It’s been creatively rewarding to re-work some of our older titles over the past couple of years, and some of them have really needed it. Others are simply required change due to replacement of the “core” game on which they depend, and that’s the case with Great War at Sea: Triple Alliance.
Triple Alliance has a great topic for an alternative history/historical study: what if Italy remained with her Triple Alliance partners in August 1914 and fought alongside Austria-Hungary and Germany against the Allied Powers? The Italian armed forces expected to fight as part of the Central Powers and only an improbable series of events stopped Italian soldiers from entering combat against the French before their political leaders could stop them. It’s one of the more realistic alternative history scenarios out there, as it’s the much more likely outcome of the hectic days of late July and early August 1914 than the actual events.
Triple Alliance takes the premise that Italy joined the war as expected, with a scenario set based on the actual, well-developed war plans of the three Central Powers navies. The plans called for far more aggressive action than the Italians and Austro-Hungarians displayed in the actual conflict; having to shelve their assumptions and prepare new schemes on the fly seems to have imbued them both with far more caution. That’s not how they thought they would react as part of the Triple Alliance, and that aggressive attitude makes for an exciting backdrop for our scenario set.
Great War at Sea players always want more ships, and Triple Alliance gave them that. The background posits a more intense naval arms race in the Mediterranean basin than actually occurred (thus making Italian participation on the Triple Alliance side more likely), with France, Italy and Austria-Hungary all laying down and completing the classes of early dreadnought battleships that each navy contemplated but none of them actually built (the Austrians sort of did, but went with a very conservative semi-dreadnought design instead of the more powerful and innovative small turbine-powered dreadnought alternative proposal).
I found Triple Alliance to be a very satisfying project: it looked good, the scenario/story interaction flowed well, and I thought it brought a lot more play value to its core game, Great War at Sea: Mediterranean with plenty of battleship-on-battleship action. Players want to use their battleships, but the actual history doesn’t provide all that many opportunities. I’ve tried to use our alternative history expansions and historical studies (like High Seas Fleet) to remedy that. Along with more battleship action, Triple Alliance carried a good bit of history, too. Even so, we’re going to rebuild it for one simple reason: Great War at Sea: Mediterranean has gone out of print, and is being replaced by Mediterranean Ultimate Edition.
Some revision might have happened anyway: Triple Alliance had an odd number of pieces, with one standard half-sized sheet and a little one with four more rows of pieces. We’re switching all of the book supplements over to the well-liked silky-smooth die-cut pieces, and that little strip of pieces would have posed a production difficulty. The set of pieces would have to be reduced.
The appearance of Mediterranean Ultimate Edition makes that easy: 37 of the 65 “long” pieces in Triple Alliance now appear in the new boxed game (mostly armored cruisers and semi-dreadnoughts now rated in line with the rest of the Great War at Sea series). That allows all the ships needed for Triple Alliance to fit on one half-sheet, plus some additional ones.
That allows what every Great War at Sea supplement needs: more Austrian ships. We’ll add the proposed 1906 fast armored cruiser that was to have been ordered alongside the Radetzky-class semi-dreadnoughts. And an alternative class of light cruisers. The French will get some re-designed armored cruisers and some other alternative cruisers, and that means the Italians will have to reply. And more Brits – the original edition definitely came up short of British ships (it had no additional ships, only re-rated versions of ships that had appeared in the old Mediterranean game).
The biggest change, though, comes to the book itself, also due to the imminent appearance of Mediterranean Ultimate Edition. The new boxed game will come with the new Second Edition series rules for Great War at Sea, and that obviates the need for most of the 12 pages of special and optional rules that kick off the text for Triple Alliance. We’re also going to move the ship data into its own little booklet, slightly smaller than the Triple Alliance book so it can nest safely inside its pages. That frees up another six pages.
Those 18 extra pages increase the available real estate by more than a third. The scenario set is a little tricky to manipulate, since Triple Alliance has a sequel, Central Powers. That book will also shift to die-cut pieces, but its scenario set picks up the story right where Triple Alliance leaves off. So extending the scenario set onward in time isn’t really an option (actually it is, but doing that would upset a certain fragment of the audience that prefers their expansion books Just So).
While we’ll adjust the scenarios a little to match up with the altered set of pieces, we’ll give over the bulk of the new space to some more historical background, because that lets me use all that stuff I pick up while “rooting around in dusty old tomes” instead of learning history from video games. Most of the new pages will go to a sort of “prequel” set of scenarios pitting the Ottoman Turkish fleet that the Young Turks hoped to build against Italian aggression in a different sort of Italo-Turkish War. Those Turkish dreadnought pieces finally get some use, in an unusual strategic situation.
Given the choice, I would have simply kept re-printing Triple Alliance and kept enjoying its strong sales – the first edition remains a fine product and one that I’m proud to have written, designed and published. But with the advent of the new Mediterranean Ultimate Edition, that wasn’t an option any longer. The book had to change to match the new core game. The additional background and scenarios make an already strong product that much better, and I’m glad we have the chance to present them.
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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.