Midway Deluxe Edition:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Second World War at Sea: Midway’s first edition was one of our most popular titles ever. So when we finally ran out of them, we of course wanted to reprint it. And we could have reprinted it; unlike some other games that have sold out, all of Midway’s files remain intact in our archives.
But I wanted to make it better. With the new South Pacific and La Regia Marina replacing the old SOPAC and Bomb Alley, respectively, I wanted Midway (probably the most recognizable title in the Second World War at Sea series) to match the new games in play value and coolness.
Midway: Deluxe Edition has a larger map than the old version, made necessary by changes in the way we print stuff since the old Midway came out. The previous map was one piece, and measured 35 by 24 inches. The new one is two pieces, each 28 by 22 inches, with a little overlap so they form a playing area of 43 by 28 inches. That’s not enough of an increase to add any additional islands or land masses to the playing area: the Hawai’ian Islands are fantastically isolated from any other dry land. It does bring the playing area closer to the Marshall and Marianas island chains, giving us the option of linking this map to those in future games.
Midway’s playing area is radically different from every other game in the Second World War at Sea series. In all the other games in the series, land forms a significant boundary on at least one edge of the map, and sometimes does so along every edge. Midway, by contrast, has a small chain of islands (Hawai’i) surrounded by a wide blue ocean with a very few other specks of land peeking out of the ocean.
In that wide blue ocean, two fleets built around aircraft carriers sneak about and hunt one another in a classic cat-and-mouse game. Their aircraft are very powerful, but the aircraft carriers themselves are quite fragile. And the stakes are enormously high: either side can win or lose the war in an afternoon.
That may be an exaggeration: in overall historical-strategic terms, the United States probably could have lost every ship and plane sent to Midway and still won the war thanks to its enormously greater resource base. And on the other side, Japan’s loss of all four heavy carriers committed to the operation would take away any chance the Empire had to force a successful negotiated peace on its enemies.
But for the admirals of both sides, the Battle of Midway would be the first and last large-scale battle in the Pacific War in which the two sides fought on even terms. While American propagandists at the time and later would make much of the Japanese numerical advantage, it actually wasn’t much: four heavy carriers for the Japanese against three for the Americans, but the American carriers carried more planes each, 37 steps for the Japanese in game terms against 38 for the Americans. The Japanese do have an edge in surface forces, with seven battleships against none for the Americans, but if the battle ever comes down to warships shooting at each other, the American player has done something tragically wrong.
So the main event is a big, evenly-matched and exciting battle in game terms. But there’s more than just the events of early June 1942 included in the package. To start with, there are a number of variations for the Midway scenario itself: the Americans could bring on the carrier Saratoga with her air group and escorts, while the Japanese might receive Zuikaku and her planes (but no extra surface ships). In the expanded Midway scenario, the Japanese commit the forces diverted to the Aleutian Islands: two light carriers, four battleships and a whole swarm of cruisers and destroyers. The Americans counter with a small cruiser-destroyer force, a pair of battleships, and a pitiful little escort carrier.
The original Midway game had eleven complete scenarios (four battle scenarios and seven operational scenarios), not counting the optional variations some of them sported. They covered all of the historical actions and a few that might have happened, but I’ve come to view things differently in the years since we published the original Midway. Two streams of thought guide the new scenario set for Midway Deluxe as well as other new naval games from Avalanche Press.
First, I’ve come to see the beauty of the battle scenario as described in Nick Rider’s ode. In the early Second World War at Sea games (which would include Midway) I think I saw the battle scenarios as an afterthought, that the “real” gamers only wanted the operational scenarios. We’ve since learned that not only do gamers like the battle scenarios, they give them a great deal of play since they allow you to get right into the action and start fighting right away.
Second, we’ve adopted a story arc structure for our naval and tactical games over the last six months or so. We still fill them with scenarios, lots of scenarios, but the scenarios are narratively linked together to tell the story of the war or the campaign. The scenarios themselves are pretty much in the same format, though since we’re trying to cover everything that happened they also include operations and battles that might have happened but did not, or were considered and rejected.
Third, I’ve come to see the ability of game scenarios to show how a battle or operation unfolded, so as in the second edition of Eastern Fleet we have scenarios that open in the middle of an operation as well as the traditional start-to-finish format. So you can play out the Battle of Midway after the first three Japanese carriers have been sunk, when Hiryu alone faced two operational American carriers.
All told, we now have over 50 scenarios, with all of the major operations (the Battle of Midway, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the attempted relief of Wake Island, the Japanese invasion of Hawai’i, the American counter-invasion of Wake Island, and a number of other operations foreseen as the consequences of the Battle of Midway.
To play out that huge set of scenarios, you get a completely new set of playing pieces, die-cut and silky-smooth, with more ships and more planes, because more scenarios. You get every vessel that participated or could have participated in the fighting around the Hawai’ian Islands in 1941 and 1942. There are 280 “long” ship pieces and 420 square ones to represent aircraft, small warships and the handful of markers needed for play.
Plus you get a special Tactical Map: Pearl Harbor, at its own special scale so all of the locations of American ships on the fateful morning of December 7th can be shown. It’s used in the Pearl Harbor scenario, and in some others that allow the American (or Japanese!) fleet to be attacked in its home base. This is something new for Second World War at Sea games (South Pacific has a special Ironbottom Sound map as well) and we’re pretty excited about it.
Midway Deluxe Edition is going to be 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 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 likes catching lightning bugs.