A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 23, 2024

Tagged: warhammer 40K horusheresy toronto hogtown40k

My Luna Wolves Dreadnaught

I recently attended a Horus Heresy tournament organized by local gaming group Hogtown 40K. This was a full day of gaming, the most warhammer I have played in quite some time. (My last epic adventure in Warhammer was playing a never ending game of 40K in Lexington, with my friend’s husband before their wedding.) I have been painting my Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness boxed set in slow motion since it was released, so playing in this tournament felt like a nice conclusion to that hobby project.

For those unfamiliar, the Horus Heresy is the galactic civil war that sets up many of the important elements of the 40K setting as we know it: a probably dead emperor of mankind on a golden throne, chaos space marines, demons, etc. The Horus Heresy takes place 10,000 years before the time period of 40K. The game Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness is essentially Games Workshops’ take on Napoleonics. There is an emphasis on treating the game like any other historical, except the history of this game is 100% made up. People will paint armies appropriate for particular time periods of the war. They will make sure their colour schemes are consistent and correct.1 Compared to larger Warhammer 40,000 scene, there is a greater emphasis on the narrative side of the game.

Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness feels like a modern take on retro rulesets. If you played Warhammer 40K prior to its 8th edition, Horus Heresy will feel familiar. You’ll see universal special rules, vehicle facing, blast templates, etc. There are lots of niche rules, which makes for a very flavourful game, but also one that is a bit tricky to keep entirely in your head. You will need at least two (giant) rulebooks to play, with rules for your units spread between both. The game would have felt impossible to play if I didn’t create my army list on New Recruit, which collects all the rules for your units together in one place.

Most of Games Workshop’s games share a lot of DNA, and this game is no exception. You use d6s throughout. You roll to hit, then to wound, then make armour saves. Like all GW games, you often roll a fuck-ton of dice to accomplish very little. There are lots of small differences between Horus Heresy and modern 40K. Armour Piercing isn’t a modifier, you either ignore armour saves or you don’t. When a unit loses a combat, there is a chance they will rout and just be cut down by the opposing side. Similarly a unit that is routing can be killed outright by any unit that manages to charge into it. These changes will lead to faster game play: you just lift models. Some changes slow the game down, but make for fun situations. Melee combat happens in initiative order, like Mordheim: you might be able to kill a few dudes carrying massive thunder hammers before they 100% blow you up. Like most Games Workshop games, Horus Heresy’s turn structure is “I go, you go”. They have introduced a pool of reactions you can make during each phase of the opposing players turn, making the games feel a bit more dynamic, and ensuring both players are engaged throughout each turn. You might shoot back when shot, fire overwatch when being charged, etc. The number of reactions you can make is small and intuitive. It’s a nice addition to the game.

The format for the tournament was cute: each player made a list of 1250 points, a little under half of what is recommended for a full game of Horus Heresy (3000 points); players were paired up and played as a team against their opponents. I was encouraged to sign up for the tournament, even though I had never played a game of Horus Heresy before, because the format of the tournament lends itself to teaching and learning the game. My first partner was someone with a lot of experience playing the game.2 That ended up being the case in subsequent games as well.3 Games that would have been a slog to get through if I was playing alone flew by with ease.

I honestly had no good reason to pick up the Age of Darkness boxed set, but i’m glad I did. Getting into Heresy has been a fun hobby project these last months and years. Getting ready for this tournament, painting my last few minies, was particularly fun. I always find it motivating painting for an event or game, trying to get a unit done under the wire. Up next is getting my Sons of Horus army up to 3000 points.


  1. One thing Games Workshop does well is make sure the lore of their setting allows for maximal creativity when it comes to the hobby of building and painting miniatures. In Horus Heresy, if your Ultramarines are a platoon that turned to Chaos and have black helmets because you like black, that would work. There is space in the setting for this sort of deviation. The scene around the Horus Heresy seems to value people taking the time to think through what they are making, and putting care into their hobby activities. 

  2. Harrison: what a god damn hero! 

  3. Shout out to Graeme and Matt as well!