Dreadnoughts: The Previewing
By Mike Bennighof
Dreadnoughts was one of the first book supplements we did, and the oldest we’ve kept in print. In some ways it shows – I was trying to work in a connection to every Great War at Sea product then in print. But it also set the pattern for the books-with-real-pieces that became a staple of the Avalanche Press product line.
The publication of Dreadnoughts pre-dates the appearance of Daily Content on the Avalanche Press website, so it never received the same on-line support of most other books we’ve published. With the book now back in print, with a striking new cover, it seems like a good time to give it the publisher’s preview it would be getting were it being published for the first time.
For many Great War at Sea players, ownership of Dreadnoughts is essential if only for the advanced tactical rules included within. Authored by Karl Laskas and Bob Titran, they’ve held up very well since publication and remain very popular. I never really considered detailed combat rules for Great War at Sea. I guess at the time I designed it I was fresh off working on detailed naval games with Jack Greene like Fleet Admiral and Royal Navy and was just detailed-out. Great War at Sea was sort of the antidote to those games, moving the focus from the tactical to the operational. These rules nicely fill that gap; they’re popular for good reason.
At the time Dreadnoughts was first published, we hadn’t refined our supplement philosophy; actually, I’d say that refinement didn’t occur until the past year or two. If I had it to do over again with our current production capabilities, I’d publish at least three separate books instead: one on the Spanish fleet, one on the Austrian navy, and one on the Ottoman Turkish fleet. Each would have the wide array of scenarios arranged in narrative format that’s a hallmark of our naval books and games.
Dreadnoughts instead takes a shotgun approach. It doesn’t have a mass of scenarios for any one of its topics. Instead, it covers a lot of topics. And that has its own sort of fun; it means I jammed an awful lot into a single book.
Dreadnoughts is built around an extensive look at the battleship Rio de Janeiro, probably better known as the Royal Navy’s Agincourt. I wanted to show the ship in as many national colors as possible – many nations tried to buy the ship when the Brazilians put her up for sale, so every would-be purchaser is represented. And every purchaser gets at least one scenario making use of their shiny new toy (some get several). The likely buyers are all present: Russia, Greece and Italy. And would-be buyers who didn’t really want the ship but wanted to make sure a rival or potential enemy didn’t get her: France and Austria-Hungary (both out to head off the Italian purchase attempt). There are some unlikely but possible buyers: Japan, Spain and Romania.
And finally the ship appears in German colors – the Germans made no attempt to buy her, but one of the more fanciful justifications made by the Admiralty for seizing her from her Turkish owners in 1914 was the remote possibility that the Turkish crew might simply steam across the North Sea and hand the new ship to the High Seas Fleet. I always intended to include her in American livery as well, and even wrote the subsection of text for that highly unlikely premise and designed a scenario. I don’t know a decade later whether I decided that the premise was too stupid for inclusion or if I simply forgot to do it.
We also have a pretty extensive expansion for the Ottoman fleet: six dreadnoughts, four pre-dreadnoughts, three big armored cruisers and three light cruisers. They’re only all used together in one of the four Turco-centric scenarios, where they give the Sultan a formidable presence at sea.
For our first Great War at Sea supplement, I wasn’t going to leave out the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy. The book is pretty much an excuse to publish more Austrian ship counters. I wanted Austrians in the book because I wanted Austrians in the book. And so there are a lot of them.
Sixteen new Austrian warships are present: five dreadnoughts (including Rio de Janeiro in Austrian eggshell gray), six battle cruisers, three light cruisers, an ancient coast-defense ship (mistakenly labeled “CL” on its counter) and an aircraft carrier. Yes, I put an Austrian aircraft carrier in the Dreadnoughts book, together with an air group including an armored helicopter (which actually existed, at least in prototype form – Ferdinand Porsche of Tiger tank fame was on the design team). There are five new scenarios to use these ships, though the coast defense ship Erzherzog Rudolf does not appear in any of them (I think I added her at the last minute, probably in place of the U.S. Navy Rio de Janeiro). It’s a mixture that’s pretty satisfying to my obsession, though I wish we had more and better scenarios.
Filling out the counter sheet we have Spain’s Armada: 10 dreadnoughts and three light cruisers plus some gunboats and destroyers. There are the three dreadnought battleships Spain actually built (just about the weakest of the type built anywhere), plus the two follow-on sets of three that the Spanish admirals wanted to build but had no realistic chance of financing. And Rio de Janeiro in Spanish colors makes ten. Spain gets to play with her new ships in three scenarios; but there’s some overlap as with all of these new fleets (so Spanish ships show up in a couple of scenarios listed in other sections).
All told, I’m still pleased with Dreadnoughts this many years after writing it. It’s not the book I’d write today (that would be multiple books, with way more scenarios and more history and fewer pieces in each but more total) but it’s one well worth bringing back into print. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Dreadnoughts is here and ready to ship to you! Order it right now!
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.