Aeronautica Imperialis is Forge World’s first complete game. It is a game of air-to-air combat in the world of Game Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 for two or more players. Like their Imperial Armor books, AI is a large, 176 page, hardcover book lushly illustrated with lots of full color plates. If you have other FW publications many of the images will be familiar. The game rules themselves only take up 18 pages with an additional seven pages devoted to aircraft data and charts. The rest of the book is devoted to Warhammer 40K background data on the various aircraft (i.e. fluff). Also included are two sheets of color maneuver cards on cardstock that need to be cut apart. Our only complaint is that FW did not include a separate booklet with the rules as the vast majority of the book is not actually needed to play the game and thus having a more portable set of rules would be handy.
The AI rules cover all aspects of air combat operations including air-to-air, air-to-ground, and ground-to-air. Each turn consists of secretly picking a maneuver for each of your aircraft (such as dive, side-slip, power climbs, etc), rolling for initiative, performing tailing fire, then alternating the movement and combat of units. The key to the game is the maneuver cards. These are ten cards that are used in combination with regular measured movement to perform maneuvers with your aircraft. They are not only used to actually move your aircraft but also allow, or mandate, various speed and altitude changes. And that brings up another AI innovation, the aircraft bases. Forge World has produced special plastic miniature bases for the game that have two small number wheels on them to easily track the speed and altitude settings for each aircraft. These work very well and not only eliminate bookkeeping or chits but allow all players to easily see the current status of all aircraft on the table. One certainly does not need to use the new AI aircraft bases but doing so speeds play and they look nice.
FW has done a very good job of representing the essential elements of air combat in only a few pages of rules. The concepts of energy, maneuver, tailing (being at an enemy’s six o’clock), weapon options, fuel and ammo limits, altitude, terrain, air-to-ground, and ground-to-air attacks are all represented. Best of all, FW has accomplished this with a minimum of stats and no need for charts or tables. There are also campaign rules to allow one to create an air force to use over a series of missions.
The game play is fun and exciting as players maneuver their aircraft to gain the best position to attack their opponents or achieve other objectives such as landing or retrieving troops. In fact, the strength of the game is not only the challenge of dogfighting but the variety of other missions such as bombing runs, bomber escort, and troop insertions. There are eleven scenarios included ranging from simple dogfight missions to more complex search and rescue missions, troop landings, and surgical strike missions using multiple types of aircraft. The scenarios range from a handful of aircraft on each side up to over twelve. The average scenario will take less than two hours to play and the game plays great with two players and easily accommodates more.
While Forge World will certainly produce some new miniatures for AI, the game uses the long available Epic-scale WH40K aircraft models. Thus gamers who already own some of those can simply buy the rules and some bases and have a second use for them. If you are unfamiliar with these miniatures they are about two inches long depending on the size of the aircraft (fighter or a bomber) represented. FW recently released the Space Marine Thunderhawk Gunship model that is over three inches long and very well done. The models are well sculpted and highly detailed. Casting quality is typical FW, which means mostly excellent but with the occasional bad castings. There is still a somewhat limited selection of aircraft available for some races, such as Chaos, but this will certainly get better over time. In addition, the regular Epic-scale WH40K vehicles and terrain are used for ground forces (usually targets or objectives).
If you enjoy WH40K, air combat in general, or are just looking for a fun, fast-playing game, Aeronautica Imperialis is well worth checking out. If you already have some Epic-scale aircraft AI is almost a must get. Recommended.
Forge World has a FAQ for AI available.
Update: GW has a short Tactica article available.
See our review of the Tactica Aeronautica expansion.