By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
With the Second Edition of Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet, we have what’s pretty much a new game underneath an old title. The map is very similar to the old one, and it uses the old sheet of playing pieces plus an additional, new sheet. The rules are the new Second Edition, with loads of full-color play aids along with the new rules text, and the game has its own unique full-color play aids, too: airbase cards and such.
Given the chance to re-design an old game, I decided to replace the old, thin scenario book. I designed the first edition around the April 1942 Japanese intrusion into the Indian Ocean with their carrier fleet, and added a few scenarios based on smaller operations. One of the developers added two “hypothetical” scenarios using pieces from our long out-of-print SOPAC game; all told, the game had eight operational and three battle scenarios.
That was not nearly enough fun. I tossed out the SOPAC-related scenarios; Eastern Fleet was the last game still in print that pre-dated our rule that all boxed games must be complete and playable with the components provided in the box (you’d think an extra scenario joining with another game would be seen as extra fun, but hard experience shows that there’s a guy who’ll light himself on fire if Scenario Number 51 needs a piece from another game).
In their place, we have a new set of thirty scenarios, including a much larger selection of battle scenarios so you can get the play going right away. The main event is still the April 1942 Japanese carrier operation, but we’re going into much greater depth to study operations in the eastern Indian Ocean.
Following their bitter experience fighting the First Air Fleet, the British strengthened their Eastern Fleet and remained highly cautious in their operations, supporting them with both carriers and battleships. Even after the Japanese lost four of their six fleet carriers at Midway, the British remained alert to the possibility that the remaining two carriers could appear in the Indian Ocean. And with good reason: the Japanese considered further operations there until the American landings on Guadalcanal in August 1942 drew their attention to the South Pacific.
And so we study proposed operations, like the Japanese invasion of Ceylon (both before and after the Midway disaster). And several British operations that apparently never drew Japanese notice, let alone opposition – but the Eastern Fleet planned to defend the convoys and other moves, just to be sure.
All of those additional scenarios require some additional pieces. The first edition of Eastern Fleet was an artifact of the old-style printing methods we had to use in the early years of this century: eight sheets of pieces printed together, no more and no less. So Eastern Fleet could only have one sheet of pieces, die-cut on a standard pattern (70 double-sized long pieces, 140 square pieces).
That provided all the pieces needed for the April operations, and some others, but not for all of the activities in the Indian Ocean. So we added more pieces for the Second Edition: 30 more long pieces, and 40 more square pieces. That’s not a lot (it’s a little less than half a sheet – we have much greater flexibility than back in the old days), but it makes an enormous difference in the operations that can be simulated when added to the original sheet of pieces.
Most importantly, we’ve added more aircraft pieces. Not a lot of them, but it’s enough to allow the new scenario set to use the random-draw mechanic for aircraft assignment that’s been standard in Second World War at Sea for a long time. The region didn’t attract a huge air deployment by either side, so only a few were needed to make a difference.
Rather than revert to the old-style graphics we used in the first edition of Eastern Fleet, these planes look like those in more recent games and books, with a national symbol added behind the aircraft drawing. That’s become more important now that the series includes many nationalities (plus, we’ve used multiple printers over the years), you shouldn’t have to stare hard at a playing piece to decide on its shade of blue.
The British Eastern Fleet picks up some significant reinforcements: the battleship Valiant, monitor Erebus (deployed as an extremely slow convoy escort), seven cruisers, two fast minelayers and four destroyers (one of which already appears in Eastern Fleet, but on a “small” playing piece). Australia and the Netherlands each add a cruiser and a destroyer. The Greeks put in an appearance with the armored cruiser Averoff and three destroyers. There are seven Japanese pieces (two seaplane carriers and five destroyers), all of which appeared in the first edition on “small” pieces, but the large ones are much more fun.
The map has the same base art (you know, the background) as that of the first edition; we’ve altered the port symbols to match up better with those of other games in the series and made a few other alterations. We’ve added the Rama Setu, the land bridge between the island of Ceylon and mainland India - the work of man, nature or the god Rama depending on who you choose to believe - which blocks the passage of ships and submarines.
Like the other games now carrying the Second Edition rules, Eastern Fleet’s Second Edition has full-color airbase cards as well, to match up with the full-color play aids (task force cards, flight cards, charts) of the Second Edition rules.
The old Eastern Fleet was a leftover of an earlier age of Avalanche Press, when many of the naval games had similarly thin scenario books (like the original Plan Orange). In the case of Eastern Fleet, much of that was driven by the need to shoe-horn the playing pieces into just one sheet, which allowed for a very good game of the April 1942 Japanese carrier raid but not much more. At many publishers that would have been considered more than adequate, but that’s not what we’re trying to do with Second World War at Sea. Eastern Fleet’s Second Edition allows a much deeper look at naval operations in the Indian Ocean in early-to-mid 1942, so that the game offers many more play opportunities as well as more history.
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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.