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Subject: [Review] The Battle for Hill 218 rss

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Tom Vasel
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I have yet to play a war game completely composed of cards that I've really enjoyed. Most games that attempt this and are entertaining are really mechanical games with a war theme added to them (Atlantic Storm) or simply a game that awards too much luck to the player with the best draw (Battlecards). The Battle for Hill 218 (Your Move Games, 2007 - Darwin Kastle) is a card game with a war theme, but in reality, it's more about abstract card placement than it is about war.

This will honestly determine whether or not you enjoy the game or not. Coming into this game expecting a war game is a mistake. Because even though the cards slightly emulate their real-life counterparts, it will always feel like a short, tactical card game. Some will enjoy the speed of the game, which possibly can take only five minutes. Some will also like the fact that the game packs an interesting punch with a twinge of randomness. I myself had a hard time getting into the game because of the abstract nature. However, even though the theme only slightly matches the mechanics, the game is quick and works well. I just can't shake the feeling that the Hill 218 is more of a card placement exercise than anything else.

The game takes place on an imaginary grid centered around a single card - Hill 218. Each player starts with an identical deck of twenty-six cards, and two Air Strike cards. Players draw five cards from their decks, placing two on the bottom and keeping the other three. One player goes first, and then play alternates for the remainder of the game.

On a player's turn, they simply draw two cards and play two cards (although on the very first turn, the start player draws and plays only one). When playing a card, a player deploys it to an unoccupied space on the grid. The first unit is placed in a player's "base" (the space directly behind Hill 218), after that, a player must place it so that it has a line of support (uninterrupted cards leading directly back to the base). A few units can be deployed differently: the paratroopers can start almost anywhere, and Special Forces can get support from a card diagonally.

After being placed, a card will attack the enemy if possible. Each card shows what adjacent cards the unit can attack. Tanks and Artillery can destroy the unit they attack, but most units need at least one other unit supporting the attack (cards have diagrams about how they give support). Once a card is laid down, it can still support other attacks but will make no attacks.

Players can also play an Air Strike card on their turn, which simply destroys one enemy card in play. A player can only do this twice per game. The game continues until either player occupies the other player's base - at which point they win, or all cards in the decks have been used - at which point the player with the most units on the board wins.

Your Move Games is starting to master the art of condensing a complicated game into a small box. Battleground: Fantasy Warfare took an entire hobby and smashed it into a deck of cards. After my initial reactions concerning Hill 218, I'm starting to think something similar has occurred here. Hill 218 seems to have taken a large tactical war game and condensed it into a very short card game.

At first I thought that the game was completely lucky, that there was little strategy. Then I downloaded the computer version (http://www.yourmovegames.com/pages/hill218.html) from the company's web site and was soundly destroyed by the computer a dozen times in a row. I'm starting to hold my own against the computer, but it's slow going and certainly disproves any ideas of luck that I was holding.

Hill 218 tends to take a lot of the concepts of war gaming and applies them in an abstract way, yet keeps the basic essence of them. Artillery has long range combat; paratroopers can land in any space; tanks are quite powerful, etc. The pictures on the cards, which are photographs from World War II, do a lot to add to the theme. While they don't detract from the icons on the cards, they do quickly show how the card affects the grid. I'm not sure that the time period is exactly necessary - changing the setting to Napoleonic or modern combat would seem to have no bearing on how cards were played, but it's likely that the World War II theme is fairly popular.

This isn't a game in which players are amassing large groups of troops to destroy the enemy. Rather, a player is simply attempting to form a line of support into the enemy's base. This can be done with a very few cards (as the computer has shown me to my bitter annoyance), and most units can be dislodged and killed quickly as the game goes by. For some reason, the game really reminded me of Your Move Games' first product - Space Station Assault. That was a game which had a similar concept, as spaceships formed lines to destroy one another; yet it just didn't feel like a spaceship battle to me. When comparing the games, I noticed that the same designer, Mr. Kastle, has come up with both; so the similarities weren't just in my head.

But where Space Station Assault did absolutely nothing for me - and I so dearly wanted it to, as I adore space - Hill 218 continues to grow on me. For some reason, the game manages to give me a bit of tactical fun in a small box. Yes, I wish that the cards didn't have a black border which shows off the nicks fairly easily. Also there will be many times that I simply want to order a tank around a battlefield. But once I get past the oddity that the cards can't move (which makes sense when I seriously think about it), or the fact that the bases seem so close to one another (it's an illusion), I find myself playing five or six games in a row.

I didn't commit myself much to the game in the beginning of this review, because that's how I felt about the game - I had initial negative reactions to it. My words were, "Is that all?" when I played a game, because I was certain that I had missed something. And because of that certainty, I played the game again, and again - until I realized that I was playing repeat games not because I was trying to find a spark in the game, but because I found it.

I'm still not willing to go out on a limb and proclaim Hill 218 a great game. I fear that it doesn't have enough replayability to keep my attention for the next ten years, and I'm not sure I will be able to entice as many folks to play it as, say, Memoir '44. But it is entertaining and fast and does a good job of distilling the essence of a battle over a hill into ten minutes.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com
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Wade Broadhead
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Played twice last night. First two games were average. Last night I was thinking the same thing: "perhaps one more game...?" For what it is, it's excellent.
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F H
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Nice review, and just what I wanted to hear as I've had my eye on this game.
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David Anderson
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Glad to see you are still reviewing games Tom. I just bought this one for $6.36 from Boards and Bits. How could you go wrong with a price like that. I was a little underwelmed though until, like you, I started playing the AI.
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tim Tim TIm TIM TIMMY!!
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I can't wait to try this one out, I prefer faster games. I got this sent to me by a wargamer, Bactrian5, as part of the cracksheads burned up my games relief fund that the BGG Community has helped me out with. It sounds like I might also try out the AI and get beat a bunch of times to figure it out, thanks for the great review. Makes me happy I am getting this one even more.
 
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Craig Hebert
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Easy, buy Cave Troll for 5 dollars during the FFG winter sale - it's still a complete waste of 5 dollars.
 
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