Why Horus Heresy instead of Warhammer 40000?

I've written about this before, but I took a good 13 years off from Games Workshop's games, outside some judicious dabbling in the old specialist games (Necromunda and Mordheim) from time to time. I never got rid of my old armies or anything. I was just done after a move to Raleigh--nobody I knew in town really played, I wasn't interested in store play, and the price increases outstripped what I was willing to pay.

Fast forward to the Genestealer Cult release and I jumped back into 40k with both feet. It was the kind of off-kilter, slyly political Games Workshop of my youth. What was even better, from the standpoint of my wallet, was that the Cult release showed me that the new Games Workshop approach of standalone games with extreme miniatures savings tossed in made things way, way more affordable, particularly when viewed in light of the fact that I don't even know how much money I spend during Steam sales and such on video games I play for an hour before dropping.

That's not to say that it's cheap. It's not. But if you have disposable income, you can frontload costs on Games Workshop's standalone games (ranging from 100-150 dollars usually, but with around 200-250 dollars worth of miniatures inside) and come out with a surprisingly reasonable amount. Toss in eBay and you're looking way better than you did 5-10 years ago.

But it's still 40K, with it's mess of rules bloat (new edition incoming which looks poised to solve that, by the way), codexes pushing you toward buying mass troops, and, for lack of a better term, noise. I was aware of the Horus Heresy stuff (affectionately called 30k) but hadn't really looked at it too closely. The Heresy, as Genesis story for all of 40k, seemed best left to the shadows--I've never been a fan of Black Library's fiction, so I had no desire to dive too deeply. I had the rough story in my head and the photo of the diorama of Horus confronting the Emperor, Sanguinius dead on the ground, in my mind's eye.

Well, I was wrong. 30k is awesome. It's more expensive, but it's what I wanted to get into for several reasons.

  • The vibe is completely different. Peter put it this way: it feels like a historical wargame more than the tournament/store play thing 40k has evolved into. That comes with all sorts of good stuff, like an attention to detail and desire to make big modeling projects out of it, making thematic armies over raw brute force builds, etc. It just feels different from most 40k stuff I encounter. And that's not to say I'm never playing 40k or anything; I'll whip out a game tomorrow if I'm able. But it is to say that 30k is closer to what I got into way back when.
  • The armies are way, way more balanced and varied. A significant part of this is that the armies are all Space Marines. It's a lot easier to balance units with the same stats with small variability between factions than two dozen factions with wildly different stats and playstyles. But the why isn't as important as the what. It's fairly balanced while still allowing for a lot of cool miniatures which don't exist anywhere else.
  • No stupid formations. Formations in 40k suck. 40k is already bloated to hell, with every roll necessitating three rerolls and internal bookkeeping. Nobody needs another thing to keep track of, particularly when the purpose is less to funnel you to build flavorful armies and more to get you to buy plastic by the pallet. Horus Heresy strips that crap out and goes back to giving each Legion a few special units and a few special rules. Instead of elaborate formations, there are simple give and take guidelines for different forces within your Legions. It's way better.
  • Aesthetically the stuff is awesome. I really like Games Workshop's miniatures. I like Forge World's more. They're less prone to flights of fancy and like clean lines.  And even as a guy who's been more lukewarm on Marines than most over the decades, the sight of dozens of Space Marines and big ass tanks on the table is great. It looks cool and not a little bit intimidating.
  • It has callbacks to Games Workshop's golden age. This seems like it would be small and I risk running into the nostalgia trap, but Forge World has done a remarkable job updating old 1980s/90s designs for modern sensibilities and miniature scale. The net effect is that you get a sense of fictional evolution (the way the  Deimos pattern Rhino compares to the Phobos pattern widespread in 40k), but also of aesthetic continuity with what Games Workshop was (the 2017 version of the Deimos pattern Rhino compared with the 1988 version of that same tank). It's very slickly done.
  • The Horus Heresy rulebooks. I'll never get around to reading the Horus Heresy novels, even though I nabbed some in a recent Humble Bundle for like three bucks. I don't care about what Horus said on what day in the speech to the Gargar people of Doofus Prime. But I do like the flow of the rulebooks, which toss a whole bunch of campaign material peppered with clues (more on that in a later post) for your own campaigns along with refighting historical ones. They're expensive, but some of the best material modern wargaming has ever produced.
When I figured out the costs of a 30k army could be massively defrayed by picking up broken down Betrayal at Calth and Burning of Prospero boxes, I was in. A lot of resin later, and we're both in too deep to stop now, left only with the painting and campaign planning to go.


This is the sort of callback I mean. Up top, current Vorax robots. Bottom, the 30 year old Crusader robot.