January 13, 2015–During the late 1970s and early 80s, when we were all pushing the envelope for simulation authenticity, designer John Hill had a theory he called “design for effect.” That didn’t sit very well with me after I saw a Korean War game of his, with Chinese communist forces portrayed at the “army” and “group army” level, and then those armies being able to infiltrate across United Nations lines–because, after all, any Korea game had to have an infiltration capability on the communist side.
At one of the game shows I ran into John and we had it out. Amicably enough, John made it clear he was sticking to his guns. Then we went off to get a burger and a soda. Hill’s most famous game–justifiably so–Squad Leader had its “Berserk” units (because in “most” tactical situations somebody goes crazy). And so on.
I loved Squad Leader. And therein lay the charm–John Hill was a firm believer in playability. Whether it was Johnny Reb Civil War miniatures (John’s Civil War rebel cap became a fixture for quite a while), October War games, or his first sally that I knew about, a Vietnam game called Battle for Hue, you got a John Hill game and you knew you’d have fun.
I think it was the initial Origins where I first met John. He was riding a wave from his Hue game and I also had a Vietnam design out there, my SPI wargame Year of the Rat. We joked about the two Johns at Johns Hopkins University. Quite a few other times we spent time over a table, broke bread, or walked together down the aisle at a game show, oohing and aah-ing the new titles and speculating why this or that feature had been done a certain way. Other times I’d be cruising the general gaming area–I love watching the miniatures players go at it–and John would be there wailing away.
Gaming has lost a good man, and I, a good friend.