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Getting Into: The Horus Heresy

So, you’re thinking about the Horus Heresy Miniatures game?

I think an important question to ask yourself, when thinking about delving into what amounts to a Historical Wargame set in the Warhammer 40,0000 (40k) universe, is “will this be worth it to me?”.

It’s no secret that playing Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness (sometimes called Warhammer 30,000, 30k or just Horus Heresy) – is a potentially daunting prospect. The models are expensive, you need separate (often impractically fancy) books to the current 40k range of rules, and the model range is largely only available in hard-to-work-with resin, from limited suppliers, with only a few plastic kits.

This article isn’t here to persuade you to jump in to this part of the Warhammer universe (I will be writing another article to that tune soon enough!), but it is here to try to present a few ways you can dip your toe into this peculiarly compelling game, without breaking the bank.

A note, prices are listed in UK pounds and may vary in your region! We know prices vary around the globe, particularly when items are being shipped overseas.

Focus on the plastic kits

30k has been popular enough to spawn two large plastic boxed sets (which are tragically no longer available), and this has meant there are now a few ways to buy into the heresy kits without the price and pain of resin.

Legion Tactical Squads

A squad of 10 space marines painted in the legion colours of the Blood Angels, red armour with black trim. They are armed with bolters and combat blades, and the sergeant additionally has a power sword along with a black-and-white crest on his helmet.
Blood Angel MKIV Tactical squad. Credit author.

These are available in Mk III and Mk IV flavours in plastic, and come in at £30 RRP from Games Workshop. The Mk IV is direct-order only, so it’s not possible to get the full third-party discount from, but as of time of writing the Mk III kit can be ordered third party, so look out at your favourite online retailer for up to 25% off that RRP cost.

These kits are both perfect ways to dip into 30k as a hobby project. They’re iconic units, being the staple of almost any basic force, and also they should serve as a fairly simple litmus test of whether you will enjoy painting in the style of your Legion of choice.

Legion Terminator Squads

The Games Workshop store image for Cataphractii Terminators. 5 Cataphractii terminators, painted in ultramarines colours of white and blue, with gold trim. One is armed with a sword and combi-bolter, one with a chainfist and heavy flamer, one with dual lightning claws, and two with combi-bolters and power fists
Ultramarines Cataphractii Terminator squad. Credit Games Workshop.

Also available in two different types, Cataphractii and Tartaros. Both are available only as direct-order from GW, at £40 and £35 respectively. Unlike the tactical squads, these actually have rules differences so it may be worth doing a little research if that is a concern – in general Cataphractii are slow and hard to kill, whilst Tartaros are faster than the average terminator.

I also love these kits, so much so that my Sons of Horus force is almost exclusively made up of terminators. This means that I can field a large army without painting too many figures, and I can represent the fighting elite of the Legion, shrugging off anything less destructive than a plasma gun and wiping almost anything they might face out in melee combat.

Space Marine Heroes

The store image for the Space Marine Heroes kit. In the foreground is a Chaplain painted in the 30k Legion colours for the Ultramarines legion of blue and white and armed with a mace in the shape of an Imperial aquila. In the background is a Praetor in terminator armour, armed with a chainfist and a combi-bolter, also painted in the 30k Ultramarine legion colours of blue and white.
Space Marine Heroes. Credit Games Workshop

These are the two heroes from the Betrayal at Calth boxset, coming in at £30 for the pair from GW, direct-order only. The way heroes work in 30k can be fairly detailed and confusing for a newcomer, but these two work well either built as-is or by chopping off weapons and doing a bit of converting if you’d like. They were also featured in the 40k partworks magazine over a year ago, and can be found second-hand for fairly cheap.

Contemptor Dreadnought

A Plastic contemptor dreadnought kit painted in the colours of the Legio Custodes, gold armour with red shoulderpads. It is armed with a power fist and an assault cannon
Legio Custodes Contemptor Dreadnought. Credit Games Workshop

A plastic version of the resin product, costing you £35 direct-only from GW. This isn’t a widely loved kit – the posing is static and it only has one weapon choice (either a multi-melta or a kheres assault cannon) – but it is certainly cheaper than buying a resin Contemptor from Forge World. These tall dreadnoughts not only boast the fabulous innovation of actual knees, but also give your army some anti-tank punch, as well as the immunity to small arms that vehicles boast in 30k.

Other 40k Space Marine Plastic Kits

A plastic Land Raider kit painted in the Sons of Horus legion colours of sea-green and black, including transfers.
Sons of Horus Land Raider. Credit author.

Rhinos, Predators, Vindicators, Land Raiders, even Marines in armour marks more associated with 40k than 30k – there is plenty in the Space Marine range you can happily use in 30k. Lots of vehicles have expensive resin Forge World equivalents, but there is nothing to stop you using the (relatively!) cheap plastic options. They just represent different designs of the same vehicle – as a rule the plastic versions are Mars-pattern and the resin ones are Deimos-pattern, and both were used during the Heresy!

Buy second-hand

Buying things second hand can be a great way to get something you want for less. Forge World stuff tends to keep its value quite well, but you can expect to pay under the asking price for things people have already assembled, or even painted if the standard isn’t too high. Doing this also helps a fellow hobbyist reduce their shame pile down to a more manageable mountain, and isn’t that just doing them a great service?

I have found most success finding second-hand stuff on Facebook groups such as this one here.

Be aware: stripping paint off resin can be difficult, but isn’t impossible!

Play an army you can use in both 40k and 30k

This is a difficult one, and the mileage you’ll get from this will vary depending on the army you want to play as, as well as how much “historical” detail you care about. I’ll run through a few options:

Legio Custodes and Adeptus Custodes

A Legio Custodes Shield Captain from Forge World, painted in the colours of the custodes, gold with red trim. He is equipped with a Guardian Spear and is unhelmeted. His pose is at rest.
Legio Custodes Shield Captain. Credit Games Workshop

The Emperor’s Bodyguards are a full standalone army in 40k and 30k, so it initially seems like we’re onto a winner with these. However there are a few caveats: lots of the 40k-specific plastic kits don’t directly translate into 30k units – Allarus Terminators, Dawneagle Jetbikes, anyone armed with a Castellan Axe – all of these don’t specifically exist in the 30k rules. Oddly though, the reverse doesn’t hold true – almost all the Custodes units in resin made for 30k can be used with full 40k rules support. Building a 30k Custodes army will often lead to your having a perfectly serviceable 40k army to use, but doing it the other way around won’t work so well. This won’t be cheap – but it will let you run a force that works in both games.


Large horned daemons, holding giant hammers and swords, painted red and black.
Daemons of the Ruinstorm. Credit Games Workshop.

Daemons work very unusually in 30k, they are effectively a “design your own army” force. You can bring a horde of weak disposable bodies, or design your army around one or two extremely souped-up hyperdaemons who can take on all comers.

In terms of miniatures, there is only one dedicated kit that Forge World has produced for this faction, and everything else is up to you – leading lots of hobbyists to use the current plastic range of daemons to fill in. This means it’s pretty easy to construct a 40k daemon army that you could use to represent the myriad possibilities of a 30k one – to say nothing of the plethora of third-party beasties on offer you could use.

Imperial Army and Astra Militarum

Three armoured fighting vehicles of the imperial army in a row. The two at the sides are Aurox transports, and the middle vehicle is a leman russ battle tank. They are painted in urban blue, with yellow unit marker details.
Imperial Army tanks. Credit Games Workshop

The Excertus Imperialis (the official “High Gothic” name for the Imperial Army in 30k) have their own army list, including rules for using the beautiful but stunningly expensive Solar Auxilia range that Forge World produces. However, there are no dedicated official miniatures for the bog-standard Imperial Army, so it’s totally viable to use current 40k Astra Militarum models, classic metal units like Valhallans and Mordians, or even the many third-party offerings available. This can also lead to a pretty respectable Astra Militarum force for 40k, as both they and the Imperial Army know the joys of hordes of lasgun-wielding soldiers and Leman Russ battletanks.

Legiones Astartes, Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines

A unit of 10 Cataphractii Terminators, with Abaddon in the middle. They are painted in Sons of Horus sea-green, with red shoulder pads and gold trim. Abaddon has been converted to hold a spear.
Sons of Horus terminator squad led by Abbadon. Credit Games Workshop

Part of the joy for lots of 30k players is recreating the Space Marine Legions and the ways they were different to the Chapters and Warbands of 40k. However, 40k is a setting where everything is ancient and nothing is new, so there are still possibilities here. Chapters often have stores of older patterns of armour, so using those Mk III and Mk IV armour kits in a 40k is totally feasible. Mk VI and Mk VII armour were used during the titular conflict of the Horus Heresy, so they’re totally feasible to use in 30k. This is assuming you even care about this historical side of things – if not, this is a simple case of swapping out units for their equivalents in the other system. This is typically a little easier with loyalist forces in 40k, as by that time in the setting a lot of Chaos things are much less recognisable and have a host of weird and wonderful daemons and daemon engines available to them.

Mechanicum and Adeptus Mechanicus

An edited shot of two Mechanicum Thrallax War Robots, advancing with their weapons ready. They are painted in off-white and metal, and the background of the photo shows them advancing through a polluted warzone.
Mechanicum Thallax. Credit Games Workshop

This is more of a warning than a recommendation: there is bafflingly little cross-compatibility between the rules and models for the Mechanicum in 30k, and the rules and models for the Adeptus Mechanicus in 40k. In 30k, you can’t use Skitarii, or pretty much any of the plastic 40k vehicles. This holds true looking at it from the 40k perspective – almost all the resin vehicles and robots don’t have any 40k rules.

However! There is nothing stopping you being creative, as the Mechanicum are the masters of plugging other things into each other to make a horrifying result. Perhaps if you run a 40k Ad Mech force, you could use your hordes of Skitarii as tech-thralls, or a 30k Mechanicum player could use your host of warmachines as Kastellan Battle Robots. Just be warned that there’s very little 1:1 overlap, which means that if you’re bringing an army like this to an official event or a pickup game at a friendly local game store, you might find difficulty getting an opponent.

Xenos armies?!

An old piece of Codex art depicting Eldrad Ulthran casting a psychic spell of lightning. He is wearing his black armour and Farseer's robes.
Aeldari at war artwork. Credit Games Workshop

This isn’t really what 30k is about – the creators and custodians of the game have said as much – and as such there are no official rules for Xenos models for 30k. For some Xenos races, this is as much a factor of the lore as anything else – the Tau are still a stone age species, the Necrons are all snugly asleep in the Tombs, and the Tyranids are still travelling on the slow intergalactic train to the Milky Way.

But, it is still possible – there are lots of fan-written rules available for 30k, and some of them let you run a Xenos force against a 30k-era Imperial one (here’s a link to an example). Perhaps you want to recreate part of the battle of Ullanor, pitting Orks against Astartes, or perhaps the story you want to tell is of an Aeldari intervention into a battle during the Heresy. This lets anyone with a Xenos army get a taste of the ruleset, and also potentially allows for the telling of some more unusual stories in the setting.

Rules, campaign and army books

the author of the article with messy hair holding a copy of Book 8: Malevolence in his hand whilst looking curious
The author

So far I’ve really just touched on how to get into the miniatures side of things. But if you want to play, then you need the rules.

30k is a game based on 7th-edition Warhammer 40,000, which means you can’t just use the current crop of rulebooks and codexes available for 40k at the moment. Several years ago, the only way to get rules for 30k was the inexplicably fancy series of campaign books, also known as the Black Books, which were three parts leather-bound history tome to one part rulebook. However depending on the army you want to run, you now have other options.

The basic rulebook contains the actual mechanics for playing the game. It’s available for £40 here.

If you want to run a Mechanicum army, they have their own army list book here, available for £32. In conjunction with the rulebook, that’s all you’ll need!

Similarly, if you want to run an Imperial Army force they also have their own army list book for £32, which will set you up fully in conjunction with the main rulebook.

Space Marines are a little more complicated. No matter what Legion you’re running, you’ll want this Legiones Astartes Army List book, available here for £32. You could stop here, as you can run a basic Space Marine force for any Legion with just this and the rulebook.

If you want the most up-to-date rules for your Legion, you’ll need another book. The most up-to-date rules for many Legions are in this book, the Legiones Astartes Legions, also £32. This has all you’ll need for the following legions: Emperor’s Children; Iron Warriors; Imperial Fists; Iron Hands; World Eaters; Ultramarines; Death Guard; Sons of Horus; Word Bearers; Salamanders; Raven Guard; Alpha Legion.

Some Legions’ rules are still only available in Black Book form, however – and those books also contain rules for other armies.

Book 9: Crusade (£84): has rules for the Dark Angels and the Night Lords Legions.

Book 8: Malevolence (£45, softback): rules for the Blood Angels and White Scars Legions, and army lists for the Legio Custodes and the Daemons of the Ruinstorm.

Book 7: Inferno (£80): rules for the Thousand Sons and Space Wolves Legions, as well as the Sisters of Silence.

Book 6: Retribution (£45, softback): rules for Blackshields (renegade Astartes loyal to neither Imperium or Warmaster) and Shattered Legion forces (Space Marines from different legions broken by the war but who band together to fight).

The previous books 1 – 5 are also available, but most of the unit rules in them are now contained in the books previously mentioned.

Find a friend

This is something I’d recommend for getting started with any tabletop game, if you can do it. Find someone who is willing to give you an intro game – perhaps at a local club, or someone you already know can do this. The best way to know if it’s worth investing time and money into something is to try it, after all. You’d be surprised how many people will have enough stuff available to do this, too – I personally have a Blood Angels and a Sons of Horus army for 30k ready for anyone teetering on the brink to try out.

I can’t blame anyone for seeing the cost of the books alone and noping out, remember, you can always ask a friend to help! Borrow a book to have a read before you invest.

Horus Heresy is a game of surprising narrative depth, as well as a community of people who approach the setting just as diligently as any old hand painting their Napoleonic banners with the correct battle honours for the year the battle they’re depicting is set.

If this setting speaks to you for whatever reason, do consider getting involved!

By Fiy

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