La Regia Marina:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
If South Pacific is the crown jewel of the Second World War at Sea series, then La Regia Marina is going to need a place right alongside it. Our topic is the Mediterranean campaign, 1940 through 1942, and the action promises to be every bit as intense as that of South Pacific.
La Regia Marina isn’t our first visit to the Mediterranean campaign; we released Bomb Alley 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.
While we could have reprinted Bomb Alley, the game is now 20 years old and over those decades we’ve completely altered the way we make games. And once we had South Pacific, I didn’t see that we had much choice other than crafting a Mediterranean game to the same standards of history, game play and artwork. South Pacific is a beautiful game with outstanding play, (and many types of play); La Regia Marina needed to be just as good.
What it didn’t need to be was just as large. I had at one time intended La Regia Marina to be the ultimate game of the Mediterranean naval campaign, physically a twin to South Pacific. But I ended up having to cut many scenarios out of South Pacific, which could easily have topped 100 of them. They wouldn’t have fit within the book, and at that count, you actually drive potential players away rather than attract them.
So I decided to get proactive with La Regia Marina, and scale back its scope to something more reasonable in terms of scenario count, and also in terms of components. South Pacific was a huge production job and at this writing (almost eight months later) I still can see the hangover in our work flow. La Regia Marina will be more in keeping with our other large games, like Bismarck.
The action picks up in June 1940, with the Italian declaration of war on Britain. It extends until the summer of 1942, when American forces began to appear in the Mediterranean theater. We use the story-arc format that’s the basis for all of the games of Second World War at Sea’s Second Edition, whether new games (like South Pacific and La Regia Marina) or new editions of older titles (like Bismarck’s Playbook edition). The story of the campaign unfolds through the scenarios, with operational scenarios (the ones that take place on the map of the Mediterranean Sea) framing the larger picture, and battle scenarios (the ones that take place on the Naval Tactical Map) showing the battles that arose, or could have arisen, from those operations.
That “could have arisen” part is central to the story arc approach. 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.
Yugoslavia gets introduced to Second World War at Sea, with her small fleet including a cruiser and a squadron of destroyers. They don’t get to do much expect try to escape from the Italians. The Greek fleet is larger, built around a modernized armored cruiser and a squadron of modern destroyers; they’re kind of outmatched against the German air force.
I wanted to tell even more of the story, but that wasn’t going to fit within the budget needed to keep the retail price under $99.99 (that magic $100 mark). So we split the game, into the core game (La Regia Marina) and a large (some might say massive) expansion set, The Middle Sea.
The Middle Sea picks up the action with the advent of the Americans in the Mediterranean, and carries on through the Italian surrender in September 1943. That’s a lot of action, and involves a lot more ships that weren’t present for the first part of the campaign. The Middle Sea adds a lot of pieces to La Regia Marina: all of the French Mediterranean Fleet, the small German fleet of captured ships including the helicopter carrier Drache, the massive American and British armadas that invaded North Africa and Sicily. And you get many Italian ships begun or projected, but not commissioned in time to see action: all twelve of the Capitani Romani class light cruisers, all twenty of the Comandanti Medaglie d’Oro class destroyers, the Costanzo Ciano class cruisers, the fast battleships Roma and Impero, the aircraft carriers Aquila and Sparviero, and many more. The Germans also get a new weapon, radio-guided flying bombs capable of sinking battleships.
La Regia Marina gets a brand-new map of the Mediterranean basin, showing all of the key spots where the action took place. And it connects with the maps from both 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 great fun, and I know that 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’ve poured 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.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children. He will never forget his Iron Dog, Leopold.
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