Heresy Is Upon Us
Warmaster Horus Lupercal has plunged the Imperium of Mankind into a cataclysmic war of unimagineable ferocity. Setting brother against brother he has risen up against the Emperor taking half of the Legiones Astartes with him. The nine steadfast loyal legions defy this onslaught through years of strife to the culmination in 30014 of the Siege of Terra. The Horus Heresy: Age Of Darkness is the long-awaited prequel to Warhammer 40000 depicting the era 10,000 years before.
For those who have been waiting for it all you need to know is you get a lot for your money. Even with Zatu's generous discount you are still looking to shell out a lot of moolah but listen to what you get : 24 sprues of goodness - all combat, no padding with terrain bits here - plus the 336 page Age of Darkness rules and background book. This alone weighs in at a hefty 1.75 Kilos! Ideal for that light holiday read. This would all add up to a whopping £336 at GW list price and that's not even counting the dice, Damage Templates, Transfers and "whippy" measuring sticks.
This set is ideal if you want to launch into classic (or is that pre-classic?) Space Marine v Space Marine action dividing your forces into heretic or loyalist Legions. This is civil war, no messing with alien races here. You have 40 Marines to split typically into two legions, a Praetor for each side and 10 Terminators and a Dreadnought to balance agaainst a newly upgraded and enlarged Spartan Assault Tank.
Legions Assembled (Assembly Required)
The mouldings are all crisp and clear of flash. GW plastic is easy to work with for tidying up sprue marks etc. The level of detail is intense. Assembly is straightforward and the parts all fit together really well. I've built a lot of plastic kits: German, Japanese, American and these are the most satisfying.
The, pictorial, instructions are clear and well laid out with every piece referenced by number to a corresponding sprue (so long as you've worked out which sprue is which.) The numbers are clear but can be hard to spot and hours of "Where's Wally" like fun can be had trying to track one down. Bizarrely the numbers aren't sequential from 1 but jump about a bit. This is weird but not really a problem. Too the 6 Spartan tank sprues (yes it's a biggie) are B, E, F, C, L and A.
I used Plastic Magic 10 Sec Cement for Age of Darkness which gave me time to adjust if necessary and then held fast. Construction was a pleasure.
MKVI Marine Squad - Tick Tactical
The Marines are presented in MKVI power armour to build and paint to whichever of the 18 Legions you choose from the Ist to the XXth (the IInd and XIth being the "Lost Legions" purged along with their Primarchs from history) and have Umbra pattern boltguns as their primary weapon. The Legionaries come in five different poses and can be built carrying the Vexilla (standard) or Nuncio-Vox (communications device).
The Bolters can have Bayonets or Chain Bayonets added and the legionaries can carry Frag grenades or Krak grenades.
One per unit of 10 can be built as a Sergeant with Plasma pistol and Power Sword. The Sword can be exchaged for a Power Fist or Lightning Claw and he can carry Melta bombs.
There are 4 different head types and given that there are whole sprues of the various options and accessories you could build all your boxful of marines as 40 unique models.
Terminators - They Can Go Around Killing People
The 10 Terminators in Age of Darkness,are clad in Cataphractii armour (named for the Cataphracts, the Persian heavily armoured cavalry of ancient times). This armour provides an unparalleled level of protection at the expense of speed of movement.
The 5 man squads consist of 4 Terminators and 1 Terminator Sergeant. The Terminators are armed with a Combi-Bolter and a Power Fist which can be exchanged individually for a Heavy Flamer and a Chainfist respectively or collectively for two Lightning Claws.
The Sergeant has a Power Sword along with his Combi-Bolter. He can swap his Power Sword for a Power Fist and trade both for two Lighning Claws. There are multiple frontal armour types, heads. pauldrons and small shield emblems provided to make your squads unique.
Praetor Your Gods
The praetors are the leaders of the Legion, centurions if you will, and come as two large models armed with a Power sword or a Power Axe either of which can be exchanged in the game for a Paragon Blade though these are not supplied. Each does, however, have a choice of heads with mighty headdresses. The exquisite models have a wealth of detail in Artificer armour, are equipped with pistols and grenades and look truly commanding in their swirling capes.
Dreadnought "Even In Death I Still Serve"
The mighty Dreadnought - man resurrected as killing machine - is depicted in Contemptor armour and with a vast array of weaponry available. In gameplay the terms the Contemptor USP is that it has its own atomic reactor power source enabling such a heavy weight to still move with speed.
The standard armament is a Gravis bolt cannon and a Gravis power fist with inbuilt combi-bolter. Either of these can be swapped for Gravis auto cannon, bolt cannon, lascannon, melta cannon or power fist with inbuilt combi-bolter. The combi-bolter can itself be swapped for a Heavy flamer, Plasma blaster, Graviton gun or Meltagun.
There is a whole sprue just full of the different weapon loadouts. I believe keen gamers use drilled holes and magnets to allow weapon swapping after the build is complete. I have not done this.
Tanks - A - Lot
And now the piece to end resistance, the new bigger and better Spartan Assault Tank. This has got 6 sprues of pieces which go together remarkably well to produce a very impressive 20x15x12 cm piece of hardware. It's a shame the floor wasn't in just one piece but it still went together. I was particularly impressed with the tracks. They came in 22 pieces but fitted together really snugly and easily. The front loading door will open and close to show the detailed interior and you can easily make the side hatches openable too. The hatch can be fitted closed or open with a Commander figure or a Gunner operating the pintle mounted weapon.
The main armament is fixed as 2x4 barrelled lascannon arrays that can swivel and elevate on their Sponson Mounts.
The hull-mounted weapon, which also moves, can be twin-linked heavy bolter, heavy flamer or lascannon.
The pintle mounted weapon can be: twin-linked bolter, combi-weapon, heavy bolter or flamer, multi-melta or a havoc launcher.
Finally you can have a hull-mounted hunter-killer missile and a searchlight to light up your show!
Whilst I always have a problem with GW vehicles having too high a profile making them easy targets there's no doubting this is an impressive looking machine. For me doors to unload troops should be at the rear. This gives disembarkees protection from enemy fire. Also a door at the front presents an armour weak spot just where you don't want it!
Buy The Book
The Book is a delight. A paean of praise to the book-makers art. 334 pages of pure pleasure, full colour plates and illustrations throughout printed on high-quality, heavy stock paper that feels like a newly-opened CCG card deck to touch. Hard-back bound with gloss and matt effect cover illustration and a handy brown ribbon to mark the page you are on. This ribbon is most useful because you've got a lot to get through.
The first 145 pages are background material and in-depth studies of all the combatant Legions and auxillary forces, their weapons and their armour including 5 full page plates showing how we arrived at MKVI armour. There's details of all 18 Legiones Astartes, biographies of their Primarchs and descriptions of their fighting styles. This means you can choose which suits your play style and you have a ready made painting guide.
Typically you should pit loyal Legions: I, V, VI, VII, IX, X, XIII, XVIII and XIX against heretic ones: III, IV, VIII, XII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII and XX. I'm going for the XIXth Corvus Corax's Raven Guard against the Warmaster's own Sons of Horus XVIth Legion mainly because I thought Black and Dark Green armour might be easier to paint. You can as the book points out mix whatever you like because (conveniently) even the loyal Legions had traitors and vice versa. So if you want Blood Angels v Space Wolves go for it.
Then there is the background to the Horus Heresy itself. It is suggested that you read three paperback novels from the Black Library to get the full picture but I felt the many pages here plus detailed timeline and galactic map were enough to get you a sense of place on the battlefield. Whilst the Galactic Map is nice and detailed they keep referring in the text to Northern edge or Eastern rim etc. There are no Compass points in space but we know what they mean.
Towards the end of the Age of Darkness book, there is another chunky section of model armies, battlefield layouts and suggested missions.
One Rules To Bind Them All
That means the remaining 104 pages of the book of Horus Heresy: The Age of Darkness is the rule set. Each player receives a 4-page Reference Sheet which highlights the main rule changes and damage tables. There is also a 10-page section at the back of the assembly instructions that gives the Army List Entries for all the units included and their various weapons plus details of special rules associated with them. This should enable players to get going relatively quickly.
It is, however, suggested that even experienced players read the full rule set so they don't make any rash assumptions about changes made or not made. The main difference between this rule set and its predecessor is the introduction of Reaction Phases. These can occur in the Movement Phase, the Firing Phase and the Assault Phase. This changes the traditional procedure of Player 1 does all their actions then Player 2 does all theirs. This interactive ability means the non-phasing player may move towards or away from another unit they see. It can return fire or evade fire aginst a firing unit and it can conduct overwatch fire or "Hold the Line" against a charging unit. All this adds up to a more immersive session as the turns progress.
As for the main rules themselves well dem's the rules. If you are playing Warhammer 30K these are the rules you will use. Unless, of course, you agree a few house rules between yourselves but that's up to you. Personally I think there is a certain amount of verbiosity e.g. it takes three paragraphs to explain what to do if your die is "cocked", not lying flat, as opposed to saying "roll again"! They are a very thorough read covering pretty much every situation but if you've got a good grasp of the basic rules or wargaming in general you can probably get by with the player aids and just use the main rule set as a reference tome to dip into as required. There is a very useful Index at the back to help you do just this.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Horus Heresy may self style itself the Age of Darkness but I feel this set ushers in an era of fun and entertainment. I've thoroughly enjoyed building my models and seeing them arrayed on the battlefield and I haven't even started the joy of painting them all yet or adding the transfers. I treasure the book and find myself absently stroking it at times and I look forward to many battles against the Legions of the Heretics.
Authors Note: All full colour models are images from Games Workshop that came with the game.