime legion-specific ways to organize an army that toys with your FOC.


Force Organization Charts make for boring images, so here’s some Space Egyptian Sword Fightan’ Wizards

Two Rites are geared exactly for Zone Mortalis. Chosen Duty is the safest and the blandest one, most useful for legion that have yet to have special units released for them. You get to take Veteran Tactical Marines (who play similarly to souped up Tactical Marines from 40K) become Troops (read: numerous), freeing up those Elite choices for something more fun (like Apothecaries – I have a weird understanding of fun). Veterans let you bring Marine squads with special weapons (Legion Tacticals, the simple troop choice, is all bolters, all the time) in good numbers and even specialize them with Veteran Tactics. Meanwhile, Zone Mortalis Assault Force make Terminators non-compulsory Troops (which means that you will need at least one Troop choice that isn’t a termie), lets one of them Deep Strike (spawn basically wherever they want on the map) and gives defensive benefits to Legion Breacher Marines (Marines with ballistic shields, which are awesome in both concept and appearance). So these are your safe choices for a starting army: Termies and Veterans are generally good, and a Consul Delegatus (the specialization that you need to take Rites of War in games that small) is still a HQ choice that can be customized to hell and back.

Legion specific Rites is where the fun starts… and where you end up selling a kidney to buy FW resin dudes. Those rites usually let you take more of the Legion specific troops, like Sons of Horus’ awesome Reaver squads. Not all of them work with Zone Mortalis… though some of them might work maybe a little too well! Iron Hands’ Company of Bitter Iron represents the Legion after the death of their Primarch Ferrus Manus, which turned the already joyless cyborgs even more grumpy. It lets you take Medusan Immortals, which can be described as a penal forlorn hope of cyborg Breacher Marines as troops, among other things. Add a small squad of Gorgon Terminators, and you’ll have a 26 man Zone Mortalis army that will be really hard to kill.


Hard to kill, easy to paint!

This will “only” set you back 210 pounds, though you can save some by going with generic Breachers and Termies. Not gonna lie, Horus Heresy, as with everything FW, isn’t cheap. However! If you’re building a more generic force, you won’t go astray by getting a Betrayal at Calth or Burning of Prospero box, each priced at a much more palatable 95 pounds. Those two were released as wink wink nudge nudge board games, although everyone uses them to jumpstart a Horus Heresy army or to bulk out existing forces. BaC is great in that it gives you the choice of two commanders, a squad of Cataphracti Terminators (they are slow and very visually distinct from regular termies), a Contemptor dread (easy to assemble, emblematic of HH) and thirty Marines in Mk IV armor.

The only downside is said armor mark, because Mk IV doesn’t look like that old timey to me. Prospero has 30 Mk III Marines, which look awesome and 5 Tartaros Terminators that are “ok I guess” but the rest of box can be so much chaff: a Traitor player will have no use for the 5 Custodes or the 5 Sisters of Silence, and the commanders are very specific rather than being the generic no-names in BaC. That said, people claim that BoP is actually a good boardgame!


Meanwhile, the contents of Betrayal at Calth box can easily be painted to represent a single army. Here are some Word Bearers!

I will also take a moment to acknowledge that there are non-Marine factions in HH, too. However, Solar Auxilia, the prime “regular human” faction, is FW-expensive, gives you a lot of stuff to paint, and can’t be used in Tactical Strike. Imperial Militia and Cults is the most highly customizable faction, but it doesn’t have official miniatures. Mechanicum doesn’t really have fun choices for ZM. However, Talons of the Emperor might work for a Custodes (the bodyguards of the Emperor of Mankind) force: you can build a 16-man strong force of super badasses for 121 pounds or cheaper (sans a commander that you’ll have to buy on eBay and convert).

Horus Heresy is the place to be if you love Marines, hate every other faction and loathe 8th edition rules. Its custom 7th edition rules will eventually be updated in some way that might be inspired by the 8th, but we don’t know yet. What I do know is that for about a hundred quid, you can field a force of the Emperor’s finest in their heyday.



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