Sunday 3 December 2023
Midway to Scratching an Itch
Perfect for a Sunday afternoon chasing aircraft carriers across the Pacific!
I have often waxed lyrical about Flat Top - the game of carrier battles in the Pacific during 1942 by my favourite game designer, the late S. Craig Taylor (of Air Force and Wooden Ships and Iron Men fame - again, some of my favourite games) - and although I have played it countless times in the past (marathon weekend sessions with an old gaming chum of mine) it is a game that needs dedication on the part of the players to get the best from it. It is complex but only because the subject matter of carrier operations is as the game mechanics are relatively straightforward - as long one is methodical in one’s record keeping that is! The original Battleline version did not cover Midway but when Avalon Hill updated it the ships for that operation were included although the scenario was not. The boardgame CV, by the same designer and published by Yaquinto, used a near identical rule system to Flat Top and was exclusively devoted to the Midway operation. Anyways, fast forward to early 1990s Avalon Hill produced the Smithsonian range of boardgames that were intended to be entry level offerings to encourage new gamers. Along with Mustangs (which I have and it is a peach of a game), Midway featured as well as Guadalcanal, with the latter covering much the same actions as Flat Top only in a simpler way. By a strange coincidence Mustangs, Midway and Guadalcanal are all designed by, yes you’ve guessed it - the late S. Craig Taylor!
If Mustangs and Midway are anything to go by then it seems as though Taylor had looked at his original designs and pared them back to capture the essence of the subject matter rather than slapping on infinite layers of complexity. I like to think that experience and evolution of gaming systems had honed his approach! His original games were detailed and required dedication to get them to work but the end result felt right - at least in terms of the all important flavour.
At the time the Smithsonian series of boardgames was launched in the early 1990s I was rather unfairly quite dismissive of them. Why would I need simpler version of games covering those areas I was interested in when I had enjoyed their more complex forebears? It was quite shortsighted of me at the time and given that I now prefer games that are simpler in execution was a situation that needed to be addressed - and so I am! The catalyst for this was undoubtedly my acquisition of Mustangs - only then did I realise that S. Craig Taylor was behind it as one can certainly see the Air Force influence in the game - so when I saw that he was also behind Midway and Guadalcanal I naturally had to get them. They are a simpler option to Flat Top and therefore more gamer and time friendly.
I was able to score the above game on evil bay for a very good price and have also managed to get hold of a copy of Guadalcanal for the same cost. At first glance through the rules it is really clear where they have been developed from. The one thing I was pleased to see is that there is rather more rounded combat system via the use of a battle board. It is stylised but works well enough and indeed, it has given me a number of ideas away from the Pacific.
The components are typical Avalon Hill quality with a pair of mounted search boards and a mounted battle board. Larger than usual counters are used for the main surface vessels with destroyers being represented by divisional or flotilla counters. All of the usual suspects for Midway are represented, both afloat and in the air so carrier strikes featuring Zeroes, Kates and Vals for the Japanese and Wildcats, Devastators and Dauntless dive bombers feature - along with a whole raft of patrol and recce types.
Search boards - the very definition of find, fix and strike!
The battle board. Really keen to give this a spin and yes, I am already thinking about uses for this away from the game!
Organisational charts for Task Forces and Air Groups etc - possibly a little on the small side but with a counter count of 199 all in it should not be too much of problem
The mechanics are simple - the idea is to first find your target and then hit it with whatever you are able to muster at the time and that is in range. Careful planning is needed because is you get it wrong your carefully prepared airstrike will hit empty space which then means it has to return and be rearmed etc. I am not sure to work this aspect as a solo exercise but will give it some thought. What I will be able to do though is to fight out the actual air strikes and even surface actions (more applicable to Guadalcanal really).
I cannot see myself tackling this with models at present - for one thing I would need way too many ships and then there is the aircraft to consider. However, as a quick fix for that Pacific itch it certainly ticks a lot of boxes. I am really looking forward to getting Guadalcanal though as the variety of naval operations to game has more to offer. For now though, Midway will be a great appetiser!