Friday, November 2, 2007

REVIEW: Tactica Aeronautica

Tactica Aeronautica. An expansion for Aeronautica Imperialis by Warwick Kinrade. Published by Forge World. £26.

I liked Aeronautica Imperialis and awarded it a rock dang solid 8 out of 10 score in my last review. I bought this expansion book at Games Day at the same time as I bought the first book and I've only just finished reading it a month later. In many ways there is more 'to get your teeth into' in this shorter book than in the initial longer tome.

So what exactly is in Tactica Aeronautica?

There are seven sections spread over 128 pages. The book opens on familiar ground (in familiar skies?) with new aircraft. They are presented in the usual format; a photoshopped picture of the model in action, some background on the aircraft, it's specifications, some technical drawings of the flyer and then several variant paint schemes. The Imperials (natch), Orks, Tau and Chaos get some love here. The Chaos addition, the Harbinger heavy bomber, is mind bending, especially compared to the existing Chaos craft. The model is as big as your hand! To give you some idea of the scale difference the wingspan of a Hellblade fighter is 5.6m while the Harbinger has a wingspan of 33.3m. It's huge!

The section ends with two pages of aircraft upgrades which allow wing commanders to add equipment to their machines such as chaff, star engines, daemonic possession and blacksun filters. They seem like an interesting way to individualise each aircraft.

New squadron lists
Next up are the new squadron lists. The lists are significantly longer than in the last volume as they now include all of the aircraft upgrades described earlier. Players are now able to buy aces and double aces to fly their planes for one-off games. The major change I noticed to the points values was to Eldar Vampire Hunters which have increased a whopping 10 points in value. I knew that Eldar aircraft were considered to be the best in the game - I guess now they're really paying for it.

The data sheets give rules for the new craft and also outline some new weapon fits for existing flyers such as Vultures and Valkyries.

Typha-IV campaign
One of the chunkiest sections, and the main reason why it took me so long to read the book, is the Typha-IV campaign. Readers of previous Forge World books will recognise the format. We start with a planetary survey of Typha-IV which is 80% water and entering a premature ice age due to extensive mining pollution. All of this work is carried out by indentured prisoners. Production has been stepped up to meet the threat from the Tau third expansion and extra Navy wings have been garrisoned there. The Navy also uses the planet for training exercises.

The Tau decide to launch a hit and run attack on Typha-IV to stop production and to show the Imperium that they can strike deep into Imperial territory. The Tau hope that by doing so the Imperium will have to defend it's assets and this will in turn give the Tau time to establish their empire on the newly acquired third sphere planets.

The forces of each faction are described in detail which at least gives us an inkling of higher level aerospace organisation in the Imperium. There are tons of graphics of planes that fought in the campaign, my personal favourite being the Thunderbolt of Ixan Muro. If and when I get some planes I want to paint them in a similar scheme.

The events of the campaign are told in less than compelling language and there seems to be no real narrative drive behind the story. This could be good or bad depending on your point of view. In theory it could be a deliberate attempt by the author to reject the dynamics of storytelling in favour of a more 'realistic' description of events. Real conflicts don't often fit into neat little narrative boxes or compact into discreet, fulfilling events; instead they are messy, inconclusive and ambiguous. On the other hand, and I think that this is the case having read this book and previous Forge World books, the author just isn't very good at telling stories and holding our attention. He says things over an entire page that could have been conveyed in two sentences while significant events are glossed over.

Examples in Tactica include the description of 'Black Week' when Tau fighters harried and attacked Imperial craft from a secret airbase. These events are painted in incredibly broad brush strokes and don't give us any real feeling for why it was such a 'Black Week' for the Imperial pilots. Later in the conflict the Imperium launch 'Operation Defiant Hate' in an attempt to stop the Tau. As far as I can tell this involves the Imperial commanders saying 'Righto lads, I think we should actually try and find this secret Tau base and bomb the hell out of the blighters.' The discovery of the Tau base does not seem to come from any cunning plan or individual display of bravery, it comes because we're getting to the end of the campaign description and things need to be wrapped up. It's ultimately not satisfying. Still, it is a rather cool backdrop to play your games against. It made me want to create a storm-tossed sea board to play my games on.

Which brings me to the campaign system. This is presented as a strategic target campaign, so although it is heavily tied into the Typha-IV specific conflict, it can be used to represent any campaign of this type. Many of the campaign rules from the first book are referenced and tweaked and new scenarios are introduced. It looks like it would be a lot of fun to play.

Other scenarios are added later in the book. The first is a tournament scenario, intended for competitive rather than narrative play, and the others include some of the new aircraft described earlier in the book.

Ground installations are re-imagined in far more detail than the previous tome and rules are provided which allow players to build their own custom buildings. There are even some sample photographs of buildings and two schematics of Imperial airbases (these tie in with the new terrain from Forge World). There is also a three page spread on how to build an ultra realistic airbase using their terrain. It looks absolutely stunning.

Battle report
Another major section of the book is given over to a battle report. Again this is Tau versus Imperials with the book's author Warwick Kinrade taking charge of the Imperials. The graphics are well drawn and convey the action quite well although the decision to show two turns on several of the maps can confuse the action somewhat. This section was a great read for me as I haven't bought any models or played a game yet and it gave me a real feel for how the game plays.

Hobby articles conclude the book. They include some basic tactics, a brief Q and A and the designer's notes (which are illuminating - I wish all Games Workshop books included these).

I think this book is pretty much essential reading for all Aeronautica enthusiasts. The new squadron lists and campaign system will be invaluable for those most interested in actually playing the game while rabid fluff-monkeys will love the campaign description and new aircraft. As it is slimmer than most Forge World volumes it is also a bit cheaper but I found it actually had more in it to read.

I give Tactica Aeronautica a solid 7/10.


All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.

  • 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
  • 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
  • 8/10 Very good, recommended
  • 7/10 Good
  • 6/10 Above average, some problems
  • 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
  • 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
  • 3/10 Poor, major flaws
  • 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
  • 1/10 Absolutely appalling

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