By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When you make games for a living, eventually you learn that you really ought to make the games that can pay your bills. But there are still those hard-to-kill impulses to make stuff because it's just plain cool. And so it is with Great War at Sea: Destroyers, my excuse to make larger pieces for the destroyers now grouped together in our Great War at Sea series. And hopefully lust for this unusual item will help generate some additional sales and keep us all fed and insured.
Like a lot of things that happened before last week, I’m not exactly sure how I made the design decision to put destroyers on “multiple ship counters.” I think the very earliest iterations of what became “The Great War at Sea” had them, but they covered very small ships, minesweepers and the like.
When we brought out the first version of Great War at Sea: Mediterranean, the division between “long” and “small” counters (internally, for some reason we never called them “long and short” or “large and small”) depended on the ship’s armament. Ships with secondary armament (6-inch guns or larger) went on the long, 1-inch by 1/2-inch counters and got a top-down drawing as decoration. So cruisers armed only with small guns, like the German Breslau or Austrian Novara, went on small counters while destroyers with big guns got long counters, but if the same ship were to be re-armed with larger-caliber weapons, as was done with Breslau, she received a long counter in that guise.
Destroyers had individual counters in that edition, because I wanted the Austrian destroyer flotilla to have named ships — I had some extremely detailed operational reports thanks to my friend Franz Ferdinand Bilzer and I wanted to show off this archival knowledge. I covered up for this Austro-philia by giving everyone else the same counter treatment. That sort of favoritism doesn't bother me any more, and if I had it to do over again I'd give the Austrians individual long counters (which you could get if you were a Gold Club member, in the Winter 2012 Golden Journal) and jam everyone else's destroyers onto small multiple-ship pieces.
The split between "long" and "small" counters was a function of printing costs: The games needed to come in under a production budget, and only had so many counter sheets allocated for them. As the download shows, the destroyers alone represent a lot of cardboard and would have added considerably to the cost of the games. In retrospect, the games have all sold very well with the larger games doing even better than the smaller ones. Adding more counters would not have affected sales, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Fortunately, through the miracle of our download technology, we can revisit all sorts of stupid decisions, including this one.
In game play, a "multiple ship counter" doesn't necessarily represent more than one ship, but anywhere from one to three warships (transport pieces can represent up to five in some games). If the piece does represent two or three ships (this is noted by the player on his ship data sheet), then they have to move in lockstep fashion as though they were one ship. Since destroyers and torpedo boats almost always did so in combat, it nicely enforces division discipline without a special rule.
Even so, I've never really liked the small multiple-ship counters. They're just not as aesthetically pleasing as the cruisers and battleships with their top-down views. And so we come to Great War at Sea: Destroyers. It's filled with destroyers: 420 of them.
There are no special rules for the new pieces: use them just like the old ones. The difference is that they just look a lot better on your game table, particularly so in smaller battle scenarios or actions. There's a new piece to take the place of every British, Russian, American, German, Australian, Canadian, Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and Swedish multiple-ship destroyer piece from Jutland, Mediterranean, Cruiser Warfare, U.S. Navy Plan Gold, Black Waters, Sea of Troubles and Reichsmarine.
There are more British than anyone else — 108 of them all told ranging from the lightly armed River class found in a few Jutland scenarios to the huge mass of Admiralty-class boats (representing several similar classes, including the numerous M-class) and the "captured" ex-German S49 class boats that appeared in the alternate-history supplement Reichsmarine.
Of course, the new-style British destroyers will look kind of silly mixed with the old-style British destroyer leaders on small counters. All of those ships (found in Jutland and U.S. Navy Plan Red) appear on individual "long" counters in Reichsmarine.
The Russians and Americans have the most powerful destroyers in the set. The U.S. Navy has the numerous and heavily armed Wickes- and Clemson-class boats, nearly identical in game terms. The "flush decked" destroyers have appeared in a few Second World War at Sea products, as have the Russian "Novik" type large destroyers. These appear in Jutland and Mediterranean.
Destroyers occupy the low end of the Great War at Sea measurement scale, which was really designed to show differences between battleships. To give a meaningful differentiation, some of the bigger ships would have gunnery factors of 20 or more to allow destroyers to be split between 1, 2 and sometimes 3. And so the Italian Indomito class may be badly outgunned by the Russian Kerch, but in game terms they both get a 1.
I think the first professional game development work I ever did was on Jack Greene's Destroyer Captain (I'm not 100 percent sure of this; as I wrote above, I get confused easily). I've always wanted to re-visit the topic with a variation on our two naval systems but on a smaller scale, focused on destroyers, torpedo boats and small cruisers with motor torpedo boats getting into the action, too.
Until that far-off day, you can trick out your Great War at Sea titles with long-counter destroyers.
Don’t wait to put Destroyers on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before it goes away!
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.