Cruiser Warfare (Final Edition):
Design Notes

At the old Avalanche Press, we used to print large quantities of game parts, trading the cost savings of an economy of scale for the expense of storing them. Steadily, we’re reversing that, printing in small numbers and then reprinting, and watching our warehouse footprint shrink.

Among the treasures left behind by that receding tide are several cartons of playing pieces for our old game Great War at Sea: Cruiser Warfare, a title that’s been out of print for some years. I had long wanted to re-write the rulebook and scenarios, and that find gave me the needed excuse.

This final edition of Cruiser Warfare retains the playing pieces of the first edition. The map is brand-new, with the same game information but a new background and icons. These are now packaged in our Playbook format inside a new book with revised rules, setups and additional scenarios. You also get the standard Great War at Sea tactical map, and for the first time in a Great War at Sea game, full-color play aids.

When we issued the first Great War at Sea game in the mid-1990’s, its black-and-white organizational cards and such met the state of the not-very-advanced art. That’s no longer true. You don’t really need the pretty new cards with paintings of World War One warships blazing away at each other in the background, but you sort of do. The game doesn’t play any differently with them, but they are more fun to look at.

We issued the original Cruiser Warfare as a boxed game, and I decided this time to use our Playbook format (mostly because we need all of the smaller-format boxes we have on hand for other games). Cruiser Warfare is about the largest game we can cram into a Playbook, with two maps and two sheets of playing pieces plus some chart cards. That also allows for some additional background text, which I like including.

Cruiser Warfare is a complete game, or at least as complete as we can make it in the Playbook format (you’ll need to provide your own dice). I re-wrote the rules to incorporate the concepts we’ve added over the years through special rules sections, and smoothed some awkward sections to make them more unique to Cruiser Warfare. Fuel use, for example, is much simpler as the rules no longer try to modify the standard Great War at Sea approach. Since coal – its use and the quest to obtain more – is such a driving force in this game, much more so than in the others, the rules themselves need to be very straightforward.

In terms of play, the main event takes place on the World Map, with Graf von Spee’s squadron located somewhere in the Pacific, and a few other German cruisers scattered about. There are British squadrons all over the world positioned to hunt down the Germans, plus help from the French and a couple of Russians. The really major boost to Allied power comes when Japan enters the war.

The German goal is to wreak as much havoc as possible against Allied merchant shipping, and make it back safely to the North Sea while doing so. In the original edition the German player could end the game by reaching Europe (a useful feature when holding a lead), but had no other incentive to head for home. It’s kind of difficult a century later to determine just what Maximilian von Spee had in mind when he set out across the Pacific; he appears to have given up the notion of returning to Germany. The German player can still win without a triumphant return, and most German wins in game terms probably will come without such an event.

The game always played well; it’s very different from any other Great War at Sea game with more emphasis on the “game” part than most. It’s the game with which I’d most recommend using the Basic Combat rules (the line-’em-up-and-shoot rules that no one ever uses) to speed play. With no plotting by the Allied player, and only a few fleets under Central Powers command, this game is going to move much faster than the usual Great War at Sea contest and you’ll have an easier time luring the unwary into playing it with you again and again.

Most will use the standard combat rules, though, so I moved a few optional or special rules into the regular sections for Cruiser Warfare’s advanced tactical combat (the one where you move pieces on the tactical map); with only a handful of dreadnought-type ships in the mix and most of those confined to the optional set-up variants there’s not a real need to speed play on the tactical map. It’s going to move pretty quickly anyway.

The usual Great War at Sea game includes many scenarios, representing a number of operations carried out over a length of time in a theater. Cruiser Warfare’s theater encompasses the entire globe, and Graf von Spee’s mad scheme only happened once. So there can only be one basic game setup; the original edition had six variations on it and I doubled that to twelve.

Since the publication of Cruiser Warfare, actually just in the past couple of years, I’ve become enamored of the battle scenarios in our naval game series (Great War at Sea, Second World War at Sea and Ironclads). The old Cruiser Warfare included four of them, which is far too few, so I increased that to ten.

Cruiser Warfare originally came out in 2004, and over the intervening years I’ve changed my opinion on how to rate some ships (chiefly for gunnery, but some less-obvious aspects as well like range). After a lot of thought, I decided to give the new Cruiser Warfare ship data sheets that match the values these ships, or those like them, would have in our current games. So the playing pieces don’t always reflect the same values as the ship data sheets, but that’s already the case the moment a ship takes its first battle damage.

Cruiser Warfare is a very different game than its near-sisters, and I’m glad we were able to give it a little polishing and put it back into print.

Click here to order Cruiser Warfare: Final Edition.

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.