This week Thundercloud is reviewing the Aeronautica Imperialis Companion, which contains rules for Eldar Space Marine, and Necron flyers.
What’s in the book?
I’ve finally received my copy of the AI Companion. It’s a 64 page paperback book containing the Eldar, Space Marines, Necrons, a reprint of the Looted planes White Dwarf article, campaign rules for Eldar, Space Marines and Necrons, advanced damage rules and advanced Ace rules, and three Matched Play scenarios.
As a product it literally is a companion, and alongside Taros Air War as a rulebook gives you every plane released after the first wave (leaving only the Orks and half the Imperial Navy in the Rynn’s World ebook). If you don’t have the Taros book and just have a starter set you can use most of the content, and there’s a two page spread of special rules that cover rules like Jink and Rocket Booster that are not in the starter set rulebooks.
With Covid hitting the Flight Plan series of articles for AI abruptly stopped (there seems to have been a lot going on behind the scenes in Specialist when you compare what we’ve got to what was planned), and a lot of momentum was lost. The Tau release, lacking an Orca and Manta, seemed incomplete, and Imperial Navy (read Thunderbolt Furies) dominated matched play. The game needed more variety, a proper matched play format and a hard points pass based on faction performance in games. This supplement delivers on two of those things.
Necrons get two aircraft in this supplement (both available from Forgeworld) and in case you were worried Eldar or Imperial Navy had the most brutal fighters, you’ve got a new combat monster here with the Doom Scythe. It matches the Eldar Nightshade for speed and maneuverability, but has significantly better firepower and twice the structure. However it does clock in at 38 points.
A 150 point force would clock in at just four planes (3 Doom Scythe, 1 Night Scythe) so you’ll be an at initiative disadvantage for the first turn or three, particularly against an Ork Dakkajet Flying Circus, but when you start toasting things, and taking 2 structure planes off the board in a single volley would not be unusual, then that initiative advantage is going to start going away.
The Necron Night Shroud Bomber is the joint fastest bomber in the game, at Speed 7, and actually cheaper than a Doom Scythe. It’s got the same forward firepower as a Night Scythe, so it isn’t a slouch in combat, and is more maneuverable than a lot of fighters in the game.
All Necron aircraft have Jink, for that extra ability to arc dodge or play with range brackets.
Necrons answer the question, what if Eldar but tough and with better guns? You just pay through the nose for it.
Marines get nothing new compared to the card pack, they just get everything collated in one place and the rules to slot them into campaigns.
What held true with the initial release, that Xiphons are good but not as good as T-bolts, and that Thunderhawks are tough but don’t have a lot of damage output so fielding multiple Thunderhawks is fluffy, but not game breaking or cheesy, still holds true.
Marines could have had some extras, particularly as Eldar lucked out in this supplement, but in design terms Eldar 40k aircraft are straightforward and thematically sound, while 40k marine aircraft are a mixture of weapons and engagement ranges. If I were to pick a historical parallel, the Eldar and 30k Marine aircraft remind me of 60s and 70s Soviet aircraft, while the 40k Marine planes remind me of modern Nato aircraft. The Stormhawk might have been a viable candidate as a fighter, but the Xiphon is a dedicated interceptor in a very much overlapping role and looks a lot more stylish when doing it.
We may see 40k Marine aircraft converted over, but they might not add anything to the existing roster except redundancy.
Eldar made out like bandits in this book, tripling the number of aircraft available to them and gaining campaign rules. The Vampire Raider provides them with a dedicated transport, the Vampire Hunter with a bomber destroyer. The 40k Eldar planes are brought into Aeronautica for the first time and do interesting and different things. I think the balance is about right for them, so Aeronautica is not getting a case of brokenitis from the space elves (as has been the worry with all Specialist Games, given the truism that the way to ruin a good specialist game is to add Eldar).
The additions in this book mean Eldar have six planes to choose from, giving them the widest selection of planes to choose from after the Imperial Navy (Marines have 4, Tau 4, Orks 5, Imperial Navy 10). They have the fastest interceptor with the Nightshade at Speed 9. At 25 points and with Throttle 4 and maneuver 1-8, the Nightshade is the most maneuverable plane in the game and with Brightlances that mean it’s engagement range with the most firepower is 5-10 hexes. Essentially the opposite of the Nightwing with it’s Shuriken Cannons, the Nightshade can dance around at long ranges with the Holofields upgrade and avoid fire from a lot of factions (Orks, a lot of Imperial aircraft, etc) and snipe away at the opponent. That’ll make them really happy.
The Eldar section has a lot of choice, with the Hemlock Wraithfighter and Nightshade filling new niches, the Nightshade as a sniper, the Nightwing as a fast interceptor, the Hemlock a short to medium range mauler, a fast bomber in the Phoenix, and the Vampires as a transport or bomber destroyer. It’s possibly the most interesting aircraft roster in the game.
The Marauder Pathfinder and Marauder Colossus. The Pathfinder allows you to discard the order of a friendly aircraft within 3 hexes that has yet to move and choose a new one. This is interesting, but not worth spending 33 points on a not particularly combat capable aircraft interesting. The Marauder Colossus is a slightly more expensive Marauder with a bigger single strike bomb load. You might use it in scenario play to absolutely cream a single target, but a standard Marauder is more efficient and Avenger Strike Fighters are cooler. So much cooler.
Ork Looted Aircraft and Mega Bommer
The Ork looted aircraft are unchanged from White Dwarf, essentially for every 5 Ork aircraft you can get a Thunderbolt or Marauder with exactly the same weapons. I’m firmly of the belief they should have given them Ork weapons instead to support converters. This ironically gives Orks their best fighter, and I would expect to see a looted Thunderbolt in any Ork Air Waagh over 100 points. Marauders with wing Big Bombs also give an enormous single strike bomb drop capacity for bombing missions and a cheaper bomber than the Eavy Bommer.
You can take Ork munitions and Ork upgrades, so you can strap Rokkits and Kustom Big Shootas to your Thunderbolts.
The Mega Bomber continues to be the biggest aircraft in the game, with ten Structure Points and the maneuverability of an oil tanker. It’s got the longest ranged weapons on any Ork aircraft (having 2 dice at long range with the flak turret) and an enormous number of dice at close range, but this is an aircraft for narrative play where bringing down this titan of the skies is the point of the scenario.
Imperial Aircraft in Tau service
Again one Imperial aircraft for every five Tau ones, but your selection includes Valkyries to give you transport capacity, as well as Thunderbolts, Avengers and Lightnings to give a variety of fighters. The Marauder is the only bomber you can take, but you take Imperial rather than Tau upgrades. You’ll likely be taking a Valkyrie in a transport scenario, as it makes it much easier for you.
This comprises two sections, the Expanded Damage rules and the Expanded Ace Abilities rules.
This will extend the game, because half the time you score a damage point, it won’t cause the target to lose a structure point. However models can game flame or smoke tokens, which put penalties on the target.
Smoke and Flame prevent you from tailing and give -1 to hit, and Flame lowers your maneuverability by 1. In the end phase you roll against your Handling to remove these counters, making handling super important using these rules, making aircraft like most Eldar and Avenger Strike Fighters more useful. If you fail to pass your handling you roll a dice, on a 1-2 the plane’s state worsens. Planes with Smoke gain a Flame, planes with Flame lose a Structure point and can’t shoot next turn.
This means putting Smoke and Flame counters on opponents, if they have bad handling scores, can be absolutely crippling (looking at you Orks).
These rules are good for smaller (sub 100 point games) but would add too much time to larger battles. It’s good for narrative gaming, but I wouldn’t use it in an event without thinking very hard about it and controlling the game times and sizes.
Expanded Ace Abilities
This essentially takes all the Ace Abilities from every faction, converts them to points, and gives you a list to choose from to build your own Aces in your squadrons. It’s interesting, and you can take some great abilities. The rules state you can take these in matched play which opens up a lot of potential for creating Aces best suited to the aircraft they’re flying, and Aces for aircraft that never got an Ace (Marauder Destroyer, Thunderhawk, etc) so I think it’s open to a bit of abuse, particularly if the ability compensates for a planes weakness. The Ace ability for +1 to hit at 1 level higher than the target paired with Eldar Holofields and a Nightshade would be horrible at long range, where you’d hit your opponent normally but they’d hit you on 6s and reroll all successful hits.
Matched Play Scenarios
One of the things requested by players was Matched Play scenarios, to give a balanced format that supports competitive events. There is guidance for running Matched Play events, telling you to bring two squadron lists and choose between them according to the scenario, with one list having to contain a bomber and one a fighter. The matched play scenarios all include a variety of deployment maps as well.
With two lists and needing to cover a troop landing mission as well, it means you’ll need to carefully consider your lists. Factions able to combine planes with Transport and solid ground attack (Imperial Navy and Space Marines, to some extent Orks) will have an easier time than Tau, who’ll need to take a Gue’vesa Valkyrie in one list to give them some Troop capacity. There’ll be a lot of hard choices in list building.
A straight forward kill more than your opponent does scenario.
No Mans Land
A bombing scenario with three 4 structure point ground targets for each side, and the variety of maps give a variety of locations for these targets. Each ground target is worth 25 victory points when destroyed. So you’ll be using the bomber list for this.
A troop drop mission, where you get 5 victory points per troop landed. This means you need Troop carrying planes, so Necrons will be taking Night Scythes, Eldar a couple of Vampires, etc.
The drop zones in the deployment maps mean there’s a lot of variety in where you need to get to on the board.
These missions force careful decisions in force construction and are balanced. They’re definitely suitable for using for competitive events, and a far better fit than the total mess the next Warhammer World event will be using the Taros campaign book scenarios and allowing people to take different forces and factions for each game.
Wrapping Things Up
If you’re an AI player, buy this book. It not only gives you three factions including an entirely new one, it gives you new ways to play and a bunch of interesting rules.
What it means for the future of Aeronautica is interesting, because it includes new things we weren’t expecting (40k Eldar planes, Necrons) but isn’t a rulebook in the way that Taros Air War was, which means that book is still the most recent, complete and up to date rules for the game. The Companion is a product that may have been put together in a hurry as a response to very good sales of Wave Three (and print runs of models selling out immediately is always a good sign for future products) but with the acknowledgement that Wave Four is still some time away.
There aren’t rumours floating around at the moment about a Wave Four for Aeronautica, though it would almost certainly feature Chaos as a faction and something else (Tyranids? Dark Eldar? Running out of factions with aircraft now. PDF?).
A single wave of releases per year as a model is how GW do Aeronautica, and it does get more plastic kits with each release that Titanicus does (though in terms of moulding the difference is less stark). I think a lot of 40k players struggle with this, as the idea of one big release per year just baffles them, especially if they didn’t start in the 90s and are used to the current weekly release model. One more wave would essentially ‘complete’ the game, and it’ll be interesting to see if GW do another wave and perhaps a Titan Legions size collectors rulebook that compiles all the releases, revises the rules and points, and is the definitive single purchase to play the game. With the difficulties with card printing and shipping GW have had (I don’t believe the huge gap between previewing Wave Three and it going on sale was GW’s choice) it will be interesting if they do a card map run again. A nice hardback collected book with everything in and 7-8 complete factions would be great in my opinion, and I’m fine with games having an endpoint where releases are concerned, and the community can continue to support it with events and community content (when COVID is over).
So Aeronautica is in a good place at the moment with six factions. If GW stop new releases it’s in a state where the community could take over, and if they do something new then Chaos + another faction and a deluxe collected rulebook with everything in it and a points pass for balance please and then it’s complete and time for Epic or the next Epic scale game (rumoured tank game?) please.
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