The Last Days
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Sometimes when you make improvements to new stuff, the old things get left behind. When that happens, you know that the time of the old things has passed.
That’s definitely the case with Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Gold. We published the game a dozen years ago, the last of a series of “Plan” games based on American war plans pitting the U.S. Navy against various foreign foes. Plan Orange (Japan), Plan Black (Germany) and Plan Red (Britain) all sold well, and Plan Gold (France) sort of stretched that concept a little far. We knew that at the time, and ran it through our so-called “Classic Wargames” program for game topics of limited interest.
Plan Gold actually exceeded its sales targets, but at the time we still printed games in the Far East and had much higher minimum print runs than is the case now that we’ve switched over to small batches. So we had far more of them than we needed, and kept the game in print well after its sales prime had ended. Slashing the price helped move a few of them, but not all. The end of the game’s sales life is here.
We could just keep doing that; the game’s remaining stock doesn’t take up a whole lot of space. But Plan Gold’s release marked a change in our naval games; Jutland, released later the same year, is a far more attractive game with far more scenarios and play value. Plan Gold remains a good game, but it is in no way representative of what we’re making today and definitely not anything like upcoming products. Its low price makes it tempting as an entry point to the Great War at Sea series (we know this from our sales data), yet it’s not the game we’d like to serve as someone’s first exposure.
There’s a lot to like about Plan Gold; it’s based on the rather vague U.S. Navy plans to fight the French in a post-World War One naval war. The map covers the Caribbean Basin from Panama to Trinidad and Miami to Maracaibo, presenting a new theater of operations. The Americans hold a dominating central location at Guantánamo Bay on the south-western shore of Cuba, with another less strategic base at Key West. The French are down at the far end of the Lesser Antilles in Martinique. The French are usually outnumbered and forced into some sort of guerre de course, with the Americans having far more at stake in terms of trade routes and the precious Panama Canal to protect.
The scenario set is based around that situation, but it’s not a story arc like those we’ve deployed in more recent games and books and that lack is probably my greatest disappointment with Plan Gold. There are twenty scenarios, fourteen operational and six battle, mostly concerned with Franco-American conflict with a rudimentary strategic flow (the situation does change as the scenarios progress, but there is not a coherent story being told). A number of the scenarios feature a small Weimar German squadron wreaking havoc on French or American trade.
The scenarios themselves are very solid, and if you’re into this sort of thing just to set up a good scenario and play it, then you’ll be very satisfied with Plan Gold. I’ve just become enamored with the concept of linking the scenarios together to tell a story, and Plan Gold doesn’t have that aspect. It could have: alternative history is the perfect environment for doing that and, one could argue, pretty much requires a story-arc framework or something similar.
Plan Gold has what was in those days a standard set of playing pieces: 70 double-sized “long” ship pieces, and 140 standard-sized ones. At the time we released Plan Gold we still had at least two of the other “Plan” games in print and I knew that hard-core fans would want to see ships that did not appear in other games (on its initial release, Plan Gold was only available direct from Avalanche Press, so it was a reasonable assumption that most buyers would already be Great War at Sea players. So I filled the game’s order of battle with unusual ships that were designed but never built, like several variations of the American Omaha-class light cruiser, French “aviation cruisers,” alternative French and American battle cruiser designs and a few more.
That sort of concentrated weirdness is unlikely to ever appear again in a Great War at Sea game; it was a mistake to go so heavily in that direction in this one.
The map is kind of bland, but very practical and provides some nice operational situations with the island chain turning the Caribbean into a self-contained world of its own, which can be entered through numerous passages between the islands. We re-used the same base map in Remember the Maine, so we’ll be able to return to the Caribbean in future expansion books even without Plan Gold around anymore.
Save a copy of Plan Gold from this woman while you still can!
Plan Gold won’t be around anymore: we’ll sell it through January 31st 2018 at its current deep-discount price ($29.99) and then it will go away forever. We won’t set the remainder on fire, because my assistant Beth is all about protecting the Earth and stuff even though she likes setting things on fire. Instead we’ll use the boxes and scenario books as packing material and store away the maps and pieces so we can use them in some future promotional or limited-edition item (there aren’t enough of them to use in a new game, and I’m not sure I’d want to use the pieces again).
So this is the last call for Plan Gold. Buy it now or be without it forever.
Click here to order U.S. Navy Plan Gold while you still can!
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.