U.S. Navy Plan Red:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I’ve always had a mixed relationship with the idea of alternate history. On the one hand, wargames are by their very nature an exercise in historical alternatives: as soon as a player departs from the script (which is usually on the very first move, since we almost never even provide a script), then you’ve got an alternate outcome taking shape. On the other hand, it just felt like cheating, like making things up instead of researching them – what’s the use of a doctorate in history if you can’t show it off?
Making games based on war plans seemed to cover both bases: addressing battles and campaigns that the staff officers of the time thought might happen, and prepared to fight. That was the genesis of our lineup of “U.S. Navy Plan” games for the Great War at Sea series: Plan Orange (for the moment, still out of print), Plan Black (out of print), Plan Gold and Plan Red.
We published Plan Red, based on American plans to fight the Royal Navy, at the height of our foray into d20 role-playing supplements. While some of the hard-core gamers grumbled that we had somehow betrayed the purity of wargaming by delving into such pursuits, our strong d20 sales provided a large staff by wargame business standards (15, as opposed to the two of us who remain) and that gave us the resources to produce wargames that otherwise would have been beyond our capacity, including Plan Red.
Plan Red sold well and finally we ran out of boxes and maps to make more, and in our post-d20 cash-strapped existence, could not easily reprint them. So we made use of the counter sheet in a book titled Sea of Troubles. Our new ways of making boxed games made it possible to bring back Plan Red at the same time that those same methods made it much more difficult to reprint the oversized Sea of Troubles. And so we have a new edition. What’s inside the box?
The setting is based on the U.S. Navy’s Plan Red: contingency planning for war with Great Britain and its dominions. 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 theater covers the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the northern half of the American Eastern Seaboard.
The box deserves a little love: we’ve replaced the fairly drab cover of the first edition with a great painting of the American Sixth Battle Squadron steaming out of the Firth of Forth. The box is the standard black-silk 2-inch-deep box we’ve been using for a while now, with a heavy cardstock wrap.
The playing pieces are the same as those printed for the first edition; we have a fairly large stockpile of them on hand. They 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 10 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. Each side has some aircraft carriers, and the Americans bring some odd ships to the battle: a pair of captured German warships and a quartet of ancient coast-defense monitors.
The map is the same as that in the first edition, though this time printed on heavy cardstock. It 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.
Finally, there are the scenarios. The original edition had 13 scenarios (for some reason we claimed it had a dozen in our marketing materials). Either way, that’s far too few for a Great War at Sea game, so developer Jim Stear has totally revised them and raised the total to 34. They now tell a much more coherent story of the British-American naval war that never happened, and sport the usual creative touches we’ve come to expect from his work.
All told, this is a great re-addition to the Great War at Sea series. Jim Stear has provided a spark of creativity to our naval game lines that had been missing for a very long time. I think you’ll enjoy this one.
Join the fun! Order U.S. Navy Plan Red right now!
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.