GW released wave one of Aeronautica in the autumn of 2019, approximately 25 years ago the way it seems things are going.
This release was the Rynn’s World campaign and comprised the Ork Air Waagh and the Imperial Navy. There were seven aircraft kits (4 Ork and 3 Imperial) and the ground assets sprue which had Ork and Imperial assets. There was a starter set, 3 ft by 3 ft card map and campaign book, with cards and dice for both factions. It looks certain that each wave of Aeronautica Imperialist will be accompanied by a new starter, and every faction will get cards and dice, with the Wave 3 starter being Eldar vs Chaos.
The sprue design in Wave One was clever and the sculpting phenomenal, with the Thunderbolt, Dakkajet and Fighta Bombers all being single frame kits, while the Marauders and Eavy Bomber were two frame kits, and the Grot Bomber a two and a half frame kit. The Marauders and Grot/Eavy Bomber both have a common frame and then variant frames that made a different plane. The Thunderbolt frame gave the option to build the planes as either standard Thunderbolts of the more heavily armed Thunderbolt Furies.
Together with the Titanicus kits, the high standard of these kits makes me really enthusiastic for more Epic scale content, and the eventual reintroduction of the Epic game.
As the optimal Imperial force in wave one was usually one or two Marauder Destroyers and the rest of your points in Thunderbolt Furies with a handful of missiles and upgrades, I felt that some games I played were a bit samey. While this is a very effective force, it is quite dull to play six times in a day, which is what I did at the Warhammer World Event. The Imperial Navy lacks a good transport, and variation in fighters. The Thunderbolt Fury is so good for two extra points that vanilla Thunderbolts are a fairly rare sight. This will hopefully be dealt with through point cost changes in the FAQ.
What Wave Two will add to the Imperials is transport options, a light fighter (the Lightning, with at least two weapon loadouts) and ground attack options. The Imperial Navy will go from one option for each role to having multiple options for each role. Depending on the balance in the new options, we will hopefully see real variation in the Imperial forces hitting the table. If they aren’t then I’ll keep facing Marauder Destroyers and Thunderbolt Furies till I die.
So what is coming in Wave Two?
A new starter
A new starter set replacing Wings of Vengeance, Skies of Fire. This set contains Tau and Imperial forces. The Tau have two Tiger Sharks and three Barracudas, and the Imperials have two Valkyries and three Lightning fighters.
From looking at the miniatures it is clear that there are weapon options for each of the planes in the starter set. The Tiger Shark has three main battery options, ion cannons, burst cannons and railguns. The Lightnings have lascannons and multilasers as an option. Barracudas have different options, and Valkyries have different load outs available and can be taken as Vendettas.
I feel this adds quite a lot to the value of the new starter. If you buy two starters, you can have one of every Tiger Shark option and a single duplicate. An Imperial Navy player might never need more than two Marauder Bombers, but they might want a variety of Valkyrie builds. As someone collecting both Imperial and Tau, I will definitely want a couple of copies, as if it is priced the same as Wings of Vengeance, with the Barracudas, Lightnings and Valkyries being half of a £25 box and the Tiger Sharks the same contents as a £25 box, then the saving on the minis will be £7.50 (3 x 12.50 + 25 = £62.50). Throw in an extra counter sheet and map and a rulebook to give to a friend for free and it’s a must double buy for me.
Aeronautica 2nd edition appears to be following the same pattern as the 1st edition. The Tau previewed are the Forgeworld Tau, not the GW 40k Tau planes, and the Tau planes appear to closely follow both the initial Aeronautica release and the later developments for Tau aircraft from Forgeworld. While the Ork releases have shown that GW are prepared to amend and change the original Aeronautica planes to create a more coherent force (the original Ork larger aircraft were something of a mish mash and the Dakkajets are the 40k Dakkajet debigified), with Tau this would not be as necessary. It will be interesting to see if the Tau 40k aircraft are introduced, but they won’t be missed if the original Aeronautica Tau are reproduced.
Most of the previews have been of Imperial planes, and it is worth talking about what has been seen in detail.
The Forces of the Imperial Navy and/or Guard
In original Aeronautica, these 2 structure fighters were speed six like Thunderbolts, but had significantly fewer autocannons and higher manoeuvrability. How will this translate in Aeronautica 2nd edition?
I would imagine a fighter capable of manoeuvres 1-7 but reliant on its lascannons for damage output. The points cost will determine whether it is competitive compared to the Thunderbolt, as the Thunderbolt puts out significantly more firepower. If the Lightning is 15 or 16 points, I can see them having a place in Imperial forces, particularly if the Thunderbolt Fury is FAQ’d to cost more. The Lightning had a strike variant which replaced it’s autocannon with a hellstrike missile for ground attacks at no difference to the points, though I feel trading the autocannon dice makes it a substantially worse fighter.
There is a multi-laser variant as well, which allows you to replace the lascannons with multilasers. This is interesting because in Aeronautica 1st edition this would mean switching the 0-1-1 dice of the lascannons (damage 2+, extra damage 6+, ammo 3) for a 3-2-0 (damage 5+, ammo 5) of multilasers. In 1st edition you can see why this is worth the trade off, and it would make the lightning more of a knife fighter, which the Imperium lacks. In 2nd edition we haven’t seen the stat line for multilasers, but if it is 3-2-0 or 4-2-0 then if that Lightning variant is cheap enough it could have a niche as a close escort for Imperial squadrons when things like Dakkajets get in close and you can’t dance back out to medium range.
In 1st edition the Valkyrie had a maximum speed of 3, but provided the Imperial Navy with a valuable transport capacity that they otherwise lacked. It was possible to take a ‘weapons’ variant, which added two heavy bolters firing forward to make a pretty crappy fighter. However at 10 points (12 points with ordnance) it was dirt cheap and able to provide the Imperials with a cheap and expendable transport that could go to Speed 0 in order to drop troops off. The Rocket Pod was an interesting ordnance weapon at 6-4-0 6+ damage ammo 2, meaning you could pop off 6 dice one turn, 6 dice the next and just fish for sixes, or take the far more reliable Hellstrike missile but only get one round of 2 dice.
The Imperials badly need this plane for the cheap transport capacity that it provides. The kit can also be built as the Vendetta gunship, as is very clearly shown in the pictures above. If those lascannons are not ground attack only, then it will be interesting to see it used as a medium and long range sniper.
A number of scenarios from 1st edition used 4 Valkyries, and I won’t hesitate to have four of these in my Imperial force. It’ll be interesting to see how worthwhile the Vendetta is.
The first Aeronautica plane announced in resin, the Vulture in 1st edition had the option of taking 18 different ordnance loadouts, adding things like missile launchers, lascannons, multilasers, autocannons, hellstrikes, bombs, rocket pods and hunter killer missiles (an ammo 3 ground attack missile) to the possible weapons they could take. The GW preview shows that they can take Punisher Cannons now as well, in order to throw out a huge number of dice.
This is another plane where points will make a huge difference. In 1st edition the airframe was 8 points with an extra 12 points to take ordnance. It will also be interesting to see if the designer has trimmed down the options available, as doing all of those pieces in resin would be a big pain and inflate the kit price. It may also be the case that you can nick options from the Valkyrie/Vendetta kit, and GW may not do those again in resin.
The Arvus lighter (or ‘little pig’) is an unarmed 10 point transport that seems custom made for rapid insertions. While the Valkyrie could only go at a maximum speed of 3 in 1st edition (though we don’t know if it’s had a buff in that department), the Arvus has definitely had a buff. Still unarmed, its max speed has been increased from 4 to 6, its transport from 1 to 2, and it’s gained a rule to let it drop its cargo, take off and boost for orbit. Its points cost has gone from a tiny 4 points to a reasonable 10, given that at 4 points taking some to use as initiative sinks to let your fighters move after all of your opponent’s aircraft would be a thing.
The Arvus is also being done as a FW piece. I’m hoping for three or four in a pack as they’d make great scenario fodder as Lightnings try to keep Barracudas or Dakkajets from filling them full of lead. 1st edition had an optional armed version which welded an autocannon on the front to make the 41st Millenium’s worst fighter.
The Avenger Strike Fighter
The Avenger did not appear in Aeronautica 1st edition, but is a fan favourite aircraft introduced after Aeronautica went OOP.
Again we see optional armaments, with autocannons or lascannons and different types of missile available.
I have no 1st edition aircraft to compare the Avenger to, but given it is a similar size to the Lightning it may also be structure 2. It has one Avenger Bolt Cannon vs the Thunderbolt Furies two, so it’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up against them.
It looks like a great strafing aircraft, but I’ll wait and see what the stats and points are before working out how good it is at the fighter part of it’s name. I’ll of course get a box because just look at it.
With the announced releases there are only three Imperial Navy aircraft left from 1st edition Aeronautica not shown, the Aquila Lander (which I think is very likely a Forge World release), the Marauder Colossus (a Marauder Bomber with an even bigger bomb) and the Marauder Vigilant (AWAC Marauder). The Marauder variants will likely be in plastic, as the existing quarter frames from the Marauder boxes are marked B for the Bomber Frame and D for the Destroyer frame, leaving C for Colossus and A for AWAC.
It looks like the Imperial Navy faction will be finished in this release, leaving Wave 3 free to introduce and fill out Eldar and Chaos, and Chaos in particular could do with an additional couple of planes, as in 1st edition they never got a transport option or anything between the Hell Talon, a structure 3 fighter bomber, and the structure 12 Harbinger Super Heavy Bomber.
The Perfidious Tau
The Tau were a big part of the 1st edition of Aeronautica, featuring as the antagonists in the campaign from the second Aeronautica book and the Aeronautica section of the Taros campaign book. Tau got the only super heavy flyer in the original Aeronautica book, the Manta, and in general got a lot of FW love.
Tau in 1st edition rolled less dice, but damaged on 4+ with Ion Cannons, 3+ with Missile Pods and 2+ with railguns (which did extra damage on a 4+) so no one was complaining about rolling less dice because the damage output was still very reliable.
We’ve seen very little of the Tau so far, and nothing of the additional kits they will get in the wave.
What do we know and what might we see?
The standard Barracuda in 1st edition was a two structure fighter packing an Ion Cannon and Missile Pod, with a max speed of 6 and manoeuvrability equal to a Thunderbolt. It also clocked in at two points less.
In second edition it’s clear that the Barracuda gets the option of different weapons and can switch the Ion Cannon for a Railgun or Swiftstrike Burst Cannon (all three of these have been seen in pictures). This gives a decent bit of variety to customise fighters. It’s also clear from looking at the model that you can change the drone weapons, possibly to plasma rifles.
In 1st edition Barracudas had burst cannon drones that gave you a 360 degree 4 dice short range turret damaging on 6+ and able to target planes on the same altitude or below. This, like the tail gun on the Ork Fighta Bomber, is hardly a super weapon, but is useful and lets you squeeze a few more dice out of each plane. If this weapon system gets Tail Gunner it’ll make them more interesting as well. How other options like plasma rifles will impact the Tau will be interesting, particularly if they can damage more reliably.
The Tau also get an equipment option that changes the Barracuda somewhat.
Some real Tau bullshit.
For two points you can out accelerate/decelerate most other fighters in the game, and outpace a Thunderbolt. It helps you to pull off manoeuvres your opponent can’t, particularly combined with a minimum speed of one.
It looks like Barracudas are very customisable and you can amend them to suit your style.
In 1st edition, there were two main variants of the Tiger Shark, one with Railguns and one with Ion Cannons. 2nd edition adds one with Swiftstrike Burst Cannons to give Tau an equivalent to the Marauder Destroyer in terms of the number of dice you throw.
While the Marauder bomber was something you would only want a limited number of as an Imperial player, the Tiger Shark doesn’t tie you into paying for bombs you may never use depending on the mission. It’s a big structure 5 gunship.
I think the Tiger Shark is likely to be somewhat different to the 1st edition version. We already know it’s been given another structure point. The 1st edition version had barely more firepower than the Barracuda (the Ion cannon damaged on 3+ not 4+ and had an extra point of ammo, all other weapons were the same) but gained 2 Transport (for Crisis Suits/Drones pushed out the back as Jump Troops). Redesigning it to be more of a gun platform and less of an expanded Barracuda jack of all trades would be a good choice in my opinion.
The Orca was the dedicated transport for the Tau, and had some defensive firepower and the ability to take Seeker Missiles, but was largely a big fat target. In return for this it cost the same as a Barracuda.
I can’t imagine that this aircraft hasn’t undergone some level of redesign to improve it a little (raising the structure by one and the transport by two would be what I’d do with it) but I fully expect it to still be a scenario aircraft you take to protect with escorts or to land or pick up troops. I also expect it to be Eavy Bomber sized.
I think this kit will definitely be in plastic, as it is the standard large transport of the Tau and something Epic players will want several of to drop firewarrior cadres all over the table.
Remora Drone Fighter
This is going to be the most interesting plane in terms of where Specialist Games go with their design choices. In the background squadrons of these are able to operate independently and are used to defend Tau bases, though they are carried around by Tiger Shark AX-2-2 Drone Control ships like Grot Bombs are carried by Grot Bombers. If the Drone Control ship leaves the table or is destroyed, then the Drone Fighters lose much of their ability to manoeuvre (I would guess dropping from 1-7 to 1-3 on the manoeuvres chart).
So GW could go one of two ways with them. Either they are in a box with two Drone Fighters per control ship and you have to carry them to the battlefield, and that box would look very like the Grot Bomber box, or they are available separately and you can take squadrons of them.
This would lead to the problem that cheap fighters can be used as initiative sinks. I think GW are likely to release these with the Drone Control ship, as much as I think it would be cool to have a ground based Drone Control station and have raids on Tau airfields defended by drone fighters.
Remoras also had a stealth field which gave the same effect as night fight, preventing you from picking them off at long range.
This kicks the can of initiative sink super cheap fighters down the road to the Chaos release and Hell Blades.
The Super Star Destroyer of Aeronautica, the Tau Titan equivalent boasted 16 structure in 1st edition and cost almost 100 points. I think it has the biggest chance of being in resin of any of the Tau kits, though Specialist may put it in plastic to future proof for Epic, when Tau players will inevitably want three of the damn things. It also had Transport 20 and 10 Seeker Missiles so could literally do every role in the game. It had 16 burst cannon dice all round and up, and 16 burst cannon dice all round and down. They may damage on 6+, but if you attack them on the same level you’re still taking about 2 points of damage at close range from whatever arc you attack from.
In 1st edition a Manta could punch any enemy aircraft out of the sky in a single turn, and I look forward to flying Lightnings or Dakkajets in desperate attack runs trying to take them down. Probably not suitable for standard games, but a fun plane to pull out in scenarios that will inevitably revolve around Death Star trench running it.
In 1st edition the Tau had seeker missiles, some of which were ground attack only, some of which could be used on any targets. For example the seeker missiles on the Barracuda were ground attack only, while on the Tiger Shark could be used on any targets. The Barracuda was the fighter, the Tiger Shark the bomber.
That made no sense at all. So hopefully it will be fixed in 2nd edition.
Up till now the AI meta has revolved around throwing as many dice as possible. Orks are the Harlequins of Aeronautica, with very fast knife fighters that are quite delicate, whereas the Imperials have been the more resilient heavy damage faction. The Tau seem like they will slide into the gap between the factions as a manoeuvrable gun heavy faction with reliable damage potential (a lot more reliable than the 5+ Orks have). I think Orks will need a little rebalancing, as there is the distinct possibility that they’ll struggle against both factions (Dakkajets 1 point cheaper, give the Eavy Bomber and Grot Bomber their tail guns to be a very gentle buff for Orks).
The previews so far have focused on the Imperials, and we don’t know if the Tau are getting a 4 kit release like the Orks (Barracudas, Tiger Sharks, Orcas, Remoras and Control Ship) or if the Manta will be released in plastic to make it a five kit release.
We don’t know if there will be another Ground Assets release. There are Sabre platforms and Flak guns (that looked very much like WWII 88s without the gun shield) that were in the original Aeronautica release and have not been re-released yet, which leaves open the possibility of an Imperial Guard/Tau ground assets set. Tau also had drone mines which would be another thing that would separate the Tau from other factions.
The Imperial Navy/Guard is likely to be finished off as a faction with at least nine planes to choose from, as there is so little left after what has been announced that there is no point prolonging Imperials further. It leaves Wave Three to be all Chaos and Eldar, and potentially a Wave Four to be Space Marines and someone else (Necrons? Dark Eldar? Other Space Marines in a Horus Heresy era box set and campaign book? Who knows at this point apart from Andy Hoare?).
Wave Two will give Aeronautica three fleshed out factions capable of doing all the missions released. GW have been releasing an additional scenario a month through the Flight Plan articles, and there are six more scenarios to be included in the Taros Air War book. This will give a variety of missions to play that will increase the games replayability. Events get a lot more practical now as there’ll be more variety in what people bring.
What would I like to see that I haven’t? An FAQ with an eye to competitive play, and a competitive play pack. I feel the game has a lot of potential as an organised play game, but like the other Specialist Games, it’s written with narrative play as the preferred game mode.
I’m really looking forward to this release, due April 2020, and hoping that the current situation doesn’t cause it to be pushed back.