I know when I came across 30k, people told me it was different from 40k, but I know I didn't initially fully grasp how exactly. After all, it uses the core 40k rules, and even the core faction feels quite close to the army which fills half of 40k's codices: Space Marines. If you're a regular, we've batted this around before, but 30k's Legions Astartes really are different from their 40k Space Marine counterparts. How are they different, and how does that change the game fundamentally?
We'll sidestep from our choice of legion only momentarily to break down rites of war. Rites are akin to the variant detachments that were included in codices from 7th edition up until the Necron Codex release. They offer you special rules or options, but at the cost of requiring certain elements, not the least of which is a model with the Master of the Legion special rule which is found on the Primarchs and Praetors (captains). There's no formations, but these rites let different people play different facets and strengths of different legions and help make the game more interesting without encountering some of the damaging elements that we've encountered with formations and formation detachments in the last year or so, as they come loaded with both advantages and drawbacks. Rites available to all armies cover everything from armored spearheads to drop insertion forces, so there's a lot of diversity even if you don't like your legion's unique Rite.
If you want to win, you'll have to destroy enemy scoring choices, while protecting your own. This heavily emphasizes target priority, and reinforces its significance as a game mechanic by requiring Legion and List as context. If you're playing a 'Pride of the Legion' mass terminator list, you can likely de-prioritize enemy missile launchers and Basilisks, but enemy squad bearing large volumes of volkite or plasma are more likely to draw your fire. This is the dynamic that has drawn in myself and so many others, especially when units equipped with more than just boltguns are neither cheap, nor scoring.
So, we've already hit on two major choices that we as players get to make when we first dig into the Heresy: our Legion and our Rite. Where then next? Let's not forget that we are still playing a legion, and have the full might of the imperial armory behind us. Dreadnoughts of all size, shape, and style are available to be taken in talons of 1-3. The Sicaran is a formidable main battle tank, and the Rhino chassis presents with new options. If you've seen a FW model in the last few years for Space Marines, it likely has rules for 30k and 40k both, but in 30k it's not relegated to relic status. It may allow for different weapons, have different points costs, and even have different special rules. Armored ceramite is prevalent and often quashes Melta's presence, rewarding players for taking lascannons and plasma. Not a fan of vehicles and walkers? There's the Rapier battery, volkite weaponry, and units like Seekers (proto-Sternguard), Destroyers (Vanguard but actually awesome), and even Recon.
Couple all this to the 'Age of Darkness' FoC (Think CAD with an extra HQ and Elite slot) and more focused LoW rules (no more than 25% of your points can be spent on LoW) and the system displays a smart, dynamic construction between the 'balance' of 5th, and the character and flavor of newer editions. Don't like Marines? There's other factions, from Mechanicum, Solar Auxilia, Knight Households, and even Militia. Marines are still the defining faction, but there's such a depth and breadth to their options (and it keeps growing) that it's possible to show up to an event and see no duplicated lists, even within the same legion.
Just to give an example of what's possible with a legion list, below you'll find my fist draft of my Alpha Legion 'Coils of the Hydra' army list. It's designed to play at approximately 3k, but with a few cuts here and there it can be tuned down to 2500 for those events where that's more common.
Coils of the Hydra
Rewards of Treason: 10x Firedrake Terminators, Spartan Assault Vehicle w/ Flare Shield
Headhunter Kill Team: 10 members, Rhino
3x Legion Tactical Squad: 10 members, Rhino
Sicaran Battle Tank w/ Lascannon Sponsons
There's some wargear I haven't listed, but the most significant is that the sergeant for each of my tactical squads, as well as my Headhunter team is clad in artificer armor, and bears a power knife, power fist, and a meltabomb. This makes them dual armed, and gives them the tools to win just about any challenge, and put a hurting on tanks or even knights, let alone remain a threat to even terminator squads. Similarly, anything larger than a rhino has ceramite, dozer blades, and an auxiliary drive. Other things to note would be the interaction between Alpha Legion's Mutable Tactics special rule and the stipulations imposed by Coils of the Hydra. I've chosen a list such that all of my units have the required dedicated transport or infiltrate, so as to leave myself open to choosing a different tactic on the fly. And then there's the crown jewel of it all, the Rewards of Treason. This perk from Coils allows me to steal enemy unique units. They trade their legion tactics for mine, but their wargear, stats, points costs, and non-legion specific upgrades remain. This alone gives my list near endless flexibility. There's the vehicle tax involved, but it feels a small price to pay for such a nefarious trick. Similarly, Coils, when combined with the AL rules, and those of Alpharius can allow lots of subtle out of game manipulation as well, including perks to seize, and punishments for enemy reserves. Likewise, if I ever choose to kick the Coils habit, I've still got other tools, including dreadnoughts, drop pods, and other HQ and Consul options that can allow me to present something unexpected to my opponents.
All of this goes a long way to saying that in the wake of BaC we here at Rites will be redoubling our 30k content coverage. If you've got lists you want vetted, or have specific questions about gameplay elements, get in touch with us, we'd love to include them in future pieces! After all, there's no better time to join a side.