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The Horus Heresy: How to play

Greetings one and all,


It’s been a long time coming, but today I’m going to start my deep dive into the Horus Heresy Age of Darkness game. This week I will cover the basics of the game, then go on to release one article each day for the next six days, covering the following;


  • Basic Overview (which is this article)

  • Reactions Phase

  • Movement Phase

  • Shooting Phase

  • Assault Phase

  • Vehicles


So with all this to cover, let’s dive straight in.


What is Horus Heresy Age of Darkness?



After much deliberation, Gamesworkshop say it best when it comes to explaining what the Horus Heresy actually is and how it all went down:


“An Age of Darkness has descended upon the galaxy. Horus Lupercal, Warmaster of the Emperor's armies, has turned against his gene-father and sent the Imperium spiralling into bloody civil war. Of the eighteen great Space Marine Legions, finest of all humanity's soldiers, fully half have sided with the traitorous Warmaster, while the remainder stand staunchly loyal to the Emperor. It is a war of brother against brother, Space Marine against Space Marine, which has seen the might of the Imperium's vast armies turned upon itself in a cataclysm of fire and blood.


In Warhammer: The Horus Heresy you will pit mighty armies of superhuman warriors against each other in apocalyptic tabletop battles. Choose your favoured Legion, from the knightly Dark Angels to the duplicitous Alpha Legion, build your own army from a range of spectacular Citadel and Forge World miniatures, and clash with fellow players in wargames of staggering tactical depth. The tale of the Horus Heresy is the bedrock of Warhammer 40,000's rich history, and this boxed game is the perfect first step to joining the epic conflicts that reshaped the galaxy.”


So now that we know of the Horus Heresy and what it is you’ll be playing:


What Do You Need to Play


In order to play Horus Heresy Age of Darkness you need a few things and, while this list might seem rather large, most of it is provided in the Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness boxset.


Space - You will need space to play. The standard recommended space needed is 6ft X 4ft, but you can play on larger boards for larger games and smaller boards for smaller games, just use your best judgement and play how you want to play. The space can be anywhere you have the space; the kitchen table or the floor are age-old places, but game shops are becoming a more common sight and often have fully kitted-out boards to rent in store.



Terrain - A good amount of terrain on the board breaks up line of sight and gives your model something to hide behind or in. They also add a great feel to any board, allowing you to fight in any environment you would find in the Imperium of Man. Though, you don't have to spend huge sums of money on expensive terrain; cardboard boxes, books, tin cans and the like, with a little imagination, can create an interesting game area. (I’ve even built terrain using lego bricks in the past.)


Books - In order to play any game, you need to know the rules. As such, you will need a copy of the Age of Darkness rulebook, as well as the army book for your army (Liber Astartes for the Loyalists, Liber Hereticus for Traitors, Liber Mechanicum for the Mechanicus, or The Liber Imperium for Loyalist forces).


Dice - What more can I say? You need dice to roll. I'd suggest 30 or so six-sided dice, plus a scatter dice. If you really want to push the boat out, get dice in your army's colours.



Tape Measure - Can be bought at any hardware store, games shop, or found in most toolboxes. Failing that you can use the measuring stick that comes with the Age of Darkness boxset. But I don't trust, anyone, with them; I’ve been wiped with them too many times.



Templates - Some weapons use templates, such as the teardrop flame template or either of the 3-inch or 5-inch circular templates. Luckily again, these are in the Age of Darkness boxset.



Models - You will need the models to play, obviously. But there is plenty of choice to build your own army of either Loyalists or Traitors.



So, that covers what you need to play, but how do all these factors come together? Well, worry not, cause I’m going to cover that now.


Let's firstly have a look at the statline of a Legion Tactical marine:





The statline is noted in a basic table, stating the particular unit it covers and information such as its strengths and weaknesses. But what do you do with the dice and what do all those numbers mean?


M (Movement) - Looking at the profile of a Tactical Marine we can see they have a Movement of 7, meaning they can Move up to 7 inches. This can be modified by difficult terrain but more on that in the next article.


WS (Weapon Skill) - This is the measure of the model's Close Combat Skill with a Melee Weapon. Our Space Marine has a Weapon Skill of 4, which would then be compared to their opponent's Weapon Skill; this would give you the to-hit roll. You would have to roll equal to or above to hit.


BS (Ballistic Skill) - This represents your model's Skill with a Ranged Weapon. Our Space Marine has a Ballistic Skill of 4, meaning he hits on a 3+. This can be modified by rules such as Night Fighting, which, for example, imposes a -1 the roll to hit.


S (Strength) - This represents the Physical Strength of our Space Marine and how easily they can inflict damage upon their opponent.


T (Toughness) - This is how hard your model will be to kill. Our Space Marine is Toughness 4, so anything that wishes to harm them has to compare the attacker's Strength vs the defender's Toughness, and that will be the to-wound roll.


W (Wounds) - This is how much damage the model can take. In the case of our Space Marine they have 1 Wound and therefore, can take a single point of damage. Though there are other models that have multiple Wounds, so they can take multiple points of damage.


I (Initiative) - This is the swiftness of your model. In Close Combat, attacks are carried out in Initiative order. Our Space Marine has an Initiative of 4, so anyone with a higher Initiative goes first, but we’ll look into this in detail in the Assault Phase Article.


A (Attacks) - How many Attacks your model has in Close Combat. Our Space Marine has an Attack stat of 1 and so they will get 1 attack. However, this can be increased by Dual Weapons and Charging, but again, we’ll look into that in more detail in the Assault Phase Article.


Ld (Leadership) - This represents the courage of the warrior. Our Space Marine has a Ld of 7 and so, when called upon to make a Leadership test, will need to roll equal to or under 7 on 2D6. This can be further modified by other units or environmental rules.


Sv (Armour Save) - This represents the model's Armour protecting them from harm. Once a model is Wounded, an Armour Save is rolled if applicable. If the roll is equal to or more than the Armour Save stat, then the damage is mitigated. So in the case of our Space Marine, we would have to roll a 3 or more on a D6 in order for them to not take any damage. Some very powerful Weapons can punch straight though Armour and therefore, allow for no Save at all.


Turn Summary


Games are broken up into turns where each player takes the role of the Active or Reactive player, and each turn is broken up into 5 Phases;


  1. Start of Active player’s turns

  2. Movement Phase

  3. Shooting Phase

  4. Assault Phase

  5. The end of the Active player’s turn


Once this has been completed, the players switch roles.


However, it’s important to note that the Non-Active player is considered to be a Reactive player, so even while your opponent is taking Actions, you still have options in the form of Reactions so that you’re not just sitting back and watching as your models are pushed around the battlefield. During each of the Movement, Shooting and Assault Phases, the Reactive player can make one Reaction and it is possible to gain extra Reactions, up to a maximum of 3 in any one turn. But I’ll cover Reactions and further details of each Phase in the following articles.


With that, I’ve given you a Basic Overview of what you need to play, what some of the Stats mean and very roughly, gone over the turns and phases of the game. In the next article, I’ll begin looking into the various phases of the game in a little more detail, starting with Reactions.


Until then, have a good day and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.




Hi, thank you for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and that it was useful to you. Articles like these take a lot of time to research and write, so if you did enjoy it or found it useful maybe you’d be so kind as to drop me a donation. That way I can continue to fund the products and books I need to keep delivering high quality articles like this.


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Awesome, thanks for the help!

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