Horus Heresy: Building and Expanding Your Age of Darkness Boxset (Loyalist Version)

Welcome back to Goonhammer’s series for aspiring Praetors. We know that the Horus Heresy system can seem intimidating to players unfamiliar with its particular quirks, but this series aims to equip you with everything you’ll need to play out epic clashes on the battlefields of the far future with your very own army. In this series, we’ll be walking you through how to build your force and command it to glory, including everything from units to tactics to lead your army to victory. 

The enormous Age of Darkness boxset is currently on preorder for those of you looking to leap into the 2nd Edition of Warhammer: The Horus Heresy. But you might be wondering exactly what you should do with that box when it arrives. What’s the best way to build it? What units should I pick up alongside it? This article tackles these questions, and works legion by legion to pull out the best way to approach the box, what to pick up to add into it, and what your priority purchases should be going forward.

It’s worth saying that any legion can pretty much do things in any way you like. Each legion was tens or hundreds of thousands of space marines, and there were enormous variations among them. You can build a Raven Guard terminator siege force if you want, or a Death Guard assault company, or anything else you fancy. But each set of legion special rules and units definitely encourages a particular play style and this guide tries to help you lean in on what makes your legion stand out while using the same box as everyone else.

If you haven’t picked a legion yet you should check out our Liber Astartes and Liber Hereticus reviews which give you an overview of them all. As an additional note we’d strongly recommend magnetising the Contemptor that comes in this box, so the recommended loadouts aren’t required to be glued in place.

This is one part of a two-part series, covering the Traitor Legions. If you’re interested in reading about the Traitor Legions and how to build those out, you can find that article here.

Dark Angels

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

One of the most flexible legions, you can actually go a couple of different ways easily enough with this box. The Dark Angels are split up into the six wings of the Hexagrammaton, so it’s common to focus in on one of those for your army, at least to begin with.

The Stormwing are a very solid choice for this box, focusing on large blocks of infantry and stubborn advances. If you decide to go this route your 40 Mk VIs are going to just be two huge squads of Tactical Marines – kit out two sergeants with a bolt pistol and power sword, and add the full selection of wargear to each 20 marine block and you’re good to go. Build your Cataphractii as one big unit with combi bolters, power fists, a couple of heavy flamers and if you like pop a grenade harness on the sergeant, then pile them into the spartan built with maximum lascannons – you’ll want the extra anti-tank considering your army is going to have a lot of footsloggers with no real ranged punch to them. The Contemptor can run with whatever you fancy, though more lascannons is Good, Actually.

As for your praetors you might want to consider converting one of them (probably the sword guy as his armour is a little less fancy) to leave off the cloak and give him slightly less impressive weaponry and make him a centurion, but it’s no big deal if you want to have a choice of cool looking praetors or just sell one of the characters. You will want to pick up some centurions soon though, because the Stormwing rite of war lets you run them in your big squads, and you should take advantage of that. When you’re looking at what to buy next probably more marines is your answer – you’re going to want an awful lot of infantry for this army. If you can split a box and get more Mk VI (or they’re out by the time you read this) then grab some of those and an upgrade kit or two. Big blocks of ten heavy support guys with Volkite, Autocannons or Lascannons would fill a good niche, while some plasma tactical support marines can pack some decent midrange punch. You may even want to build another 20 marine tactical squad or even two more because this rite really shines with massed infantry.

Deathwing Terminator Praetor
Deathwing Terminator Praetor. Credit: Jack Hunter

The other way to go is to lean into the terminator side of the box, and run a Deathwing army. If you do this then you’ll probably not want to build any of the Mk VIs in the box as tacticals, instead picking up some upgrade kits to sprinkle extra weapons in and running at least 20 of them as couple of squads of veterans. If you can find a source of power swords there are few things cooler than veterans running all with power swords, so you know, why not. Cataphractii are going to be the stars here, and there’s good reasons to run the squad of ten (in a spartan, this time with any weapon build you like as you’re going to be more capable all round) with either fists or with double lightning claws. Personally, I think the lightning claws on Cataphractii are cool as hell so I’d lean that way. An autocannon might be good shout on the contemptor, though the heavy melta is also a solid choice. Autocannon lets you use the speed of the dreadnought to hit side or rear armour, while the melta supports the “up close and personal” feel of the Deathwing. Your praetors should probably be built as per the box, because they’re both going to rinse things in melee as is right and proper. You could consider converting the axe lad to have a sword if you want to hammer that theme though.

White Scars

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

You wanna go fast? White Scars have the answer… but only in a limited way in this box set.

Look, here’s the truth: though every legion can do anything, and that’s absolutely the case here – you absolutely can build a White Scars army out of this box. However, what each legion specialises in makes the contents of this box more or less suitable, and for White Scars this is a tough sell of a box. For the iconic White Scars army you’ll be focusing on lots of bikes and speeders, fast hard hitting units that don’t footslog and certainly don’t bring along terminators that can’t run. However, that’s what you’re stuck with here, so how can we make it work.

Well, White Scars have two Rites of War: The Chogorian Brotherhood (lots of bikes, go fast) and The Sagyar Mazan. And that second option is where this box can really come together. This are the sacrificial troops of the legion, those who have disgraced themselves and look to redeem their misdeeds through honourable death. All your infantry get the Kharash and Feel No Pain (5+) rules which means they’re harder to kill and don’t give up VP when they do. This works great for this box – put down two 20-marine tactical squads all with chain bayonets and you’ll have two big units that move fast, hit hard and are almost as hard to kill as Iron Hands marines. The contemptor and the Praetors can nicely fit this model too, and the terminators are your secret weapon here. The Rite prevents you including any Heavy Support that is not composed entirely of Infantry, but when carrying a block of 10 terminators around the Spartan is Dedicated Transport not Heavy Support. Loophole, baby. Throw claws on all those bad boys and throw them up the field at maximum speed to smash into something hard.

If you want to expand this army out then Ebon Keshig (the White Scars legion specific terminators) are a great choice. After that I’d look to Veteran squads sporting power weapons and ready to get stuck in.

Space Wolves

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Space Wolves are rough, tough and aggressive, operating more as loose warbands of devoted warriors than ordered troops. That makes this box set a little bit of a challenge, because it definitely leans into “ordered troops”. So how can you approach it to make it a little “wolfier”?

Well, first of all you can happily use it to portray a more regimented force mimicking the way the legion fought in the early Great Crusade – there are still going to be companies hanging around out there from that time. In that case you should make the most of the legion special rule to be moving and firing and charging – two big tactical squads all with bayonets or chain bayonets is probably the best build, with your cataphractii with lightning claws and your contemptor with a melta or an autocannon.

However, if you want something a little more characteristic you need to consider the best way to make your troops Grey Slayers or Grey Stalkers. Luckily you can give either of them bolters (though without fury of the legion they’re not so effective), so you might well want to do that and just strap them up with extras to make them stand out. Buying a Blood Claws box is probably the best way to get some parts for conversions, as they also come with chainswords and pistols so you can happily use those arms to make a Stalker pack. A single box will give you enough of those to do 10 stalkers, then enough heads, shoulder pads and so on to kit out a bunch of other guys with bolters to look the part. If you want fancier bits then Forge World do sell Grey Slayers upgrade packs, and other than the single torso it will fit on without any serious modification. Those of you happy to do some more substantial conversion should be able to make the torso fit no problem. Another way to go would be to just buy a couple of the Space Wolves upgrade packs from Games Workshop (not the primaris one) and then use that to outfit your guys with some more unique parts.

When it comes to the terminators dual lightning claws on the whole block is a very good way to go, and if you run them in your Spartan they’ll be a terrifying threat. The Space Wolves legion trait works great on these guys (because they can’t run so get the WS bonus) so there’s few downsides.

If you do all this the one thing you might be lacking is some anti-tank fire, so consider giving your contemptor the lascannon or melta cannon, and strapping a melta gun into his fist.

For your next purchases you should consider picking up another contemptor or two – dreadnoughts are a great addition to a Space Wolves army. Other than that you can go pretty wild, maybe picking up a Mk III or Mk IV infantry box and some of the grey slayer upgrades for even more run and gun infantry.

Imperial Fists

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Stalwart and immovable, the Imperial Fists believe in the best offence being a good defence. Except for when the best offence is a good offence, which they also do quite well.

Imperial Fists synergize very well with tactical marines, as their legion trait gives them +1 to hit with bolt and auto weapons – your entire tactical squad will be hitting on a 2+. Deadly with Fury of the Legion. You really can’t go wrong building any number of tactical marines out of the box, depending on which of the special and heavy weapon upgrade packs you want to purchase. Some great options would be two units of 10 marines and two units with heavy/special weapons, two units of 20 marines, or one unit of 20 marines, one of 10 marines, and one heavy or special weapon squad. Any of the bayonet options work perfectly well here, go with whatever you like the look of.

If you go with some heavy/special weapons, you’ve got a wide range of choices, mostly depending on how you want to equip the rest of your box. As we work through the various units keep in mind that you’ll want to have a mix of anti-infantry, anti-elite, and anti-tank weapons, balanced a little towards anti-tank (in part because your basic bolter marines are already good anti-infantry, in part because you’re likely to run into a lot of spartans).

Missile launchers make for a solid all-rounder weapon, able to shoot S8 anti-tank or S4 blasts to take out infantry. Other options are better at doing either, but missiles will work, though to take out a spartan you’re likely to need to flank it somehow. Missiles can also Instant Death terminators, so you’ll never lack for something to shoot them at. On the other hand, heavy bolters are going to be pure anti-infantry, and for Imperial Fists they do a great job. At four shots each, a squad of 10 marines will put out 40 shots, hitting on twos and wounding on threes. This’ll rip power armor right up. Outside of light vehicles like rhinos, however, they won’t do much.

Special weapons you almost certainly want to use the rotor cannons and call them assault cannons. They’re a weapon that only Imperial Fists and Blood Angels have access to, and between rending and your legion trait do good work against anything.

Imperial Fists Veteran Tactical Squad with Rhino
Imperial Fists Veteran Tactical Squad with Rhino. Credit: Jack Hunter

You can load out the terminators to do anything. Imperial Fists are the only legion with access to storm shields, so picking a single pack of them up from Forge World makes for a great anvil unit. They’re expensive, so packing 10 into a squad isn’t going to be worth it, but five terminators with a 3+ invuln will take a lot of firepower to kill. Imperial Fists also get an upgraded power fist as a weapon option – the Solarite Power Gauntlet. These are great at killing other elite infantry and do a decent job against vehicles, though for more anti-infantry you could take lightning claws, or chainfists are great to specifically carve up vehicles. The five terminators without shields work fine with the combi-bolters, though picking up a pair of assault cannons in the same Forge World order as the shields is another great choice.

The contemptor is already BS5, so it doesn’t benefit as much from the legion trait. If you expect to be fighting against Night Lords a lot it could be worth building with the autocannon to deal with night fighting, but otherwise build it to fill in missing roles. Melta and Fist or Lascannon and Fist are probably your best choice, filling it in as some dedicated anti-tank.

The spartan doesn’t have a ton of options. It always has lascannon sponsons, so adding another to the hull mount isn’t tremendously worth it. Instead, adding both hull and pintle mounted heavy bolters gives it a bit of useful anti-infantry firepower, and as they’re defensive weapons they’ll be able to fire at a different target than the lascannons.

After building the box, expanding your armor is a great call for future purchases. If you ended up with any 10-man tactical or support squads, giving them rhinos gives them some extra durability and mobility. The Kratos pairs very well with Imperial Fists as well, as the battlecannon is an auto weapon so gets +1 to hit.

Blood Angels

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Dangerous, bloodthirsty, sparkling in daylight, the Blood Angels are a noble but brutal legion focused on fierce assaults. They want to be charging all the time, and that poses the same problems for this box set as it does for many of their brothers in arms who also like to run screaming at the enemy.

If you can get jump packs and chainsword and boltpistol arms for your Mk VI then you should – despoiler squads, or even better assault squads, are definitely the ideal pick here for units. Barring that, if you can find a bunch of power weapons and build out some veterans, that too would be great. However, if you can’t do this then don’t worry too much, there are definitely good ways to building out the power armour bodies in here without extras from elsewhere. I would build two tactical squads of 10 marines, each with a vexilla and all with bayonets, and get them rhinos to travel in as an early purchase. Chain bayonets are fine if that’s your preference, but as you’re already wounding most other marines on a 2+ are probably not worth the point premium over normal bayonets. I would then pick up a special weapons box and equip some units (with some more rhinos if possible) to support them: you can use the same part to build both rotor cannons and assault cannons, just differentiate them with paint. A squad of rotor cannons is very useful to pin your charge targets down so they can’t either overwatch or run away, and assault cannons are effective against nearly any target.

For your Cataphractii you should run them with lightning claws – there’s little point running them with fists since you’re almost certainly going to be wounding on 2s anyway. Throw them in the Spartan which you should fit with, if possible, an assault cannon. The Contemptor can run full brrrrt with an assault cannon in the fist and a kheres on the other arm, if you can find one – if not, try and find a second fist with a second assault cannon. If neither of these are available, throw your preference of weapon on the other arm, you’ll find most of the choices can work well here.

For your next purchases jump troops are a definite priority. Dawn Breaker cohorts are fantastic, and the models are beautiful, so they’re a great early purchase.

Iron Hands

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

You wanna be tough? The toughest there every was? So tough people are going to be quite annoyed at you for it? Welcome to Iron Hands.

Build your Cataphractii with fists (power or chain) and combi-bolters. Don’t bother with the heavy flamer or volkite on the sergeant. Pop them into the Spartan with your Praetor, and give the Spartan maximum anti-tank weapons to really hammer those vehicles. Now build two big blocks of tactical squad, 20 marines in each. Park them onto an objective each and they will hold it until the heat death of the universe, thanks to the stacking buffs on them. Your contemptor can do more or less whatever you like, but an autocannon, heavy bolter or, if you can find one, kheres assault cannon will be a nice addition to chew through some infantry.

For additional purchase you should immediately get a couple of apothecaries to add to your tactical squads. This takes them from hilariously survivable to just infuriating. If you can afford it and find them, buying another pair of Spartans for them to ride in is, honestly, king shit. Triple Spartan lists are very silly but this is one place where they can genuinely work.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Ultramarines, the masters of combined arms tactics, benefits from smaller units working in coordination to take down big targets.

Build your terminators with fists (chain or power) and combi-bolters (or grab some other combi-weapons from the Forgeworld store if you’re feeling fancy). Strap a lascannon to your contemptor and shoot some things. For the Mk VI you should build two tactical squads of 10 marines, and then grab the heavy weapon upgrade kit and throw 10 heavy bolters on one heavy support squad. For the last 10 the ideal would be lascannons or heavy meltas, but the missile launchers will still work well so if you’re impatient you can go right ahead with those. Pick up a couple of rhinos for the tactical squads.

Here’s the strategy: push the tacticals up in the rhinos, dump them on objectives, and shoot them at stuff you want to die. Follow up that with volleys from your heavy support squads, benefiting from that +1 to hit as you do. It won’t apply to frag missiles, but it will to krak. Anything that won’t fold from your firepower gets a Spartan and then ten terminators to the face.

Want to follow up with more purchases? Hard to go wrong with a Kratos – it’ll do work, especially if another unit “spots” for it in advance.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Lords of Fire and Flame, the Salamanders march to war with meltaguns and flamers at the ready, which is a great way to build out this box.

You should of course reserve 20 of your Mk VIs to be two squads of tactical marines, but then grab the special weapon sprue and fit 10 flamers to a tactical support squad immediately – these will become Dragon’s Breath Flamers. You’ll want to grab the relevant heavy weapon kits for heavy flamers when they arrive, but the special weapons are great place to start, and if you’re impatient plasma, volkite and meltas are all great choices to equip the last 10 marines (probably volkite charges for the mobility). You can footslog the tactical squads if you like, but it would be best to grab four rhinos right off the bat if you can for all your squads to ride in.

You should consider applying a little greenstuff in a scale pattern to the cloak of one the Praetors to give them the Mantle of the Elder Drake (probably the lad with the sword), and an arm swap for the other praetor isn’t a bad idea. Thunderhammer and Dragonscale Storm Shield is a really solid pick for this character, and extremely thematic. There’s a thunderhammer on the Mk III sprue and you should be able to find one without too much issue, but the shield is trickier. If you don’t want to go third party, then I would recommend getting any old shield (the Stormcast Eternals have some nice ones) and greenstuffing scale patterns over the top. If you’re not confident doing that then the Seraphon range from Age of Sigmar has some nice scaled shields.

Speak of shields, now we get to the terminators. You can absolutely build them with fists and combi-bolters as they are in the box, and that will work fine. But Salamanders are one of the few legions to get the option of running storm shields, and that’s a very solid choice. The easiest way to do this is to use fists on the left arm, and then use the combi-bolter right arm but cut the combi bolter off the hand and fit a shield over it (with the hand gripping the gun now gripping the shield handle). Again Seraphon shields are kind of perfect for this.

This done, throw them all into the Spartan, which if you can you should sub every heavy bolter available for a flamer (everyone loves flamers). The Contemptor should mount a heavy flamer in the fist and if you can get another fist to go on the other side (swap with a friend who wants a double gun dreadnought perhaps) then another one is great. If not, add some anti-tank fire with melta.

Your next purchases (after the rhinos) should probably be some more armour to support your advance. You could pick up the Kratos, but if you can hold on long enough a Leviathan is an excellent choice as well.

Raven Guard

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The beakie boys supreme, the stealthy loyalists, the overthrowers of tyrants (but not that one): the Raven Guard are custom made for Mk VI armour, and this set is a great opportunity for them… mostly.

The Mk VI are of course a boon. Two 10-marine tactical squads is a great place to start, but beyond that it’s time to get a little creative. Recon squads are great in the new edition, and even better for Raven Guard, so building 10 of the marines in this box as a unit of them is a good plan. You can easily just paint them in a few camo streaks to denote them. You can just run them with bolters, but nemesis bolters are fantastic. As there are no official models for those yet, you can either find some sniper rifles from somewhere, or just find some rod of the appropriate size and extend the bolter barrels to be a silencer – perfect for snipers. For the last ten you could go several different ways – seekers are great, and again just need a different paint scheme. But since all of your tactical support squads will be getting Infiltrate, it’s hard to dislike 5 meltagun supports and 5 flamer supports to run in and cause havoc up close.

Cataphractii? Well you can run them, but if you can swap them for Tartaros terminators I think it fits the theme well. It doesn’t really matter because the approach will be the same – strap lightning claws to them, run them up in the Spartan, and cause havoc on the charge with the Falcons special rule. The same goes with your Contemptor – you’re going to want to be aggressive, so prioritise weaponry that lets you make the most of that. A melta on the gun arm and a heavy flamer in the fist isn’t a bad idea, though a meltagun in the fist really doubles up on throwing down the pain against vehicles on a very tough platform.

Build the praetors how you like, though some arm swaps on the axe guy and leaving off the cloak is a nice way to make him into something a little… sneakier. He would be an unconventional Vigilator, but you could probably make it work.

For your next purchases you can happily dispense with transports – everything on foot (more or less) infiltrating gives you a lot of flexibility. I would instead consider some jump pack troops – maybe the Dark Fury assault squad, simply because they’re the absolute coolest models.


The Sky’s the Limit

There’s a lot to cover here, and your options are pretty much limitless when it comes to expanding the box contents. That said, hopefully we’ve given you some good food for thought on how to expand your forces out from this boxed set. Be sure to check out the Traitor article for more on building around them, and as always if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.