A few years ago, we published a book called Triple Alliance that added new ships and a fun story arc to Great War at Sea: Mediterranean. When Mediterranean went out of print, we let Triple Alliance run out as well (inventory control being one of the benefits of small-batch printing). Alongside Mediterranean’s Ultimate Edition, we planned to bring out a second edition of Triple Alliance.
Mediterranean Ultimate is a very different game than its previous edition: the map is completely new as are many of the scenarios, and the pieces have seen many changes and additions, too. So 35 of the 65 “long” ship pieces in the old Triple Alliance set, and 40 of the 50 square ones, have migrated over to Mediterranean Ultimate. And I’ve had some second thoughts about some of the other ships in Triple Alliance. Altogether, that provides a lot of cardboard to be filled with new ideas.
The scenario set would have had to change in any event, as the new maps are somewhat different than those of the old edition. And with new and different ships, that makes for still more scenario alterations. It’s no longer the same game, so it’s going to get a new name: Secret Treaties.
Secret Treaties 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.
Secret Treaties 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 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 to remedy that.
Mediterranean Ultimate is a very different game than its previous edition: the map is completely new as are many of the scenarios, and the pieces have seen many changes and additions, too. So 35 of the 65 “long” ship pieces in the old Triple Alliance set, and 40 of the 50 square ones, have migrated over to Mediterranean Ultimate. And I’ve had some second thoughts about some of the other ships in Triple Alliance. Altogether, that provides a lot of cardboard space to be filled with new ideas.
That allows what every Great War at Sea supplement needs: more Austrian ships. The Austrian 1906 program that included the three Radetzky-class ships also was to have had a fast armored cruiser (the Imperial and Royal Navy built its classes with three battleships and one equivalent armored cruiser). The armored cruiser would have been powered by turbines, and fell victim to bitter debate within the Naval Technical Committee over whether this radical new technology should be used. The armored cruiser would have been the first large Austrian warship powered by turbines, and Admiral Rudolf Montecuccoli, the Navy Commandant, accepted a smaller cruiser design in its place that became the light cruiser Admiral Spaun. Spaun had a number of problems with her new power plant, so perhaps caution had indeed been warranted.
The Italian naval architect Nabor Soliani, who drafted the Mirabello class esploratori (scout destroyers), also drew up a 34-knot armored cruiser armed with four 203mm (8-inch) guns, eight torpedo tubes and a dozen 102mm guns. She would have been a formidable raider, and out-classed all Allied light cruisers.
The French, for their part, get their proposed light cruisers and battle cruisers, most of which appeared in Triple Alliance or its sequel, Central Powers. In the face of a combined and expanded Austro-Italian fleet, the French would have relied even more heavily on their allies for support.
Mediterranean Ultimate, unlike prior editions, includes the Spanish Armada, which in this setting fights alongside the French against the Triple Alliance. Spain receives some reinforcements as well, including a class of small battleships also designed by Nabor Soliani, then working for Ansaldo as the conglomerate sought more Spanish business.
While I liked the Triple Alliance scenarios a great deal, on further review I didn’t really like the way I let the story develop. The scenarios themselves were fine, some of them very good, but I probably shouldn’t have felt so obligated to make use of the variant Austro-Hungarian and Italian battleships that were included in the set of pieces. I also set the loss rate a little higher than I should have (it’s really, really hard to sink a dreadnought with gunfire alone) and to balance that added too many additional ships to the story by the time it moved into Central Powers.
Placing Italy on the side of the Central Powers is an enormous shift in power. The French have to face another front along their Alpine frontier with Italy, drawing badly-needed divisions away from the main effort against the Germans. The presence of the Italian Second Army on the southern end of the Western Front also frees up German divisions for the push through Belgium into northern France. It’s not enough to knock France out of the war in 1914 – given the slow-speed logistics of the armies of 1914, that was always unlikely.
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 allow us to replace an already strong product with a much better one.
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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.