Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vengeance Review11 Sep 2019 0
Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vengeance Review
Released 02 Sep 2019
There is little joy in life comparable to pushing a plastic airplane or spaceship across the table and yelling "pew, pew!" until your lungs burn. The massive success of Fantasy Flight's X-Wing miniatures game proves this. Games Workshop, never content, is getting in on the action.
Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vegeance is a reworking of the 2007 Forge World ruleset that never quite got off the ground. This is an entirely new vision, one more coherent and rich, which is promised to receive ongoing support with a new line.
If you're unfamiliar with this game you will initially be startled by the setting. While this takes place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and pits the Imperium against Orks, it's surprisingly takes place planetside. In fact, if you glanced quickly at the box you may even mistake this for a World War 2 dog-fighting game.
This is still the far future but the game has completely eschewed the grim-dark facade. The cloud-filled skies are bright and airy with red emblazoned Dakkajets streaking towards glorious blue Thunderbolt Furies. Everything is soaked in that 1940s sepia as the rulebook includes propaganda posters, shots of Imperium pilots ripped from another time, and even a clear nod to the Spitfire in the Thunderbolt silhouette. It's all lovely and immediately pulls you in. This is what Games Workshop excels at and we should expect nothing different.
In similar fashion to the setting, the mechanisms feel highly influenced by the outside. Aeronautica Imperialis bears many similarities in gameplay and format to both X-Wing and Ares Games' Wings of Glory. You simultaneously select hidden maneuvers in an attempt to outwit your opponent and catch their six. It's tried and true and completely understandable.
Where this game primarily differs from its peers is its use of a hex grid. This is both a boon and a curse. It allows for more precise movement that avoids arguments over range or accidental nudges of your aircraft's position, but it also requires a more laborious action of counting hexes for determining range and more painstaking maneuvering. You can't just pick your miniature up and plop it down at the end of a ruler, instead you must look to the reference sheet dictating your maneuver and mimic its structure on the board.
This is a neutral trade-off that will appeal to some and dissuade others. It does offer a slightly different feel and it buys the game a little bit of room with its usage of throttle. The change is not merely a surface level addition but one the design team leverages for system specific nuance.
The second shift is relying on more bountiful fistfuls of dice. At optimal ranges - which are different for each type of aircraft - you may be rolling seven or more six-siders. The hit and wound system is reminiscent of the longstanding Warhammer tradition and perhaps less risky or wild than originally hoped. It works though, and rolling those larger pools of dice can be a treat.
Overall, Aeronautica Imperialis presents a confluence of mechanisms and exceptional miniatures to produce a joyous flurry of carnage in the clear skies of a planet deserving its fate. Let's talk about those miniatures for a second.
It's no surprise they are detailed - this is Games Workshop after all. What's astounding is just how crammed with bits and bobs each of these tiny planes are. These are a step above X-Wing's offering, although of course they need to be assembled and are not pre-painted. The level of precision combines with the unique aesthetic choices here to produce some of the best and most stylish minis this Nottingham company has ever produced. Those Thunderbolts and Dakkajets are simply begging for shark teeth and kill markings.
The proprietary bases which measure altitude and speed are also pretty sophisticated. They work rather well and function much better than those found in the recently released Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles.
Unfortunately that quality doesn't stretch to all corners of the box. The paper mat offered as a playing surface presents a powerful image (those factory stacks spewing smoke are gorgeous) but the folds are aggravating and it doesn't come close to the thicker cardboard surface found in Warcry and Kill Team.
This boxed set also features bombers, which are the best looking models in the bunch, but it doesn't actually contain rules to use their bombs. Instead, it points you towards a future supplement and greater commitment. This feels a bit of a tease and it would have been a better decision to replace the bombers in this set with a wider range of fighters, packaging those bigger beasts with the supplement as a significant expansion.
The bomber issue is exacerbated by the inclusion of only a single scenario. This is perhaps the hardest pill to swallow as we're used to Games Workshop releases boasting many different ways to play and utilize your new toys. Here we get a straight up dogfight which mimics the offering in X-Wing's core set. It feels more egregious here though due to the higher price and steeper buy-in.
That cost and limited scope of the Wings of Vengeance highlights the fact that this product is primarily setup to offer value for the individual planes themselves. The rules, tokens, and paper mat become toss-ins from this perspective and it's a little easier to stomach.
Aeronautica Imperialis' main challenge is in carving out a niche. It directly competes with several giants and at times struggles to define its relevance. The gameplay is solid and is intimately focused on maneuvering, tailing, and harnessing altitude, but X-Wing 2nd Edition is stronger than ever and Wings of Glory is a very mature system that is more simple and extensive in expansion offerings.
The true appeal of this game lies with those enamored with the Warhammer 40k setting who want to explore every inch of the offered universe. Those sick of fiddling around with templates may also find solace in this release, finally settling on a hex-based dogfighter with a slick veneer.
From a wider view, it's very difficult to analyze its full effect as much of the system is still yet to be released. In this regard it feels a bit like the re-launch of Necromunda where the whole game is being parceled out across a string of releases. This may prove the design's most significant challenge in establishing an audience.