Author Topic: Publishing story and strategy overview  (Read 12746 times)

Chad_YMG

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Publishing story and strategy overview
« on: February 19, 2008, 02:20:39 PM »
This new game is fairly old

I first played Battle for Hill 218 around four years ago.  Darwin Kastle, an aspiring game designer, had come up with a card-based tactical game that he said had a lot of what he liked about Chess in while also including imperfect information and a random draw of forces.

I’m always skeptical when people tell me something is like Chess, because Chess was “the game” for me for many years.  My father taught me when I was six and I played it and read books on it whenever I could.  Unfortunately I only learned about tournament play when I was a senior in high school so I don’t know whether I could have become a strong player or not.  As it happens I reached the rank of “Expert” with a 2100 USCF rating and (when I was working in London for a couple of years) a 185 BCF rating.

So I was skeptical but sat down to learn Darwin’s new game.  At that point all it consisted of was Magic cards in sleeves with the back side visible and words like “Tank” and “Infantry” written on them in thick sharpie.

Since that day Darwin and I have played Hill 218 hundreds of time against each other.  There would be months where any time we had fifteen or more minutes to spare (and one of us had a deck) we’d be playing.

As Your Move Games gained some experience as a publisher and focused our attention on our core game, Battleground: Fantasy Warfare, Hill 218 sat on the back burner.  It’s remarkably hard to make money on a one-shot deck-of-cards game and we had our hands full trying to grow the Battleground product line and player base...but I knew I wasn’t going to be happy unless Hill 218 saw print.

One day I found the perfect excuse.  We had been printing Battleground with Carta Mundi in the US, which had some advantages but was very expensive.  With some help from Lee Valentine of Veritas Games we’d found a Chinese printer who we thought could meet the quality standards for Battleground while allowing us to save considerable money.  (The quality standard isn’t a vague “we want good cards” either, since Battleground needs a card finish that is dry-eraseable.)

Using any new printer is a risk and I didn’t want to take the chance that an entire Battleground faction would be unusable.  (Even if the printer agreed to reprint the run at their own cost -- as Carta Mundi once did -- there would be a big delay in releasing the faction.)  Hill 218, however, just used the cards as cards.  That meant we could print Hill 218 to Battleground specs as a dress rehearsal.  Even if the finish wasn’t quite at Battleground standards it would probably be great for a normal game, and the cost of printing Hill 218 would nearly be made up by the savings on a single faction of Battleground.

We made completing Hill 218 a priority, gathering art (we decided to use WWII photographs rather than going for new art), developing the graphic design and finalizing the rules.  The only significant change we made to the rules was the addition of a ‘mulligan’ to minimize the chance of a bad opening draw.  Originally you just started with three cards, period.  The irony is that one of the reasons that I felt we needed the mulligan rule was that it seemed really bad not to be able to lead off with an Infantry unit in your home base...but by the time the game was printed Darwin and I were of the opinion that you should mulligan Infantry units away!

Then the plot thickened...OK, only a little, but still.  Lee’s Powerstorm game (printed by the same company we were considering) and the card and surface quality was excellent.  Essentially our dress rehearsal was taken care of for us, so we didn’t have to print Hill 218.

Right.  Read back to the part where I wasn’t going to be happy unless this game saw print.  I didn’t set aside a nice MBA-type career in order to not print my favorite games.  Don’t get me wrong...I brought up the fact that Powerstorm had taken care of the need for a dress rehearsal and I’m pretty sure that I let Darwin think that I’d changed my mind about printing Hill 218 (at least for a few minutes) but that’s just because I’m a bad person.

A very friendly offer

One of the many nice side effects of publishing Battleground: Fantasy Warfare was that it introduced me to Andrew Gross.  During Origins (where we soft-launched Battleground with homemade proxies), Andrew turned his nose up at what he thought was some new collectible card game, Andrew finally got curious and did a demo of Battleground...and pre-ordered all six of the decks that were currently being printed.  Any of you who have spent time on the Battleground page at BGG, at our forums or at our Yahoo discussion group are familiar with Andrew and his contributions to the game.

I wasn’t actually at Origins but Andrew and I have become good friends since, and he even managed to get my daughter on the local news.  (Her clip begins at around 1:24 on http://wbztv.com/video/?id=48804@wbz.dayport.com or you can see her whole interview at http://wbztv.com/video/?id=48804@wbz.dayport.com.)  He’s also put his passion for Battleground to great purpose, writing a strategy guide, answering player questions and giving us a lot of useful feedback about the game’s development.

When Hill 218 was nearing printing, Andrew made a very generous offer.  He wanted to develop an online campaign system for Battleground.  In order to do this the way he wanted to he would have to learn to program in Java and his proposal was that he develop a computer version of Hill 218, complete with AI opponent, that we could make available to help promote the game.

I love gamers.

Andrew developed the interface and AI over the next few months, with me providing feedback on play, and the end result is an opponent that I beat pretty consistently but not all the time.  Not bad.  As it turns out, Andrew came up with an even better idea for a campaign system (one which we hope to release in published form at GenCon Indy this August) but his effort was certainly not wasted.

(If you haven’t already given Hill 218 a try, the address for the free computer version is http://www.honte.org/Hill_218/Hill.html.)

Hill 218 came back from the printers too late for Essen but just in time for an even bigger convention -- BoardGameGeek.CON!  I brought 20 copies, which I thought would be plenty, and sold out by Saturday.  Can’t complain about that.  Reports from the con and from people who tried out the online game were largely positive and Hill 218 entered the world of “ranked” games on BoardGameGeek with a solid average of 6.8.

My overview on strategy

For a game that takes about fifteen minutes to play, has only a small number of “pieces” and a fairly small field of play, Hill 218’s learning curve is quite long.  Darwin and I have gone through multiple rethinks of our whole approach to the game.

We started off thinking that it was generally a good idea to lead off by placing a Heavy Weapons unit in the home base, because of its excellent defensive power.  Now we consider that the mark of a rookie.  As noted earlier, we considered it a design problem how bad it was not to have a unit of Infantry in your opening hand; now we use the mulligan to get a no-Infantry opener whenever possible.

At one point in our development I was worried that between experienced players it would be rare that either play captured the opponent’s base.  Something like 80-90% of our games were being decided by the number of units in play, which was OK but not quite where I wanted the game to be.  We even discussed the possibility of changing the unit mix in order to reduce what seemed to be the defender’s advantage.

Let’s just say I’m glad we didn’t do that.  At our current spot on the learning curve, our games have reversed their previous pattern; now almost all are decided by one of us capturing the other’s base.

I don’t know how close we are to the end of Hill 218’s learning curve.  It feels like we must be pretty close; I have a hard time believing there’s another revolution in thinking left.  I wouldn’t rule it out, though...so take what follows as coming from an experienced player but one who has not yet stopped learning.  It may be that in a year from now I’ll have a different take on things.


The basics

Initiative is (almost) everything.  The Battle for Hill 218 is ultimately all about one of the two fundamental principles of warfare: seize and retain the initiative.  Defense often triumphs when attacking technique is poor (hence the period where Darwin and I were generally failing to win via base capture) but once you and your opponent have developed your attacking skills you will realize that holding the initiative is key to victory.  Make threats that your opponent has to react to and you can often increase your advantage bit by bit each turn.  When you’re on the defensive you need to look for ways to defend your base while reducing your opponent’s ability to launch a new offensive on his next turn.

Don’t waste premium units.  Any time you place Heavy Weapons without killing an enemy unit, you should be sad.  It’s sometimes the correct play, but it’s seldom a good thing.  If you play a Tank or Artillery without killing something you’ve almost always made a mistake.

Watch the spaces next to Hill 218.  The two spaces adjacent to the hill (and diagonally adjacent from the home bases) are focal points for attack.  If your opponent ends your turn with a unit in one of those spaces there is a very good chance that they will win on the spot.  It is almost never a good idea to leave an enemy unit in one of those spots, and one of the best defensive moves you can make is to kill a hill-adjacent enemy unit with Heavy Weapons so that you have two units supporting future attacks against that spot.

Don’t be stingy with your first Air Strike.  Using an Air Strike isn’t a bad thing.  It increases your hand size, improving your selection for future plays.  Having access to an Air Strike is a useful weapon (some positions are “check” only if you have an Air Strike or Artillery) as well as a nice defensive resource, but the difference between zero and one is much bigger than the difference between one and two.

Keep an eye on what units remain for each side.  Some positions can be harmless or fatal, depending entirely on whether your opponent has the right pieces to solve the puzzle.  If all three of his Special Forces are gone, for example, a lot of possible base capture scenarios simply don’t apply and you may be able to ignore units you would otherwise have to kill at all costs.

Keep your options open.  The corollary to the above rule is that you should avoid using up your last elite unit of a particular type unless the benefit is considerable.  Don’t let your opponent play without fear of Artillery if you don’t have to.

The early turns

A lot of games between beginners and experienced players happen in the first couple of turns, because the beginner isn’t aggressive enough.  A typical example has the beginner lead off with Infantry in his home base and the second player blow them up with Artillery, followed by playing a unit of Infantry next to the Artillery.  The beginner, rather than waste the Artillery in his own hand, just plays two more units down, so the situation looks like this:


A1   A2
      Hill 218
B1   B2

This is an even position and no unit has advanced forward of its base, but in many cases player A is in serious trouble.  Even something as innocuous as Infantry and Heavy Weapons (the two most common cards) is capable of launching a devastating attack, taking out the unit at A1 and generating threats that will be difficult to recover from.  Player A would have been much better off if he’d used an Artillery or Air Strike to set player B back a bit, most likely by destroying the unit in his base.

The Special Forces/Heavy Weapons Attack

This attack doesn’t require Special Forces, but that is often the way to launch it with the least preparation (just a unit in your base).  The core of the attack is a supported unit next to Hill 218 with a Heavy Weapons placed next to it, destroying a unit next to your base.

This attack can be quite difficult to deal with.  The defender pretty much has to kill the unit adjacent to the base, but this will often mean leaving the Heavy Weapons alive and leaving one of your own units diagonally adjacent to the Heavy Weapons, just waiting for the attack to be re-established.  Most methods that get the defender out of the attack completely involve the use of two premium units, fails to make any substantial counter-threats, or both.

This is far from the only dangerous attack in Hill 218, but it is a very common one and probably the most important one to get familiar with.  Once you’ve used it and defended against it you’ll find that a lot of other tactics flow nicely from the principles behind this attack.

Thanks for reading, and come find me at any YMG convention.  I’m always up for a game of Battle for Hill 218.

edit: replace "Battleground" with "Hill 218" as pointed out by Andrew
« Last Edit: February 20, 2008, 08:34:20 AM by Chad_YMG »
David Humphrey está todavía en la Colina 217.
      - From Spanish translation of Hill 218 rules

ApokalypseTest

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2008, 02:43:40 PM »
Thx Chad, that is a very nice article. Would be great to read more of those eventually.

andrewgr

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2008, 03:24:06 PM »

Battleground came back from the printers too late for Essen but just in time for an even bigger convention -- BoardGameGeek.CON!

This should be "Hill 218 came back", not "Battleground came back".

And, thanks for the kind words.  (But obviously anyone who watches the clip of Jade realizes she is a natural star, and needs no help from me or anyone else.)

ZiNOS

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2008, 02:43:48 AM »
Nice article.

The only problem with the late printing of Hill 218 is that it arrived as nobleknight.com AFTER my order for the High Elves and the Lizardmen...... just one day after.....

I hope 2M comes soon, in order to get some copies of Hill 218 also.
DON'T PANIC <-------In Large Friendly Letters

Kenntak

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2008, 07:46:00 AM »
That was a fascinating article Chad for what appears to be in interesting game.  Battle for Hill 218 looks like a great strategy game that can be played in a very short amount of time.

By the way, that was a very respectible chess rating.  My son played tournament chess, but unfortunately has moved onto other things.

Chad_YMG

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2008, 08:36:09 AM »
That was a fascinating article Chad for what appears to be in interesting game.  Battle for Hill 218 looks like a great strategy game that can be played in a very short amount of time.

I certainly think so!  :)

Quote
By the way, that was a very respectible chess rating.  My son played tournament chess, but unfortunately has moved onto other things.

It's kind of a funny rating.  I'm good enough at chess that in any random room full of people I'm very likely the best chess player in the room.  I'm better than something like 90% of tournament players.  I'm also really really awful compared to those who are actually good!  :)
David Humphrey está todavía en la Colina 217.
      - From Spanish translation of Hill 218 rules

irah29

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2010, 09:08:09 PM »
Hello!

Thanks for this great article...Very nice...
Thank you so much...Good day
God bless....................make money online

gull2112

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2010, 04:24:23 PM »
I don't think that was spam, as there are no cheesy links.
"Rules are only as good as the book they're bound in."
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Nicole53

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2010, 11:43:39 PM »
How can you say that it is a spam?
Please elaborate....
how to treat depression
Thank you so much and God bless..

Kevin

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2015, 06:34:43 PM »
I picked up this game last week as part of the Kickstarter; my wife and I have played it 3 or 4 times so far.  It's a lot of fun.

It took me two or three games to figure out that some aspects of the game are very counter-intuitive if you're thinking war.  For example, if your unit is completely surrounded by enemy units then it is totally safe (Apart from Air Strikes & Artillery, of course).  :)  

As a corollary, in the last game we played I started deliberately not killing certain enemy units, which was the key to victory  (a strategy tip not mentioned up above, hence the post on this thread).
« Last Edit: May 23, 2015, 10:29:02 AM by Kevin »
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. - Winston Churchill

gull2112

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Re: Publishing story and strategy overview
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2015, 06:59:43 PM »

Quote
By the way, that was a very respectible chess rating.  My son played tournament chess, but unfortunately has moved onto other things.

It's kind of a funny rating.  I'm good enough at chess that in any random room full of people I'm very likely the best chess player in the room.  I'm better than something like 90% of tournament players.  I'm also really really awful compared to those who are actually good!  :)

That's exactly how I describe my BG:FW skill!  ::)
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