Sunday, 6 January 2013

Review - Horus Heresy by Fantasy Flight Games

One of the games I received Xmas morning was Horus Heresy from Fantasy Flight games. Up until owning it I didn't know much about the game. I knew it was a reprint of a classic Games Workshop chit based wargame but that's about it. Over the holidays I got to play this one two times and figured that was enough to give it a fair review. I do apologize for the picture quality, they were taking with my iPod.

Horus Heresy is a strategy wargame for two players set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. In this game you get to re-create one of the most iconic battles of the Warhammer universe: The Battle for Terra. This is the climax of the galactic civil war that pits brother against brother as the forces of Warmaster Horus, corrupted by Chaos, march on the Emperor himself and his palace on Terra.

Initial setup, the Battle for Terra begins.
As expected each player takes one side of the conflict. One playing the traitors and the other the loyalists. Victory is gained by wiping out the opposing general (The Emperor of Mankind or Warmaster Horus), controlling all four space ports after the mid point of the game, or in the loyalists case: just lasting until the end of the game.

As is typical of Fantasy Flight, the game is beautiful. Lots of high quality components, colour coded miniatures, 3d board components, full sized and small cards, full colour rulebook, etc. This all comes in a Fantasy Flight "Coffin Box".

Gameplay is controlled through a unique initiative system. There is a track along the bottom of the board and each player has a token on it. As players play and activate cards their marker moves to the right. At the start of each turn the player who's marker is farthest to the left gets to go. Along that track are also special squares that have different effects, like refreshing the board, giving players more cards or having an event happen.

Player actions are all handled by strategy cards. These cards can be played onto a rather neat Strategy Map section of the board or played directly from a players hand. Playing onto the Strategy map usually costs less initiative and also makes many cards more powerful, playing from the hand is quicker but you loose any strategic effect the card has and it usually costs a significant amount of initiative. Other actions include manipulating the card piles on the strategy map and drawing more strategy cards.

The actions the strategy cards allow are mostly what you would expect. There are cards for moving units around the board, cards for launching attacks, cards for repairing and building more units and cards for special effects like orbital bombardments. Each player has their own deck and they are themed to the armies each is playing. The traitor players deck contains more attack cards and bombardment cards as well as interesting ways to get new units into the game. The imperial deck contains more repair, maneuver and unit building cards.

Khorne armies are building at Space Port Primus
Combat is inevitable and is again card based. This time though players draw from unique combat decks, one for each side in the battle. The number of cards is determined by the strength of the units in the fight. Combats are fought for a set number of iterations and these determine how many cards can be played each turn. The defender chooses who is active first. The active player plays cards to attack and then the passive player can play cards to defend. Then the roles swap. In addition to causing damage and preventing it each card has a special effect. These effects can only be used if the unit type listed on the card is in the battle. Here's were we get to see things like how good Space Marines are or the fact that Titans can destroy fortifications.

Included among the units on both sides are Heroes. Here you've got the various Primarchs of the Space Marine and Traitor Marine Chapters, Horus and the Emperor and the Fabricator General. All of these Heroes break the rules in some way and give units with them some extra abilities. In addition having a hero in a fight lets you draw cards from a special hero combat deck. To give them some staying power heroes use a special damage track that's printed on the board that means they are hard to eliminate.

That's the long and short of it without getting into too many specific details. As you can tell there's a lot going on in this game. A lot of moving parts and a lot of choices each turn. Added to that, the game includes a scenario book with 6 different scenarios you can use for set up at the beginning of the game to add replayability and mix up the challenges.

As noted earlier my wife and I played through two full games of this. It's not a short game taking us about 2 hours each time, but in both cases we were still learning the rules. Due to the amount of thinking time each turn I don't think this would get much shorter with successive plays. In both plays I found the game rather interesting. The initiative mechanic combined with how you choose to play strategy cards either from your hand or on the strategy map is really cool. The strategy map is a big part of the game and a lot of the strategy in the game is figuring out what orders to play where and in what order and when to mess with your opponents plans. While I really liked this card playing aspect I was less of a fan of the combat decks. I found combat to be a little too random for my tastes. My biggest complaint about the game though is the 3d components. They look awesome, they truly do, but by using them you make your game less functional. There is not enough room on these 3d fortification to fit the units that start in them at the start of the game. That's right you can't even do the basic set up without balancing figures precariously on the thin plastic scenery. Added to that there are breach counters that fit great over the 2d board but don't really work with the 3d fortifications. It's just odd. Someone didn't think this through completely.

Overall this is a very beautiful game that looks great out on the table. Some really unique and interesting mechanics like the initiative system and the way order cards are played combined with the strategy map will probably keep me coming back to this one for more. That is true even though I don't really enjoy the combat system much, finding it a bit too random and I found the 3d bits looked great but weren't really that functional. If you are a two player zone based wargame fan who also happens to be into Warhammer you will probably love this. If you are fans of one or the other, there's some cool stuff to see here and if you find it for the right price I can recommend picking it up (it was dirt cheap as part of the Fantasy Flight Holiday Sale). If you aren't into Warhammer or wargames, there's nothing really here for you.

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