Saturday, 21 September 2019

Review Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vengeance - 1 Overview.

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Wings of War

The story of Games Workshop's Aeronautica Imperialis game doesn't start with GW at all. It starts with an Italian game published in 2004 depicting World War I tactical air combat. Wings of War used an innovatory semi-board game mechanism where players chose hidden manoeuvres in advance which were revealed when a player moved a plane. The manoeuvres were depicted on the card and the player just moved his plane along whatever track was depicted, making such changes in facing as necessary.  'Extra' movement could be used in front and/or after the manoeuvre giving the player some flexibility.

Wings of War was taken up by Fantasy Flight and became a big success. They duly dropped it and it is now sold as Wings of Glory.

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Aeronautica Imperialis

In 2007, Forge World published Aeronautica Imperialis, a 40K air game.

The mechanism of AI was a straight knock-off of Wings of Glory. You could move a bit, lay down a manoeuvre card and then possibly move again. The problem is that Wings of War was a pretty decent simulation of fragile wooden biplanes armed with light machine guns. An attempt to translate it into a WWII version was much less successful because WWII monoplane air warfare with cannon armed fighters was fought very differently. We will return to this point.

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Aeronautica Imperialis: Wings of Vengeance

The first thing to notice is that the models in Wings of Vengeance are the wonderful plastic models. They are much bigger than the old Epic scale stuff from Forge World and are beautifully sculpted. I cannot speak too highly of them. 

What is in the rest of the box though is not a game, but a taster for a game. The playing mat is too small, the rulebook is a cut down paperback version, and no playing cards are included - there are useful counters.

The game mechanism is virtually identical to Forge World's AI, and hence Wings of War except that the 'expensive to print' movement cards are gone and replaced by a sheet depicting available manoeuvres. To make this work, the game is played on a hex grid - hence the concern about the small size of the playing area in the box. As an aside, My friend, David S. claims that in some places in the cut and paste they have forgotten to turn cm into hexes.

Now this is a problem because what worked well as a simulation of fighting canvas biplanes with Lewis guns comes over as pretty damn odd when translated into supersonic jets. For example, although height is recorded in the game, ALL manoeuvres take place in the horizontal. After Polikarpov introduced the Rata in 1933 (until the rise of BVR missile combat, anyway) manoeuvring in the vertical has been way more important for tactical combat than the horizontal. The classic tactic from 1918 SE5a to MIGs in Vietnam is fast in, shoot, fast out: he who shoots and runs away, lives to get home for tea and medals.

And here is another strange example, or at least it seems strange to me. A plane in Wings of vengeance achieves its maximum safe speed in level flight. Diving to go faster risks structural damage. That seems more suited to canvas biplanes than jet planes. Also the weapons are strangely ineffectual. Modern missiles and cannon just smash planes out of the sky but Wings of Vengeance planes can survive multiple hits - well most of them, anyway.

Okay that's enough from me for now: more reviews on the models and a test game to follow.

So first impressions?

Great models, not sure about the game - but at around £50, it is worth buying just for the models. If you end up throwing the game away and just keep the planes, you still will have got value for money.


  1. A very interesting review John, sounds a shame that they haven't thought this through properly with the different types of planes

    1. A very odd decision just to recycle a WWI game from 2004.

  2. Thanks for your review. I am a professional pilot and have really enjoyed playing the game so far. All aircraft have a maximum speed that cannot be exceeded--I just figured the restrictions were a matter of scale. A max speed of 5 might translate to Mach 2 something similar and then it becomes relative. As for altitude and three dimensional combat, if you factor in the penalties to hit when firing at an aircraft at a different "level" it becomes possible to climb and dive to evade or increase your hit probability respectively.

    1. Just a quick clarification as well--you say in the review that ALL maneuvers are horizontal in the game. This is not true. You can climb or descend during the movement phase for EVERY maneuver making 3 dimensional combat very effective.

    2. The three phases of movement in AI are: adjust throttle, move and manoeuvre, and change height.
      The manoeuvre section has no effect whatsoever on the player’s decision about whether to climb, dive or remain at the same height. Ergo all manoeuvres are carried out in the horizontal. No manoeuvre changes plane altitude...or prevents a change in altitude. The two game mechanisms are disconnected.

    3. The two mechanisms are not disconnected at all. Let's say you want to do a climbing turn, for example, and ascend to a level to get closer to an aircraft higher up at the same time. Throttle first if you choose, Move and Maneuver according to the diagram, and Climb (change your altitude to your declared level). You are now in a new position, a new heading, and at a new altitude, and if you did well your opponent can be right in your firing arc. Of course they are doing the same which provides the fun and challenge.

    4. Sigh, you are missing the point. Read my answer again. The game mechanisms are disconnected playing choices.

    5. I'm not missing your point; I think you are misinterpreting the rules. Have you played a game yet? EACH and EVERY maneuver allows for an altitude change as per the rules which you yourself reiterated, which thereby allows for a three dimensional component to be utilized in the combat mechanism. I have read and re-read your answer trying to understand where you are not making that connection. I do not mean to be disrepectful or uncivil, and you can love or hate the game as much as you want, but to criticize it based upon a misunderstanding of the game mechanics is not fair. You state repeatedly in the initial review and in your follow up answer that ALL maneuvers must take place in the horizontal only, which you took issue with and felt detracted from the game. When I pointed out that this very important factor was included in the mechanics of the rules and greatly increased the play of the game, you "sighed" and said I am missing the point.

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