Opening the Toy Box
We’ve never made anything quite like Second World War at Sea: Plan Z.
It’s an expansion set for an existing game, Second World War at Sea: Bismarck, and also draws on two other games, Arctic Convoy and to a lesser extent, Sea of Iron. We’ve done many expansion books before, with scenarios and background in the book plus some additional pieces or maybe a map.
We toyed around with the idea of a stand-alone Plan Z boxed game (played out on two new Central Atlantic maps placed directly south of the maps in Bismarck, with action based around invasions and counter-invasions of the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands), but that didn’t seem as likely to inflame the masses with desire and it would have had a lot of overlap with Bismarck. So our Plan Z plan called for a book with a sheet of playing pieces, physically identical to many of our other products. It would have included the ships of the ambitious German Plan Z, which would have fought the British Royal Navy from Bismarck on the Bismarck maps.
That wasn’t enough. The entire Plan Z wouldn’t fit on one sheet of pieces (it came close, but not quite). But I wanted them all in there, so we added more pieces. But the scenario set didn’t really work well with only additional Germans: the Royal Navy needed more firepower to balance the scenarios, and the backstory definitely implied that the British would have had at least some opportunity (and definitely an incentive) to respond to the German building program. It’s hard to build a half-dozen battleships in completely secrecy, even in a harsh dictatorship.
Along with the new ships – everything that Plan Z included, from gunboats to battleships - the set also needed new aircraft pieces, to fill the decks of the planned aircraft carriers, and to provide reconnaissance and air cover from land bases. Plus submarine flotilla markers. All told, it came to two and a half sheets of pieces: 170 double-sized “long” ship pieces and 360 normal-sized square ones. We printed them as die-cut pieces, the silky-smooth type we’ve been using for a while now with only a minimal impression on the reverse side. They show off the new ship artwork – and there is a lot of new ship artwork – very nicely.
That many ships added up to a lot of ship data: a dozen pages’ worth, without submarines. We’d decided to start putting ship data in its own little booklet when we include additional ships in a Great War at Sea or Second World War at Sea book, but three sheets of pieces and a 12-page booklet was a lot to stuff into a book. A little experimenting showed it was way too much.
After 22 years of making games at the Old and New Avalanche Press, Plan Z is a first: a boxed expansion set. A “toy box.” The box and slipcover are just like those we use for complete games, and to avoid confusion (“Incomplete game! Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!”) we’re selling Plan Z direct from Avalanche Press only. No retail shelves will have Plan Z, nor will any internet sites other than our own. This is an exclusive, and it’s a pretty special one.
We use those new pieces in a set of 30 new scenarios. Most of them are set on the maps from Bismarck, but a few scenarios take place on those from Arctic Convoy (we needed an excuse to use those helicopter-equipped German convoy escorts to fight off British submarines). The scenarios are set in our new Long War alternative history, which was crafted specifically for Plan Z. In this warped reality, Poland allies with Germany in the summer of 1939, Finland holds out long enough to extend the Winter War into the spring of 1940, and Germany intervenes with maximum force as soon as the weather clears. The Soviet Union is defeated while Britain and France stand by, watching the vile dictatorships destroy one another. Finally Germany turns against the West in the summer of 1942, with France falling to the panzers during the following autumn. By early 1943 Britain stands alone, and Germany has completed most of her Plan Z fleet. The stage is set for a climactic naval campaign.
As in the books from our Second Great War at Sea setting, the scenarios are organized in narrative fashion, moving forward the story of this naval war that never happened. The Germans tentatively probe for British weakness before readying their new bases in France and Norway and opening a major campaign against Britain’s supply lines.
Since we get to write the history, we also get to write it to maximize the use of all those new ships and airplanes. The scenarios have plenty of surface battles, ranging from clashes of cruiser-destroyer groups up to battling battleships with a half-dozen or more of the armored behemoths on each side. And there are carrier battles as well, with Stukas and Barracudas and Messerschmitts and Seafires fighting it out over the North Atlantic.
Where Second Great War at Sea takes a diesel-punk approach, with airships playing a major role and airplanes having a fairly limited impact, The Long War is our whiz-bang science setting. Both sides wield advanced aircraft, including jets (Meteors, Me262s and Sea Vampires all appear). Early missile technology will make its appearance in later volumes, along with advanced submarines and more detailed rules for their use.
A boxed set is a much more elegant way to launch a new setting; I wish we’d thought to do this with the Second Great War at Sea. Not only does Plan Z provide the toys for its own scenario set, but we’ll draw on its pieces for further expansion books over the coming years as The Long War setting develops.
And the Long War will see a lot more action: we’ll extend the story line to the Mediterranean (with expansions for our new La Regia Marina game) and into the Pacific, where the Japanese will get to use aircraft like the A7M Reppu fighter and D4Y Suisei attack plane and the new carriers that in the real war simply served as targets for American submarines and aircraft.
This is going to be enormous fun. And it all starts with a box full of toys.
Click here to order Second World War at Sea: Plan Z right now.
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.