A while back, I started writing a book called Second World War at Sea: Plan Z. And then it sort of grew. A lot: from 210 pieces to 530, from a 64-page book to a boxed set.
That makes for the most ambitious game expansion we’ve ever published, by far. You’ll need our Second World War at Sea: Bismarck, Second World War at Sea: Arctic Convoy and Second World War at Sea: Sea of Iron games to play all of the scenarios included.
We’ve done our very best to stuff this box with as much gaming fun as we can muster. The scenario book follows the story-arc format we’ve been using in books like Royal Netherlands Navy: using the scenario set to advance the story of this naval war that never was. With the ship data and the special rules placed in their own booklets, there’s plenty of space to provide a lots and lots of story (with plenty of scenario action along the way).
Plan Z is built around the German Navy’s plan to build a large surface fleet of battleships, cruisers and destroyers to challenge the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic, known as Plan Z. The plan had little likelihood of coming to fruition, filling a political role as a carrot extended to the German Navy and heavy industry as well as a political bargaining chip to be easily cast aside during re-armament talks with the United Kingdom. The admirals don’t seem to have understood that, and to have actually thought they stood a good chance of building their new fleet.
Plan Z, the game expansion, is built around Plan Z, the plan. The new pieces are roughly evenly divided between new German ships and planes and new British ones, with slightly more Germans in the mix. They’re die-cut, with the new silky-smooth finish we’ve been using lately. They’ll blend in fine with the die-cut pieces from Bismarck, though the printing is noticeably sharper.
To take advantage of that excellent resolution, almost all of the ship drawings are brand-new works, and those that have appeared before have been completely revised (except for the handful that appeared in Sea of Iron, which had already been upgraded). It’s the best-looking set of pieces we’ve put in one of our naval games (Sea of Iron looks just as good now that it’s been re-issued with the new-style pieces).
The Germans get the full might of the Plan Z fleet: six new battleships of the H class, three battle cruisers of the O class, a dozen armored cruisers of the P class. Six more aircraft carriers, a slow seaplane carrier and a new class of big, fast minelaying cruisers. Plus additional light cruisers and destroyers.
Yet the Royal Navy is likewise strengthened, with older ships rebuilt according to plans made before the actual war: the R-class battleships, the battle cruiser Hood and the venerable old flagship Iron Duke. There are four big and fast battleships of the Lion class plus the unusual fast battleship Vanguard. The big new carriers of the Implacable and Audacious classes are here, and there are dozens of new cruisers and destroyers as well.
Both sides get additional aircraft, though most of the new planes are German (the British already have many aircraft in the complete games on which Plan Z draws for components). There are a number of early jet designs, plus some helicopters – we can’t have an alternative-history naval game without helicopters. It wouldn’t be right.
While Plan Z exists to allow you to play with all of those ships and aircraft, it is a fully-formed alternative-history story in the same manner as The Second Great War (though it’s a completely different background). The Long War posits a conflict in which Germany allied with Poland in 1939 together turned on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. France falls in the autumn of 1942, leaving the newly-built German Navy in control of French ports and seeking to isolate Britain in the spring of 1943.
The strategic situation is very similar to that of Bismarck’s 1941 scenarios, with the Germans holding bases in France and Norway and ranging out into the North Atlantic is search of Allied convoys. The Royal Navy, in turn, must protect this vital traffic. But the scenarios play much differently from those of the base game, as this time the Germans have the firepower to stand up to the British convoy escorts and can seek out surface battle instead of lurking in the mists to pounce on carelessly-guarded merchants. With aircraft carriers of their own, they can search out the enemy and make air attacks on convoys and surface battle groups.
The British will need their additional strength to fend off the Germans, who can’t really be classed as “raiders” any more in some of the larger scenarios. These are fleet actions, and there will be both surface clashes between fast battleships and carrier battles in the gray wastes of the Atlantic.
Plan Z isn’t for everyone: the expansion set turns Bismarck into a pretty intense monster game, one based on battles that never happened between ships that never existed. And since the war depicted here never occurred (at least not like this), we’ve crafted the story for maximum battle action. For the truly obsessed naval gamers – and we know you’re out there – Plan Z is a must-have.
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.