By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Sometimes there’s just too much story to fit into a single book.
I intended Great War at Sea: Triple Alliance to cover the entire Mediterranean naval war that would have resulted from an Italian entry into the First World War on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany, and to do so in 30 scenarios. And the way we used to do alternative history games, 30 scenarios probably would have been plenty.
But a couple of things have changed. I’ve become enamored of developing a story arc as an integral part of a game design, and for the naval games in particular Nick Rider’s plea has converted me to the wisdom of the Battle Scenario. Those two influences meant that it took a lot of scenarios to describe the aggressive naval war the Triple Alliance planned to wage.
Keeping the Triple Alliance together became extraordinarily difficult once the Italian political leadership realized that the Germans and Austrians had shamelessly lied to them during the summer of 1914 regarding the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. The Italian military leadership for its part fully intended to fight alongside its alliance partners. Had the Triple Alliance hung together, the partners had detailed plans to wage a very aggressive campaign in the Mediterranean.
Though it’s much easier to plan such a strategy on paper than it is to execute it out in the real world – inertia is a mighty and powerful force – I decided to take them at their word, since that made for a better game situation. That meant that the fleets went to sea as soon as war was declared. Actually, a little before war was declared, so they wouldn’t miss a minute of legalized shooting.
Next, I’ve altered my vision of scenario selection. While the operations are based on the projections of the Triple Alliance war plan (at least for the first few months; after that they hinge more on the alliance’s broader goals), the battle scenarios arise out of those operations. In the real world, many of those operations would have taken place without the opposing fleets making contact. But usually there could have been battle. So I just turned the “could have beens” into battle scenarios, something I probably should have been doing in the historical games as well.
That approach results in a lot more scenarios than the old-style Great War at Sea design process yielded (since I thought up every scenario separately and sometimes painfully). Pretty soon I had about 100 scenarios sketched out, with way more than 30 of them fully fleshed out. This was an odd result; I was writing very productively but without the surge of adrenaline that had always accompanied those outbursts before. I was just writing a lot every day, and liking what I saw.
One hundred scenarios would not fit in one book, and so I decided to split the story across two books (when you’re the publisher and the designer/author, you can do things like that). And this second book became Great War at Sea: Central Powers.
Pretty much it continues the story where Triple Alliance leaves off, but adding a new book also provided an excuse to add some more pieces. And the story really did need some more pieces: more destroyers for many of the participants, more giant French battleships, some Japanese, some Americans, a British battle cruiser, upgraded Austrian cruisers and best of all an Italian seaplane carrier. Because that last allows us to present a red Italian seaplane. We have long needed a red Italian seaplane, even if it isn’t flown by a pig.
Rather than re-use artwork from earlier games, we created new drawings for all of the ships in both Triple Alliance and Central Powers. Some of the early ship drawings just aren’t as good as the stuff Peggy Gordon does these days. And while that’s not always obvious at the very small scale of a ship drawing on a one-inch-long game piece, I still was glad to make them more beautiful.
As far as the game itself goes, the Central Powers have a very strong central position, and a reasonably strong fleet to deploy in it. The French are somewhat stronger than either Central Powers fleet separately, but definitely outgunned by the two of them together. The wild card is the British Mediterranean Fleet – its strength depends on how many ships (and of what type) the Admiralty is willing to detach from the North Sea. In the first year of the war (the part depicted in Triple Alliance) the British deploy pre-dreadnoughts at Malta, but as their losses mount the Grand Fleet is forced to part with its oldest dreadnoughts.
An ill-fated attempt by the Greeks to assist the Allies results in the destruction of the Greek fleet and the occupation of key Greek island bases by the Central Powers. That assures sea communications between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Central Powers, and allows the Italian and Austro-Hungarian fleets to steam into the Black Sea as desired. The Central Powers are on their way to achieving their strategic goal – dominating the Mediterranean basin while denying its sea lanes to the Allies – when the Allies call on further assistance from the Grand Fleet and eventually the Japanese and Americans as well. Complicating things, the Central Powers have political goals to meet as well: Italy has been promised Corsica and Tunisia.
This exercise in alternative history allows something I don’t think I’d truly appreciated before: players can use the full range of the Great War at Sea game system to fight out all types of scenarios in a coherent campaign setting. These two books really do turn the Mediterranean boxed game into a huge box of gaming potential.
Click here to order Triple Alliance right now.
Click here to order Central Powers right now.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.