Monday 8 April 2024

More on Flat Top - and a surprise!

Exactly how I remember it from first buying a copy way back in 1978. A simple but striking box cover.

My enduring obsession with the board game Flat Top has reached its climax - and in a very unexpected but welcome fashion!

I have two copies of the Battleline version of Flat Top - one consists solely of the contents as the box had disintegrated beyond the point of salvaging whilst the other is rather grubby around the edges - and three of the Avalon Hill version. One copy is in pretty good condition whilst the other two are box weary to lesser or greater degree. All five copies are complete and indeed, the Avalon Hill versions are unpunched.

I really wanted to get a decent copy of the Battleline version - the striking box cover is pretty faded on the one box I have - simply because on balance I prefer it to the later version. Now I was not seriously looking for a copy until a casual trawl through evil bay revealed a chap in the US that was selling a batch of Battleline Games that had belonged to his late father. These were found in an attic and for the most part the collection (there were thirteen games in all) was still in shrink wrap and with only minimal storage wear. A copy of Flat Top, along with Air Force and Dauntless were amongst the items on the listing so I dropped the seller a line to see if these three could be sold off separately. The answer was an emphatic yes and with each game costing a mere USD 30 a title I immediately ‘pulled the trigger’.

The package arrived this morning and whilst Air Force and Dauntless will feature in a later post (there is a good reason for this), my attention was focussed on Flat Top. It is absolutely pristine and even has that wonderful ‘new board game smell’ about it. For no obvious reason I turned the box over to see how the underside had fared over the 47 years since it was produced when I found the following.

After years of singing the praises of Flat Top and pretty much all of S. Craig Taylor’s games - including the Air Force trilogy, Wooden Ships and Iron Men (and Ship ‘O the Line), Wings and the Avalon Hill Smithsonian series - I now have a signed copy of one of my all time favourite games, by probably my all time favourite designer!

I am really pleased with this and you can rest assured that if I ever had to dispose of everything else in my collection this would be the one thing I would keep!

Now it could be thought to be a tad on the excessive side having essentially six copies of the same game, albeit in two sets of three - the Battleline and Avalon Hill versions. I would certainly agree with this but there is a kind of method in the madness. For more years than I can remember I have really wanted to play Flat Top on a Kriegspiel basis. In other words, each side has their own copy of the game with the third being held by the umpire. This would be the ultimate version of the game and to be honest trying to organise it would present some challenges in terms of organising players etc but boy oh boy, it would be a rollicking, rip-roaring and nerve-shredding experience!

I am dead chuffed.

Sunday 7 April 2024

Thoughts on the American Civil War

Not seen this for a long while - a brigade level tactical board game covering the American Civil War and published by Yaquinto. My curiosity was sufficiently aroused so that once again the wallet fell open….

Although my interest in the American Civil War has been primarily directed at the naval side I have not been averse to fighting the odd land battle or two. In recent years this has been via Battle Cry - the Command and Colours game designed by Richard Borg - or more usually a variant of Bob Cordery’s Portable Wargame. I have an unused 18mm WoFun collection for the period - these are the original WoFun release and not the later Peter Dennis penned versions - that I had half an idea of using with either of the above mentioned rules in support of my naval endeavours but as yet have not done anything tangible about it. 

Battles and Leaders is a tactical ACW boardgame set at brigade level that was published by Yaquinto back in the very early 1980s. It is scaled at 50 metres per hex and a unit counter represents around 200 men. There are separate counters for leaders and skirmishers and the former have a rating for charisma - as well as a rather evocative ‘leader injury’ table.

This is a board game that is very much of its era - lots of charts and tables - but beneath it all there is an interesting system that offers a little more ‘meat’ in terms of detail compared to, for example, Battle Cry.

I will take this game as it is although the potential for using the WoFun collection is certainly there. 

Something to think about anyway.

In other news, the final phase of my recent bout of ‘wheeling and dealing’ is coming to an end. I have a few surprises to unleash - actually not really that much of a surprise overall - but regular readers of the blog will recognise the inspiration behind them!

Thursday 4 April 2024

Taking to the Air

Different eras but using similar systems - plane to plane combat old school style with hexes and counters! Naturally models can be used.

My ongoing mission to stock up with some selected boardgames continues apace and boy oh boy did I score big time! 

The backs of the boxes. Yes, you can fly a Zeppelin in Wings, along with the giant bomber of the same name!

Wings is an S Craig Taylor designed game of aerial combat during the Great War produced by Yaquinto Games, way back in 1981. The system is essentially a development of that used in Air Force and Dauntless which cover WW2.

My copy of the game is unpunched and one of the big advantages of Yaquinto was that their counters were nice and thick and cut out easily (I never punch counters out - I always use a scalpel to free them). A number of large sized reference sheets, two counter sheets, three map boards, some terrain overlays, fifty aircraft data cards, the rule book and even the original d6 are in the box, the lid of which has some minor storage wear. I could not be more pleased to have this game as the acquisition of it coincides with something else currently underway - details of which will posted in due course.

Spitfire, produced by 3W Games, uses a similar system to Aces High which started out as a magazine game, supplemented by an expansion called Blue Max. As I recall the two were then combined in a boxed version. This is rather niche in a way in that it focuses very much on the Blitzkrieg era of WW2 including Poland, France, the Battle Of Britain and some of the early air battles over the Balkans. It is good to see coverage of the Polish and French air forces (the latter appear in the Air Force expansion kit) and an expanded early war orbat for the RAF and Luftwaffe. Due to the similarity between this system and that of Air Force it would not be difficult to adapt them to Air Force.

I rather fancy the idea of using Defiants!

There is one missing link in all this retro aerial goodness and I am hoping to be able to rectify this shortly….

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Planning for Lissa

A very useful title - especially the overview of the technological evolution that culminated in the Battle of Lissa. This is one of a number of references I shall be using.

Firstly, I hope everyone enjoyed the long Easter weekend and managed to keep the chocolate consumption to a reasonable level! Seriously though, I hope the break was a good one, however you celebrated it.

One of my jobs over the weekend - which turned out to be a rather busy one - was to punch out the counters from my newly acquired copies of Ironclads and the Ironclads expansion set. The former was completely unpunched and the ship data cards needed separating. The latter was partially punched and so I spent an hour or so armed with a scalpel and cutting mat along with a stack of grip top polythene bags. Both boxes have now been properly sorted out and are ready to play - the only thing missing was a pair of D6 - one red and one white.

As the Expansion set includes European vessels of the period this was going to be my first port of call in terms of the ships involved in the scenario for Lissa. 

I plan to include a battle report based on the famous sea fight of 1866 but on a slightly reduced basis. The action will feature the leading formations of both the Austrian and Italian fleets as these were the only ones engaged. It will also reduce the number of model required although this still stands at twenty four all told. Inevitably this will impose a minor delay in the publication of the revised edition of the Portable ironclads Wargame but I reckon it will be worth the wait.

This will be the largest action fought using the Portable Ironclads Wargame and is rather different from usual coastal or inland waterway type of action and I am really looking forward to it!

For of all though, it is the model making and so having learned an awful lot during the ACW build I am confident that I have the basic construction technique ‘dialled in’. I even have the flags in readiness!

Friday 29 March 2024

A Lissa Through the Looking Glass

Back in the collection once again and this time for good!

I am fairly confident that most, if not all, readers of this blog will know that I am a great ‘churner’ of my collection. I also enjoy the whole ‘wheeler-dealer’ side of the hobby - buying and selling and so forth. Over the years I have bought and sold bits and pieces and in rather more cases that I care to admit, have repurchased items that had been disposed of in a somewhat over enthusiastic fashion.

A case in point is the classic board game, together with the accompanying expansion, of Ironclads, originally published in 1979 by Yaquinto Publications. 

One of the advantages of the aforementioned ‘wheeling and dealing’ is that one builds up a great network of contacts. Thanks to this I was able to secure the three games you see above for some surplus bits and bobs - the only monies involved was the cost of postage.

The base game covers the ACW and is quite a detailed system - very much of its time. The expansion adds to this but also includes the ships for the War in the Pacific and also for the Battle of Lissa. The latter is really helpful for the following reason.

I shall be building the ships and refighting the battle of Lissa using The Portable Ironclads Wargame and it will be included in the new book.

The scenario for the Battle of Lissa in the expansion kit focuses on the action between the ironclads which is exactly what I shall be doing and for this endeavour I have been fortunate to secure the services of the legend that is Nick Huband for testing and research purposes. Nick lives a quick twenty minute drive from me and so the plan is to ‘try it on the dog’ at some pint, I mean point!

Das Boardgame…..

Another old fiend that came as part of the exchange deal was board game Submarine. This was originally a Battleline publication but was added to the Avalon Hill range when they took over the company. The game covers Submarine warfare during WW2 and all of the combatant nations get a chance to be the hunters or the hunted. I really enjoyed this ‘back in the day’ so am looking forward to trying it once again. There are a number of articles in the Avalon Hill General covering the game and there is also a variant using coastal forces so Vosper, MAS boats, Elco, S and R boats feature. I shall take a look into this.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Flat Top and The Avalon Hill General

I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy reading the Avalon Hill General ‘back in the day’.

With grateful thanks to Ed who kindly pointed me to the correct edition of the Avalon Hill General magazine for details of the Flat Top Midway scenario. This was found on a very handy website called View From the Trenches and to anyone that is interested in any of the Avalon Hill catalogue of games this is an absolute goldmine of a resource!

As well as the scenario there is also an overview of the changes between the Battleline and Avalon Hill editions - including some rule tweaks - as well as a modest errata. Both of these are really helpful to me as I work out how to get the best out of the two games.

There are other useful bits and pieces contained therein for Flat Top including a scenario for Wake Island (I have seen this previously) as well as incorporating the British into the game, together with some background information on the Royal Navy. 

The funny thing with this current obsession of mine is that I do not in the least feel the need to get any models to game it with - having said that I have been casting an eye over Dauntless, the game that covers aerial combat in the Pacific or possibly Mustangs with models in 1:300th.

No ships though…. :-)

Monday 25 March 2024

Flat Top vs Flat Top

The old (bottom) and the older (top)!

When Avalon Hill took over Battleline Games the first thing they looked to do was to bring the production quality up to their usual standard. For the most part this meant changing the box art, updating the rules, moving to mounted mapboards and ironing out any component issues. This was for the most part a really good idea but for me and as an aside, it never worked for Air Force and Dauntless. The newer aircraft charts for these two games were not easy to read, especially when you had clocked up as many air miles with the original versions as I had! Anyway, I digress, so back to the game in hand, Flat Top.

The two rule books - Battleline on the left and Avalon Hill on the right. The Avalon Hill version is laid out far more efficiently than the Battleline version but it comes at a cost - 36 pages to 32. Having said that I am very used to the earlier version!

The Avalon Hill version made several changes to the Battleline version. To begin with the two part map board was mounted which makes for a steadier playing surface. Usually the game has very few counters actually on the map so one could say this was probably a little indulgent. Where most counters are usually deployed is on the task force cards against the carriers or land bases. For example, the U.S.S. Enterprise has a maximum aircraft capacity of 33 (the game scale is 1 factor equalling 3 actual aircraft). These factors can be represented by individual 1 factor counters or any combination of counters with higher values - there are also 2s and 5s available. Each carrier or base has aircraft at one of three stages when on the deck so to speak - just landed, readying or ready - and these are reflected by the corresponding boxes. You can see then that having a little more elbow room for a myriad of counters is definitely a better idea! In this case the advantage lies with the Battleline version in terms of size but with the Avalon Hill version for being slightly more convenient as it is split into two halves.

The Battleline version on the left with the split Avalon Hill version on the right. Definitely more room with the earlier edition although being in two halves is quite handy - shame the box sizes for aircraft counters have shrunk somewhat!

The map itself is slightly larger and more significantly, the Avalon Hill plot maps are much more user friendly than the Battleline version a they are larger and much easier to read and write on.

Advantage Avalon Hill methinks - the larger format is easier to read and write on although taking up a lot more table space that the earlier Battleline version.

The most significant change for me though, concerns the counter mix. The Battleline edition contained 800 counters whilst the Avalon Hill version tops out at 1300. The colour choice for the counters between the two editions has changed. In the Battleline version the US counters are green whilst the Japanese are yellow. In the Avalon Hill version the Americans become yellow whilst the Japanese are now red. I have no idea why these were changed in the Avalon Hill version but I have to say I prefer the older Battleline types. So why all the additional counters then?

The reason is simple but in turn it does raise a question or two. 

Midway. The Avalon Hill version features all the ships that were involved in the Midway operation and a suitably increased support counter mix to support them. The only snag is that nowhere in the Avalon Hill edition is there a Midway scenario. I will check back on the Avalon Hill General (their house magazine) but I am not sure if there was ever a Midway scenario for the Avalon Hill Flat Top. Given that they already had a Midway game in their catalogue perhaps this was behind the omission but why bother adding in the extra counters?

So was there ever a Flat Top based Midway scenario? Well the simple answer is yes, but in a roundabout way. Yaquinto Games published CV which was a game covering the Midway operation using the Flat Top system and once again, by S Craig Taylor. I owned a copy of this back in the day - as I recall I purchased this post the Battleline Flat Top but pre the Avalon Hill version. It was a cracking game albeit limited in scope. I seem to remember that the Japanese player could win easily by sinking American ships and so quite often would ignore Midway until after enough material damage had been inflicted on the ships of the USN. If I remember correctly there were a couple of rule refinements to the Flat Top system but without a copy in front of me it would be difficult to say.

So where exactly is all this going? To be honest I am not sure. Flat Top is not a game that lends itself easily to solo play although with some thought it could be done - perhaps purely on the tactical level although half the fun of this game was finding the opposition before they found you. It is something I would like to investigate further but then I have the later Smithsonian games of Midway and Guadalcanal that cover much of the same territory and look as though they will be more solo friendly.

Having looked closely at the two games I think on balance I actually prefer the original Battleline version rather than the Avalon Hill. The main reasons for this are the counter quality and the air/task force charts are better. Having said that the counter selection from Avalon hill, together with the plot maps, is far better. I am actually not that bothered about the mounted mapboards, mainly because there are usually so few counters on them. I can definitely see me using the Avalon Hill plot maps with the Battleline map.

The plot maps will come in very handy - I have a heap of 1:2400th 1914 ships waiting patiently for their turn in the painting queue - and the whole topic has given me something to think about from an aerial perspective (thoughts of Dauntless are looking large once again!).

We shall see but in any event, I am really pleased to be in this situation with the return of an old friend and the gaming memories that came with it!