By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A long time ago now, our marketing manager (we used to have one of those) pressed for introductory games for our naval game series. Second World War at Sea: Coral Sea and Great War at Sea: Pacific Crossroads resulted. Coral Sea has been an enormous success; Pacific Crossroads has sold well but not in the huge numbers of its sister game.
I designed Pacific Crossroads to be a very simple game that would show off the best parts of the Great War at Sea game system and remain very simple to play. It also needed to be physically very small so that it could have a low introductory price, cover a topic (real or imagined) that we had not done before so as to attract veteran Great War at Sea players, and not require many special rules (preferable none at all).
At the time I designed the game (sometime in the mid-Zeroes), I had not yet discovered how to write alternative history scenarios in the story-arc format we now use in games. It wasn’t a profound discovery; it’s a pretty simple and obvious approach. Without it, Pacific Crossroads does not have a real story behind it like our more recent titles. Its 12 scenarios are loosely tied together by a theme of war between the United States and Japan in the years soon after the First World War, with each side trying to cross this stretch of the Pacific (that’s the “Crossroads” part of the title).
The game includes a small but diverse selection of pieces – since it’s based on hypothetical actions (I hesitate to call it “alternative history” without a story arc linking the scenarios) I could pick and choose the ships I wanted for the game rather than those that were actually present. Reality sometimes really crimps game design.
Since Pacific Crossroads needed to serve as an introductory game, I crafted the mix of pieces to minimize the special/advanced rules needed to play the game. There are no mine warfare vessels, for example, and no aircraft carriers, airships or land-based aircraft. And no submarines, either. It’s pretty much just battleships, cruisers and destroyers and the transports they shepherd or seek.
That keeps the focus on surface action, which is the heart of Great War at Sea. There are a variety of operational missions: convoy escort (and interception), amphibious invasions (and their disruption), commerce raiding (and protection of commerce) and shore bombardment (and coastal defense). All of those conflicting missions are likely to result in surface combat.
The Americans usually have more firepower, with the core of their fleet built around seven battleships and two battle cruisers. The Japanese counter with two battleships, five battle cruisers and two pre-dreadnought battleships. The Americans are better-protected for the most part (even their battle cruisers are armored at the same scale as their battleships) but the Japanese have more fast ships, which can make a real difference crossing all of that open blue water.
I tried to include ships in Pacific Crossroads that didn’t appear in many other Great War at Sea games, hypothetical ships discussed but never built like the American battle cruisers of the 1910 naval program (battle cruiser equivalents of the Wyoming-class battleships) and the proposed scout cruiser for the 1910 program. Neither of those was actually constructed. Most of the other new ships are those who purchase was discussed but never carried out: the Americans get two Argentine dreadnoughts in American colors, and the Japanese get a couple of British Inflexible-class battle cruisers.
That makes for a couple of small but potent battle fleets. Knowing that many Great War at Sea players like to add new ships to their fleets, I went with a mix that didn’t overlap other games then in print – but with most of those now gone these little fleets do seem slightly out of place.
Pacific Crossroads is one of the last games we have on hand that uses the old-style rigid, printed boxes. Those boxes are getting a little old and I’ve decided that it’s time to clear them out of our warehouse. We’re going to drop the price on Pacific Crossroads to $19.99 from its current $29.99 at this writing, and when it’s gone we won’t reprint it. We’ll also allow the supplement Plan Scarlet, which added many more scenarios drawing on other games for additional pieces, to drop out of print.
In the years since we published Pacific Crossroads, we’ve found a much better format for an introductory game in the two Panzer Grenadier entries, The Kokoda Campaign and Invasion 1944. We’ll replace Pacific Crossroads with a new intro game that unveils all (or at least most) of the Great War at Sea game system in a graduated approach to introducing the more complex rules. Great War at Sea isn’t a very complicated game, but it’s always a good thing to make it easier to learn (and therefore more accessible).
We still have a pretty good supply of Pacific Crossroads on hand, so it will be a while before the last one sails out of here. The game did its job and introduced a generation of players to a great game system, but we’ve moved on since then and found new ways to make the games even more fun.
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. Leopold fears rockets.