La Regia Marina:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Second World War at Sea is our most popular game series, probably because it offers so many different types of naval campaigns. Everyone seems to have their favorite, and I definitely have mine: the Mediterranean campaign.
We covered this before in Bomb Alley, which released in February 2003 (it has a 2002 copyright date because we were slow back then, too). February is traditionally a very slow time in the game industry, but Bomb Alley was an enormous success and that would be the greatest month for sales the Old Avalanche Press ever experienced. We printed an enormous number of them, and sold out of the main print run in 2009.
Reprinting Bomb Alley would have been an option, but once we went all in on the new South Pacific, I did not want to pass up a chance to replace my favorite in the series with the game it always should have been. Bomb Alley was by no means a bad game, but we’ve learned a lot in the years that have since passed. La Regia Marina is intended as the ultimate game of the Mediterranean naval campaign.
For starters, it goes longer. Bomb Alley ended in August 1942 with Operation Pedestal, the last major convoy to Malta contested by the Axis as fuel shortages crippled the Royal Italian Navy. But naval operations did not end then, as the Italians maintained a final fuel reserve (mostly in the tanks of their battleships) and the Allies had to provide heavy escorts for their own operations in case the fleet sortied, particularly during the invasion of Sicily.
La Regia Marina, in contrast, continues into 1944, to cover the invasions of Sicily and Salerno, the surrender of the Italian fleet, and the small-scale naval war waged by the German Kriegsmarine with captured French and Italian destroyers and smaller craft in the Adriatic and Aegean Seas as well as off the southern coast of France.
The scenarios not only cover a much longer stretch of time than those of the old Bomb Alley, they do so in much greater depth as well. We’ve adapted the same story-arc structure used in our Second Great War at Sea books, except this time the story actually happened. Or it could have happened: while we have all of the actual surface battles included in the game, if the fleets went to see and likely would have fought but missed each other, we have that battle scenario in there, too. It helps make the story flow better, and gives you more play value, too.
Like South Pacific, many of the scenarios are organized into campaigns, with campaign victory conditions that allow you to string a number of them together to play out a more intense version of the game. The concept is based on the “battle games” recently introduced into Panzer Grenadier, and they work much better than the cumbersome naval campaign games with which we’ve experimented in the past.
To cover that much history, the game needs a lot of pieces. And it has them, many of which have never appeared in a Second World War at Sea game before. Italy receives all twelve of the Capitani Romani class light cruisers (two appeared in Bomb Alley). All twenty of the Comandanti Medaglie d’Oro class destroyers (none were in Bomb Alley). The Costanzo Ciano class cruisers (neither were in Bomb Alley), and a whole lot more.
The British and American fleets are even larger than in Bomb Alley, to include all the ships that helped cover the invasions of Algeria, Sicily, southern Italy and southern France. The Germans get their captured fleet, including the bizarre monitor Biber and helicopter carrier Drache. While their surface forces are very small, they do have potent air power. And they get a new weapon: radio-guided flying bombs, capable of sinking battleships.
Yugoslavia’s fleet and air force are present: the full Yugoslav destroyer squadron plus the newer boats they hoped to build. And the cruiser Dalmacija, in Italian, German and Croatian as well as Yugoslav colors to reflect her many owners during this period. Greece has her small fleet, both the ships she possessed in 1940 and those she hoped to build. And a small air force, though it has little hope against the German Luftwaffe.
And you get the French. There were some French ships in Bomb Alley, but this time we have a far more complete order of battle for the Marine Nationale and the French air forces as well. And we're going to make a whole lot more use of them in the scenarios.
Those pieces need a map on which to maneuver. Actually, it’s just the task force markers that move on the operational map. Two 28x22-inch maps overlap to make up the playing area. The map has all-new artwork, and stretches from Batum on the eastern end of the Black Sea all the way across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and beyond out into the Atlantic. It overlaps with the maps from Bismarck and Horn of Africa, so you can steam from Socotra to Stavanger if the spirit moves you to do so (well, you could if we’d put Stavanger on the Bismarck map. It’s in Zone AN 57).
La Regia Marina is a beautiful game, packed with history and scenarios and toys, but that doesn’t explain why it’s my favorite. In almost all of the other Second World War at Sea games, the fleets and air units move across vast stretches of ocean seeking each other out, or hoping not to be found, or sometimes both. There is a lot of water in games like Bismarck, Midway or Arctic Convoy.
Not in La Regia Marina. The Mediterranean Sea is a bathtub. The Axis player has to run his or her convoys across the narrow seas from ports in southern Italy (Taranto or Naples, usually) to Tripoli in Libya. The Allied player knows this, and has that base on Malta right astride the route. Likewise, the Allied player has to send convoys down the length of the Mediterranean, right through the 90-mile-wide Sicilian Channel where the Axis player knows they must pass.
You can’t run and hide out in the open sea. You’re going to have to fight, and you’re going to have to do so with some pretty substantial forces. That’s why I like this game. The cat-and-mouse action in Bismarck or Midway can be a lot of fun, and I know many players prefer that style. And I most certainly approve of games that reward sneakiness.
La Regia Marina isn’t one of those games. The action is blunt and brutal: you know where the enemy is, and you go right over there and kick his ass. Hopefully, anyway. There’s not a lot of subtlety involved, and I like that aspect a lot. And the Royal Italian Navy is at the center of the action, so I get to use all that language skill for something other than writing about constipated elephants.
La Regia Marina forms a matching set with South Pacific: games into which we’re pouring a couple of decades of hard-won experience on how to design and develop naval wargames, to make them beautiful and fill them with history and fun.
Don’t wait to put La Regia Marina on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
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. Leopold enjoys a good dog biscuit.