I thought today I might continue my look at the various legions available to play in the Horus Heresy series. This time I’ll be looking over the four legions that came out in Book One: Betrayal. Firstly, just let me say that this is meant as a bit of fun, and not to be taken to seriously. Please don’t be to offended if I bag your legion! I think that all the legions released so far are viable and can be used really effectively. That being said, some are definitely better than others, at least in terms of general rules. Also, I don’t have experience playing with or against all of the various legions yet, so some of these comments are based on theoryhammer rather than first hand knowledge.
When comparing legions there are six main factors I consider: Legion Specific Rules and unique equipment, unique Rite of War, unique units, unique special characters, and primarch. Finally, I like to consider the legion background and painting of the legion. While this last one has no specific rules, I think the colour scheme and background is actually one of the most important factors in choosing an army. I’ve always gotten far more from an army that I love the look of and enjoy collecting rather than one chosen purely for its rules.
I thought I’d start with the legions of Horus Heresy book 1: The Sons of Horus, World Eaters, Emperor’s Children and the Death Guard. When considering these legions, it’s really important to remember a lot of their rules are split between the first and second Horus Heresy Books. I’ll be looking at the rules as presented in both books. On this, I can’t recommend the Horus Heresy Legion Astartes books enough. The Isstvaan Campaign Legions book contains all the rules for the first twelve legions released in one easily accessible book.
Sons of Horus
Legion special rules: The rules here are pretty middle tier. They were probably the strongest of the legions in book 1, however they’ve definitely been surpassed by some of the legions in the later books.
The Edge of the Spear: Legion Astartes in reserve (and their transports) can re-roll results of 1 when making reserve rolls. handy for getting reserves to show up when you want them. Remember you only need to take the re-roll if you want to, so you could still chose to fail if you want the squad staying in reserve to show up later. Also, keep in mind that this rule won’t apply to units without Legions Astartes special rule, like most tanks.
Bitter Pride: Legion Astartes can’t benefit from allied warlord traits, but seriously, who cares.
Merciless Fighters: this is the best of the special rules for the Sons of Horus, and means you can really lay some hurt in close combat. Basically, if Sons of Horus outnumber the enemy at the initiative step 1 of an assault, then everyone who has already attacked can attack again. Obviously it favors using big squads to get the most out of it. The real drawback here is that the extra attacks are generated at initiative step 1, and only models who have already attacked can use them. This means that all those power fists and power axes get no benefit from this rule. As a result, many terminators won’t gain anything here.
Unique Wargear: The only unique equipment the Sons of Horus have access to are Banestrike bolter rounds, and these only on seeker squads, reaver squads, and as an upgrade for independent characters. Banestrike rounds are basically toned down rending bolter rounds, where a 6 to wound results in AP3. However, their range is reduced compared to normal bolters. There cheap, so could be a fun upgrade on independent characters, but unlikely to come up much. Still, they are certainly handy on the reaver squads.
Rite of War: Again, middle tier. Allows you to take reavers as troops, troops arriving from reserve gain fleet on the turn they arrive, and Justaerin terminators gain deep strike. Finally, all legion astartes gain rage when they charge into an ongoing assault. Reavers as troops is the whole reason you take this rite, as all the other bonuses are either very situational or not that good. Fleet on infantry arrive from reserve seems pretty pointless to me, as you can’t charge anyway. Rage when charging into an ongoing assault is ok, but quite situational. Let’s be honest, having some of your units getting stuck in assault just so others can gain rage on later turns doesn’t seem like something you want to build a strategy or a list around. The restrictions aren’t terrible, although a limitation on heavy support is always a pretty big negative.
Not sure if it’s worth it here. Reavers as troops is great, but Maloghurst also unlocks this.
Unique Units: Pretty good overall, but it’s all thanks to the reavers. Reavers are amazing, and are one of the most versatile units in the game. They have incredibly flexible equipment options and can be used to move rapidly with jump packs, shoot, assault or hunt tanks. They can be a little pricey based on their equipment, but a fantastic unit.
Justaerin Terminators: A scary unit, but far to expensive for what you get. Equipping them with a multi-melta is a bit of a waste, and means the rest of the squad’s shooting is likely doing nothing against tanks. I’d pass in favor of normal terminators.
Dreadclaw: A nice and cheap flyer to transport squads around the table, although it’s limited in what units it can transport.
Special Characters: Middle tier. Maloghurst is the stand out, as he makes reaver squads troops, which is an amazing ability. He’s also cheap, which is always handy. Not really blown away by Abaddon or Loken. Neither are bad, but they’re expensive and not spectacular compared with some of the competition.
Primarch: Horus! Top tier, without a doubt. The primarch to which all others are measured, and which almost all are found wanting. He’s expensive, but with amazing special rules and abilities.
Background/Painting: Top tier here. It’s a tricky paint scheme, but one that looks really good when done well. Their background is great, and they’re involved with almost all the major battles and events of the early heresy.
Overall: I rank the Son’s of Horus as one of the middle tier legions of those released so far. Horus, Reaver squads, and their background are definitely their standouts. For best results, I’d either go assault heavy with Horus as the spear tip, or I’d go fast and maneuverable with lots of reavers.
The World Eaters
Legion Special Rules: World Eaters are unusual in that they have two versions of their special rules, representing the changes in the legion after Istvaan. Their early rules (as shown in book 1) are bottom tier. The first component is Incarnate Violence, whereby all legion astartes world eaters gain furious charge after they destroy another unit/force them to fall back in an assault. Furthermore, characters get +1WS in challenges. This is handy, as it helps counter the attrition that combat units inevitably suffer over the course of a game by allowing them to hit harder in later combats. Higher WS for characters is great in challenges as any World Eater should be hitting on a 3+ in combat against an equivalent enemy.
Bloodlust is the second half of their legion rules. After a successful assault, these models must always consolidate towards the closest enemy they can harm. Second, if a unit with this rule fails a morale check after being defeated in combat roll a D6. On a 1, the unit gains rage instead of falling back. This to me is pretty terrible. Firstly, it’s unreliable and situational. Secondly, if World Eaters are losing in combat then something is clearly going wrong, and if the squad has already been beaten it’s probably not in much shape to gain much advantage from rage. Also, rage is only of benefit when you charge, so in order to gain advantage from this you have to go on to win the combat and then go on to engage another unit in an assault and hope you’re still in some kind of shape to hurt them. In short, bad.
However, book 2 has optional rules to replace Bloodlust for Bloodmadness, which basically means all the legion astartes World Eaters gain rage from the start of the game. Rage is incredible, especially when combined with their Rite of War. This pushes the World Eaters up to a top tier legion.
The World Eaters also have access to a lot of special equipment. Chain axes are amazing, basically meaning any unit that has access to chain swords can upgrade to AP4 melee weapons for free! This will make vertually no difference against marine armies, but 4+ saves are very common amongst armies like mechanicum and solar auxillary. Against these armies, this upgrade is simply amazing. The cadre weapons are interesting, although overall I’d probably rather have a power weapon. That being said, the bonus initiative and strength from the meteor hammer is pretty good, and fleshbane from the barb-hook lash is always handy.
Rite of War: Amazing, and undoubtedly top tier. The core of this rite of war is giving all your legion astartes World Eaters the hatred special rule when outside their deployment zone. When combined with the legion special rules for both rage and hatred, average World Eater squads become scary, and scary units like terminators become truly terrifying. The restrictions are tough, but worth it. You can’t have more units with the tank or flier type than you have infantry, which means if you’re using dedicated transports you’re not going to have many tanks slots spare. If you’re going assault heavy (and if you’re taking World Eaters and this Rite of War, you should be!) you’ll still need some heavy support to get enemy units out of transport so your assault troops can get to them. Consider using dreadnoughts and support squads to get around the restrictions on tanks.
Special Units: Middle Tier. Red Butchers are great, and make a really terrifying assault squad. These guys will tear apart all but the heaviest of assault units. In contrast, I don’t think Rampagers are that good. They’ll end up being pretty expensive when you kit them out, and don’t offer much that other units like terminators or veterans couldn’t do. Scout is handy though. I’d probably stick them in a land raider to get the scout move forward to threaten my opponent from turn 1.
Special Characters: Middle Tier. Khan is great, and a match for most other independent characters. His Warlord trait is also really good. I’d always upgrade him to have gorchild where possible. Shabran Darr on the other hand is terrible, and doesn’t even have master of the legion.
Primarch: Angron. I rate Angron as a solid middle tier primarch, and at the higher end of the middle tier at that. He also has a clarity or purpose that I appreciate, and that some of the other primarchs lack. He’s a close combat monster, and is perfect for spearheading assaults. Also, with strength 9 armourbane attacks on the charge, he will happily tear vehicles to tiny pieces. There is a comfort in knowing you can point Angron in any direction and know there is very little that he won’t be able to kill. His only real weakness is a lack of 2+ save, which could mean a few more wounds slip through against infantry. This is a problem as he has the least number of wounds of any of the primarchs.
Background/Painting: Top tier. World Eaters have a tricky paint scheme, but one that looks really good if done well. Their background is also great, and they’re involved in almost every battle in the early heresy. They’re also one of the legions most heavily involved in the fighting on Istvaan III and the mop-up operations on Istvaan V. They’ll also be there for the shadow crusade, which should be great.
Overall: Top tier. Take Bloodmadness and their Rite or War, and this is about the scariest close combat army going around. I think combat armies work in Horus Heresy, and you won’t do much better than these guys. Think of a unit of ten terminators with power fists charging out of a spartan. They’ll have forty attacks at strength 8, re-rolling to hit on the charge. There are very few things in the game that can survive a punch like that.
Legion Special Rules: Lower tier, although still with some good stuff. Exemplars of War give all legion astartes Emerpor’s Children the crusader USR, which adds +D3 to sweeping advances and two rolls to see how fast they can run. Having +D3 to sweeping advance is really good, giving you a great chance of wiping out units in an assault. Secondly, all Emperor’s Children characters gain +1 initiative in challenges. On a preator armed with a paragon blade, this ability is fantastic as you should be able to get a round of attacks in against almost any opponent before they can strike back. This also combines well with the unique equipment of the Emperor’s Children, especially the Phoenix power spear. In my experience of Heresy games, almost all characters have artificer armour, which means anything that isn’t AP2 is resorting to pure luck to kill them. The Phoenix power spear is fantastic, as AP2 attacks at initiative are really hard to get. Great for squad sergeants who can combine it with the +1 initiative in challenges to kill enemy sergeants even in artificer armour, and before they can swing their unwieldy power fists/axes at you. But, you obviously want to get the charge with this weapon.
The second part of their rules is Martial Pride, whereby Emperor’s Children must declare challenges where able. Furthermore, should they lose the challenge, they suffer an additional -1 to their leadership test at the end of the combat. This isn’t too bad. The trick here is simply to accept the rule, and equip your characters to handle themselves in an assault.
The unique equipment is pretty good. Phoenix power spears are awesome (see above for comments). Sonic Shriekers give a handy boost to initiative, although the +1 initiative while being in a challenge makes them a little redundant. Still, they’re cheap on independent characters so I’d definitely take them.
Rite of War: Middle tier, but potentially very good if used well. The first part is The Open Blade, which means all units (not just legion astartes) gain +1 inch to their normal movement in the first turn of the game. Pretty Worthless.
The second part of the rule, The Hidden Blade, is where it gets good. One to three units from elites/fast attack must be chosen to be placed in reserve. You can also add independent characters to these units. At the start of the game you chose either turns 2, 3, or 4 for the units to arrive automatically from reserve, gaining outflank when they do. Outflank with reliable reserves is great, and this isn’t restricted to only models with the Legion Astartes special rule (so dreadnoughts and storm eagle gunships would qualify). I’d consider going something pretty nasty here, like a unit of Phoenix Guard terminators in a spartan with Fulgrim.
The restrictions are a bit annoying, preventing you from taking anything with the immobile, heavy, or slow and purposeful USRs. This rules out cataphractii terminators and drop pods, which is a bit of a shame. Furthermore, you must take a legion champion and if you fail to slay the enemy warlord when this is an objective in the game, the enemy gains an additional victory point. This could potentially cost you the game.
Special Units: Middle tier. Pheonix Guard terminators are really good, with lots of AP2 attacks at very high initiative on the charge. As a first strike weapon they are fantastic, and can potentially devastate many other heavy combat units out there. But, if they don’t break their opponent on the charge, or get charged themselves, they become very vulnerable. If this unit gets charged by anything with AP2 and 2+ save (like most terminators), then they’re in a lot of trouble.
I don’t really rate Palatine Blades. They’re expensive, and while they should deal with a tactical squad no problem, there are lots of other units that can also do that.
Raylanor the Unyielding is expensive, but with Armour 13 and venerable will be hard to stop. Mantle of glory is also quite handy.
Kakophoni are also ok. Their weapons are potentially devastating, but rely on an element of luck to pull off. Probably best used to pick on elite units with a 3+ save.
Special Characters: Middle tier. Lord Commander Eidolon is the standout here. Attacking with a thunder hammer at initiative on the charge is crazy good. Tarvitz on the other hand is pretty mediocre.
Primarch: Fulgrim. I originally rated Fulgrim as not very good, but I was definitely wrong on that count. In a recent game I saw him challenge and then kill Horus quite convincingly, which really surprised me. In a duel Fulgrim will kill almost any other primarch. Sublime Swordsman means he can have a preposterous number of attacks, which is one of the biggest factors when primarchs face off against each other. His buffs for the army are also really good, and he’s very cheap for a primarch. On the down side, he’s very vulnerable to shooting so will need an escort to get him across the table. Also, always give him Firebrand as it is so much better than the Blade of the Laer (which is terrible).
Background/Painting: Pretty good. I really like the colour scheme of the Emperor’s Children, especially when mixed through with whites and silvers. But, I understand it’s not for everyone. Their background is pretty good, and Fulgrim is one of the best of the Horus Heresy books.
Overall: I think their rules compliment their background very well. If you take a generic army with the Emperor’s Children, they won’t be nearly as good as a lot of the other legions out there. But, if you can get the most out of their equipment, rite of war, and special units, they can be a really powerful force.
Legion Special Rules: Bottom tier. Seriously, these are about the worst out there of any legion. They are immune to pinning and fear, which is good, but for me rarely comes up. Secondly they can re-roll dangerous terrain in sludge. Really? I’ve been gaming for around 20 years now and I don’t think this has EVER come up. It’s not even immune to the dangerous terrain in sludge, but re-roll it. Thirdly, successful wounds against them using the fleshbane or poisoned rule must be re-rolled. This is ok, but situational. Also, most poison and fleshbane wound so easily that the re-roll probably won’t help that much. Lastly, death guard suffer -1 from sweeping advance rolls, which is never a good thing. My hunch is the Death Guard will get updated legion rules much like the World Eaters did in a later book to represent their progression towards Nurgle. For now though, terrible.
Their unique equipment is better than the special rules, but it would be hard to do worse. Chem munitions are ok, giving flame weapons shred and gets hot. Shred is great, although for me flamers are about the reliability, and putting gets hot on them goes a fair way to making them unreliable (at least it does with my rolling). Power scythes are great, and I’d definitely put them on my squad sergeants. It’s AP2 for fighting in challenges and can cut a swath through squads.
Rite of War: Top tier, and the savior of the Death Guard. This is where Death Guard shine. The centerpiece of this rite is Superior Firepower, which allows Death Guard to take veteran tactical squads and legion heavy support squads as non-compulsory troops choices. This is AMAZING. I can’t stress how good heavy support squads as troops is enough. For 235 points you can have a ten man squad with ten heavy bolters, firing 30 strength 5 shots a turn all while holding an objective. Plus, you still have access to all of your heavy support options. Brilliant.
Implacable gives all units in the detachment the Move Through Cover USR. This is great, and applies to all your vehicles as well as your infantry. So, all your rhinos and land raiders gain move through cover and no longer need fear immobilizing themselves on that tiny spec of rubble that would usually stop them in their tracks (at least it does with my dangerous terrain rolling).
Finally, Dark Arsenal means any of your characters/independent characters gain access to rad grenades. This is also brilliant, and means all those power scythe equipped sergeants will be wounding marines on 2+ to slaughter enemy squads.
The negatives of the Rite or War aren’t to bad considering the advantages. They slow your army down, but having transports that ignore dangerous terrain goes a long way to negating this.
Special Units: Middle Tier. Grave wardens are good, but being in heavy support is a fairly big negative. For me, heavy support is always the most hotly contested section of the force organization chart. Fortunately the Death Guard Rite or War helps here.
Deathshroud are also good, and I really like that they count as HQ. If you’re taking Mortarion then the deathshroud can count as the compulsory HQ and then act as his escort afterwards. Make sure you give them melta bombs so you can take out tanks with them.
Special Characters: Top tier. All of these characters are really solid. Morturg has infiltrate as well as the master of ambush warlord trait. This means you can get 4 units with infiltrate, which opens up a lot of tactical options. Rask is great for leading an army using their Rite or War, as he comes with Master of the Legion and confers tank hunter to the heavy weapons of the squad he joins. Take those legion heavy support squads and get that tank hunter happening! Typhon is also a lot of fun.
Primarch: Mortarion. I originally thought Mortarion was the second best of the primarchs in book 1, however he hasn’t aged well. I now rate him as middle tier. Perhaps ironically, Shadow of the Reaper makes Mortarion the fastest of the primarchs, and so one of the best able to chose his battles. This is really important, as he is fairly situational in what he’s good at. He loves taking on large groups of infantry, where he can slaughter them with his scythe. However, he’s actually quite bad at taking out heavy armour (he can’t hurt a land raider) and will struggle against things like contemptor dreadnoughts (he’ll beat them, but it might take a few turns). He’ll also struggle against a lot of other primarchs (he’s the same points cost as Vulkan, and Vulkan will beat him every time) and is in real trouble against a knight.
Background/Painting: I really like the background of the Death Guard, and love their colour scheme. I love doing weathering effects, and obviously Death Guard are one of the best legions to really go to town on.
Overall: I’d probably have to say bottom tier here. They might make it up to middle tier, but it’s only because of their Rite of War (which is one of the best ones out there). Again, you can definitely make them work (and work well), just not as effortlessly as some of the other legions. Make sure you make yourself a gaming table that is covered in sludge and toxic waste, and get that special rule working for you!
Hope that was interesting for you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Next up I’ll take a look at the legions in book 2.