Second World War at Sea:
Second Edition Preview

When you revise a long-standing set of game rules, you need to do it the right way.

After sixteen years (I think), we’re ready to release a new edition of the core rules to Second World War at Sea. It’s our most popular game series, in no small part due to the solid rules set. But after tens of thousands of games sold and played it was time to roll all of the additions we’ve made over the years into the core set of rules.

The ease of internet communication makes it tempting to constantly update things like rules sets: you can change a single word, make a .pdf and have the new rules distributed in a matter of minutes. We’ve never done that; back in the first years of the Old Avalanche Press we sometimes rushed out a set of rules for the summer convention season, then revised them for the general release of a new game, and it made us lazy. We need to make the rules as tight as they can possibly be when we release them, not afterwards. We’re never going to release “Living Rules” (I even hate that insipid name) and have 212 rules versions floating through the ether.

That means the new Second Edition is probably the final one for Second World War at Sea: the first lasted for 16 years, and I have zero intention of still doing this job 16 years from now. So what’s so wonderful about this rules set?

Most obviously, there are full-color play aids. Three color cards showing all of the tables needed to play take the place of one black-and-white one from the first edition; they also include other tables that were buried in the rulebook (sometimes not even in tabular form) or in other places. This edition collects them all in one place, with the intention that once you know how to play the game you’ll only have to refer to these cards and not to the rulebook.

The black-and-white Task Force cards have been replaced with full-color versions, which also include space for aircraft flights. There’s no functional change here, it’s just more fun to play with these than the old black-and-white ones of the first edition.

And the Airbase cards, formerly black-and-white, now appear in full color as well. These are different for each game in the series, and still show the same basic stuff as before: Hangar, Ready, CAP, Search and ASW boxes for each air base, aircraft carrier or aircraft-carrying airship, plus the base/ship’s aircraft capacity and anti-aircraft value.

The Tactical Map remains the same as in the first edition, though we’ve printed it as a single piece for the games currently receiving the Second Edition rules package. The Log Sheet, on which you write down task force orders and a few other things, is likewise the same.

The biggest change, of course, is in the rulebook itself. For starters, it’s much thicker, jumping from 24 pages in the First Edition to 40 in the Second. A fair amount of that is a change in layout that brings these rules in line with other recent sets like Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition and makes them easier to read.

They’ve gotten a thorough re-write: smoothing over unclear text, fixing some errors that have been identified over the past decade and a half, adding more examples of play. Additionally, we’ve rolled rules additions that have appeared in games and supplements as special rules into the main body, concepts like Motor Torpedo Boats, Mine Warfare, ASW Sweep missions, game days, amphibious operations, coast watchers and a whole passel of others.

Most important among these, to my mind, is the wonderful concept of a “confirmation” die roll that allows more granularity in processes resolved via rolling the die. Most forms of Second World War at Sea combat are resolved by the classic “roll a six, get a hit” method. It’s simple to remember and easy to execute. And so a hit occurs one time out of six. If you, as the designer, think it should happen a little more often, you can declare that it’s now “roll a five or a six, get a hit.” But that doubles the chances of a hit – you can’t make small changes in the probability.

You can do that with the confirmation concept. So now a six is a hit, and a five is a hit if you roll a six on a second die. Instead of doubling the probability, you’ve only increased it by a little over 16 percent. That’s a big difference, and allows for some subtle shading in some game functions. We’ve been careful not to over-use that mechanic, else you’d be rolling a second die endlessly in a game that already wants you to roll many dice. But for some very specific uses it greatly adds to both the simulation and the play value.

We’ve also got a whole stack of optional rules, most of which saw daylight in earlier games and books like the “always possible” die roll (a concept borrowed from role-playing games). We also have quick-play surface combat, an optional sub-system that was present in Great War at Sea from its earliest iterations but for some reason did not make it over to Second World War at Sea. I’m not sure why; I always meant for it to be there. Now it is.

There are a few new options, my favorite is another I always thought should be in Second World War at Sea, but somehow I let myself be talked out of including it in the first edition: heavy cruisers. With a few exceptions, heavy cruisers (type CA) can fire their secondary gunnery at primary ranges, and have a slight chance of doing a little more damage than other secondary guns. The Japanese, Germans and Americans designed the triple 6-inch turret of their light cruisers to be easily replaced with a twin 8-inch mount for a reason – the bigger gun yields a real difference in range and striking power. Now it does in the game, too.

A few things didn’t make it into the core rules: for example, airships and helicopters, usually seen only in Second Great War at Sea games and books, will remain in the game-specific special rules.

The new rules will appear in the upcoming new games: Tropic of Capricorn, Eastern Fleet, Midway Deluxe Edition, La Regia Marina and South Pacific. They’ll also show up in older games as we reprint them, starting with Sea of Iron.

Second World War at Sea has always been a pretty easy game to play, and the new rules set makes it all flow even more smoothly. A new generation of fun is upon us.

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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.