Review: The Battle for Hill 218

By Kelsey Rinella 27 Mar 2013 0
Kelsey has left an opponent with a unit next to the hill and airstrikes available. The classic Hill 218 blunder.

We already previewed Large Visible Machine's translation of Your Move Games' card-based boardgame The Battle for Hill 218, last month -- and the verdict rendered there is much the same for this finished product. Now released for the iPad, it's an excellent WWII-themed tile-laying game which fits into the shorter periods in your game-playing life. Apart from the synchronous-only multiplayer, the game is quite enjoyable and apparently bug-free.

This is our rules summary from the preview:
Each turn, you play two cards. Each unit has a diagram showing where they attack when placed, from which directions they are supplied, and where they can support attacks. Each unit (except Paratroopers) can only be placed on your base or where supplied by other units. Tanks and Artillery are the only units which can destroy units without support, so the game is about trying to control space such that you can make supported attacks where you expect your enemy to be and keep your units supplied. You win by occupying your opponent’s base or having more units in play when cards run out. There are some nice touches which help you mitigate the random factors, including Air Strike cards–these are the only non-unit cards, and allow you to eliminate enemy units directly, but you only get two of them.

It's taken many games for me to refine my strategy, but the strategic advice I'd offer to speed that process for others is this: avoid leaving your opponent with an opportunity to make a supported attack with their first card.

With such simple rules, it might be hard to imagine it carrying its theme well. There's an element of truth to that, but the game makes the most of the differences between the units to make them not only distinct, but surprisingly reflective of the traits of their real-world counterparts. Because of the interest that thematic cleverness adds, a small dose of randomness, and the limit on the duration of games built into the small decks, Hill 218 has held my interest far longer than the otherwise similar For the Win. Indeed, though I can't fault them for releasing the iPad-only version when it's ready and waiting to go universal until they solve some problems with readability on older phones, my precious preview build of Hill 218 is now my first choice for gaming on my phone whenever I don't want to commit to something as long as Battle of the Bulge or Dominant Species and have no multiplayer turns waiting.

I doubt I would make fun of the French army to its face, though. Some games are very direct. Others spread wide, like the French.

Multiplayer is unfortunately rather a sore spot, because the current version of the game supports only synchronous multiplayer. While this allows the inclusion of voice chat, which is both a very cool option and works quite well, it means I'm basically never going to play multiplayer. At least at this point, not long after release, I have only been able to find strangers to play against twice. On both occasions, the game failed to start after several minutes of waiting. I did succeed in playing a few games against Nils Hellberg of Large Visible Machine, and found it to be an excellent experience (and an informative pair of drubbings) so long as neither player is interrupted. As a result, we both ended up hiding out from our families for the second game. Between that and having to make appointments to game, I found the synchronous-only design very poorly suited to my life. That said, these restrictions are far more problematic for a stay-at-home dad with two preschoolers than they are for many of our readers. If you can arrange a good opportunity to play multiplayer, it seems likely to be an excellent option.

The good news is that the hard AI is good enough to keep me on my toes even after over 200 games. So, while I'd really enjoy asynchronous multiplayer, its absence doesn't ruin the game. Indeed, it leaves me with my current favorite short single-player iOS title; only Ascension has ever been better for the purpose. That I have some hope it'll introduce features which will improve it significantly is just gravy. Or perhaps some more ethereal sauce, more promise than hearty satisfaction, but you get the idea.

Review: The Battle for Hill 218

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