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.