Golden Journal No. 30:
The Caspian Map

Caspian Princes is the smallest game in the Second World War at Sea lineup, and it’s unlikely to give up that title. The game is part of our Second Great War at Sea alternative-history story arc, in which the great empires of Eastern Europe survive the First World War thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Woodrow Wilson, and fight a new war a generation later.

Caspian Princes takes place on the Caspian Sea. As far as I know, no other wargame has ever featured naval action on the Caspian Sea, and I’d be really surprised if there were. It’s a landlocked sea; in geologic terms it’s the planet’s only “oceanic lake,” since it has its own basin (which sure sounds like an attempt to avoid making a decision, sort of like Planet/Not-Planet Pluto). Legally the surface is a sea while the seabed is a lake, thanks to a complicated 2018 compromise that allows oil and gas reserves to be divided up among the five nations bordering the Caspian while fisheries and navigation remain open.

None of that matters for our game. The Caspian map is by the newest member of our production team, Tiffany Munro, who’s done a great many maps for role-playing games plus many other genres. It’s a lovely map, painted in soft pastels that evoke the style of an early-20th-century atlas:

The Caspian Sea is almost exactly the same size as the Baltic Sea (145,500 square miles for the Black Sea, vs. 143,250 square miles for the Caspian). I’ve designed lots of naval games/scenarios set solely on the Baltic Sea (Sea of Iron and Jutland), and there’s plenty of room there for maneuver and deception and all of that, so I knew the Caspian could serve as a theater for a naval game. Not a very big naval game, but it would work. The Caspian has a more compact shape than the Baltic, without all of those gulfs shooting off in different directions, which would make game play flow better.

In the game, the Turks face off against the Russians. The Turks are based at Baku, just about dead center on the western shore, while the Russians have bases both on the northern and eastern coasts of the inland sea. The Caspian has widely varying depths, which the map shows as different shades of blue; only light craft can venture into the very shallowest waters and submarines (yes, there are submarines in this Caspian Sea) can’t go there. Deeper shipping channels are dredged through these shallow waters to connect the Russian ports on the northern shore to the deeper central basin. The Caspian is still pretty small, and even though the fleets are equally small they have a hard time hiding from each other. There’s going to be surface battle.

Everything you need to play (except dice) is included: the map, the pieces and the little booklet are all “real” printed items. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The rules, the charts and the tactical map are all downloads, but they’re the same as the rules and charts and tactical map included in every Second World War at Sea game, so if you have one of those, you can use that and not mess with the download.

The catch is: it’s just for the Gold Club. If you want it, you need to sign up.

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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 whole passel of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold likes the Caspian map.