Aeronautica Imperialis: First Flight
For this week’s non-Infinity night l busted out my copy of Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vengeance. Jon is a huge WW2 nut, especially around aviation, and I have fond memories of going to air shows with my dad, so this game really spoke to both of us. Something else that we discovered is that the first model kit either of us remember putting together is a F-4J Phantom… the same first model that another of our friends built, Revell must have had a sale or something.
When the game first launched, I was cautiously optimistic, but I went ahead and bought the starter set, plus the bits I figured would be limited production (the dice, cards, and Rynn’s World). Quickly I noticed that Aeronautica had some huge differences from the 40k Universe, specifically that it didn’t feel grim or dark, instead it felt nearly cheerful and campy, with fantastic handlebar mustaches, autographed photos, and a strong sense of whimsy… something truly unique in the 40k setting. This light hearted feel really does a great job making the game feel reminiscent of the Golden Age of Aviation.
It didn’t take me long to jump into assembling all the various fighters and bombers. First off, I have to say that these are some of the best model kits GW has ever produced, which is not something I anticipated. Each plane is a joy to assemble, fits together like a dream, and is highly detailed. All this detail does come at a bit of a cost though, the planes are a lot of parts, many of which are very small and need to be put together precisely, but this all really just reminded me of assembling model planes as a kid. Once assembled the level of detail really shines, making them feel more like a model kit than a wargame miniature. Furthermore, the size of the models feel great in the hand, and has provided hours of entertainment flying them around and making machine gun and bombing sound effects.
By the time Jon came over for our game night, we had both already watched the videos produced by GW (starring the enthusiastic Becca Scott), and absorbed the other media available on the game. We played the basic Dog Fight out of the starter set, on the mat provided, to get the out of the box feel for the product. Next thing you know we were rolling dice, declaring maneuvers, and shooting each other out of the sky.
It took a minute to get used to fiddling with altitude and speed, managing your throttle to prevent yourself from flying off the table or overshooting the target. My Orks deployed at higher and lower altitude so that I could be protected from Jon’s longer range shots, before using the climb/dive rules to manage my speed further than my throttle typically allowed. It was apparent that my Orks were much shorter range, so I blasted them at breakneck speeds across the table, engaging Jon mostly on his side. The rules surrounding initiative, declaring/performing Ace maneuvers, and shooting were all super intuitive, and by the second turn we almost never needed to look at the reference sheets.
At the end of the skirmish, Jon’s slower and tougher planes survived the frenzied and inexperienced onslaught by the Orks. Right away we then took this knowledge and put the other planes in the game into context with our new understanding. Despite there being only a few different units to pick from, the game has an incredible amount of depth. Knowing when to force yourself into a stall so that your enemy blazes past, just before you regain control and shoot them in the tail, or how to predict which maneuvers you expect from an opponent, while using altitude and speed to dictate the flow of the game, all of it happens in the game, and it’s a very rewarding experience.
Playing the game out of the box was really enjoyable, but to get the most out of the game, you will need the Rynn’s World book. Wings of Vengence is clearly designed to be a starter, you have small fleets, on a small area, with one scenario, but that said, it is a remarkably tight starter experience.
Currently, my only gripe with the game is GW doesn’t produce what is required to play a standard size game, specifically the game mat. A typical size game of Aeronautica is supposed to be played on a 4x4 surface, with a 2” hex-grid, but GW themselves only produce a 3x3 game board (the size used for “small dogfights”). Plenty of third party companies make game mats, but there are very few that will do so with a proper 2” hex-grid. From here, it’s just a matter of time until the Tau, Eldar, and Chaos are added to the game, which will breathe in a lot more life. Most likely, I will only play Aeronautica occasionally, until the fleets are expanded, and I can find a proper game mat (in the US).
Overall, I think that the game is exceptional, and joins the ranks of Blood Bowl and Warcry, as shining examples of what the GW Specialist Game Studio can produce. If you love little planes and the 40k universe, then this is a fantastic product and really a ton of fun.