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!


Chris said...

I always wanted to get the Avalon Hill version. Rumor has it that they have some ships that were not in the Battleline version.

David Crook said...

Hi Chris,

There certainly is and the Japanese do rather better than the US! Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Soryu, Yamato and Musashi to name but a few!

All the best,


Ed said...

I show a Midway scenario in The General Vol 18, No. 6.

Never had Flat Top, but I played CV and also the heck out of Midway and the various expansions for it.

David Crook said...

Hi Ed,

Many thanks for the heads up re The General!

CV was a great game for sure. I have seen the original AH Midway and know that there s a whole world of add insect for it - even, as I recall, a players guide. For all that I have never played it - perhaps that is something I should look to rectify although owning the two Smithsonian titles - Midway and Guadalcanal - will put further down the ‘to do’ queue.

All the best and thanks once again,