Second Great War at Sea:
The Habsburg Fleet, Second Edition
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When we published the first edition of The Habsburg Fleet, it was a sequel to the first Second Great War at Sea book, The Kaiser’s Navy, and it introduced the story arc concept into our game lines.
Since then the Second Great War concept has grown into a very ambitious project to map out a world-wide naval war that never actually happened, in a world very similar to our own but not exactly the same. The book’s second edition is one part of this wide, sweeping tale outlined in our Second Great War sourcebook.
You can play each segment of the Second Great War story by itself, or with a limited number of Second World War at Sea games or books (for example, you’ll need the La Regia Marina boxed game and Sword of the Sea book to play all of the scenarios in The Habsburg Fleet). The other Second Great War items aren’t necessary for play, but they enhance the fun by putting the story into its broader context.
To tell that story, The Habsburg Fleet has 180 new pieces, die-cut and silky-smooth. The bulk of them are for the Habsburg fleet – the naval and air forces of the Austrian Empire, which has survived the First Great War to fight again in the second. La Regia Marina has a greatly expanded number of pieces compared to the old Bomb Alley game from which the first edition of The Habsburg Fleet drew maps and pieces, in particular many, many more Italian and French ships. Even so, we add more of them in The Habsburg Fleet.
Both France and Italy have much larger fleets in the Second Great War reality than in our own, so they have less need of assistance from their British allies. They do have the help of Montenegro’s tiny navy, which simply needed to be added.
Like the first edition, the new version of The Habsburg Fleet starts the story at the beginning, with the Italian attack on the Austrian Monarchy and the naval element of this war. The Austrians have seized Corfu as a forward naval base, giving them access to the Central Mediterranean Basin (this was suggested by the old Empire’s naval staff before the First World War). They seek to interrupt Italian oil tankers bringing crude from Libya to the mainland, and also to interfere with French communications with Algeria. As the war continues the Allies will attempt to use their superior numbers to overwhelm the Austrians and their Turkish allies, and extend the battlefield with amphibious landings at vulnerable points.
The story continues for the first year and a half of war, which is the intense period of naval warfare in the Mediterranean in our alternative history: Austria and Turkey, though much stronger in this reality, still do not have the industrial resources to build new heavy warships during wartime. As part of a larger whole, the book dovetails with Sword of the Sea and the Red Sea Sundered book (once the Turks capture the Suez Canal, the Central Powers can move their ships between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, making for some interesting strategic possibilities).
The larger Second Great War project has a number of goals designed to enhance the fun parts: the technology of this world leans toward the battleship as the arbiter of sea power, and so the fleets have lots of battleships and the scenarios give players plenty of chances to use them. Fixed-wing aircraft are less developed, while helicopters, autogyros and airships are more advanced and in widespread use.
We’ve also sought to make more use of map areas that see less use in the historical games and their scenarios. In La Regia Marina, the waters off Malta and Sicily get the most attention, as the Italians are trying to run convoys from Italy to Tripoli and the British wish to do the same from west to east down the center of the Mediterranean.
Some of that’s true in The Habsburg Fleet, but the operations for the most part are centered in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, at least until Turkey enters the war. Then much of the action takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, making use of ports and airfields that never see much attention in the historical scenarios (or, like Alexandria, are just the end point of a long route past far more dangerous spots).
The idea is to give players new experiences over familiar ground, to shift places on the map like the island of Cyprus from a shape you reach over to move your pieces in the more vital parts of the map to an actual objective and battleground. Those interesting corners of the map now see fleets moving and fighting over them.
I never wanted the Second Great War scenarios to be just like those from Second World War at Sea, with different-colored pieces undertaking the same missions and operations. Instead I sought an alternative-history game line that would enhance the play experience, not duplicate it, and provide enough scenarios so you can play a new scenario every night or day yet using the exact same rule set, so there’s no learning curve and you can get right to the fun part.
Long ago, Ryan S. Dancey pointed out to me that most game products are “consumed as literature.” Players are going to spend much more time reading their books and looking at their games, or reading about them, than they are actually playing them. The fact that you’ve read this far into this website piece proves the undeniable truth of his assertion.
So the Second Great War series of books aren’t just game stuff: they’re also an exercise in storytelling. But because you can play them, you get to participate in the story in a way that’s not possible in ordinary literature. You can read about the naval battles and campaigns and then you get to play them out. It makes for even more fun than you can have with either approach – story or game – separately. Remember the fun!
Don’t wait to put The Habsburg Fleet (2nd edition) on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!
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.