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The Emperor’s Sword:
First Look

Second World War at Sea: The Emperor's Sword has a pretty simple premise: it’s the Pacific theater equivalent to our very popular Plan Z massive expansion set, based on the 1939 – 1942 series of prosaically named Japanese Modified Naval Armaments Supplement Programs to vastly increase the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Some years ago we included a number of additional ships and planes in our gigantic, long out-of-print Leyte Gulf game. We didn’t make much use of them – the game had plenty of historical, though terribly one-sided, scenarios. But the potential intrigued me.

By 1944, the Japanese had no chance of winning naval battles (they never had a chance of winning the war itself). I wanted an opportunity to use the late-war Japanese ships and planes as something other than the object of American target practice, and crafted an alternative-history background that would allow that. That’s the background for Great Pacific War: Co-Prosperity Sphere, which posits a powerful Japanese Empire that can stand up to the Americans and fight for the Pacific Basin on an even basis (thus players win or lose the game by winning or losing the war on the battlefield rather than seeing Tokyo destroyed sooner or later than occurred in our actual history).

The story line of The Emperor’s Sword takes place in that same background, titled The Long War (which it also shares with Plan Z). It includes a scenario book with thirty scenarios, but it will also serve as a “toy box” for later expansions in The Long War and Second Great War story arcs. So let’s talk about those toys.

The Japanese
Japan’s striking power lay with her aircraft carriers during the actual Pacific War, and so it remains in this expanded version. We have plenty of additional carriers for the Emperor, starting with the Unryu class, an improved Hiryu design. Three units would be completed, three more broken up incomplete after the war and eleven more authorized but not laid down.

The carrier Taiho made her debut in March 1944, only to be torpedoed by a submarine three months later and lost thanks to poor damage control. She had an armored flight deck inspired by British practice, and was to have had five sister ships plus seven more built to an improved design.

That makes for an enormous fleet of aircraft carriers, though it’s balanced somewhat since the emergency conversions (like Shinano) are assumed to be unnecessary. The four ships actually commissioned (out of those thirty listed above) had zero impact on the course of the Pacific War, since Japan could not fill their decks with aircraft or provide the air crew to fly them.

So we have new airplanes: a whole lot of new airplanes. The Mitsubishi A7M Reppu fighter, Aichi B7A Ryusei dive/torpedo bomber, Nakajima B6N Tenzan torpedo bomber and Yokosuka D4Y Suisei dive bomber now equip the Japanese carriers, with pilots equal in skill to those of the 1942 First Air Fleet.

The land-based air forces are re-equipped as well, with the jet fighters, jet attack planes, high-performance piston-engine fighters and long-range heavy bombers that either died on the drawing board or only saw limited use in reality.

To protect those carriers, the Japanese field additional battleships of the Yamato class and the projected B64 and B65 battle cruisers as well as some older designs projected but never completed, like the two Kii class ships. But the Japanese programs didn’t emphasize battleships – alongside the carriers, there would be cruisers and destroyers to escort them. A great many cruisers and destroyers.

To start with, we have the two projected repeats of the Tone class aircraft cruisers, and the two Ibuki-class heavy cruisers which replaced them I the building program (and also would not be completed). Most of the new cruisers planned to serve as carrier escorts were light cruisers. We have four older ships cancelled in the early 1920’s, and seven Oyodo-class seaplane-carrying ships. Mostly, the carriers would have been protected by a huge class (22 ships) of small anti-aircraft cruisers, a design eventually re-cast as the Akizuki-class destroyers.

We didn’t short the Emperor any destroyers, either: there are the sixteen Shimakaze-class super-destroyers, eight improved Yugumo-class and twenty improved Akizuki-class projected or begun, but never completed.

It’s a huge fleet. But the Americans can match it.

The Americans
The Emperor’s Sword is a Japanese-themed expansion set, and most of the new pieces are Japanese. The United States Navy managed to field far more of its planned ships and planes than did the Japanese, and most of those appear in our upcoming Philippine Sea game and its Leyte Gulf expansion. That still leaves plenty of additions.

The Americans receive the additional battleships, carriers and cruisers done in by Franklin Roosevelt’s questionable decision to pursue a balanced budget during the Great Depression, ships that we provided to the Gold Club in the Golden Journal. We’ve also added the Montana-class battleships, seen in the old Leyte Gulf, and the remainder of the Iowa class.

There’s plenty of new, never-seen stuff as well: the projected “flight-deck cruiser,” a light cruiser with a flight deck. With plenty of aircraft carriers, there would have been no need to convert nine Cleveland-class cruisers into light carriers, so those appear here as cruisers.

The Story
The Emperor’s Sword is a supplement for Midway Deluxe Edition – that means that you don’t need anything else to play the scenarios included. You’ll also use pieces from the set in future supplements as the story continues.

The story is the same as that in Co-Prosperity Sphere. Japan rules a massive, Pacific-spanning empire including the Kingdom of Hawaii. A large naval base in the Pearl River Estuary shelters a large fleet, and is the target of an American attack in December 1943. An American invasion follows, with a whole series of carrier battles as the Japanese contest the landings and follow-up convoys.

As Second Great War at Sea is a battleship-centered game in a world where fixed-wing development is somewhat limited, The Long War focuses on aircraft carriers and other cutting-edge technology. By the time the United States Navy developed tactics and doctrine for a carrier-based fleet, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier force had lost its best ships, planes and pilots. In the Emperor’s Sword, you get to pit the best against the best.

That’s going to make for a fun game. You need this set.

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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.