SWWAS: The Kaiser's Navy
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
What would you change if you could go back in time . . .
It’s a common fantasy, and it’s the root of a whole sub-genre of historical games. Who doesn’t wonder how things might have been different if this or that outcome had changed just a little – whether in the great scope of human history, or in our own personal lives?
The reality is, we DO have the power to change the past: the past that we’re living in right now. Because someday, not too long from now, today will be the past. And won’t we wish we’d done things differently?
Alternate history was a part of our naval games almost from the beginning: the third game we did in the Great War at Sea series, U.S. Navy Plan Orange, looked at plans for war between the United States and Japan in the early 1930’s. We did others as well, but did little or nothing to link them together. Each such game or book stood alone, and often individual scenarios within the games stood alone as well.
Developer Jim Stear introduced to The Kaiser’s Navy the narrative arc that our earlier alternative history games and books lacked. The impetus for the Second Great War is a revived Russian Empire’s attempt to regain its lost borderlands, sparking intervention by the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) who find it difficult to stop the massed tank forces of both Russia and her revanchist allies, France and Italy.
Meanwhile, the High Seas Fleet must deal with an aggressive French fleet and do its best to support the Empire’s beleaguered land forces. The Royal Navy begins on the sidelines; no one is sure what course the United Kingdom will follow.
The Second Great War includes The Habsburg Fleet, covering the actions of the Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Ottoman and other navies in the Mediterranean theater, and Royal Netherlands Navy, following the Dutch as they battle two sets of enemies in the East Indies.
But what about The Kaiser’s Navy? What do you get in this package?
Since the premise of the game is that Imperial Germany never fell, and thus the High Seas Fleet was not scuttled by its own crews in 1919, many of the old ships of the Great War are still in service, refurbished for a new generation’s conflict. The most useful of the old ships are the battle cruisers, rebuilt to maintain their speed with oil-fired machinery. But some of the battleships remain potent fighting units, while others are best assigned to protect convoy traffic.
And there are new ships as well, based on the designs prepared for a different regime but never built. The Imperial Navy carries on its very conservative design traditions, and most of the new ships show a clear design ancestry. The High Seas Fleet still values protection over firepower, with a few key exceptions.
To represent all these forces there’s a full-sized sheet of laser-cut counters, to start with: 70 “long” pieces featuring 68 warships and two zeppelins in their black Imperial livery, and 140 square pieces with 26 warships, 20 French aircraft, 76 Imperial German aircraft and an assortment of markers.
You read that right: this book introduces zeppelins to the Second World War at Sea series, with a new set of special rules to bring the giant airships into a new era. These zeppelins have teeth: their own air groups of Bf109 fighters and Stuka dive bombers.
Unlike the Kriegsmarine, the Imperial German Navy has its own air service with fighters, bombers and a large contingent of seaplanes. They also have a pair of aircraft carriers of somewhat limited capability, about on par with most British flattops.
Scenarios take place on the SWWAS: Bismarck maps. Initially Wilhelm’s fleet only has to contend with the French, but eventually the British will intervene against them and then the fighting becomes even more fierce. This time the Germans have a fleet that can stand up to the British, and air cover that won’t fly away on a whim like Goering’s Luftwaffe.
All told, it’s a fine addition to Second World War at Sea and a wonderful start to The Second Great War.
Go to battle with The Kaisers's Navy today!
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.