(P)Review: Aeronautica Imperialis Wrath of Angels
I'm going to try a little something here. Working at a games shop gives me certain privileges, one of which is receiving product early. So I'd love to share in this privilege, by showing off the contents of this Saturday's (October 9th, 2021) Games Workshop release, Aeronautica Imperialis: Wrath of Angels.
Aeronautica Imperialis (A/I) is one of my favorite miniatures games. It combines the visceral thrill and tight rules of a game like Star Wars X-Wing by Atomic Mass Games (formerly Fantasy Flight Games), with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and the "dialing up to 11" of both that setting and that style of rules writing. In A/I you command a squadron of fighter jets, which you can upgrade with pilots, weapons, and accessories. You zoom these squadrons around a playing surface divided into hexagons, and you blast your opponent's squadron from the sky in a hail of dice and flak. There are ground assets you can deploy against them as well, but the action takes place in the sky. Every turn you and your opponent simultaneously assign each plane a specific maneuver in secret, then you reveal them and take turns moving around the board and shooting. It's a hell of a lot of fun.
More specifically, the fun comes from surprise. You don't know exactly what your opponent's up to (though you can guess), and when it's revealed, you're all of a sudden in the hot seat to deal with a plane being where you didn't think a plane would be. As well, the sheer carnage the weapons can unleash on the planes mean that there aren't many dead turns (a term I use for turns in games that are mostly used to set up for future turns). You're not really trying to soften up your opponent's planes for some masterful coup de grace; you're actually just throwing everything you have at them in a desperate attempt to replace them with plane-themed confetti.
So let's talk about this latest set—the third in the series thus far. Like its predecessors, Wings of Vengeance (2019), and Skies of Fire (2020), Wrath of Angels is a starter set, meaning anyone can jump in with this box and learn how to play the game. It contains two forces: the enigmatic Asuryani vs. the brutal Adeptus Astartes, unlike the previous two sets which had the Imperial Navy vs. Orks, and the Astra Militarum vs. the T'au respectively. It also contains a poster mat playing surface, some dice, tokens, some reference sheets, and a rulebook.
The models are 1:285 scale (which is 6mm in more modern parlance, or close to Z-scale if you're into model trains) plastic figures which you build and paint like any other Citadel miniature. They attach onto hexagonal bases, which contain dials for speed and altitude, which are adjustable factors in the game. Like any other Citadel miniature, these models are exceptional. They're a pleasure to put together and paint, not having too much detail to make it a chore, nor lacking in any. Some Epic players of old have made comments that these figures seem too big, but that's to be expected as the previous fliers of the '90s and '00s were actually smaller than they should have been; no doubt due to the limitations on model making at the time.
The printed materials are of good quality. The rulebook is saddle-stapled with a stiffer cover, and the tokens are thick and cut cleanly so that you can pop them out of the frame with no tearing. Unlike Wings of Vengeance—which is the only other starter set I bought—this set comes with a four-page booklet of extra scenarios (they call them "Starter Scenarios"), which is printed on thinner paper, which I'm not a fan of. The playing surface is also made of poster paper, and so doesn't compare to the boards they sell separately. I've bought every board supplement they've sold, so I actually can't say I've played on the poster mats they include in their starter sets, nor would I want to.
Like with any Games Workshop product, its price generates controversy, but at $110 Canadian, I think it's worth it. The models it comes with easily eclipse that price if you were to buy them separately, and right now it's the only way to get the rules.* If you're unsure if you're going to enjoy the game, look at some videos online, or see if a group near you is playing and can let you observe, or better yet try it out. However if you're convinced by what you've read here, you could part with $110 in worse ways. So far, I've been waiting for them to tackle Asuryani and Space Marines—two of my favorite 40k factions—so I've resisted expanding my A/I collection beyond the contents of the first starter set, and I've had tons of fun with just those models over the years.
Now, because Games Workshop tends to do limited runs of certain products (the A/I accessories sadly being among them), I always splurge and buy the whole lot. Like both previous releases I bought the board set (Outer Reaches), and the cards (Aircraft and Aces - Asuryani Cards. I also ordered the Aircraft and Aces - Adeptus Astartes Cards, but they didn't arrive). The board set is a quality two-piece fold-out double-sided playing surface. It depicts a lunar surface on one side, and a lava theme on the other. At $53 Canadian it's not cheap, but it's worth it because the alternative is a poster-mat.
The cards aren't necessary at all; meaning there's nothing in the card packs that aren't in the printed material. For most these will be easy to skip, but for myself, who really values quick reference material and doesn't like to constantly flip through books during a game, these cards are almost a necessity. However at $40 Canadian a pack for ninety-one or eighty-six cards (depending on the pack), they are a tough pill to swallow, and only those who are compulsive completists (like myself), or fussy gamers (also like myself) will find these worth it.
I hope this review was helpful, and I hope it helped you decide what to spend your hard-earned money on at your local shop this Saturday. For myself, I'm going to start slapping paint on those Asuryani planes.
*This time they didn't release a separate campaign book like they did with the previous two sets. They also didn't release a pack of plastic ground assets like they had for the previous three factions. One can only assume that these will be released later, and their exclusion was mostly due to COVID or Brexit-related headaches.