Not long ago, we dropped the price of Great War at Sea: Pacific Crossroads from $29.99 to $19.99, and announced that we would not be reprinting it once current supplies ran out. That moment is just about here.
We published Pacific Crossroads with the intent to use it as an introductory game to Great War at Sea, though we didn’t do a very good job of that. It’s not a bad game, but it’s simply a small, low-priced Great War at Sea game without any special introductory stuff. We’ll fix that in the upcoming Falklands game.
We could print more of it, but I don’t believe that to be a good use of our resources. The game has had its time on the shelf, and as a publisher sometimes you have to know when to let go.
Pacific Crossroads shows how we’ve changed the printing technologies we use here at Avalanche Press. It has a very nice 22x17-inch operational map painted by Christopher West, and printed on a pair of 11x17-inch heavy cardstock panels, the same type we use in our Panzer Grenadier games.
That’s okay for a game with only two panels, but they get kind of unwieldy when more are involved. We finally developed (well, we found someone who’d developed) a means to print paper maps in reasonable quantities at a reasonable price, and that’s what we’ll use for most future maps in all of our naval game series. We might re-use the map art someday – it’s really very good – but not in this format. I don’t see much point in reprinting the map.
We still have a few boxes; it’s hard to say how many since a lot of them were damaged when they were first shipped to us (tossed onto pallets, with some plastic wrap around the whole stack, no cartons to protect them). These are old-style rigid boxes, not the slipcased standard box we use today. The box isn’t all that attractive and I won’t miss it when it’s gone. We could easily replace it with a new-style slipcase, but I don’t think that’s the best use of our time.
The playing pieces also reflect an older way of doing things, and are a big reason I don’t want to reprint this game. There aren’t that many of them (that was necessary to keep the price low) and we printed them on the same sheet as Second World War at Sea: Coral Sea. At the time we still used a tried and true method of printing and die-cutting, which required printing in large press sheets equaling six or eight sheets of game pieces (the roughly 8.5x11-inch items known to long-time gamers as “counter sheets”). The die – a set of blades cut by a laser out of a block of steel – would then strike the sheet and produce the cut pieces, with a little nick taken out of the die at the corners or the edges to hold the pieces in place. Before the advent of industrial lasers, dies were made out of sharp steel blades inserted into a piece of wood, and the blades would tend to wobble after repeated use (very old gamers will recall that in the 1970’s one could find a piece 1/4-inch wide next to one 3/4-inches wide, instead of two 1/2-inch wide pieces).
Either way, that meant that a die was very expensive, since the die-cutter made you buy the die and it supposedly was yours alone (there have long been tales in the business of dies “sold” multiple times).
Anyway, since you had to pay out a lot of money for the die, you were stuck with a handful of standard patterns. Ours had 70 “long” pieces on the left and 140 square ones on the right. Pacific Crossroads was designed to use the pieces left over from Coral Sea: 25 long ones and 40 square ones. They were printed on the same sheet, and then we separated them in our office using our big heavy paper-cutter.
Our current supplier of die-cut pieces melds the two processes: ultra-sharp laser-cut blades, but adjustable between cutting jobs. As long as the cuts are some combination of straight lines, we can have any mix of pieces we want (it also means that the die can’t be “nicked” at the corners; there’s always a trade-off). So a half-sized sheet with, say, 40 long ones and 60 square ones is perfectly do-able, and cost-effective as well. And since the blades are fantastically sharp (like, they can’t be directly handled by human hands or they’ll take fingers right off), there’s very little of the damage usually done to those pretty playing pieces when they’re whacked by thousands of pounds of force.
But reprinting the pieces is not a problem: Coral Sea has outsold Pacific Crossroads over time by at least 2.5:1, possibly more. We have plenty of extra Pacific Crossroads pieces. But that small number of pieces did limit what we could do with the scenario set.
Well after I designed Pacific Crossroads, I discovered new ways of writing game scenarios. The scenarios themselves aren’t all that different, but in our recent games they’re used to advance the story-telling narrative. That’s a simple change but it makes the game profoundly more interesting. The scenarios in Pacific Crossroads are each an individual story with some tenuous connection between them, but they definitely are not a story arc.
That’s the true reason I don’t want to reprint Pacific Crossroads: it doesn’t represent the sort of games we’re making these days, with an integrated story line linking their scenarios and making the scenarios a means to tell the story of the war or campaign (the real one, in the case of most of our games, and the alternative-history one in the others). I could write a new scenario book in that mold, and I’ve considered that, but while my energy is considerable these days (particularly when compared to the dark days of Avalanche Press) that doesn’t really seem like a good investment. And since the pieces weren’t chosen with that approach in mind, they don’t really fit with the settings we’ve published to date, like Second Great War at Sea. I would like to craft a matching alternative-history setting for Great War at Sea in the near future, and that kind of means that Pacific Crossroads needs to get out of the way.
There are at this writing about 75 copies left on the shelves that are not yet spoken for. At $19.99 the game’s been flying out the door, so I don’t expect them to last more than a few more weeks. And then they will be gone forever: this is a deliberate decision, so there won’t be any discoveries of leftover parts (well, there might be, but we’ll throw them out instead of using them). But the fun’s still there.
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.