Tropic of Capricorn:
Publisher’s Preview

Christmas gifts are best when they’re surprises. Good surprises, anyway. I think Tropic of Capricorn is going to be one of those.

Tropic of Capricorn is a Second Great War at Sea naval game, building on stuff we’ve done before. The topic is the Second Great War – our alternative-history dieselpunk version of World War II – in South American waters. We’d done a boxed game, Cone of Fire, adding South America’s actual or planned fleets to both Great War at Sea and Second World War at Sea, and a small limited-edition expansion for that game, South American Navies, that took the Second Great War setting there.

I drew on both of those for the new game. Tropic of Capricorn uses the northernmost of the three maps from Cone of Fire – we had plenty of them in storage, but only a few sheets of playing pieces. It covers all of the necessary waters for an Argentine-Brazilian naval war, and best of all we already had them on hand.

I designed South American Navies before I wrote the Second Great War setting book. When it came time to write the book I didn’t keep exactly to the events described in South American Navies, since I had decided to alter the technology of the Second Great War in a different direction (battleships, helicopters and airships rather than the airplanes and aircraft carriers of our own reality). Also, South American Navies was a supplement drawing from Cone of Fire for pieces as well as the map, which tied it to the Cone of Fire mix.

That meant we’d need a new set of scenarios along with a new narrative to tie them together. With the basic story already sketched out in the Second Great War setting book, it just took some fleshing out into scenario form, which I find a lot easier than designing them from scratch. Fascist Argentina, aligned with Italy, attacks a Brazilian fleet training exercise to start the war in South American waters. The Brazilians, economically aligned with the Central Powers but not formally allied, then must fend off an Argentine campaign against merchant shipping all along their lengthy coastline as well as terror bombardments of coastal cities. The Brazilians strike back, attempting to interrupt the flow of Argentine convoys of meat and grain to Italy and France. Argentina has speed; Brazil has firepower and a pair of very capable airships.

Once Britain joins the Second Great War their Chilean clients enter on the side of the hated Argentines amid a great deal of inter-allied friction. Eventually the British themselves take a hand, intervening with a task force of three aircraft carriers – a new, innovative weapons system in which the Royal Navy has taken the lead among world navies.

Like the setting book, the story wraps up with the end of 1941, just before a large German squadron arrives to reinforce the Brazilians. Which means there will be more to this story.

Tropic of Capricorn has a brand-new set of playing pieces, die-cut and silky smooth. There are 100 double-sized “long” ship pieces (38 Argentine, 38 Brazilian, 12 Chilean, 12 British), and 80 standard-sized ones (markers, transports, aircraft). I struggled with the exact mix for a while; the game had to stand alone without Cone of Fire, but I was trying to squeeze in the “historical” versions of some of the ships. Eventually I ditched those: every ship in this game gets used in this game.

Argentina’s Italian-influenced Armada is built around five battleships: three heavily-modernized older ships, and two new Italian-designed units of the Vittorio Veneto class (I used one of the proposed “export” designs for these ships, with a different arrangement of six-inch guns than the Italian ships and torpedo tubes). They also have a pair of Italian-designed battle cruisers, the 1929 design proposed for the Regia Marina but never actually built, and two of the Ansaldo export design for a fast “pocket battleship” armed with 10-inch guns.

Beyond those ships, Argentina also has a pair of modified Zara-class heavy cruisers, and two Ansaldo-designed coast defense ships. The latter is one of my favorite drawings in the series (we used it in Swedish colors in Sea of Iron and in a Golden Journal) so I welcomed an excuse to deploy it again. Plus they have the cruisers Argentina actually built in this period.

Argentina’s air power is centered on a pair of Italian-built airships, each of which can carry an airplane as well. Otherwise they have some rather short-legged fighter planes, and a fair number of Italian-made seaplanes. Aircraft technology is about a decade behind that of our own World War II, so the airplanes are those that actually saw service in the early 1930’s (Cr.30 fighters and SM.78 seaplanes).

Chilean sea power centers on two rebuilt battleships from the First Great War, and two of the Ansaldo pocket battleships (a design actually drafted in response to a Chilean request). They bring one seaplane to the Allied side, noteworthy at least to me as the first airplane drawing I’ve ever done myself for the series (it’s a Short Singapore).

The Brazilians are substantially stronger than their rivals, with five older rebuilt battleships and two large, modern German-built fast battleships with 16-inch guns, high speed and helicopters of their own. Supporting them are three battle cruisers: a rebuilt version of the battleship Rio de Janeiro (Agincourt), a drawing we used in a Golden Journal, and two German-built “light battle cruisers” (another drawing seen in a Golden Journal, in German colors).

Like Argentina, Brazil has a pair of coast-defense ships and another of modern heavy cruisers (all built in Germany), four old light cruisers (two of them very old) and two modern American-built fast light cruisers. Brazil likewise has a pair of airships, but these are far more capable than the Argentine gasbags and operate either fighters (Ar65 biplanes) or dive bombers (He50 biplanes, the original Stuka).

The British contingent is the most unusual: three aircraft carriers, two of them converted battle cruisers and the third a modernized version of the early carrier Vindictive. They’re escorted by two modernized fast armored cruisers (seen in Jutland 1919), two old light cruisers, two old destroyers and three examples of the proposed but never built anti-aircraft version of the big Tribal-class destroyers (intended as carrier escorts, the role they fill here). The flight decks have older biplanes: Ripon torpedo bombers and Flycatcher fighters.

We published complete alternative-history boxed games in the early years of Avalanche Press (Plan Orange, Plan Black and so on) but those came out well before we’d developed the story-arc format. We tossed in ships and scenarios because they seemed cool at the moment. Tropic of Capricorn tells a story, and I think players will find it very satisfying to play. And it does have some really cool stuff in the box, too.

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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.