13 January 2010

A Prelude to War

A first look at combat in Horus Heresy

Horus Heresy is set during the apocalyptic, final battle that determines the fate of the Imperium at the time of the 31st millennium, and sets the stage for the Warhammer 40,000 universe we know today. In the canonical version of these events, the Emperor personally brought the battle to the Warmaster's flagship, resulting in an epic clash between father and son. At its end, Horus lay dead and the Emperor nearly so. His broken body has remained entombed within the Golden Throne for ten thousand years, not dead, yet not entirely alive.

Horus Heresy the board game will return you to this pivotal moment in the history of the Imperium  and sets the very fate of the Emperor and Horus in your hands. How will you command on that fateful day?
In case you missed it, our first preview describes the state of affairs at the very start of the game. The Emperor and his loyal forces have chosen to make their stand at the Imperial Palace, and are prepared to hold off the impending attack at all costs. The Warmaster Horus has just brought the Vengeful Spirit into orbit above Terra, first calling into action the traitors hidden in the midst of the Imperial forces, and following up with a fierce orbital bombardment across the landscape. The battle then begins in earnest!
As we've already noted, Horus Heresy has been designed without dice, instead using elegant card mechanics to drive all the action forward. We have already seen one deck of cards in use at the start of the game where, rather than rolling dice and referring to multiple charts, the Traitor player simply draws a card to resolve each corruption attempt or orbital bombardment. Not only does this keep the game moving smoothly, but it does so while offering a richer set of results. Each card deck in the game acts as much more than a simple random number generator. These cards introduce thematic and narrative elements that have a direct impact on play, while adding an entirely new layer of balanced game mechanics that offer an experience that you're going to love.
We'll explore how these card-driven mechanics make for a more exciting and challenging game in the coming weeks, especially with regards to long-term strategic play versus the short-term tactical rhythm of combat. Before we can dive deeper we need some context for how units are represented on the battlefield, and learn a bit about how they are put to use during the game.
Whether taking command over the collected armies of the Imperium or of the Traitor legions, you will have control over two types of troops: units and heroes.
A unit is one playing piece but it can represent an entire battalion or division. Remember that the scale of this conflict is so huge that a single piece may represent hundreds or thousands of individual combatants. The Battle of Terra was an apocalyptic battle of unimaginable proportions, which would be impossible to represent on a figure-for-figure basis. As an example, both an Imperial Tank division and a gibbering Daemon horde are represented on the map by a single playing piece. Half way through your very first game you will come to know the full weight of command as you find yourself scanning across the war-ravaged landscape, issuing orders to your collected forces as they edge ever closer towards the enemy to do battle, or as your Chaos Thunderhawk flights land planetside to deliver reinforcements to the fray.
Every unit in the game is assigned a Roman numeral designating its combat rank, a statistic which represents the unit's overall effectiveness in battle, which ranges from I - IV. Rather than referencing a stat sheet during combat, each playing piece displays a number of points equal to its rank directly on the figure's base. The combat rank of each unit will play a direct role in what actions become available as it enters combat, as well as how much damage it can take.
Let's consider one of the units we've seen already, the Imperial army. This group of soldiers are the meat and potatoes infantry available to the Imperium, and while plentiful, do not offer much in the way of exceptional combat or defensive prowess. All Imperial army units have a combat rank of I.
On the other side of the scale, the Emperor was responsible for creating the Adeptus Astartes, commonly known as Space Marines. These genetically-altered, super-human warriors have been engineered to be superior in every way to a normal human being. Those Space Marines standing honorably with the Emperor have spurned their traitorous brothers and remain unshakeable in their devotion to the Imperium as its principal defenders. Each Space Marine unit, whether loyalist or traitor, is assigned a combat rank of III. 
In addition to commanding its units, each side also has available a number of Heroes– exceptional individuals who will play a decisive role in the impending battle. The most significant of all are the two god-like beings that hold supreme command over each faction, namely the Emperor and Warmaster Horus. In fact, you can win immediately by eliminating your rival commander, an act that is surely much easier said than done.
Heroes differ from units in that they are not assigned a combat rank, as their advantages are unique. Each player has a reference sheet available that lists all their Heroes' abilities. Also special cards are drawn from the Hero combat deck when they are part of a battle, and even the damage sustained by each Hero is tracked individually on a Hero damage track printed right on the game board.
In a future article we will look deeper into what Heroes offer in play, especially the Primarchs of both loyal and traitor Space Marine chapters. Far beyond simply acting as leader, these demi-gods of war stride forth across the field accomplishing tremendous feats outside the realm of mortal men, and inspiring their legions forward into battle whether in the name of the Emperor or the Warmaster Horus. 
The Primarchs were the creations of the Emperor himself, and represented his greatest achievement before the fall of Horus to the powers of Chaos. Until that schism, the collected legions of the Adeptus Astartes, led by their Primarchs, were the Emperor's primary force for reuniting humanity during the Great Crusade. Now brother fights against brother in a cataclysmic battle for the future of the Imperium. Their special abilities will often turn the tide of a battle, pushing one side or the other to a decisive victory. Their influence on the battlefield can not be overlooked!
Now that the stage has been set, check back over the coming weeks for more in depth looks at the game mechanics, including combat tactics and combat resolution, the ebb and flow of initiative, and much more. Until next time!
Horus Heresy is a board game that pits two players against each other to recreate the most famous battle of Warhammer 40,000's rich history, in which the Warmaster Horus's betrayal of the Emperor comes to its climax. Taking the side of either traitor or loyalist, players control a fearsome array of units, including the Emperor and Horus themselves. Brother fights brother, and the universe hangs in the balance!

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