The Battle for Hill 218

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Players:
2
Multiplayer:Yes, GameCenter and Bluetooth
AI:Yes, Normal and Hard
Universal App:No
Purchase for iPhone:None available. Buy an iPad now!
Purchase for iPad:

Price: Free
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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The Battle for Hill 218, 7.2 out of 10 based on 13 ratings

Listen up, soldiers, in front of us there is a hill, it’s a big hill, it may well be the most impressive damn hill that you have seen! That hill – that gigantic mound of earth on this otherwise unremarkable battlefield – that hill is Hill 218, and you bunch of sissies are standing on the wrong side of it.

You little scumbag, what do you mean, “why are we trying to get to the other Hill 218?” We are trying to get over that hill because that hill is there and the Brass – in their infinite wisdom – want us on the other side of it, so we have to get to other side it. Do you have any further questions, private? Well, thank you very much! Can I be in charge for a while?

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Gameplay

The first thing that you absolutely have to know about The Battle for Hill 218 is that it has been ported to iPad by the second best named company in gaming, Large Visible Machine (for fans of lists, the top five is as follows: Big Robot, Large Visible Machine, Team Meat, Atomic Planet, and Oddworld Inhabitants). The second thing that is probably worth telling you is that it is a card game and a war game. Technically, that’s the second and third things, but whatevs.

Originally released on cardboard by Your Move Games, Hill 218 replicates any number of American battles for hills in the wars fought between 1941 to 1973. This could be Iwo Jima, Hamburger Hill, Hill 355 or any strategically significant piece of land taller and more desirable than any of the surrounding geography.

As the player, your chief concerns are how to best utilise the limited units in your command, where to place them and how to outsmart the identically equipped foe. The eponymous hill is located at the centre of the play area, with your HQ on the one side and the enemy’s on the other. Naturally, as a freedom loving kind of commander, you want to get to their side of the hill and liberate them, but those wily dogs have other ideas, they’ve got designs on wrecking up your base and covering the with posters of Stalin. Probably. The point is, you’ve got to get your troops on the move, but they’re not going anywhere without the proper supply lines and they ain’t killin’ no villains without their buddies’ support.

What makes Hill 218 a smart, short-form strategy game is the integration of four very basic principles. One, cards are laid on a grid with a central impassable sector; two, unless you’re parachuting in you need to be connected to the military supply lines; three, units can only attack when they’re first placed; and four, unless they are artillery or tank units they require support from an already placed unit. Though it may not yet seem like it, I’m describing the mechanics of 80s classic spiel der jarher, Cafe International, reimagined as a wargame.

Let’s say that ahead of me there’s blue Infantry unit and I want to fill him full of Liberation Lead – my first thoughts are, ‘can I take him out in two moves without exposing myself on his turn?’ and ‘assuming I survive his turn, can these units support an offensive next turn?’. I’m going to place an infantry unit in front of the enemy, but, as my grunts don’t have support from an adjacent sector, the enemy remains unscathed. With my second turn, I play my spec ops team who can draw supply from diagonal units, so I can flank him and, with the support of my infantry, I can wipe out those pinko, communist, apple pie haters. Sadly, my spec ops are now in a sector where my opponent has support, so they’re probably going to be obliterated in the next turn. War, my friends, is hell.

Implementation

The road from hardcopy to AppStore is not uncommonly a fraught and poorly navigated one, with design hangovers that get in the way of the game, or failures to make use of the iPad’s increased functionality over cardboard. Happily, this is rarer with card games than board games and, in fact, I can’t think of any card game that doesn’t benefit from my not having to try picking up shiny cards from a table apparently made of space-glue and blackholes. Hill 218, perhaps more than any card game since Cafe International, gains a huge amount over its cardboard counterpart because of the importance of tidiness and the frequency with which the players are picking up and putting down their units.

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The mechanics are certainly robust and, as with any deceptively smart game, I can’t help but want to know what else can be done with them. I’d be interested to see an evolution of this game’s ideas into other theatres of war, particularly if it were possible to offer player asymmetry, with one side occupying the role of entrenched defenders against the tide of assault. It’d be great if a string of hills could be placed near each other with multiple decks of cards, adding a higher strategic level akin to Memoir ’44.



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