10 March 2010

A Force to be Reckoned With

Our first look at the nuts and bolts of combat in Horus Heresy

With each preview article we have stepped ever closer to the release of Horus Heresy, and have offered a glimpse at what you will find when you first open your very own copy of this magnificent release. Our excitement continues to build, and we're looking forward expectantly to the moment you get to play your first game.

Our series began with a look at the explosive opening scene of the game, we had a cursory overview of the units you have under your control, we've explored how you command your forces across the battlefield, and we've seen the impact of player initiative when ordering your units. In our most recent article, the game's designer Jeff Tidball offered us his personal insights into the creation of Horus Heresy, and outlined some of his primary goals for the game. Today, we will learn how you engage with the enemy!

Every round of the game you'll shift your attention among the demands of conflicts across the entire battlefield, both great and small. You'll guide your long-term strategies to completion by using Order cards and the Strategic Map. You'll order units forward, struggling to take advantage of every momentary opportunity for a short-term advance, while balancing the need to keep your most vital long-term objectives clearly in mind.

Inevitably you will need to switch gears entirely to focus on the outcome of a single precipitous battle. Let's take a look at how this is done. As with everything else in Horus Heresy, combat is resolved through card play. Each player has a faction-specific deck of 32 combat cards, in addition to a smaller deck of Hero combat cards. Let's examine what information you'll find on a combat card, with an example from the Chaos deck named "Will of Chaos."

In addition to the name, there are three primary areas that you want to pay attention to: attack value, shields and the special effect. The attack value is the number at the top left and represents the amount of damage the attack will cause. Directly below the attack value are between zero and three shield symbols which indicate the amount of damage that card can soak.

The special effect takes up the majority of the card, and includes both a Unit requirement in bold and a block of descriptive text. The special effect is an additional game effect that may be triggered when this card is played, as long as the Unit requirement has been met. If you were to play this Will of Chaos card during a combat where at least one unit of Chaos Space Marines was engaged in the battle, you would be able to trigger the printed special effect. Note that this requirement only pertains to the effect; in other words, the attack value and shields are always available when you play a given combat card, regardless of what units are involved.

Every Order that initiates combat specifies a number of combat iterations over which to fight. After the listed number of iterations have been fought, combat will end and the current player's turn will continue. You might think of combat iterations like rounds of combat, and in each iteration one player takes the active role while the other player takes the passive role.

At the beginning of a battle both players draw a fresh hand of combat cards based on the total combat rank of your engaged units. Two additional cards from the Hero combat deck will be added if you have any Heroes present in the fray. The defender now must choose who will be the first active player.

The active player is the one who will play combat cards for their attack values and special effects, in an effort to cause damage to their opponent. The passive player will respond by playing combat cards with shields to soak and prevent incoming damage. A single combat card may only be used once, either to cause or prevent damage. After an iteration is resolved, the iteration marker advances and players switch their roles.

The greatest impact of combat iterations is the effect it has on card play. When selecting your cards for a given iteration of combat you must choose and reveal a number of cards up to the current iteration number. This means that in the first iteration of any combat, the active player can use a single combat card to cause damage, and the passive player can use a single card to soak damage. In the second iteration after players have switched roles, each player can use 2 cards at a time.

Since the defender has free reign to choose who begins as the active player, the moment you draw your hand you've got to weigh your options carefully. Perhaps you've got a special effect you're wanting to trigger. Will you survive long enough to play it? Do the cards in your hand give you the upper hand for causing or preventing damage? Are you going to try and bluff your opponent? You might very well let your opponent take action first to play a juicy two card combination in the second iteration of combat, and hopefully knock out a major unit.

The purpose of dice is typically to generate a random numerical result. It's a beautifully simple mechanic, and who doesn't love rolling a handful of dice? However in Horus Heresy the card-driven combat goes far beyond the typical concerns of whether or not your unit hits another unit. Horus Heresy demands that you take active command of your forces, rather than sit back hoping for a lucky roll.

Card-based combat in Horus Heresy doesn't ever mean "draw a card to find out what happens." You must use your cards well and wisely. In this game, it is the combat cards that deliver a rich experience of narrative and theme to the events unfolding on the battlefield. They infuse your game with those unique elements that will bring your stories to life. In Horus Heresy, card-based combat is a vital and exciting portion of the game that will have you sweating during every firefight you find yourself buried in!

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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