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Cone of Toys
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
August 2017

We had an art director here in the early days who liked to refer to the first game in the Great War at Sea series as a "box of toys." What that means in terms of game design is that you lay out the pieces first (ships and planes for a naval game, tanks and troops for a Panzer Grenadier series game), include all the pieces you could possibly need, and then design the game's scenarios around them.

Cone of Fire grew out of a large number of fan requests for the ships of the South American navies. Initially it was to be a Great War at Sea game, but a lot of players wanted a Second World War at Sea version as well — in particular, they wanted to hunt for the German "pocket battleship" Graf Spee. I couldn't see us selling two games on hypothetical South American naval wars, and so we decided on a grand experiment, a combined game with both systems in one.

The two naval game series use different map scales, one of the stupidest mistakes I've made in the 18 years of Avalanche Press. And so the game has the most map area of any we've ever published: six maps, three each at each scale. They cover the same area: one map has the southern tip of South America, with Tierra del Fuego and the intricate coastal waters of southern Chile. The "middle" map stretches along the coast of Argentina to the Rio de la Plata, while the northern map goes from Buenos Aires up the Brazilian coast and ends north of Rio de Janeiro.



 

For the first time, we produced two-sided maps in a game. There are three mapsheets in the game, each with the Great War at Sea version of the map on one side, and the Second World War at Sea version on the other. All are by Beth Donahue, and are quite nice, very similar to her map for Jutland.

But it's the ships and planes that we know you love, and Cone of Fire is packed with the weird and wonderful. The fleets of eight nations are present (nine if you count Imperial and Nazi Germany separately), with some highly unusual stuff. Today we'll take a look at some of the toys within this box of wonder.

 

 

Argentina





 

Argentine admirals once figured their force requirements on the formula of A = B + C, but in terms of game pieces the Argentines are actually in second place behind Brazil. The two battleships built in the United States in are the core of the fleet in both the Great War and Second World War eras, though by 1940 they are lagging behind the modernized battleships of first-rank powers. In the Great War at Sea period they're backed by an assortment of coast defense ships, armored cruisers, and protected cruisers.

For the Second World War period, some of those ancient tubs are still around, but the Argentines add a number of modern cruisers. There are four Brooklyn-class light cruisers in Argentine colors: the pair received in 1950, and the second pair the Argentines expected to acquire to maintain their traditional superiority over their rivals. And in the Second World War period Argentina finally began to move toward a balanced fleet, with a dozen modern destroyers to support the big ships.

 
Brazil's moves to acquire an aircraft carrier sparked Argentina's interest in the port-war symbol of naval power. The merchant fleet included several ships of the same type as those converted to escort carriers by the United States and Great Britain during the war, and the Argentines studied doing the same.

They also looked at reconstructing one of their Italian-built heavy cruisers as a light carrier similar to the American Independence class. But the Armada finally settled on a used carrier, seriously considering the British Indefatigable before selecting a British light carrier.

Brazil

The largest fleet in both eras belongs to Brazil: "the country of the future, and it always will be!"

 
We've gone over Brazil's quest for battleships in three parts: the original designs, the first generation of dreadnoughts and the tale of the battleship Rio de Janeiro.

We have three versions of Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, showing the progression of their design from small pre-dreadnought to the planet's most powerful warships (at least briefly).





 

And Cone of Fire also includes the next two generations of Brazilian battleships, designed and never built. One is a close copy of the British Queen Elizabeth class, the other an oddly lengthened version with 16-inch guns and a secondary battery of 9.4-inch guns.

Brazil's battleships were still in service during the Second World War, and so they appear in Second World War at Sea guises as well, though by this point they were very slow and not of much military value. We've also included a piece for Rio de Janeiro in equally decrepit form. Brazil's battleships were in such bad shape that, as a condition for active participation in the Second World War, the Brazilians demanded a pair of old American battleships to replace them. The U.S. Navy flatly refused to even discuss the possibility, but we're not bound by harsh reality so the pair is here in Brazilian colors.





 

Brazil was the first South American nation to flirt with the concept of an aircraft carrier, seriously proposing the conversion of a pair of merchant ships in the early 1920s. We have these two ships in Great War at Sea guise. For the Second World War at Sea set there's Brazil's actual aircraft carrier, a Royal Navy veteran of the Colossus class, plus the carrier Ranger in Brazilian colors, a ship also demanded from the Americans and refused.

Supporting the big ships are some cruisers, including the armored cruisers of the abortive 1904 program, the Brooklyn class cruisers obtained in 1950, and of course the four cruisers sought from the Americans but not received. Like the other South American powers, the Brazilians were slow to complement their "prestige" warships with dull but necessary types like destroyers, but these make their appearance eventually as well.

Chile

The third of the South American naval powers always had a smaller fleet than the others, but a much better reputation for maintenance so more Chilean ships "cross over" from one game system to the other and are still of some use.





 

Chile attempted to purchase a fleet to fight Argentina at the turn of the century, with a pair of small battleships ordered in British yards that would eventually be taken over by the Royal Navy. The Chileans also tried to buy the three ships of the American Indiana class, and a pair of armored cruisers under construction in Italy. None of these actually entered service in Chile.

A decade later, Chile did order a pair of dreadnoughts in Britain, powerful ships that would have outmatched Argentina's battleships. Both were taken over by the Royal Navy at the start of World War One; Almirante Latorre serving as HMS Canada and Almirante Cochrane almost becoming HMS India before conversion to the aircraft carrier Eagle.





 

After the war, the Chileans wanted both of their battleships back. The Royal Navy offered a pair of battle cruisers in place of Almirante Cochrane, and the Chileans pondered that offer or accepting her as a carrier before finally taking a cash buyout instead. We have the pieces for all those options.

The Chilean Navy's participation in an ill-fated coup in 1931 made it very difficult to obtain funding for modernization until just before the Second World War, when the navy sought a pair of cruisers. The Chileans asked for the British Exeter and York, and for the two ships of the American Pensacola class, meeting rejection each time. Not until 1950 did Chile receive her cruisers, but she did not get the Independence class carrier she sought after the war — though that didn't keep us from giving you a counter for her.

Graf Spee, Round One

In 1914, Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee turned his German East Asia Squadron from its journey back toward Europe to attack the British-ruled Falkland Islands off the southern tip of South America. Just why he did this is subject to multiple interpretations, none of them very satisfactory. But what is clear is that he ran into a pair of British battle cruisers that swiftly destroyed his own cruisers.

 
Since the maps in Cone of Fire cover the area of this operation, it seemed silly not to include the episode. The German player is unlikely to want to attack the islands, but they are a potential target and the British might not be there anyway. While the actual events ended abruptly, the possibilities are actually fascinating and make for one of the best scenarios in the Great War at Sea series.

Graf Spee, Round Two

Twenty-five years later, it was a single ship named for the late admiral that the Royal Navy hunted across the same waters. Fans have asked for this operation since we started the Second World War at Sea series, and now it's finally here. The German player has just the one ship, Graf Spee, while the Allied player wields a pair of aircraft carriers, a battle cruiser, numerous cruisers and a pair of French heavy cruisers. It's a cat-and-mouse game, with the German player trying to track down allied merchant ships and avoid the overwhelming enemy naval force at the same time.

 

And as in the case with the 1914 scenarios, including the pieces also allowed us to play with Argentina's war plans — an Argentine cruiser did interpose herself between Graf Spee and the British squadron in 1939, after all.

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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.