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Tropical Storm:
Designer’s Rant

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
June 2020

Usually, when I concoct an idea for a game or a book, I come up with a title (for some reason, it’s not “real” without a title), write or design most of it, and then when it’s getting close to time to market it, start thinking about cover art.

Second Great War at Sea: Tropical Storm emerged backwards. First I saw Alexander Kircher’s painting of the German dreadnought Kaiser visiting Rio de Janeiro, and knew I wanted to use it. The title came right after. So then I needed to write a book called Tropical Storm, with that great cover, and I knew it would be an expansion for Second Great War at Sea: Tropic of Capricorn so the titles would click together, and it would involve both Germans and Brazilians.

We’ve published books before that are similar to Tropical Storm, but never quite in this combination. Tropical Storm is a hybrid of sorts, a cross between the expansion books that continue a story, and the ship guides like Fleets: Imperial Germany that tell about the warships of our Second Great War alternative history.

The ship guide part of the book (slightly less than half of it) tells you about the ships (and airships) of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in the Second Great War. It’s in the same format as the Fleets books, with schematics for each class, their vital stats, and their story. It’s somewhat shorter than the Fleets books, since I didn’t want to just repeat stuff we’ve already published in those books (the Brazilians, in particular, operate a number of German-built warship classes).

That includes the ships from Tropic of Capricorn, as I wanted Tropical Storm to provide things for that game that weren’t included in the box, and make it at least in part a game guide as well as an expansion book. The Second Great War has a rich background, and Tropical Storm helps develop that with the story of how each of the three fleets evolved during the decades between the great wars. There are similarities to our own history, but this story is by no means the same.

The story picks up from where Tropic of Capricorn left off. In the world of the Second Great War, the Great Depression is more of a severe recession for most of the world. The South American powers of Argentina, Brazil and Chile continue the economic growth they saw in the 1920’s, and have forged close economic ties with European trading partners: Argentina with fascist Italy and France, Brazil with the Central Powers, and Chile with the British Empire.

Those relationships drag all three into the Second Great War, with Argentina and Chile, despite their mutual distrust, facing the Brazilians. In Tropic of Capricorn the action begins with an Argentine surprise attack against a Brazilian fleet exercise, and continues with each side attempting to disrupt the other’s trade, and to seize control of neutral Uruguay. But the big prize is the stream of convoys departing Argentina for Europe, bearing full loads of meat and grain. The story leaves off with a British task force intervening to cripple several Brazilian ships with air strikes - the Royal Navy is one of the few fleets to have developed the aircraft carrier as a weapons system, though the flattops of this reality are well behind those of even 1940 in our own history.

Tropical Storm opens with the Brazilians reeling, but they quickly seize the initiative at sea with an aggressive attack on the Argentine battleships shelling Montevideo. Soon afterwards the Brazilians receive welcome reinforcements in the form of the German West African Cruiser Squadron, a force built around two battle cruisers forced to leave its peacetime base in the German colony of Kamerun.

Now hard-pressed, the Argentines played the “blackmail of weakness” card, threatening to drop out of the war (and curtail their exports of foodstuffs) unless they received substantial aid from their European allies. The British complied with a convoy loaded with munitions and a powerful task force including aircraft carriers and modern battleships. British aid extended the war, but when the carriers ran into trouble - their short-range biplanes could not save them from enemy battle cruisers overtaking them at night - the Admiralty cut its losses and called the Argentine bluff. That brings the South American segment of the Second Great War to a conclusion in early 1942.

I decided to wrap up the South American storyline with just two volumes; it’s a good story and the fans appear to like it, but it’s no secret that they’d like to see more action in European waters and the Pacific. We’ll let South America rest now, expect for maybe a Golden Journal treatment at some point, and tell more of the stories of the Japanese, German, British and Russian fleets, and many more, in the volumes still to come.

We built Tropic of Capricorn around a leftover map (the northernmost of the three maps from the old Cone of Fire game), and added new playing pieces and a scenario book to create a new game more or less out of nothing. And it was (and is) a fun game.

Tropical Storm includes the central (La Plata) map from Cone of Fire. The southernmost map from Cone of Fire uses an unfortunate projection, so we’ve decided not to use it again (when we return to the Falklands, we’ll do so with a new map). The distances are still a little wonky on the bottom half of the La Plata map, but nothing really happens down there in Tropical Storm - the action’s on the top half, where the projection is fine.

Tropical Storm also has a set of additional pieces: 80 of them, sixty “long” ship pieces and twenty normal sized ones for markers, aircraft and small ships. They’re die-cut and silky-smooth, just like those in Tropic of Capricorn, with that ultra-sharp printing y’all love. The big ships number 22 British, 21 Germans, nine Brazilians, seven Argentines and one Chilean.

The story arc format, where we use a game’s scenarios as part of the story-telling device and they move the narrative, is a lot of fun for the designer (that would be me). Or at least I had a lot of fun with it; I blocked out the story like I would a novella or a role-playing adventure and then just wrote it. I went with an even thirty scenarios, the same as Tropic of Capricorn, and that felt like plenty. I think the result flows like a story, except that you can play it. I like that thought.

You can order Tropical Storm right here.

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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 over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.