Horus Heresy 101: Getting Started With 2nd Edition

Photo of author

By Praetor Ed

So you’re deciding whether to take the plunge into the Age of Darkness with Horus Heresy’s second edition? This guide will give you an overview of the game, its lore and what makes it unique. This will hopefully help you decide whether 30k is the tabletop war game for you.

The Lore Behind Horus Heresy

If you’re new to Warhammer or have been living under a rock with fingers in your ears, playing 2nd ed Warhammer Fantasy, then let’s quickly run through the lore of the Horus Heresy.

The Horus Heresy is an epic tale of betrayal, warfare, and cosmic struggle that serves as a seminal event in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It traces back to the 31st millennium when the Emperor of Mankind’s grand vision for a united humanity begins to unravel. At the centre of this cataclysmic falling out is Horus Lupercal, the Emperor’s most trusted son and the Warmaster of the Great Crusade, a galaxy-spanning effort to reclaim human-occupied planets from alien influence and heresy. Seduced by the powers of Chaos, Horus turns against his father and Emperor, setting the stage for a civil war that would consume the galaxy, setting up the grimdark future of the 41st millennium.

In this internal strife that tears apart the Imperium of Man, the Space Marine Legions find themselves torn between loyalty to the Emperor and Horus. On the side of the traitors the Sons of Horus, Emperor’s Children, World Eaters, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Thousand Sons, Word Bearers, Alpha Legion and Death Guard rally around the Warmaster. On the other side, loyalist legions – White Scars, Salamanders, Raven Guard, Space Wolves, Iron Hands, Dark Angels, Ultramarines, Blood Angels, and Imperial Fists stand firm in their conviction to defend the Emperor and the Imperium. The titanic clashes among ‘brother’ legions form the backbone of Horus Heresy lore, leading to battles of unimaginable scale and treachery unseen even during the great crusade.

The Horus Heresy is one the richest parts of the Warhammer lore, with an endless supply of books from Black Library to support the setting. It makes a fantastic backdrop for wargaming with hugely fluffy options to build and model your army on. The great part about the lore is that while it is a distinct beginning and end, there is huge amount of room to tell new and interesting stories. The recent Siege of Cthonia book is a great example of this.

Is Horus Heresy Good for Beginners?

If you’re new to tabletop wargaming or the Warhammer universe, you might wonder if diving into the Horus Heresy is a good starting point. On one hand, the Horus Heresy offers a more focused army selection and a deep, engaging lore that can be incredibly rewarding for those interested in narrative-driven gameplay. Its community tends to be passionate and knowledgeable, often willing to help beginners navigate through the complexities of army building and tactics. The game mechanics, while nuanced, follow the core principles of other Games Workshop offerings and are built on the 7th edition Warhammer 40k rules. This makes it a fairly easy transition for any 40k player.

However, it’s worth noting that the Horus Heresy can be a bit daunting for complete beginners due to its detailed ruleset and the initial investment required for collecting an army, with many of the units still in resin (however, GW is in the process of replacing most of these with new plastic kits). Unlike Warhammer 40,000, which has various beginner-friendly starter sets and boxed games, Horus Heresy’s entry point can be a bit higher both in terms of complexity and cost (though the Age of Darkness box is a great jumping-in point for most legions).

Additionally, because the game focuses on a specific historical period in the Warhammer universe, you may find fewer options for army diversity compared to its 40k counterpart. Because the setting is more niche, you may also find it harder to find as many avid Horus Heresy players in your local area. So, while the Horus Heresy can be an incredibly deep and rewarding experience, it might be more suitable for those who are already somewhat familiar with tabletop wargaming or who are deeply interested in immersing themselves in its rich lore and complex tactical gameplay.

What You Need to Play 30k (Horus Heresy)

When it comes to actually playing Horus Heresy, the components you need are the core rulebook, the liber book for your army, built miniatures (ideally painted!), templates and dice.

First, if you want to get started with Horus Heresy, then the Age of Darkness boxset provides amazing value giving you (almost) all these things. With the boxset, you get access to –

  • 40 MK.VI Tactical Marines – The bread and butter of most army lists. These can also easily be kitted out as special or heavy weapons squads by picking up the respective upgrade kits.
  • 10 Cataphractii Terminators – Terminators are so well placed in this edition, that most lists can’t go wrong with at least a few of these—also, a fantastic choice if you want to run the Pride of the Legion Rite of War.
  • A Contemptor Dreadnought – One of the single best units in the game, with lots of flexible options. Just try not to run too many of these if you want to keep your friends.
  • A Spartan Heavy Assault Tank – An absolute beast of a transport that with flare shields will survive everything and the kitchen sink being thrown at it. Great for bullying enemy units and transporting that nasty block of terminators where they need to go.
  • 2 Praetors – While you’re unlikely to run two of these in the same list, they can be easily kitbashed to represent one of the many useful consul upgrades available.
  • The core rulebook – containing all the rules needed to play the game (apart from the datasheets for the units which are kept in the liber books – but more on those in a minute).
  • Templates and dice – the other bits you’ll need.

Now, on top of the Age of Darkness box set you’re going to want to pick up either Liber Astartes or Liber Hereticus which contain the special rules, rites of war and datasheets for the loyalist and traitor legions respectively. I would recommend having a good read through this book before settling on a legion. You don’t want to lock yourself into a specific legion if you’re not going to enjoy their playstyle.

Now if you’re looking for something a little more exotic than the Space Marines, then the Age of Darkness box isn’t really going to be that beneficial. There’s currently no starter set for Mechanicum (mostly made of Forgeworld sculpts) and Custodes, who have a large line of plastic models from 40k that can still be used in HH. You also have other fringe factions like militia and Solar Auxilia but like the other two are probably not the most beginner-friendly at least from a budget standpoint. If you are adamant about starting out with one of these armies, then you need to pick up the rulebook, liber imperium (or the free PDF in the case of militia), templates and some dice along with a small loan to pay for all those FW minis.

If you don’t have a gaming club nearby with a suitable table, you’ll also want to invest in some terrain. This can be as simple as some books or other random objects as you learn the game. There are plenty of GW and third-party terrain pieces that will spice up any table.

Can You Use 40k Models in Horus Heresy?

Some 40k models can be used in Horus Heresy, and this can be a great way to get started if either you already have the models, you want a more budget-friendly option or don’t want to fully commit to 30k.

The following factions can utilise models from 40k –

  • Custodes
  • Sisters of Silence
  • Knights
  • Militia

Custodes are a great option for a starter army as they share many of the same core models as the 40k line, which can then be supplemented with the more specialist Forgeworld units. This will also save you some money as you’re essentially getting two armies (one for 40k and one for HH). The plastic Sisters of Silence model can be utilised across both systems, though they’re less of a distinct faction as Custodes with more limited model options. Knights are another good gateway option as they share the same core models, though you have quite a few more Forgeworld-specific options in HH. Also, it allows you to use the beautiful new Cerastus Knight model that has just been released in plastic.

Milita are a bit more unique in that there are no fixed models and can be represented however you wish, opening up a slew of options from the Astra Militarum and GSC lines or something more exotic like Necromunda Gangs or the Blooded Kill Team to represent traitor guardsmen. This also opens up some great kitbashing options and very fluffy narrative-driven lists (Raven Guard liberation force anyone?).

Up until recently, there were some Horus Heresy units that could be used in 40k, like Contemptor Dreadnoughts or Cataphractii Terminators that could be used as Relic Terminators. However, with the release of the 10th edition Space Marine codex, these datasheets were culled from the marine line. However, if you’re not a competitive player, you can use these and a whole host of other Horus Heresy models in casual 40k games using the legend rules, though it is important to note that these are not tournament-legal. It might also be a good idea to run this by your opponent beforehand to make sure they’re happy with you running them.

How Many Points Do You Need to Play Horus Heresy?

If you’re playing Zone Mortalis, then you can start with as few as 500-1500 points of models, which believe me isn’t many models once you start including legion-specific terminators. Personally, I think this is the best way to get started with 30k as it gives you an achievable number of models to get painted up and on the tabletop so you can learn the basics. As it covers battles of a smaller scale, it’s much easier to build your own terrain for and if you’re like me build two forces so you can run friends through tester games.

If you want to test the waters with the full rules then I’d recommend 2000 points as a good starting point for beginner-friendly games. It won’t let you load up your list with all the flashy toys, but it will give a broad range of units to work with. As a side note, when building your list the general rule of thumb, is to only include 1 dreadnought per 1000 points, to keep the game fairly balanced and not end up being “that guy”.

Typically though you’re going to want to work towards a 3000-3500 point force which is how most ‘proper’ battles are played. At this point range you’re able to take all the exciting toys that make Horus Heresy shine. Big tanks? Check! Primarchs? Check! Hordes of Contemptors? Get out of here. In all seriousness, this is sort of the sweet spot, where you can get a feel for the grand scale of Horus Heresy while also keeping it fairly balanced.

So is Horus Heresy worth playing?

The question of whether the Horus Heresy is worth playing is one that hinges on your interests and what you’re looking for in a tabletop wargame. For those who are captivated by rich storytelling and intricate lore, the Horus Heresy offers a narrative depth that is rarely matched in other games. It takes you to the heart of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, exploring the pivotal events and betrayals that shaped its grimdark future. The game boasts a dedicated community of enthusiasts who are keen on historical battles, painting and kitbashing thematic miniatures and engaging in tactical warfare. If you’re a hobbyist who enjoys crafting, painting, and the strategic elements of wargaming, then Horus Heresy offers a fulfilling, albeit challenging, experience.

On the flip side, it’s worth noting that the Horus Heresy can require a substantial investment of both time and money. The miniatures, while beautifully detailed, are often on the pricier side, and building an army that can compete in various scenarios will likely require multiple unit types, characters, and even large vehicles that in some cases can be in the hundreds. If you’re looking for a balanced competitive game, then HH is probably not the best example, with it skewing more to the narrative side. Don’t expect balance updates, instead, the community keeps the most egregious and op tactics in check. On the upside, because the game predominantly centres around space marines there isn’t as big a gap between the best and worst legions as you might think. Then there’s the time investment: painting your miniatures, learning the rules, and understanding the nuanced tactics of your chosen legion. So, while the Horus Heresy is undoubtedly a rewarding experience for those who dive deep into it, it’s essential to consider whether you’re willing to commit to such a big project and whether you’re drawn to the specific aspects that make it unique. If you are, then the Horus Heresy can offer a gaming experience unlike any other.

Leave a Comment