Readers of the blog who frequent our YouTube channel or Facebook page will have noticed that we as a club are now pretty heavily into Warhammer 40k Horus Heresy, or “30k” as the kids call it. This uses the Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition ruleset but does not utilize the regular codexes (army books). Instead, it uses material written by Forge World, Games Workshop’s offshoot ‘boutique’ brand.
While we embrace 40k for the variety of the factions – aliens, imperial guard, space marines, with all different kinds of monsters and tanks etc, Horus Heresy mostly focuses on space marine vs space marine. There are a few snowflake factions with space robots and imperial guard, but mostly people play the space marines as they’re the interesting ones.
Fair and Balanced
One of the biggest reasons that is pushing people toward Horus Heresy is because the current state of 40k is (objectively) a mess. There have been so many releases, so fast, for so many different factions, that nobody really knows what rules are current or how the other sides’ army works. There are so many mini-factions now that a person who missed an edition might think people are playing a different game.
It is really sweet that players have a lot of options now, but the different options are so fragmented and quite often so completely unbalanced (like if you take x, y, and z, (all things you’d want to take) you also get 800 free points of a, b, and c). The two main offenders are formations and lords of war.
Formations and lords of war, before 6th edition, were reserved for Apocalypse. Play a huge game, bring out a special list that was from a ‘historical’ action, and get some benefits. Bring out a huge monster or robot that does a lot of damage and can survive a ton of damage.
Now these are commonplace in almost every game of 40k. They’re fun for some, but many factions don’t have the power formations or extremely good lords of war yet. It’s clear that GW is attempting to bolster sales by making new, huge, models and formations for them with amazing stats… I get that, but it isn’t for me.
Forging the Narrative
Fortunately, for now, Horus Heresy does not include formations. There are lords of war, but they are not as abusive or prevalent in the game. A month or two ago we played a narrative game hosted by Paul S, who helped run the narrative event at the Michigan GT. I think this is probably how I could play 40k for the foreseeable future.
Paul told each of us how many points to bring then setup all the tables. He acted as game master; he set the scenario and adjudicated any questions. Usually if there was a rules question it wasn’t so much a lawyer scenario, but rather a storyteller scenario; what would that space marine likely do in this situation?
Everyone brought a fun list that didn’t use multiples of all of the same thing. It was very inspiring, to be totally honest. I had been down on 40k for a long time because of various reasons – price increases, Age of Sigmar, rulebook cash-ins, etc. This gamemastered game with lots of story, actions based on real intent, etc really got me back into the game and helped me get past all the negative.
There is definitely something to be said for ‘make your own army’ and creating your own stories and uniform schemes etc, but perhaps one of the coolest things about Horus Heresy gaming is painting up and modeling a legion that you’ve read about in the fiction and making it a reality on the tabletop. Making sure your uniforms are totally correct, finding out what kind of force organization they used in the books, etc. This kind of research is a little bit of what historical folks do… baby steps =)
An Uncertain Future
The future of Horus Heresy and Warhammer 40k in general is a little uncertain – it could be Sigmar’d, it could continue at its current pace, HH could start picking up formations and all kinds of overpowered stuff that sells. That would be a huge shame.
Hopefully Forge World keeps on their current path and keeps releasing cool stuff. I hope they can keep the re-writes of the ‘red books’ (basically the army books) for marines down to a minimum so we don’t have to keep buying them, but I can deal with it.
In regards to my own personal outlook on Horus Heresy, I’m really enjoying it right now in a different way than I have in the past. I want to show up with a totally un-optimized list and just use stuff that is cool. We’ve always talked about doing that, and how 40k has never been built for competitive play, but we’ve never really played that way.
I look forward to setting up games where I know my opponent isn’t bringing three Knight Titans, all drop special support squads, etc. where we fight a scenario that might not even be totally balanced. I think the ‘retail model’ where you just show up and play a pickup game for me is gone with 40k. My free time is limited and I don’t really want to waste three to four hours on a negative gaming experience. I want to let my opponent know I haven’t stacked a skew of armor, a skew of heavy weaponry, etc. so I don’t expect to fight that.
That isn’t to say I don’t want to play if I might lose – I don’t care about winning or losing, I just want to have a fun close game where we follow some sort of story. Again, we’ve always said that, but we’ve never really put it into practice. That is the only way I want to do 40k anymore.