Arctic Convoy:
A Designer/Publisher Perspective

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
November 2017

The Second World War at Sea system was intended from the start as a universal model of World War II naval combat, and it does its job quite well in that regard – for some topics better than others, of course. Second World War at Sea: Arctic Convoy hadn’t even been considered when the basic game was designed, yet the scenarios fit the system just about perfectly.

Scenario design at its most basic consists of translating operational details into game setups and victory conditions. Sometimes those details are hard to come by, but I had excellent source materials in English and German, including convoy records. The goals of each side are very straightforward in just about every scenario (get the convoys to Russia; stop the convoys from getting to Russia).

We have a very fine cover, based on a period watercolor by Dwight Shepler, and a lovely, and very cold-looking, two-piece map.

Arctic Convoy was the last complete game we printed overseas, and getting it to the United States was extremely painful. Reprinting it in the U.S. went a whole lot easier, and it's a game that we need to keep continually in print. Here's why:

Arctic Convoy comes with two maps, covering far northern seas from Iceland to Siberia. While I know some fans hoped they would overlap with those in Bismarck, the Bismarck maps were drawn using a different global projection. Continuing them to the north resulted in a badly distorted view, and so we went with a fresh projection from the pole to keep Iceland and Archangel at their proper relationship.

In practice, that’s no problem at all. Both Axis and Allies saw the Arctic and North Atlantic as completely separate theaters of war. Convoys for North Russia formed up in Iceland, and their escorts worked out of that future center of bank collapse or from Scapa Flow, both of which are present on both games’ maps. Neither merchant nor warships moved directly between them. The Germans based their commerce raiders from some of the same Norwegian ports, but didn’t move them directly from one area to the other, either. Cruisers headed for the Atlantic did so with a full load of fuel.

There are just over 2 1/2 sheets of playing pieces, with all the expected ships and planes. The Germans don’t have many warships, but then, they don’t really need many. There’s a lot of gray water in which to hide, the weather’s going to protect them from Allied air searches, and they pretty much know where the convoys have to pass. The Allies have most of the Royal Navy, plus a large contingent of American ships and Canadian, Polish and Soviet vessels, too. There’s even a tiny Norwegian element and a lone Australian ship.

For once, the Germans have air superiority. Except for some long-range search planes and a small Red Air Force element, the only planes the Allies are going to deploy over the convoys are those they bring with them. Aircraft carriers are vital to cover the merchant ships, yet in the abominable weather they will have a hard time keeping their planes aloft.

Scenarios cover the entire stretch of the Murmansk Run, from the fall of 1941 until early 1944. The famous convoy battles are in there: Battle of the Barents Sea, North Cape, PQ.17 and many more. There are also lesser-known actions, like German-Soviet destroyer clashes along the coast of Lapland and the armored cruiser Scheer's raid along the Soviet north coast.

In terms of play, the Allies are trying to push convoys along a known route, in the face of enemy aircraft, surface ships and submarines. The Axis has only limited force, but can concentrate it at a single point.

That makes for tense and exciting situation. The game play is great, the history is solid, and the production values are very good. Arctic Convoy is one damned fine game.

Click here to order Arctic Convoy 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.