Avalon Hill’s Flat Top was a game I always wanted to like. So unique, so incredibly realistic design. As close to Carrier operations I ever envisioned. I checked every detail of the game in advance, read about it and got into the system in great depth.
Throughly appreciated the double blind design philosophy and that most of the information was secret. Game was essentially weather assisted hide and seek, hour by hour. Just what I expected.
I saved up a bit and got my hands on the game, a hefty package of maps, counters, and sheets of paper. Read the rules, checked inventory and was quite satisfied with what I got. And then, as soon as first play was several hours in – it all fell flat.
I went out to think for a bit, thought that I must have gotten some rules wrong because it did not feel right. Then, I read them again and found nothing wrong with my rules reading and was left perplexed for years. Then, we tried few more times with same results. Nothing changed, it was still the same, and then I just gave up. My dream of ultimate Carrier operations game died.
First, the system feels genuinely interesting when you read the rules. All the elements that very good operational level WWII naval game should have are there, and more. Hunting the hidden enemy fleets in variable weather is more enticing than anything one has ever experienced in other games. The thrill of finding the long lost contact, and then scrambling the planes up and organizing deck operations in nick of time to repel the enemy strike appearing from nowhere.
But the cost for all that? Administrative overhead was overwhelming and game was long but that did not explain it at all. Pacific War campaign is a tremendously long game, and has it’s share of administration but we got through it in very playable manner. Flat Top counter and map art were borderline depressing, but the same was true to many others during the time so that does not explain why it faltered.
I have long thought about why the game I so much waited for eventually came crashing down. Maybe it was the bias that overwhelmed me, and the To Hit tables that were not really realistic. Or, simply the fact that at the time I played Flat Top, VASSAL was not really functional option as it is today. If any game, Flat Top is the one that really needed it.vFlat Top was already somewhat outdated when I got my copy, but it would benefit complete and proper overhaul. modern game developments could remedy some of the issues that plagued the design. Many of the mechanisms and innovations can be found alive and well today – in fact games such as Burning Blue come to mind with far better execution (different, but in some respects similar).
If there is boardgame that would greatly benefit from computer assistance, Flat Top would be the prime sample. It is hard to think why anyone would play Flat Top without assistance from VASSAL, umpired or not.