updated 031023

Flat Top- Frequently Asked Questions; Taken from Web Grognards

Flat Top -- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Last Modified: August 19, 1993

For the latest version of this file, send an e-mail to one of the
addresses below, with a subject line reading: Flat Top FAQ Request.


Send all changes, suggestions, comments, questions, answers, short
speeches, etc. to one of the following:

E-mail addresses: JRBoeke@aol.com


To help with the reading of the document, new changes are listed with a
plus character '+' before the paragraph and table of contents. A new
change is a change since the last publishing.


1. Flat Top - General Information
+1.1. What is Flat Top?
1.2. Differences in Battleline/Avalon Hill editions of Flat Top
+1.3. Articles in the Gaming Press

2. PBEM Mechanics
2.1. Communications
2.2. Air Operations
2.3. SOP's
2.4. Submarines


1. Flat Top -- General Information


1.1 What is Flat Top?

According to the second page of the rules manual...

"Flat Top recreates the major Battles of the Solomon Seas. Because many of
these battles were between fairly equal, well matched forces, they present
the ideal situation for a highly competitive, balanced game while at the
same time recreating the history of the period."

Not withstanding Avalon Hill's sterile intro, Flat Top is, in this author's
opinion, the best tactical/operational simulation of naval warfare in the
Pacific Ocean during the Second World War.

It was originally published in 1976 by Battleline Games (author S. Craig
Taylor, Jr.). After Battleline was purchased by The Avalon Hill Game
Company (TAHGC) Flat Top underwent a repair & refit (supervised by Alan R.
Moon -- 1982) which is discussed below.
+1.1.1. What is CV?


1.2. Is the Avalon Hill version different from the original Battleline version of Flat Top?

Yes, there are several differences. Alan R. Moon, the individual in charge
of the revision, wrote an article, "On Deck: The Revision of Flat Top." for
the General (vol. 18, no. 6) detailing the changes. Please refer to this
article for more detailed information.

The following is my synopsis (please note, not all these rules apply to a
PBEM game):


  1. Each hit on a base that can only handle SPs, reduces the
    bases LF by -1/-1 not -2/-1.
  2. If a plane carrying ship or base has plane units in the
    ready or just landed boxes when a dive or level bombing
    attack scores a hit(s) these hits are all doubled.
    Similarly, if a torpedo hit occurs & planes are in the
    readying box, all hits are doubled.
  3. Players may separate air factors into 2 or more air
    formation (AF) boxes and place those AFs into another
    AF. This represents planes with different landing times
    (ie if you are cycling your CAP aircraft) being on the
    same mission.
  4. A player may voluntarilly destroy any air factors on the
    ground at a base or on a ship at any time during the
    plane movement phase.
  5. Planes may change altitude in each hex they move into
    after entering the new hex. An AF that remains in the
    same during a turn may change altitude.
  6. Planes landing in a storm hex use the night landing
    table (if it is a night turn, there is a +1 modifier).
  7. Even one ship is considered a TF (therefore not
    automatically sighted).
  8. Planes are no longer prevented from remaining in an
    enemy hex after engaging in combat.
  9. Ships may not move on the turn in which the raise or
    lower anchor.
  10. If the initiative roll is a tie, the player who did not
    have the initiative last turn has the initiative for the
    current turn.

Several additional changes were included in the Optional Rules section of
the revised edition. I highly reccomend getting the vol. 18, no. 6 issue
of the General from TAHGC (as of May 1993 it is still available).

Please note: The only changes made in the two Avalon Hill versions of the
game were cosmetic.


+1.3. Are there other articles pertaining to Flat Top in the gaming

To the best of my knowledge, there have been five issues of The General
with Flat Top articles. These include: 18-6, 19-6, 22-2, 26-5 & 27-2.
Here is a quick look at the contents of those issues:

Volume 18, Number 6:

Collman, Bob, "British Flat Tops in the Solomons," pp. 19-20, 33.

Gilman, Don, "Flat Top, More Options," pp.15-17, 33.

________, "Scenario Seven - Wake Island," pp. 17-18.

Moon, Allan R., "On Deck: The revision of Flat Top," pp. 5-12.

________, "Scenario Six - Midway," pp. 10-11.

________, "Design Analysis: Flat Top Errata," pp. 13-14.

This is an outstanding issue for the Flat Top enthusiast and for
Pacific War buffs as a whole. There are also articles on Midway,
Victory in the Pacific & Submarine that round out the issue. I
highly reccomend aquiring a copy.

Volume 19, Number 6:

Burnett, Jim, "Flattop Gamemastered," pp. 26-29.

The main focus of this article is variant rules for moderated
games (I use this article extensively for PBEM games).

Volume 22, Number 2:

Helfferich, Friedrich, "Pacific Dreams: Considerations for Flat Top,"
pp. 25-30.

Werbaneth, James, "The Airpower System: Understanding Land based Air
Assets in Flat Top," pp. 39-44.

Another Pacific War issue (Banzai, Submarine, & Victory in
the Pacific). The FT articles are on strategy & include a 2
page, full color map as well as game analysis charts.

Volume 26, Number 5:

Lutz, James, "Battles for the South Pacific: Hypothetical Scenarios for
Flat Top," pp. 41-45.

Mr. Lutz introduced 4 new scenarios & some more submarine
rules. The scenarios are ahistorical (maybe semi-historical
is a better term) but well balanced (good for tournaments or
AREA play).

Volume 27, Number 2:

Davis, Jim, "Flight Jackets not Included: Tactical Chrome for Flat
Top," pp. 45-49.

More variant rules for the game.

I have also located several Flat Top & C.V. articles in four issues of
Fire & Movement (#'s 16, 29, 36 & 37).

Volume 1, Number 16:

Dunnigan, James F. "A Designer's Review: Flat Top." pp. 18-20.

Ruff, Matthew. "Flat Top Scenario Notes." pp.22-23

Taylor, S. Craig. "Flat Top Designer's Notes." p. 21.

A review by one of the hobby's "best & brightest" and a rebuttal
by the game designer. Plus a brief article analyzing the
strengths & weaknesses of the scenarios.

Volume 1, Number 29:

Proctor, Bob. "Midway by the Hour: C.V." pp. 10-18.

Taylor, S. Craig, Jr. "C.V. Designer's Notes." p. 18.

CV was he cover story for F&M #29. A pretty good review &
rebuttal by the designer.

Volume 1, Number 36:

List, Steve. "Solomon Sea Battle Report: Umpired Multi-Commander
Postal Flat Top." pp. 42-51.

Volune 1, Number 37:

List, Steve. "Solomon Sea Battle Report: Umpired Multi-Commander
Postal Flat Top." pp. 32-39.

These two articles are an excellent account of a PBM game of
Flat Top. The results were very interesting (both Yammamoto &
Nimitz would end up sacking quite a few Admirals). The articles
are quite illustrative of the "benefits" of limited
intelligence. The articles contain some useful optional rules
to enhance the game.

If anyone else knows of any other magazine (in the General, F&M or anything
else) articles dealing with Flat Top or CV I would appreciate it if you
could drop me an e-mail, letting me know the bibliographic info (so I can
modify the FAQ).


2. Play by e-mail (PBEM) Game Mechanics Questions

See the file FlatTop.PBEM for the modifications to the rules for a PBEM game.


2.1. Communications:


2.1.1. What distingueshes between messages that are sent "in
the clear" vs. "coded messages?"

I think that this is really two questions. First, what is the difference
between coded & unencoded messages and second, how are messages handled in
the game?

For the purposes of the game, a coded message does not have to employ a
real code (ie it can be written in plain english). This type of message
may only originate from a base or task force (possibly four engined
aircraft) and terminate at another base or task force. This is meant to
represent the high security transmissions from one commander to another.
The coding & decoding was accomplished by communications specialists with
hi-tech (for 1942) equipment ala ULTRA.

This type of message could (and was broken) by cryptoanalysts. However, at
the level of command that Flat Top represents (ie the operational- tactical
level) the CO's weren't allocated the resources to do crypto work.
Therefore, these messages are secure from your enemies eyes.

Unencoded or "sent-in-the-clear" messages can originate or terminate with
any unit, command, etc... represented in the game. This type of message
included routine traffic, communication between aircraft, messages between
subordinate commanders & captains, etc... Many of these messages were not
coded (eg Rochefort's ruse for you Midway buffs) or used a very simple code
(not encrypted). However, for purposes of the game, this type of message
will be distributed to all participants (subject to radio transmission

The players are encouraged to come up with a *SIMPLE* code that they can
use for these messages. A good example would be pilot jargon (angels,
bogey, call signs...). Simple guidelines to follow are: make sure everyone
on your side (and the GM) has a copy of the "code." The code shoudn't be
overly complicated (remember these are transmissions sent on-the-spot not
encrypted messages) & have back-up codes, if a base runner can steal signs
from a catcher & pitcher, your adversaries can probably do the same to you.

Now, part two of the question refers to the mechanics of these messages.
Messages can either be generated by a player or by a players orders (ie if
AF1's search locates an enemy TF, send location & time...). Messages
generated by orders will be handled by the GM.

A message initiated by a player, needs to have three parts, 1) A header
with the to: & from: lines (a subject or priority/classification can be
added as desired), 2) text of the message and 3) a note to the GM
indicating the type of message (ie coded or uncoded).

I don't want to discuss strategy & tactics, however, feel that this leaves
plenty of opportunity for the "clever" player to maneuver. Note that these
are guidelines for the GM. He/she can modify them if an "unusual"
situation warrants.


2.1.2. Radio transmissions (RTs) have a way of getting screwed-up. Is it
reasonable to assume if they don't get through that a player will
know, because there is no response?

Actually, no. Unless you specify that all RTs are to be acknowledged, no
reponse could mean that the signal got through okay (a garbled message
would probably get a re-transmit message).

This is something that the players should work out in advance of the game
begining (ie a RT SOP),


2.1.3. How will RTs be divulged to my opponents?

Radio interception & direction finding was an inexact sciene in WWII,
therefore, all messages (friend & foe alike) have a slight chance of being
missed entirely or garbled. As I stated above, non-coded messages will be
given to the enemy players as is (the exact text) subject to the random
events of garbled & missed communications.

Real signals intelligence used RT direction finding to locate units sending
RTs. The method relies on two geographically diverse listening points &
determining an azimuth back to the source. Where these two azimuths cross
is the approximate location of the source.

Therefore, in addition to the above for both coded & uncoded messages, the
location of the transmitting unit will be divulged (this simulates radio
direction finding). There will be some error involved (see the FlatTop.PBM
file for details) in the divulging of the actual hex.


2.2. Air Operations


2.2.1. Why can't my CAP drop from HI altitude to LOW to intercept an
incoming strike?

It seems intuitively obvious that a CAP should be able to dive down to
intercept a strike. However, there are a few factors that must be

First, is distance: a hex is 20 miles across (that is 430+
square miles) then the altitude difference must be
considered, this is about 10,000 ft (dive bombers at 12
15,000 & torps at 2-3,000) which is another 2 miles or so.
That makes the area 860+ cubic miles, get the picture...

Second, is that almost all aircraft of this period were
equiped with radio, and under the control of the a land
based/or CV based flight director. The CAP was vectored to
their position by the director and not expected to go off
freelancing. This was the primary CAP system used by the
USN. The IJN flight leaders had much greater tactical
control (one result was the Midway debacle).

Third, a diving fighter is hard to distinguish from a diving
bomber (especially when it is your ship being dived upon).
Flak claimed enough friendlies to make CAP pilots very wary
of it.

So where does that leave us... The designer decided that the best way to
handle this was to prohibit CAP to change altitude to intercept the target,
it requires a little more strategy on the part of the players, but is

In a PBEM game, where the playability factor is moot (1 week turns) and the
game is moderated & blind, an addition to the rules won't hurt too much.
Two of the rules in the FlatTop.PBM file cover this question.

First, the "ready CAP" rule allows fighters to remain in the
ready box and scramble on when a raid is sighted (I don't
want to get into strategy in this file -- but I think the
inferences are obvious).

Second, If a CAP AF contains more aircraft than an attacking
AF at HI altitude, and a LOW AF is spotted, some of the
excess HI CAP maybe permited to drop down & intercept the
bombers (see the chart in the FlatTop.PBM file).


2.2.2. Are orders given to the AFs on every turn?

No (at least not in a moderated version of the game). After an AF takes
off, you have to trust the flight leader to do his job (you can't be
bothered ordering him arround for his whole flight). You must provide a
clear set of orders for each AF prior to its takeoff. The orders can and
should include conditional statements (ie contigency plans) detailing what
it is to do in the event of...

The referee will interpert the orders and execute them (to the best of
his/her ability).


2.2.3. How can an aircraft be used as a message courier?

Any TF or base that has an aircraft available can use it/them as a courier
to ferry messages. The only restrictions are common sense ones, ie the
TF/base must be able to handle the type of aircraft being used (eg a Kate
can not fery a message to a TF without a carrier -- there isn't any place
to land).

There aren't any designated aircraft to perform this mission, the player
must use the aircraft he has available. Without delving too deeply into
strategy, float planes (apart from their speed make good couriers).


2.3. What is an SOP?

SOP is an acronym for Standard Operating Procedure. So now you ask, what
the @#$% is that? An SOP is like a set of rules or a computer program.
Its basic format is very much like an IF THEN ELSE statement in a
high-level computer language. IF event X occurs THEN do Y ELSE do Z. This
statement can be as simple or complicated as the creator wants.

Once an SOP is recorded, it is like a rule in a rule book. An especially
usefull way to use it would be to incorporate it into an order. For

On sighting of an enemy TF execute SOP 1.

This tells the ref to look at the SOP and follow its instructions. An
order can also modify (temporaraly) an SOP...

On sighting an enemy TF execute SOP 1 except as noted...

The SOP is an extremely useful tool in the military and hence in a wargame.


2.4. Why are the submarines handled so abstractly in the game?

In both the AH & Battleline editions, submarines were an "optional" rule
addition to the game. The optional rule was universally (almost) condemd
as being far to abstract for such a detailed game. Nearly every variant
ever written for the game includes a "more realistic" submarine rule.

The problem is that submarines are difficult to model in any game (look at
AH's Submarine). Plus, they did not play a significant role in the battles
that the game simulates. The rules we use are a version of those presented
by Jim Burnett in vol. 19, no.6 of the General (modified by James Lutz's
article in vol.26, no. 5). If I can ever figure out a more realistic
system (that dosen't sacrafice playability) I'll use it (I am still
experimenting with the system prevented in the General vol 18 no 6).

(see the file FlatTop.PBM for submarine rules)


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