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High Seas Fleet:
Edition to Edition

While “success” can have different meanings to different people (and publishers), I considered our Great War at Sea: High Seas Fleet expansion book to be extremely successful, both from a sales and a creative standpoint. When we had the chance to issue a new edition with more scenarios and nicer playing pieces, I definitely wanted to issue one.

High Seas Fleet draws on just one game, Jutland, for other parts. It’s intended as a historical study, looking at the question of German commitment to the so-called dreadnought race during the years before the First World War. While the existence of such an arms race is a staple of a number of popular histories of the period, the facts simply don’t bear this out: if the Germans had truly been interested in such a competition, they would have built more ships.

So in High Seas Fleet we looked into the details of the German naval shipbuilding program, and the struggle for funding waged with the Imperial German Army. In a true naval arms race, Germany would have built many more dreadnought battleships, and certainly had the financial and industrial capacity to do so.

Those additional ships for the High Seas Fleet are the basis of the book, High Seas Fleet. The Germans receive extra ships to bring all of their existing classes to five ships, and new classes of ships for the fiscal years in which they did not lay down a new class (using the actual designs that would have been requested, had the Imperial Navy built ships in that year).

We also included a few additional British ships, since the Royal Navy likely would not have stood completely idle in the face of an actual German threat. But not nearly as many of them, since British shipyards were operating at much closer to their capacity than were their German counterparts. There are also some pieces rating the gunnery of German and British armored cruisers more accurately than the formula we used back when we published Jutland.

The first edition had a sheet of laser-cut pieces, all 70 of them “long” double-sized ship pieces (46 German, 24 British). The laser-cut pieces were very nice, but the printing wasn’t always consisted. We replaced them with die-cut pieces with a silky-smooth finish, the standard piece we’ve been using for a while now. We’d upgraded all of the ship drawings for High Seas Fleet (those that aren’t new to the book) and they looked better in the laser-cut edition. But the die-cut, silky-smooth ones are outstanding: it is by far the crispest printing we’ve ever had and really shows off the ship artwork the way it should be. We’ll be using this in the future for all our games, and though it means replacing a lot of artwork the results are very much worth it.

The other change in the second edition is an increase in the number of scenarios. The first edition made use of the Year 2000 Great War at Sea series rules, which have been in use since Noah used one of our early operational maps to find Mount Ararat (this would fall under “transport mission”). I think those are actually the first wide-circulation rules (there was an early draft included in the very first copies of first edition Mediterranean that we sold at a convention) and the 2000 date refers to a new layout but not new text, though I could be mistaken.

Over the years, a large number of “special rules” had been added to Great War at Sea games to modify the series rules, and by the time of the first edition of High Seas Fleet these came to eight pages’ worth (clearly, we needed a new edition of the series rules). That’s down to two pages in the new edition of High Seas Fleet, yielding enough additional space to insert a scenario section to accompany the last chapter (it had no scenarios in the first edition).

Several chapters of High Seas Fleet ended with a great deal of what we insiders call “trapped white space,” meaning the chapter ended with only a little bit of text at the top of its last page, and the rest of it was blank. Newspaper legend Jane Gordon, now at the New York Times, taught layout to our production manager, Susan Robinson, and myself when we were college freshmen. Jane declared anathema on trapped white space; I have never forgotten, and I didn’t like the trapped white space in our book. So with a chance to do things over again, I wrote some additional battle scenarios to add to those chapters, just to soak up all that open real estate.

Between the shorter special rules and the tribute to layout goddess Jane, our book went from 30 scenarios in the first edition, which was still pretty good, to 42 in the second, which is much better. I don’t see High Seas Fleet as an alternative-history story, like our Second Great War at Sea books. It’s a historical study with playing pieces and scenarios, built around the question of what would a High Seas Fleet have looked like, had the Germans actually engaged in the dreadnought race claimed by British propaganda?

So rather than following an integrated story, we have separate self-contained chapters, each deploying the fleets at different points in time during the so-called arms race, from 1908 through 1917 (although the putative “arms race” began a few years before 1908, the ships built as part of this madness would not have been ready for combat until about 1908).

As much as I like creating our own alternative facts with our alternative-history books and games, I very much like delving into the alternative facts crafted by others – like the non-existent dreadnought race. Had the British claims been real, the fleet presented in our High Seas Fleet book is the one they would have faced across the North Sea during the First World War. And a German fleet able to match the British ship-for-ship makes for a very different naval campaign.

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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.