Here's a link to the book:
http://www.forgeworld.co.uk/acatalog/RU ... ORIES.html
The book arrived a couple weeks ago, but I only got to play my first game last night.
For those with IA3 looking for more of the same, you'll probably be disappointed. No new fluff or tech-info on Tau air units. In fact some of the text and images are taken direct from IA3 too. That being said, the new pictures are of the same great quality and exhibit some great photography and editing work. The dogfight photos are top notch, I found myself making all sorts of swooshing noises
For those without IA3 (who don't know what you're missing), you'll be impressed. Detailed info on Tau air units, their typical battlefield performance, as well as some historic info referring to keystone battles described in detail in IA3. Photoshopped images of well painted minis make the photographs look "real". In fact, you'll have to work hard to convince yourself that Forgeworld isn't stashing away a lifesize Barracuda somewhere.
The rules occupy ~15 pages of the 175 page tome. The fleet lists another ~10. There are also ~10 pages of scenarios to play. The rest of the book is fluff, pictures, and modeling tips. There are even some nice terrain tables showcased towards the back. The book is hardcover, and well made in typical Forgeworld fashion. The book is well edited (in contrast to IA3), although I've found a slim few typos in my first few runs through.
My first game was a standard 'dogfight'... i.e. straightforward duke-it-out match. We played at the minimum recommended size of 60 pts which left me with 3 Barracudas and my friend with 3 Thunderbolts. Ships are purchased, upgraded, and moved independently; there are no squadrons in this game.
Gameplay resembles an interesting combination of BFG, Epic and 40k. At the begining of the turn, players roll off for the initiative. They then run through their fleet list and select in secret a "maneuver" for each of their ships from a deck of available maneuver cards provided with the book. Examples of maneuvers include things like turn, sharp turn, really sharp turn, half loop, power dive, side slip, spiral, etc.
Once each player has written down a maneuver for each of their planes, the player with the initiative begins by moving one of their models. Movement distance is determined by your speed (Tau ships are very middle of the pack here). Note that you can't choose to move less than your speed... you must always move the full distance dictated by your speed. At any point during your move, you can execute the maneuver that you've preselected. While you've selected your maneuver card ahead of time, there's still a fair bit of flexibility in how
you execute your maneuver. For example, you can perform the maneuver early or late in your move; you can frequently climb or dive during the maneuver. Furthermore, if you've selected a maneuver that involves turning, you can select which direction you turn at the time you play the maneuver. This means that although you need to pre-select maneuvers for each of your planes, a clever player can leave themselves a fair few options in how
they execute their selected maneuver allowing them to react to up to the minute happenings.
Once the player with the initiative has moved his first plane, the other player then moves a plane. Players alternate moving until all planes have been moved. Once all planes are moved, the player with the initiative selects a plane to shoot. The shooting phase progresses in a similar fashion to the movement phase with players alternating firing until all planes (who wish to) have fired. Note that if a plane is shot down which has not yet fired, it does not get to shoot!
When firing at enemy planes, all planes hit on a 5+ if they're at the same altitude level, and hit on a 6+ if they're up to 1 level apart. Planes more than 1 altitude level apart cannot fire at one another. Any hits must then roll to wound the target. The roll needed to wound is determined by the weapon being fired. For example, a LasCannon wounds on a 2+, an IonCannon wounds on a 4+ and a Burst Cannon wounds on a 6+. Additionally, some weapons roll more dice. For example a LasCannon gets 1 shot, while a Burst Cannon gets 4 shots. Finally, there are 3 range brackets: short (6"), medium (12"), and long (18"). Each weapon might roll more or less dice in each range bracket. For example, a LasCannon is rated as 0-1-1 meaning it gets 0 shots inside 6", 1 shot at 6"-12" and 1 shot at 12"-18". An IonCannon is rated as 3-2-1, while Burst Cannons are reated 4-0-0. Any successful rolls to wound remove hits from the target plane. Most 'standard' fighters have 2 wounds, while bombers generally have 4 (or 6). The Manta has 14 hits
Another big part of the shooting phase is firing arcs. Being played using hex bases, the front firing arc is only 60 degrees. Since you must pick your maneuvers beforehand, it's important (but difficult) to anticipate your opponent so that you can end up with your planes in a position to fire on their planes given the very limited firing arc of the weapons. That being said, weapons with all-around firing arcs are very
valuable. I have a strong suspicion that a large reason for the relatively similar cost between the Barracuda and the Thuderhawk is on account of the fact that Burst Cannons can fire all-around... because in a straight up firefight the Thunderbolts vastly out-gun the Barracudas.
The book includes rules for ground attacks, flak units (Hydra, Skyray, Firestorm, etc), bombing runs, landing and taking off, and blasting into orbit. The game is clearly meant to occupy the gap between BFG and Epic, and I suspect the game systems would interract quite well. Although the lack of terrain initially put me off, the added strategic import associated with anticipating your opponent and selecting maneuvers at the begining of the turn more than makes up for it in my opinion. I could see the game getting a bit repetative the second time we played, but I chalk that up to the fact that we were playing each with only three planes, and with no variety in our lists. I firmly believe a more varied list at a slightly higher point value would bring the game to a sufficiently complex level to make things interesting for quite some time.
In conclusion, the book is well constructed, the text is clear and concise, the pictures are inspiring, and the minis are first class (as always). I enjoyed my first Aeronautica Imperialis experience and am looking forward to playing again. The opportunites for making swooshing sounds in this game are near endless