U.S. Navy Plan Red:
Publisher’s Preview

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2019

Not long after the turn of the century, I designed an alternative-history naval war game we called U.S. Navy Plan Red. It was based on American plans to fight the British in a 1920’s naval war, and a little more than a decade later Jim Stear wrote a totally new scenario book for it.

We’ve started moving our smaller games (most of the ones with one sheet of pieces or less) from boxed to Playbook format, a book with a complete game inside (rules, scenarios, everything except for the dice, but you’ve got more than plenty of those). That makes it much easier for us to keep the game in print, and greatly reduces our warehouse footprint – we’re not in the business of storing games, though at times it felt like that was exactly what we were doing.

In its new Playbook edition, Plan Red has the same pieces, map and scenarios as the Second Edition (the one in a slipcase box with a very blue cover). We’ve added full-color play aids (there aren’t many in Great War at Sea, just the fleet organization cards), and given the rules a pretty thorough re-writing.

U.S. Navy Plan Red is based on American plans to fight the British (and by extension the Canadians) in the years just after World War One. These featured interdiction of the sea lanes between Canada and Great Britain, and a seaborne invasion of Nova Scotia. The action takes place in the early 1920’s, with both sides making use of ships that were laid down or designed but never completed due to the enactment of the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. The is printed on heavy cardstock and covers North America’s eastern coast from Newfoundland in the north to the Virginia Capes in the south, and stretching out into the Atlantic to include the vital British base of Bermuda.

The story unfolds over 34 scenarios: fourteen battle scenarios, taking place only on the Tactical Map after the fleets have made contact, and twenty operational scenarios, where you have to find the enemy before you can fight him. Jim Stear wrote them, and while they pre-date the story-arc approach we’ve used in more recent releases they’re really fine scenarios and I saw no need to re-work them.

Great War at Sea’s current rulebook carries a copyright date of 2000, but I suspect the text is actually slightly older than that (we printed some ridiculous number of them in China around that time, and I think the current book is the file Peggy Gordon created for that print run). Since then we’ve piled on a number of rules adjustments and additions in the special rules of each individual new game, but the core rules themselves have proven surprisingly resilient.

Even so, I thought the rules could benefit from a re-write after this many years, and since I’m the publisher, I can decide to do that. I left all of the core concepts and procedures intact, and concentrated on taking the additional and replacement rules that had built up over the years (what we called “special rules” in various books and games) and integrating them into the main body of the rules, and replacing some older rules sections with these new ones.

Since Plan Red would have the rules and scenarios all in one book, I decided to make the rules apply only to Plan Red and not mention things that have no bearing in the game but might in other Great War at Sea games. That makes them easier to use, though the series rules are already pretty easy. I found a few things missing in the rules that obviously were so intuitive that no one had ever noticed, so I fixed those.

The playing pieces include huge battleships for both sides: the Americans get their 1919 type with eight 18-inch guns and several examples of the never-completed South Dakota class. The Royal Navy brings its huge N3 type battleships each with nine 18-inch guns, and the G3 type battle cruiser with nine 16-inch guns. And the Royal Canadian Navy is here too, with its trio of Queen Elizabeth class fast battleships.

There are cruisers, too: the British have their fast and heavily-armed F-class, based on designs prepared late in the First World War but never committed to steel. They also have a trio of Hawkins-class cruisers completed after the end of the war, all three examples of the E-class, and finally ten D-class cruisers that were never actually completed.

On the American side, the cruiser force is led by three examples of the Constitution-class battle cruiser, in this case the variant design armed with ten 14-inch guns. There are also four ships based on the proposed design for a fast armored cruiser armed with eight 10-inch guns, a weapon highly favored by the cruiser admirals. The U.S. Navy has a pair of its beloved big armored cruisers, four fast and powerful Omaha-class light cruisers and five older light cruisers (more properly classed as three scout cruisers and two protected cruisers of limited utility). The Americans bring some odd ships to the battle: a pair of captured German warships and a quartet of ancient coast-defense monitors.

Each side has aircraft carriers, too: one American and two British. The planes aren’t all that deadly, but this is 1921 after all. Both sides also have land-based aircraft, to defend their bases and, well, not much else. Those Sopwith Cuckoo torpedo planes can do some damage, though, if the British player rolls hot dice. The British also have five airships, and every wargame is made better by the presence of airships.

We needed to get Plan Red back into print; I’d like it to form the cornerstone for a new alternative-history story arc with new scenario books set in the Caribbean, Far East and Ireland, plus world-wide mutual commerce raiding. It’s a background with a lot of story potential, and at least on the American side the hostility was real (for the British, not so much).

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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 playful dog, Leopold.