Saturday, July 10, 2010

Horus Heresy Board Game - First Impressions

Got a chance to try out Fantasy Flight's Horus Heresy game last night.  We had both skimmed the rules beforehand but this was the first time for either of us playing, and the first time for the game itself, as we had to unpack and assemble everything before we got started with the game itself.  

The game and pieces look good, and the quality is good.  It wouldn't stand up to rough handling, but for regular use it should be fine.  The rules are pretty easy to understand and provide good examples, though could probably stand a little more repetition and cross-referencing.  We spent a good bit of time tracking down rules, which even with the index takes some time.  This is more problematic the first time through; after a game or two I doubt we'd need to look much up.  It was also initially confusing for us as to which cards were which type, with each player having three decks each plus two decks they share it's a lot of cards to keep track of, especially since after they're used some cards can come back making two discard piles for orders necessary.  

We shuffled the various decks, though apparently not well enough at first as we had series of the same cards come up several times.  Spend some serious time randomizing those decks!  The first time through was also especially interesting since we had an idea of the sorts of things of course that occurred during the "real" Heresy but didn't know the specifics of what would be on the cards, so the events and some of the orders were surprises.  We made a couple of rules mistakes (that we know about, maybe there were more!) but discovered them and corrected where we could.  

Once you get a hang of how the game flows it can go pretty quickly, and the initiative track system keeps the game moving back and forth pretty well.  The initiative system is deceptively simple and like other games with simple rules like Diplomacy or Chess can lead to deep play and taking a lot of things into consideration.  You don't want to advance too far ahead on the initiative track for little gain, giving your opponent an opportunity to pull off major actions.  Do you go all out in one area, do you play it by ear and play directly from your hand or do you try to set up longer-term effects over many areas and keep your options open?  Should you set something up for one region, or try to stop what the other guy is prepping for?

Having multiple ways to win also makes for deeper play and a bit of a guessing game.  You can win by killing the enemy leader (Horus or the Emperor) or by controlling all the spaceports after a certain point in the game.  The Imperials also win if the time track runs out, representing other loyalist forces reaching Terra.  There are apparently event cards that can throw a wrench into plans, like forcing Horus to leave the relative safety of his barge, or by denying the Imperials a time-limit victory.  

While there are no dice, it can certainly be random.  A good run of corruption or bombardment checks or some lucky defense laser shots can change things pretty quickly.  Movement is pretty limited, helping to reinforce the feel of it being a siege vs. a pitched battle.  There's a lot of prepping and plotting for advantage and not a lot (at least in our first game) of big open-field clashes. 

It's a fun game, I look forward to playing it again, and will probably get around to buying it myself someday.  If you like board games and have a chance to play it, give it a shot.  


  1. Thanks for the review, it does sound like an interesting game and I've been really curious to hear what people think of it. How was the pace of the game? Did it feel like there would be enough to keep you engaged once you have the rules down? If you get the chance, I'd love to find out if any of your impressions of the game change once you've gotten to play a few more rounds.

  2. I've recently got this game too, so am very interested in your review. I've only played a single 'game' - though this was 'against' myself, so that I could learn the rules.

    I like it and find it interesting, and agree with most of your conclusions.

    I have two concerns however:

    1. This might be a game that is frustratingly simple to lose by accident. Even without an opponent I made mistakes that cost me the game the following round (or would have done, if I hadn't gone back and corrected them). I hope this will actually be less likely when you only have to concentrate on what you are planning.

    2. It looks to me like a Spaceport victory is much, much easier for the Rebels to pull off than an assassination of the Emperor. So much so that I suspect that in practice you'll only be trying to win the game one way rather than several.

    For the Imperial player, it seems like by far your best bet is to teleport aboard the Vengeful Spirit and take out Horus. So much so, that as the Chaos Player I would be looking to get Horus out of the ship and onto the (relative safety) of the ground as soon as possible. Due to the relative lack of movement, he'll be much harder to reach there. And that's a shame as it is so un-'historic'.

    I'm very much looking forward to actually having my first real game though. Hopefully can arrange this in the next couple of weeks.

  3. Papa JJ - will let you know more once we've played a few more times. I do think that it would be engaging enough to play multiple times, especially with the different scenarios.

    Angelic_Despot - I agree it's possible to get derailed and behind the 8-ball pretty easily or to have your intricate plan suddenly trashed. For me in many ways that's a feature, not a bug.

    I agree that the spaceport victory is a bit easier in some ways as the palace is a tough nut to crack, but it can also be easy to stop if the Imperial player puts some effort into it. Having to defend four places can be rough, and if you're pouring reinforcements into those then the Imperial player can be pretty confident in the safety of the Emperor. In our test game, I got really lucky with corruptions and managed to get all four ports early. The Imperial player had forgotten that a SP victory was even possible, but still managed to get me off of two ports at various times. If I had been trying to do other things instead of being committed to reinforcing those ports with my order cards, and if I hadn't gotten lucky several times, things could have gone very differently.


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