Sunday 8 January 2017

Review - Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

Published by Games Workshop
For 2 players, aged 12 to adult

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

Oh, hi there. Come on in. Sit down. You've just caught me thumbing through some of the old paperwork in my filing cabinet...

What do you mean, "You don't have any paperwork... or a filing cabinet"?

Just go with it. It's an intro skit.

So, I'm flicking back through some of my old reviews. Do pull up a chair. Hold on, this looks promising... Ah, yes. My review of Deathwatch: Overkill. This is what I wanted. Let me read an excerpt:

"Games Workshop, unlike most other game companies, has crafted a world-spanning setting that has had decades to expand and evolve. It is a rich, involving universe with its own history: a history of violence, heroic deeds, and turmoil.

It is Games Workshop's most powerful tool. More powerful than the best rule set imaginable.

Even more powerful than pretty hybrid miniatures.

And I think... I hope... Games Workshop have realised this.

Think back to Betrayal at Calth. It's an excellent skirmish level game, set at the very moment Horus decided to reveal his plan to overthrow the Emperor. The first shot in a devastating war that reshaped the 40K universe.

And now we have Deathwatch: Overkill. A narrative game charting the discovery of the first ever genestealer hybrid infestation. The moment the space marines realised everything they thought they knew about the alien threat was wrong, and a precursor to the arrival of the tyranids.

How exciting is that?

How exciting is it, not just for the game, but for the Games Workshop product line?

Surely I am not the only person excited at the prospect of being able to lay out a row of Games Workshop games that accurately charts the timeline of the Imperium, highlighting the historic moments that shaped the setting I love so much."

Well colour me pink and call me a Horror. Maybe I've been staring into the warp too long, because it looks like I might have had a dose of prescience. I'll be expecting a visit from the inquisition any day now.

Because, here it is, the second standalone board game in Games Workshop's Horus Heresy line, and another piece in that cosmos-spanning jigsaw that got me all hot under the collar: Burning of Prospero.

The only thing is, something feels different now. I'm not filled with excitement anymore. It's more a sense of creeping dread.

Be careful what you wish for...

The amazingly illustrated box for The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

When Games Workshop first started teasing the release of Burning of Prospero, there was a lot of speculation about what it might be. Was it an expansion to the truly awesome Betrayal at Calth, or was it something new?

There were solid arguments for both answers.

Betrayal at Calth is an incredibly good game, so it seemed like a good idea to create another game in a different setting, yet using the same rules set to avoid the effort of designing something new. For people who had Calth, it would be like an expansion, while for people who hadn't already dipped a toe into the Horus Heresy game line, it would be a standalone starting point.

The counter-arguments were that it made more sense for Prospero to be something entirely new. An expansion, or a second core set using the same rules, has a smaller potential market than a new game, because it only appeals to people who liked the original. By making Prospero different, there was a chance of suckering in the fans and detractors of Calth, while also giving the designers a chance to try out some new rules ideas.

As it turns out, Burning of Prospero is a new game... and yet... kind of not. And that's the problem. Well, one of the problems.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Let's start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero books

Burning of Prospero digs deep into Games Workshop's wonderful history, and turns up one of the more morally ambiguous and genuinely tragic moments. The game comes with a book filled with great background content to get you up to speed, but it basically comes down to one of the Emperor's most trusted heroes, Magnus, making a terrible mistake. Tricked into using his immense psychic powers for a good cause, Magnus unleashes dangerous forces and invokes the Emperor's wrath. In retaliation, the Emperor sends an army to bring Magnus and his legion of Thousand Sons space marines in line. At first, Magnus intends to face the censure loyally; but as Space Wolves descend on his glittering cities and lay waste to everything he has built, he decides to fight back.

It's an epic moment in Games Workshop's timeline, and a defining moment in the shattering of the space marine chapters into loyalist and traitor factions. In fact, throughout the rulebook, the Space Wolves are defined as "loyalists" and the Thousand Sons are defined as "traitors;" but those designations are unfair, and I can only imagine there are some pretty intense debates among the hardcore Games Workshop fans about it.

The situation is murky at best, and that's the kind of deep storytelling you don't often get in board games. There is no black and white view. Magnus disobeyed the Emperor, and in doing so caused countless deaths; but he thought he was doing the right thing to protect the Imperium. The Emperor responds heavy-handedly, sending a tribe of barbarian warriors to tear down a glorious city where the learned Thousand Sons study and quietly contemplate the meaning of all things.

So, who are the villains here? The designers seem to think you should be siding with an invading force of barbarians hell-bent on destroying everything they can; but in any other gaming universe, the Thousand Sons would be the heroes.

You've got to love games that come with their own moral dilemma.

So, against this fascinating backdrop, two forces wage war in a series of scenarios that give each side unique objectives. On one side you have the Thousand Sons, a group of powerful psychics comprising legion veterans and terminators led by a famous villain from the 40K universe, Ahriman. On the other side you get some legion veteran Space Wolves, a squad of Sisters of Silence (psychic nulls who are valuable assets for neutering the Thousand Sons immense powers), and a squad of the Emperor's personal custodians, led by a Space Wolves hero.

And everything looks beautiful (obviously), and the rules are super-streamlined and easy to learn, and the scenarios are fun and varied, and the asymmetric forces create interesting dynamics, and the combat system is clean and effective, and... and... dammit.

Just dammit.

This game is hard to review.

It's really hard to review because Betrayal at Calth already exists. They're different games. I don't think there is a single rule that carries over from one game to the other. But they feel so damned similar - like spiritual twins - and that makes it really hard to consider Burning of Prospero on its own merits.

It doesn't help that Games Workshop have done everything possible to make the two games feel so similar. Both games have the "Horus Heresy" branding. Both games have three-word names beginning with "B." Both games have the same tag line: "A miniatures game of desperate battle in the 31st Millennium." They have almost identical box art. They have the same graphic design in the rules book. They...


Yes, I know they're part of the same series, so all these similarities make sense. I applaud the decision to have a sense of consistency and coherency across a product line. But I'm not finished yet, so stop interrupting.

Both games are squad-level skirmishes. Both games have exactly six scenarios that gradually introduce new units until a final battle involving everything at once. Both games include 30 veteran marines, a squad of terminators, and two named characters. Both games give you a big box of miniatures with lots of different weapon options, and absolutely no guidance on which weapon options are the most suitable for playing a regular game. Both games focus heavily on movement and movement denial.

And both games are fun.

But Betrayal at Calth came first. And it's brilliant.

However, every game that isn't a reimagining or expansion deserves to be considered in its own right, so that's what I'm going to try to do from here on out. So, let's not think about Betrayal at Calth for a minute. Let's talk about all the things Burning of Prospero does right.

There is certainly a lot to like here.

A tense game of The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

Keeping true to Games Workshop's design ethos, the game is light on rules, but offers some decent tactical decisions offset by plenty of dice rolling. It has a really meaty theme, and beautiful miniatures that come with superb building instructions and go together well. There are hardly any tokens or fiddly exceptions to the main rules set, so when you are playing you actually feel like you are playing, rather than working at playing. It is... you know... a Games Workshop game, with all the triumphs and tribulations that entails.

To get started, you choose a scenario from the rules book, and set up the game tiles to match the scenario map.

Those absolutely beautiful (and embossed) map tiles deserve a special mention. They are the work of the same artist who illustrated Betrayal at Calth and Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower, and for my money that CV marks the artist as one of the finest talents working on game boards in the industry today. There are only three full-size boards and two half-size boards, but they are double-sided, and combine in lots of ways to make some really interesting maps. They also come with a selection of terrain tokens that add objectives, barriers, and impassable terrain for even greater variety. I particularly like the tokens, as the artwork matches up with the artwork on the board, so if you place them carefully, they integrate seamlessly.

One of the terrain tiles used to change the battlefield in The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

Anyway, you set up the map tiles, you collect your forces as defined by the scenario, and the traitor player gets a selection of psychic powers. These powers are one of the defining aspects of the game. They are only accessible to the Thousand Sons, but they get their own "phase" at the start of each round, and most actions players take each round are a direct consequence of played powers, or an attempt to cancel out powers in subsequent rounds. For example, the Space Wolves have a small unit of Sisters of Silence. When those Sisters are adjacent to Thousand Sons marines attempting to use psychic powers, there in an increased chance of the psychic powers fizzling out. This creates a compelling and exciting aspect to the game in which both players are jockeying for key positions.

The psychic phase has a massive impact on the game, yet it is simple and intuitive, taking only a few minutes at the start of each turn to complete. The traitor player chooses a power, and then draws a warp energy card, which has a number on it. In retaliation, the loyalist player draws a willpower card, which also has a number on it. This continues until each player has drawn three cards, and then they add up the revealed numbers. If the warp energy score matches or exceeds the willpower score, the psychic power triggers, otherwise it doesn't. Regardless of the outcome, the traitor player normally gets to continue the phase, attempting up to three different psychic powers.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero psychic powers

A few of the cards have special actions, such as giving you the choice to boost the chances of activating or cancelling a psychic power (usually in exchange for a potential loss elsewhere), but it really is a very simple system that keeps the action fast-paced and brutal.

I admit, I was initially disappointed with the psychic phase. I had been led to believe it was a "push your luck" style mini-game, in which the traitor had to make decisions about how much energy to draw on at the risk of something going horribly wrong. However, that's not the case at all. Each player always draws three cards (unless a special rule says otherwise), and besides a few minor and usually very obvious choices, you just do what the cards say and add up the numbers.

Worse still, my first game didn't cast the system in a particularly good light. In the very first round, I selected a power for my traitors, but the first willpower card the Space Wolves drew immediately cancelled the entire phase. It was incredibly disappointing. Then, in the second round, my first power failed, and for the second power I pulled the "Warp Flood" card, which means the power automatically succeeds, but then the psychic phase immediately ends. The same "Warp Flood" card prematurely ended the third and fourth rounds as well.

In total, in my first game, I successfully triggered four powers.

It's fair to say, by the end of that game, I had some serious misgivings about the system. It was overly simple, chaotically random, and more than a little bit frustrating.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero warp power cards

However, the more you play, the more you realise that the psychic phase is simple, but its consequences are far-reaching. What happens within the phase is only part of the big picture. It's everything that happens around the psychic phase that matters. Did you position your traitors with line of sight to use that warp fire on the enemy leader? Did the loyalists position the Sisters of Silence in such a way they have dramatically reduced your chances of creating that shroud of darkness you need? If you fail to generate the barrier of warp fire you need to protect your veterans, what's your plan B?

The psychic phase isn't about what will happen; it's about what might happen, and how you intend to handle the consequences.

After the psychic phase, there is a movement phase, and this is where the game gets a little... peculiar. The players roll for initiative (Space Wolves break ties), with the winner moving all of his or her units first. Models are moved individually, not by squad, and there are basic rules to govern that movement: Models only move orthogonally, and you cannot have more than four marines in a single space (custodians and terminators count as two). Marines from opposing factions can never be in the same space.

The most important rule regards pinning. If, at the start of the movement phase, a model is adjacent to an enemy model, that model isn't allowed to move at all unless the controlling player won initiative, in which case the model can move one space rather than the usual two spaces.

On the surface, that seems like a fair and reasonable rule, but it isn't. It just isn't. It's a horrible rule, because the check for adjacency is made "at the start of the movement phase" and not at the start of an individual model's movement. What that means is, if you win initiative, you are allowed to move a a model away from an enemy model, but then when it's the enemy model's turn to move, it has to stay exactly where it is, even though your model is no longer adjacent. This is all kinds of fun if the enemy happens to have no long-range weaponry, as you can simply step back and shoot them in the face, leaving them with no way to retaliate.

This rule is even worse when you consider a model with initiative charging into combat. The charging unit advances into a space adjacent to the target enemy, but when the enemy gets to move, the rules allow it to disengage for no penalty, simply because the charging unit wasn't adjacent at the beginning of the round. There are few things more stupid than a unit of space marines charging into combat, and then just standing there dumbly while the enemy disengages and wanders off before the attack happens.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero custodes ready for action

In the end, this rule does several things:

1. It completely nerfs models with hand-to-hand weapons, as it creates lots of situations where they are left standing around with no way to attack.
2. It makes having the initiative a disadvantage in some circumstances.
3. It makes it harder to track which models aren't allowed to move, as the unit pinning them in place may no longer be adjacent.
4. It makes the game a horrible experience.

I actually can't think of any other game that checks for pinning at the start of a round. I'm not saying such games don't exist, but dredging my memory, I feel that most games involve a pinning check for a model at the point that model actually moves.

In fact, I've introduced a house rule for Burning of Prospero, mainly because I can't believe the rules as written are the way the designer intended for the game to play. I dislike the existing pinning rule so much, I changed it so that you check for pinning at the start of each player's movement, not at the beginning of the whole movement phase. That resolves all of my issues with the rule, and feels more natural and intuitive to me and the people I play with.

It's also a massive annoyance. I hate house rules.

After the movement phase, there is the attack phase, which comprises all of the "combat attacks" and "shooting attacks." Models that are in the same space form into "combat squads" and...

Hold on a minute. Little aside here to talk about terminology.

"Combat attack."


So, this game doesn't use the term "melee," or "hand-to-hand," or even "close assault." It simply uses the term "combat." That's a little odd, but it also creates some confusion because models grouped together are called "combat squads." These "combat squads" can make "combat attacks," but if they have ranged weapons they can also make "shooting attacks."

You end up with sentences like this:

"Resolve a special, separate shooting attack with a heavy flamer before the rest of the combat squad makes their shooting attacks."

I know that doesn't seem that bad, but scanning the sentence quickly has the potential to cause a bit of head scratching; and I really have to wonder why they decided to go with "combat squad" rather than "unit."

Oh wait, they didn't.


Throughout the rules, the term "combat squad" is used interchangeably with the terms "attacking unit," and "target unit."

But I digress.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero rules book

The attacking phase works differently to the movement phase, adopting an "I go, you go" approach. The player with initiative picks one combat squad to attack with, and then his or her opponent picks one combat squad, and so on.

This is where the game gets really interesting.

Any combat squad is free to make combat attacks against orthogonally adjacent enemies, and any suitably equipped combat squad is free to make a ranged attack if there are no orthogonally adjacent enemies (and yes, that check is made when the squad activates, not at the start of the phase).

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero combat and movement rules example

However, whether you are combating or shooting, the attack method is the same. You start by creating a dice pool based on the models in your combat squad. Standard weapons use a D6, but some weapons use a D8, D10, or even a D12. So, if you've got a squad comprising two bolters, one plasma gun, and one heavy bolter, you have a pool of two D6, one D8, and one D10. You roll them all, and you are looking for high numbers.

Your opponent then rolls defence dice. The standard defence roll is one D6 for each attack dice. So, if the attacker rolls four dice (of any kind), you get four D6 to defend. However, you may get to upgrade some of your dice based on models in your unit. For example, each terminator in your squad allows you to upgrade one D6 to a D10.

When both sides have rolled, you compare dice in order from highest to lowest. Each defence roll that is equal or better than the opposing attack roll cancels that attack (unless defending against a Space Wolf close combat attack, in which case only defence rolls that are higher cancel that attack). For each attack that isn't cancelled, the defending unit takes one wound. Models can take from two to four wounds, and once they have taken that many wounds they are removed as a casualty. Wounds are removed at the end of the round, so you have to consolidate your fire if you want to take down the tougher units.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero squad reference cards

What I really like about the system (and this is particularly important for me, because dice hate me) is that even low dice have a chance to cause damage, as you must pair up attack and defence dice from highest to lowest. For example, if you roll a five, a three, and a two when attacking, and then your opponent rolls a six, a two, and a one, you are going to score two hits because the five pairs with the six (and is negated), but the three pairs with the two, and your last two pairs with the one.

Now, that may sound a bit convoluted when you see it written out, but in practice, it's rather elegant. Once you have played a single round, you are going to know exactly what you are doing, and from then on there is really only one additional wrinkle in the rules to remember: Critical hits. Any dice that scores a six or higher is a critical hit. If you don't cancel that hit, it inflicts two wounds, which is enough to kill a basic space marine outright, and enough to put a serious dent in a terminator or custodian.

Overall, the combat system, or should I say combat and shooting system because of the stupid terminology, is incredibly cool. Before the game launched, Games Workshop were making a big deal about using different types of dice (honestly, you would think they had never seen a D12 before); but it turns out they had good cause. Attacks are really simple to work out, and incredibly thematic. Even the critical system makes sense: a bolter only has a one in six chance of landing a critical hit (although it's also very accurate, as a special rule allows you to reroll ones), yet a heavy bolter that attacks with a D10 has a whopping 50 percent chance of bringing the pain.

The dice system also perfectly models the concept of concentrated fire, and emphasises the brutality of targeting a single unit with multiple rounds of firing to beat it into submission. For example, imagine a single bolter-armed Thousand Sons marine trying to take down a custodian armed with a storm shield. Chances aren't good:

The marine rolls a single D6 in attack. The custodian rolls a single D10 in defence. The marine only has a one in six chance of scoring a critical hit, and even then the custodian would have a 50 percent chance of negating the hit. Furthermore, the custodian has three stamina, meaning he takes three wounds before going down. Even if the marine fluked a critical hit, the custodian is going to keep on keeping on.

Now imagine the same scenario, except the marine has brought along three of his mates to join in the fun. Now, the marines are rolling four D6 to attack. The custodian only gets to upgrade one dice to a D10, so his other three defence dice are just D6s. Suddenly, the odds swing massively. Switch out one of those bolters for a plasma gun or heavy bolter, and that custodian's lovely, shiny armour is going to have its work cut out.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero dice

But it isn't all roses and bolter shells. The weapon system is a double-edged sword: it's one of the game's greatest triumphs, yet also one of its greatest failures.

You see, the difference in the dice you roll is also one of the only differences between many weapons. That awesome heavy bolter is actually functionally identical to a plasma gun, except it rolls a D10 instead of a D8. That power sword your terminator is about to use to hack up the enemy is functionally identical to a chainsword, except it rolls a D8 instead of a D6.

In fact, in some cases there is no difference between the weapons at all. You can arm a veteran sergeant with a power sword, lightning claw, power fist, thunder hammer, or two chainswords. Doesn't matter. He's always going to roll a D8 in combat.

Very few weapons have special rules of any kind. The one that has arguably the most significant impact on play is the "short range" rule. Most guns have unlimited range, but weapons designated as "short range" are limited to shooting three spaces or less. Usually, this is to offset a more powerful attack. For example, a plasma gun uses a D8 and has unlimited range, while a meltagun uses a D10 but only has short range. That's all well and good until you realise that the scenario maps are pretty small (only three spaces wide in some cases), and the short range isn't as much of a disadvantage as you might think. I would argue it's almost always better to go for punch over range, as you are never short of targets that are up in your face.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero terminators

While the combat system is clever, distilling the vast and varied weaponry of the 30K universe into a single dice value and a range doesn't do the theme justice.

Everything feels a bit homogenised.

A bit vanilla.

A reaper autocannon shouldn't have exactly the same profile as a heavy bolter. A combi-bolter shouldn't function in the same way as a plasma gun.

But, in some ways, that feels like an acceptable sacrifice to maintain a streamlined, coherent dice system. And in general, it works really well. And it works well because you have to make it work well. It's a system that front-loads the decisions, and it lays those decisions out on the table for your opponent to see.

There is no hidden information: No hand of cards that grants opportunities to do something different or unusual. At your disposal are the units on the board... and nothing else. It's a system that rewards clever play, but punishes mistakes; because if things go bad, you don't get a Hail Mary. You just get to watch the sorry remains of your army getting picked apart.

Choosing your targets wisely is key to victory; but ultimately, your attacks are only as good as your movement. The two elements are intrinsically linked. You need to think carefully about the placement of every model, especially as friendlies can shoot through each other, making it possible to create human shields to protect your valuable assets. Remember, even a single model has the potential to pin an enemy or prevent it from making shooting attacks, so you get to make fantastic tactical decisions about sacrificing one of your space marines for the greater good, throwing bodies into choke points while laying down suppressing fire. It's tense and thematic, and rich with stories you are going to tell long after the game is over.

Single marines have weak attacks, but you can use them to slow an advancing enemy, or prevent an enemy from shooting. Conversely, a full combat squad with a couple of heavy weapons on board is a devastating killing machine, but you are putting all your eggs in one basket. All those weapons have to target the same enemy, which reduces your options and limits your combat effectiveness, and you lose the ability to control movement across the board.

So what do you do?

There are no easy choices, and your mistakes will bury you.

Sure, there is plenty of dice rolling in this game; but you can't go into it thinking you can ride your luck. Luck averages out, but a bad call keeps you down for good. This is a game about mitigating your luck by grouping your units correctly, positioning them correctly, controlling areas of the board correctly, and choosing the best targets at the best times. It's a game where skill and methodical thinking win out over determination and blind luck. And yes, it's a game where an experienced player is going to hammer a new player into the dust.

It's a very, very clever game

But it's not really clever enough. Not for a world where Betrayal at Calth already exists. I know I said we weren't going to talk about it; but I don't know how I can't. It's impossible to ignore.

Games Workshop are always saying that in the far future, there is only war. And that's an issue I never really considered when I was thinking about my tapestry of interwoven games on a timeline of the Imperium. I was thinking about how different Betrayal at Calth was to Deathwatch: Overkill. I hadn't considered the fact that, in a lot of cases, these board games could end up being two-player squad-based games about rival factions having a tussle.

The setting may change, the players may change, the rules may change. But really... really...

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero space wolf

For all the fun I've had with Burning of Prospero, I still find it impossible not to see it as an entirely redundant game system. And that's a horrible thing to say considering how much the game does right.

Trust me when I say I've been wrestling with this opinion for a while now. I've postponed and rewritten this review several times already; but the end result is always the same.

The games are different. They achieve their goals in different ways. But ultimately, you get the same kind of experience. The paths never cross, but they do run parallel; and the destination is the same.

I really feel like Burning of Prospero didn't need to exist.

But then, I would think that, wouldn't I? I love Betrayal at Calth. I've had more time playing with it, I have more content for it (from White Dwarf magazines), and I enjoy it more. I think it does everything Burning of Prospero does, but just a bit better, and without the need for any house rules. So of course I'm going to think Burning of Prospero doesn't need to exist.

But what if I hated Betrayal at Calth?

Well, there's the rub, isn't it? If I hated Calth, I would be praising Games Workshop for creating a thematically similar game with completely new mechanisms, providing an alternative way for me to get my skirmish fix in the 31st Millennium.

So, maybe what it comes down to is that both games should exist; they just shouldn't necessarily exist in the same collection.

So, which one should you choose?

Both games are thematically very strong. They accurately recreate their respective battles, and do so with clutter-free rules sets with minimal book-keeping. In terms of the back story, I think Burning of Prospero edges ahead. There is something epic and tragic about the story of the fall of the Thousand Sons, and the game does a fantastic job of weaving that story into the various scenarios. Furthermore, as the campaign progresses, you get to use map tiles with more destroyed scenery, until the very ground is cracking apart to reveal molten rock and swirling signs of chaos beneath the surface, and the entire gaming table becomes a visual metaphor for the way in which the unnecessary bloodshed is breaking apart the fabric of the Imperium.

Conversely, Betrayal at Calth does a better job of breathing life into the warring factions. It gives each side a personalised deck of tactics cards that key into the fighting styles of the respective forces, and the heroic characters feel a bit more heroic. Furthermore, in Burning of Prospero the Space Wolves force doesn't really feel much like a Space Wolves force as it's diluted by the inclusion of custodians and Sisters of Silence.

The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero Space Wolves in action

In terms of the game systems, I personally prefer Betrayal at Calth. The squad-based movement using initiative tokens feels more fluid and original, and creates a faster, more exciting experience. Burning of Prospero is slower and more methodical: More chess-like. You have more room to think and plan, rather than simply reacting to immediate threats. There's also no hidden information. Everything is right on the board for your opponent to see. If you win, you feel like you won through developing a good plan, and not because you had a super sneaky secret card that you got to play at the very last moment to snatch victory. The lack of hidden information makes the game easier to play solo, controlling both sides to practice your tactics and perfect your skills; but it also makes the game feel rigid and uncompromising. There are no surprises, no little moments of laugh-out-loud humour or teeth-gnashing fury at a sudden revelation or twist of fate. Every play through a scenario feels the same. And there is no chance for a new player to level the playing field through the use of some secret abilities. It's one of Games Workshop's most sophisticated titles, and perhaps, one of its least interesting.

And then there's that horrible pinning rule to consider; and a weapon system that strips off all the colour and character with a blow torch.

Honestly, if you already have Betrayal at Calth, and you enjoy it, I'm not sure you need to buy Burning of Prospero. Not because it's not good, but because it's not as good at doing something very similar.

But then again... What if you play a lot of solo games, but you also have a regular gaming partner? What if you have two sets of boards for Betrayal at Calth and need another force of space marines to try that massive scenario that Game Workshop printed in White Dwarf magazine? What if you want some of those sweet custodian models to paint? What if...?

The custodes battle the Thousand Sons in The Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero

What if you just want both games?

Well, I don't know.

Because I'm a massive hypocrite. I'm keeping both games in my collection.

Mainly, I see Burning of Prospero as a big box of reinforcements for Betrayal at Calth. But if I'm all alone, and I want to play with some toy soldiers, Burning of Prospero (with a few tweaks to the rules) is a viable alternative.

But what if Games Workshop makes a third two-player, squad-based skirmish game about a group of space marines defending their home planet from an invading force of space marines, in the Horus Heresy setting?

Well then, I guess I also have to consider that big timeline of Games Workshop games I envisioned back when I reviewed Deathwatch: Overkill. That beautiful jigsaw charting the convoluted history of the Games Workshop worlds.

Nobody wants a jigsaw with a missing piece.

You can pick up your copy of Horus Heresy: Burning of Prospero at any Games Workshop stockist.


  1. Yes, the way Games Workshop seems to be implying that it's invented all these new kinds of dice -- see also the d16 in the new Blood Bowl -- is quite endearing in a way.

    I suspect this is all going to culminate in a game set on Horus' battle barge; I quite liked the one they did before, so something similar with fancy miniatures and board pieces would be lovely.

    1. Now that would make a really cool, "dungeon-crawl" style game! Recreating the battle between Sanguinius and Horus would be amazing.

      I actually reviewed Warmaster on this blog years ago. It's completely crazy, but I really enjoy it.

    2. I remember playing it a lot because it was free -- well, sort of -- and I didn't have many games, so there wasn't much choice. That said, I also remember enjoying it a great deal, and it being better than a free -- well, sort of -- game had any right to be.

    3. A lot of those free White Dwarf games were worth the effort to cut out, and some of them are certainly inspiring new releases (Imperial Knight and Gorechosen), so who knows? In an interview in White Dwarf there was a potential teaser / red herring about the prospect of a game recreating the fight between Magnus and Leman Russ as well. That would be pretty cool.


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