Warhammer: The Horus Heresy Is Historical Wargaming! You Just Didn’t Know It!

December 9, 2023 by warzan

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"I have a story to tell you, and in the words of the legendary Frank Carson - ‘It’s a cracker!’"

historical 30k comment

Yes, you read that right. This was a statement I recently read on Facebook (I’ve been frequenting parts of the Warhammer Community I haven’t interacted with for several years) and yes, I thought it was a joke too. But, that statement was uttered with all the dryness and condescension you might expect from an old and set-in-their-ways Napoleonics aficionado.


Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - Legions Imperialis | First Impressions

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - Legions Imperialis | Assembling The Miniatures

Shop Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - Legions Imperialis @ Store.OnTableTop

Apparently, any true 30K wargamer knows and accepts this and if you think otherwise...you have their sympathy and indeed contempt in equal measure.

star wars renaissance art

Now, like many of you reading this most likely, my gut reaction was to dismiss this topic and move on. But I haven’t moved on; I can't move on. There is something so compelling about this take that I had to explore the idea further.

Background Information & Research

Over 600 books have been published in the Warhammer universes and 30K has some of the largest and most detailed tomes of them all. This is without mentioning the huge ongoing sagas of the Great Crusade, The Horus Heresy, and The Siege Of Terra.

horus heresy book bundle

These books detail the battles, the regimental structures, key personalities and warriors, the politics, individual stories, and vivid accounts of engagements - everything you would hope for as a researcher of a historical conflict.

Now, compared to the published library of books relating to The Great War and World War II or even Napoleon (who has 10,400 books focused on him; effectively a book every week since his death!), this library of information is quite small. But, let's compare it to the Northern Crusades 1147-1290, the Soviet-Japanese War 1945, the Anglo-Zanzibar War 1896, and the Third Punic War 149 BC-146 BC. The background information for the conflicts of the 31st Millennium stacks up quite well.

catapulta art

As a side note, Romans apparently operated their siege engines in the buff! I'm not sure why it has a giant fist. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know but based on the period we can safely say it's an Imperial Fist! Boom Boom!

Complexity & Data

Within the archives of available information exist huge swathes of data and technical information covering formations, equipment, battle tactics, and strategies. Almost every detail you could want likely exists somewhere, possibly in a long-unpublished book on a dusty shelf somewhere.

horus heresy iron warriors art

These stories and accounts have been rolling out in publications for the last thirty-odd years, with many of the books now considered very rare.

horus heresy fort diagram

This level of technical detail is likely only available to wargamers and researchers of wars within the last 200 years or so.

horus heresy tank art

Many of the historical and ancient conflicts have so little detail on the technicalities that we have to use educated guesses to try and work out what equipment they had and how it was used, never mind formations and fighting tactics.

No Room At The Grimdark Inn

I think the argument the commenter was making was, "Look, this is pretty set in stone. All the detail is there, so stick to what's there and don’t deviate." Now, I doubt that's the stance of the majority of 30K players, and if it is... well, wait until they get a load of me!

space marines holding the gate

You're not coming in!

I don’t like anything about the stance taken here. Let me first be clear on what I consider an important point. The Horus Heresy is not a historical game and I think as a community, we need to be a little more careful with our references here.

The historical games we research and play represent humanity's mistakes and the price we pay. No conflict ever came out of the right decisions being made. Somewhere, someone always chose the wrong path which led to death and violence. We cannot understate the importance of taking a moment in our pursuit of this part of the hobby to remember that there are lessons to be learned and mistakes that should not be repeated but unfortunately often are.

So, I think it's a mistake to use the historical label in this way and while gaming can be fun and lighthearted, we are privileged to be able to indulge in historical gaming and with that comes a certain responsibility to remember from time to time the real human cost of it. In turn, maybe we can then do our bit to see if we can help humanity act better in the future - we all have our part to play in that, however small.

I am the keeper of the gates. Now, it would be crass to assume that the commenter meant anything about the historical nature other than "everything is already detailed, so stick to your lane!" This is a position that indeed needs some consideration and that will be the topic of my next article so keep an eye out!

What do you think?

"Over 600 books have been published in the Warhammer universes and 30K has some of the largest and most detailed tomes of them all..."

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"The historical games we research and play represent humanity's mistakes and the price we pay..."

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