Aeronautica Imperialis – Skybreakers: Assault on Phyra Heights

Ai Cover

The YouTube video is a combination of narrative and a live play, unfortunately that doesn’t make for a great article. This article instead is going to focus on some of the aspects of the scenario I didn’t feel I had the room to talk about in the video.

Aeronautica Imperialis is a game I absolutely love. The models are fun to build and paint, it all looks good on the table, the game itself is easy to pick up, and makes for a great story. It’s definitely not perfect and GW have had a pretty light touch when it comes to adjustments. This is probably due to a lack of a real competitive scene, so it’s hard for them to get definitive data.

That said, there are some real quirks when it comes to the points, things that don’t make sense and cases where you pay more to get less. A highly competitive approach will also end up with some weird builds, the Imperial Navy for example should be looking at cheap Lightning Fighters packed with Skystrike missles while the Tau should focus on the Tiger Shark AX-1-0-3 and completely ignore the Barracuda. There are also a ton of upgrades that are just never worth their points cost. Unfortunately this makes for a somewhat stale experience and I wouldn’t recommend this game for a competitive event (narrative event on the other hand would be highly recommended!).

If you step away from all that though, and approach the game as more of a story simulator, you can really get the most out of the system. You should take barracudas because that’s the core Tau fighter. You should give your thunderbolt an ejector seat even though it’s a one-off game. Chaff/Flares might be a poor investment for the points, but they’re fun to have in game as a last chance to save your aircraft. Points are fine to use as a guideline, but don’t be afraid to ignore them to get a little more out of the game.

To give the designers credit, the inclusion of bombing and cargo/troop missions do make the game a lot more interesting. You need to account for these kinds of missions with appropriate aircraft or you just lose. This missions really show the game off at what it’s best at, telling a story.

So that’s what we set out to do in this game. We had the broad outline of Top Gun Maverick and The Dam Busters to work from, and the Canyon Attack Run Scenario in the Taros Air War campaign book as a basis.

I’m not sure how many people have actually played this scenario. Although simple on the surface, digging into it I felt like there were a number of obvious issues. For example, the attacker gets points for each target destroyed while the defender gets points if a ground target leaves the zone via the rolling area of engagement rules. This means the attacker can win after scoring their first target and then having all their aircraft leave the combat zone, ending the battle. Similarly, the defender end the game turn one by performing a manoeuvre that will leave them behind the hex they started on. This will trigger a new board taking all the attacking aircraft off the first board. By the same extension, reinforcements for the defenders were starting at the trailing edge, which meant if the attacker pushed forward after they arrived then the the defenders were constantly getting removed. Most of this can be resolved by playing to the spirit of the game, but since we were doing that already I figured I’d tweak things to my own liking.

So we made a few changes.

  1. First only the attackers could trigger the board move. This kept the focus on the ‘heroes’ of the story. It did mean they could set the pace and if they decided to only take out the first target and never press on then they certainly could. We agreed that the attackers should keep pressing and left victory vague, but if we were to do this again I’d give the attackers a defined target. In our game the attackers took out 6 targets, I’d expect more experienced players could get more in but it’s a nice baseline.
  2. The defenders only came in from the leading edge. The idea here was to avoid the scenario where reinforcements would get instantly removed when the boards pressed on. This did result in a lot of the action focusing on the leading edge though which may be a flaw in the approach. This is something that could be reviewed.
  3. We changed it so the defenders had a constant stream to keep the pressure on the attacker. Although the total defenders were 50 points less than the attackers, only half start in play on turn one so it’s pretty manageable. I adjusted the reinforcements to be on a 4+ rather than turn based and any aircraft destroyed in the last turn were not eligible. So destroying an aircraft was useful as it kept it off the board for a few turns, but the attackers were never in a position where they couldn’t destroy a defender for risk the game ended early.

Oh, and we went with the movement variant detailed here. I definitely think this is the way the game is intended to be played and the rules as written are in error.

I’d like to also talk a little about the Rolling Area of Engagement rules and in particular the boards that GW provides. We recently saw the Horus Heresy release for Aeronautica and along with that we got the Vanaheim board which looked like a perfect option for the Rolling Area of Engagement. Once you compare the boards and the rules though, you see stark differences.

The rules talk about using 3 12×12 hex boards. The boards GW produce are 18×9. In the above image we have two of this boards back to back along the short edge. The image is of a canyon run, but look at the hexes, they’re facing the wrong way. Playing with this as a rolling engagement would mean constantly having the fighters zig zag along the ravine.

The above is also just a single box of 2 boards, ignoring the annoying cost of having to buy 2 boxes, the length of it is massive. You’re looking at a 9 foot board which isn’t something you’e going to be able to get on the average table. So the solution for us was to stack our maps along the long edge, so they were 18 wide and 3 times 9 for a total of 27 hexes long. I was pretty happy with this approach but part of me wonders if it’s possible to get the same feel with just two boards. That might just simply be having them automatically go into reserve rather than worrying about handling checks.

We did use the terrain rules from the book where you roll 2 dice and use the highest number for the number of terrain. The best way of representing this of course is to use some of the Titanicus scenery, one day I’ll make that happen. This time we just drop some tokens onto the hexes to indicate it. As the boards we were using were larger than the 12×12 boards the rules suggest I did feel the terrain felt a little light, so I’d be tempted to change this to 2d6. The amount of terrain you do use doesn’t really matter, but it does change the feel of the game somewhat. On obvious note which we resolved under the “don’t be an asshole” clause is that terrain shouldn’t be placed in the path of the activating aircraft, no matter how hilarious it might be.

Then we played the game and had some fun. It was my opponent’s first game, so the many mistakes we made were all on me. The targeting arc was a pretty bad mistake to make, but I don’t think it impacted the game too much. Also, reading back to through the rules I can see you make each attack individually which we didn’t always do. We probably made a bundle of other mistakes but that was fine.

As a side note, we played this as a narrative game which simply meant there was a story. There does seem to be a common theme in GW’s design to, in my mind, mistakenly confused campaign play with narrative play. Kill Team is a great example of this, they’ve got all these extra skills and toys that you can get as your team levels up, but often you get a better narrative experience by just naming all your guys and playing a standard matched play battle. Aeronautica interestingly, does have an excellent approach to the campaign where surviving missions and getting kills will get eventually make a pilot an Ace, but if they get shot down chances are they’re dead. In the game we played, we totally failed to keep track of the kills for Skybreaker Squadon, which I folded into the narrative to have the Imperial Navy not give the pilots credit for their kills 🙂

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