Monday, August 8, 2022

GW's Horus Heresy - Second Edition

The new Horus Heresy rules have arrived!

The new rules and miniatures for the Horus Heresy are here! In fact, they have been "here" for well over a month, and yet I have been a bit too distracted to blog about this - kind of odd given that there are over 200 posts on this blog with Horus Heresy content...but in between work, making preparations for Toronto etc, there hasn't been as much time as I would like for blogging. But enough excuses! I am excited to dive into the new "Age of Darkness".  As a huge fan of the game and the setting, I have lots of meaningless and not-that-relevant thoughts, which should make for some ideal online content!

There are great models rolling out for the new game, but to shake off my blogging rust, I thought it would be more fun to start with some of my thoughts and reactions to the new rules. 

So, What Changes With The New "Age of Darkness" Rules?

TL/DR: Not much - but also a fair bit.

Let's elaborate - the Horus Heresy rules engine, the one ultimately codified in the "red books", stood for several years as a slightly-modified 7th edition 40k. Even as 40k had veered off into the 8th edition, the Horus Heresy stood pat. When news broke that a new Horus Heresy rules edition was in fact coming, there was a lot of concern in the HH community that the new Heresy setting would be fully "brought into line" with the now-9th edition the 40k rules. This would mean bringing in things like "wounds" for vehicles, as well as the mind-harmingly complex web of stratagems and command points that underpin the 9th edition of 40k. 

The "Age of Darkness" does NOT go this route. While there certainly are changes, the new edition of the rules, the "Age of Darkness", still has a very familiar core at its heart, an IGOUGO rules engine with familiar stats, approaches to the game and the resolution of things like shooting, close combat etc. Variations are achieved via special rules.

Templates are still part of the game, as are scatter dice. The Dreadnoughts may have wounds now, but all other vehicles maintain their armour values and armour facings (thank god). Arc of fire is also still a thing for vehicles, meaning the weapons on the vehicle needs to be, like, able to point at a target before you can use it (thank god). Shooting and close assault are all broadly similar to the previous rules approach, and resolved in broadly similar fashion. 

Bottom line - if you were familiar with the previous Horus Heresy rules, the "Age of Darkness" will be very familiar, and you will be able to get comfortable with them very quickly. 

Even so, "Age of Darkness" is not EXACTLY the same as its predecessor either...there are some differences. Here are a few of the things that struck me as notable differences. 

Reactions - A Crack In The "IGOUGO" Monolith?

From its earliest iterations, the Warhammer 40k has always been built around the basics of "IGOUGO" - one player takes their turn, then the other takes their's a pretty basic approach to wargaming. There are other ways to do this...GW itself has shown that, with rules systems like "Epic", or "Warmaster", or even "Kill Team". But when it comes to 40k, GW has stuck doggedly - too much so, some might say - to the basic IGOUGO framework, and seems terrified of ever moving 40k away from this.

That is why I find this new aspect of the "Age of Darkness" exciting - the "Reactions"! In this game, you have the opportunity to react with your units during your opponent's turn - to move, to shoot, and to brace for assaults. I think that is great - here we have what appears to be a crack in the IGOUGO monolith!

Now, a word of caution. It's a crack in the monolith, not a collapse. We are talking baby steps here...these reactions are limited in number. Your turn will still feel like "your turn", and in a "standard" game of around 3000 points, most movement/action by your opponent will be unimpeded. But the reaction mechanic still introduces a pretty interesting new element to the game IMO, and you will need to plan a carefully as you go through your own turn.

Generally, you have one reaction per phase in the turn - movement, shooting and assault. Warlord abilities increase this number in specific circumstances, and the different Space Marine Legions all have special reactions available to them (usually just once per battle). But these reactions introduce the possibilities of return fire and - my favourite - overwatch fire, among other possibilities. I see this as very positive, and it is this aspect of the game that look forward to the most.

Psykers Go Back In The Box

Just as the mysterious Warp itself, the prominence of psychic powers on the tabletop seems to wax and wane through the various editions of 40k. One edition will add a "psychic phase" to the turn, and provide a wide assortment of various psychic powers to choose from, giving psykyers a big role to play on the tabletop. Then another edition comes along and knock all of that back, rather as if one of the fictional Imperium's inquisitors had approved the rewrite...

With "Age of Darkness", we see this pattern play out once more, and the psykers have been "put back in their box", so to speak. The psychic phase has been binned (again), and the roster of possible psychic powers has been greatly reduced. Psykers can still have an impact, but not at the same scale, and with a much higher points cost. I think this will particularly notable for its impact on the Thousand Sons: sure, all of their infantry units get the "psyker" keyword, but this is simply a marketing trick of the "keyword" nomenclature, and doesn't confer the ability to use any psychic powers. Why call them "psykers" if they can't do anything psychic? Pointless.

Anyway, you will still have the chance to deploy, or encounter, powerful psyker characters in the new 30k game, but expect them to be more limited.

So, So, Many Special Rules

The recent editions of 40k have been notable for their large number of special rules. The previous 30k rules had quite a few, and if you liked all of them then I have great news - the special rules are back, and they brought some new friends! No unit type and no phase of the game can escape the grasp of the special rules, which run on for pages and pages...

The Language Of The Lawyers

The proliferation of special rules is notable not only for their raw number, or the fact that they appear to procreating, but for the tortured and circular language that speaks to the mania of rules-designers obsessed with special rules.

There are many examples, but this language from "Shrouded" is one of my favourites:

This is not a Saving Throw and so can be used against attacks that state that "no Saves of any kind are allowed". Got that? So, you have zapped an enemy with a devastating weapon that allows "no Saves of any kind", but this "Shrouded" thing might still apply.

There is also the very 7th-edition tendency to define rules as meaning other rules, and using phrases that sound like rules just for the sake of using them, standing in for some simple common sense language - the most common examples of this kind of writing are found in the various Legion-specific sections of the army books. For example, with the Emperor's Children, they cannot simply write down that an Emperor's Children Warlord can select a legion-specific warlord trait...they have to make it a "rule" - "Exemplars of War". 

Or, if you want to have more fun, go and parse the difference between a "Rending" weapon and a "Breaching" weapon...

For God's Sake, Hire An Editor

Hey, some people like special rules. Maybe I should just chill on those. At least they put all of the special rules into a single section of the rulebook, where you can look them up, right? 

JK! Of course they didn't! Back to my little challenge above - you will find the rules for "Rending" weapons in the main rulebook. But what about the "Breaching" weapons? Well, you'll need to look in your army book for that! I mean...why put all the rules in one place? Where's the fun in that?

Look, these books are beautiful to look at, but they are torture to use as actual gaming aids. Hoping for that one alphabetical list of all the weapons? 

Keep hoping - it doesn't exist in these books. The weapons are broken down by subtype all of the bolter weapons on one page, all of the volkite weapons on another page, etc. etc.

Wondering how grenades work? Good luck finding the rules for Grenades - they are "wargear", and not "weapons"...

Still Looks Like Fun

For all of the gripes I have about the proliferation of special rules, the turgid circular rules-lawyer language and the baffling layout and editing decisions, I think there is still a very fun set of rules to be enjoyed here. Unfortunately, Northern Ontario gaming folk do not seem all that interested in 30k gaming, so it may be some time before I finally get to try it out, but I think these rules will be an overall improvement on the last edition - in particular, I can't wait to see the "reaction" mechanic live in a game, and see how that impacts the game. 

Thanks for reading - if you are a fan of the Horus Heresy, I hope you are managing some games too, and I hope the new rules work for you!


Dallas said...

That's a great review Greg - thanks for that. Really looking forward to playing this!

JamieM said...

Just played my first game last night and it was fun! Only played about 800 points, so the reactions were bigger than in most games (why does the number of reactions not scale with game size?!?!) and your point on special rules being spread across different areas was spot on - we’re already talking about making crib sheets for units that you use having spent ages flicking through both mighty tomes….. but overall good fun and looking forward to more!