Horus Heresy was probably never worth £70 or whatever MSRP was where ever you are in the world, neither did it really justify a coffinbox, but I consider Horus Heresy to be one of FFGs best in house designs, and the second best game* set in the 40k universe.
The Warhammer 40,000 galactic epics live in the 5 minutes before midnight that saturated 80s cold war paranoia and the pop culture it spawned. Unfortunately Games Workshops games never really lived up to their own preamble. Two forces of 50 models might adequately represent a clash of football hooligans but it doesn’t really do justice to the battle for the fate of the universe. In Horus Heresy FFG’s designers have managed to capture all of the promise of the 40k’s tongue in cheek space gothic into a three hour war game. Earth’s defenses are raised, invading drop pods rain down, then armies of titans, legions of fanatics, and a collection of heros smash it out in assaults on the imperial palace or a series of spaceports.
I love this game, it feels a lot like War of the Ring to me, in that it's a similar weight (both physically and in terms of boardgamer jargon) and has a similar narrative goal. I like the plot of beats of invading, or deciding where to make the last stand, I love the orders system and how it forces you to gamble on your expectation of the board state in two or three turns time. Multiple paths to victory, hidden information and a delay between you planning an action and getting to see the result are all solid ways to add strategic depth to a war game, and they all work to varying degrees here.
Whilst I love this game, I don’t think it’s as good as War of the Ring, and I would only recommend seeking out a reasonably priced copy. It has a few flaws. It takes about 3 - 5 games to really grok the games systems. Moving units around the board is hard until you know the action card deck well enough to really manipulate it. I have played perhaps 12 games, I think the Emperor has won less than 30% and all by killing Horus. Conversely all but one Horus win have come from controlling the spaceports. The game allows for free set up. If the defending emperor makes a bad call on how he or she distributes their initial forces they can easily be done, either stretched too thin, or not covering enough bases. Finally the Hero’s very rarely die. They have 12 hit points from memory, perhaps if they had 10 or 8 targeting them with attacks might be more worthwhile. It still works as a war game but it’s demands repeat plays and an acceptance of some false decisions.
In sum I can see why this got shredded when it released, but there is a classic in here for fans of sci fi wargames, or the 40k they never quite found as a kid.
*number 1 is Spacehulk, I do include all the minis games in this ranking.
Being a bit bored on Boxing day, I had an idea. Most of us are too lazy to write semi regular columns, but we could have a pass around column. As often as we can be bothered someone digs up an AT game they feel needs a little love, gives ~500 words on it, then nominates someone to do the next one. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or that well written, just something for us to discuss and tick an article over. If the nominee doesn’t bite someone else can volunteer to take it for them.