Book Review: The Horus Heresy Book 1 – Betrayal

My good friend John recently ordered and just received the much-anticipated Forgeworld book “The Horus Heresy Book 1: Betrayal”. I haven’t seen the book yet, but John offered up a review and I gladly took him up on posting his thoughts here on Cranky Old Gamer. After reading this and the commentary in White Dwarf’s latest release, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll not only get the book, but I’m seriously considering that pre-Heresy army (now only to find the time and money…)

Check out the review below – enjoy! And thanks John!

Review follows:

I just received my copy of Horus Heresy: Betrayal today (a record in shipment time from the UK). The first thing you notice is the book is gorgeous, it’s bound like an old school encyclopedia (and even has a volume number on the spine), metal edging over the corners, and silver finish on the page edges. Easily the highest production values of any book that I’ve ever purchased. But, how’s the content?

I’d like to preface this by saying I’ve not had a lot of time to digest it, but here’s what I’ve seen with it. The first 140 pages are fluff, They detail the unification wars, the crusades, pictures of armour and wargear from the heresy, organization of the Space Marine Legions and lots of color scheme info on the 4 covered legions (Sons of Horus, Deathguard, World Eaters and Emperor’s Children, pictures of the color schemes both before and after the appropriate Primarchs were discovered and took over control of the legions). Then, there’s discussion of the betrayal on Isstvan III, and the battles that occured there. I’ll probably have more comments on this once I’ve had a longer time to read it (I’m more of a ‘crunch’ reader on my initial read through, and usually go back to the fluff later). The artwork is amazing, there’s maps of the Isstvan III, showing locations of where the various legions deployed.

After this is detailed the Isstvan III Campaign and full rules for playing it out. Of use in most games are new missions and deployments. Two of the deployments look identical to the ones in the BRB (though I didn’t double check this, so there might be some minor differences), the remaining four look new. The first one is “Clash of the Line”. The opposing armies deploy on the short table edges in an arrowhead formation. Looks interesting, you want a strong unit in the tip. The fourth one looks pretty standard except you deploy on the short edges instead of the long ones. The fifth one is ambush, one player deploys in the center of the table, the other deploys on both short edges. The last one is vanguard strike, the table is formed into triangle deployments.

The missions are:

  • Blood Feud – Basic ‘destroy the enemy army’ engagement.
  • Fire Tide – Looks almost identical to the “Inferno” battle published in White Dwarf for Cityfight. Inferno markers are placed each turn that ignite cover and can damage models in play.
  • Shatter Strike – Victory points are scored for entering the opponent’s deployment zone.
  • Onslaught – Victory points are gained for wiping out enemy units. Additionally, each player places a single objective in their deployment zone. Your opponent gains significant victory points if they control the objective at the end of the game.
  • Dominion – Standard objectives, except any unit except independent characters, flyers and dedicated transports can score.
  • Extermination – Kill the enemy, the more elite the better.

Then, there are legendary battles. There look really interesting. For instance, the second one involves loyalists trying to save remembrancers from traitor forces by escorting them to a shuttle. There are four of these Legendary battles, and they all look terrific. Further, there’s an Isstvan III battlefield terrain table, and it looks much, much cooler then the one in the BRB. For instance, “Toxic Fog”, which worsens your armour save by 1, but anyone targetting the unit has to use night fighting rules. Or you might find an unexploded life eater bomb (which is unbelievably brutal, with Lifebane and instant death rules).

Next up are updated Zone Mortalis rules. These look very fun to play for a change of pace. It’s best at lower point values (not more then 1000), on a smaller playing surface (4’x4′ at 1000, 2’x2′ at 500). It includes rules for setting up the terrain, destroying and locking doors, reaction fire (a great rule, high initiative models can make overwatch fire at full BS! Beware the Eldar…), enemy unknown (blips are used rather then models, a throwback to Space Hulk), Cold Void and Poison gas. It has 2 Zone Mortalis scenarios. And then, for fun, it has a bunch of Zone Mortalis Strategems, some of which are very cool (I like the fire wasp assault robot).

Army lists are next. The first thing is there’s a new category in the FOC, the “Lord of War”. I like this rule, and think we should adapt it for Apocalypse. It basically limits your uber-units (super heavies, primarchs, war engines) to no more then 25% of your army point value, and only for 2000 points or more. There’s a new allies chart. It’s slightly different then the existing one, plus certain models are “Agents of the Emperor” or “Agents of the Warmaster” and can adjust the chart. And there’s also new Warlord Traits for Space Marine Legions. The Legion army list looks really good, but you pay for the swag. As an example, a legion assault squad is over 30% more points then one chosen from Codex: Space Marines. Also, none of the space marine legion troops have “And They Shall Know No Fear”. Where the squads get better is to add additional members. The aforementioned assault squad can add addition members up to 20 at 83% of the cost of a Codex Space Marine equivalent.

The list is quite simply amazing. It has tons of options, and lots of customization. Standouts for me are apothecaries (up to 3 per Elite pick, give feel no pain to a squad), Siege Squads (marines with boarding shields and hardened armour), recon squads (marines with sniper rifles and no gimpy scout stats!) and vindicators that can take a Laser destroyer array in place of the demolisher cannon. Also cool, you can take an artillery tank squadron (basilisk, medusa or whirlwind). My favorite squad currently are seekers. They’re essentially assassination squads to kill enemy commanders, and get special ammo (ala Sternguard, but different types available) and can select an enemy unit or character as “Marked for Death”, and gain preferred enemy against this model or unit. They can also take combi-weapons. There are some differences in the vehicles (the Legion Caestus has two Havoc launchers as an example). Super heavies include the mighty Fellblade, typhon, Thunderhawk (both types), Cerberus (a tank destroyer) and Malcador assault tank.

Lots of new wargear are detailed. I like the Phosphex shells from a medusa (nasty poison rounds that remain in play for the entire game!). The Graviton cannon looks quite cool, too. And beware of Rad Missiles! Models wounded but not killed by rad missiles see permenant toughness decreases! Volkite weapons are a new class of “ray guns”. They have high Str, low AP but inflict additional hits for each wounding hit. Suspensor webs are also back (so you can move and fire certain heavy weapons). Lots of new vehicle weapons and upgrades, and even a page of advanced AdMech weapons.

Next up are the unique Legion units and rules. Each legion gets 1 or 2 unique units and a handful of special rules, some have some new equipment as well. The stats for the new characters are here as well.

Detailed are:

  • For the Sons of Horus, we’ve got Horus, Abaddon and Garviel Loken.
  • World Eaters have got Shabran Darr (a loyalist Centurion) and Angron.
  • Emperor’s Children have Fulgrim, Rylanor the Unyielding (a character Contemptor Dreadnought!) and Saul Tarvitz.
  • Deathguard have Mortarion, Crysos Morturg (a loyalist section leader with a psychic power!) and Durak Rask (traitor Siege Master)

Almost at the end, and what I find really intriguing, there’s a mini AdMech list. They can only be used as allies, but they have “Thallax Cohorts” (AdMech cyborgs) as troops. They have Ogryn like Str and Toughness, eclectic weapons, really trash cover, jetpacks(!) and bizarre weapons. Oh, and 5 or less can take an AdMech Land Raider! Which is also interesting, as you can arm these in many different ways that marines cannot. AdMech can also take avenger strike fighters, and titans reside here as well.

Last section are a reprint of the Apocalypse rules. And that about covers it. Happy to answer any questions on the content.

– John


  1. This sound really cool!

  2. I know, right? In another email, we were discussing that the options, even for a single list, are very diverse. You and I could sit down and come up with 2 army lists that are very different yet both (at least on paper) seem very effective. Pretty exciting possibilities here.

  3. I’ve been pondering the list for a large chunk of today (ya, real productive day) trying to figure out where I want my list to go. It’s an awful lot to digest and I haven’t worked anything out. You really, really need to have a strong theme as you will not be able to include everything.

  4. That speaks to the variation and combinatorics – that’s awesome!

  5. One of the things I’m so, so going to do is convert an Ordo Mechanicus Land Raider with Graviton Cannon. That might be my next big project…And sorry traitor scum, Ordo Mechanicus allies are currently loyalist only…

  6. Bah! You and your loyalist lapdogs and all their new-fangled toys. The Dark Gods will protect against your puny mortal weapons.

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