My friend John Hill passed away on Jan. 12th, and it has hit me hard. It’s taken me this long to rally and find the time to put pen to paper. John was a friend, mentor, and all around great guy. He is our Stonewall Jackson, irreplaceable, and will be sorely missed.
My first introduction to a John Hill game was with the red box Adventure Game’s “Johnny Reb”. I was attending FSU in the mid 80’s and the local gaming group’s rules of choice were JR. I had been invited to show up one early Saturday morning to play a Union brigade in a refight of part of the battle of Chickamauga. I had always been interested in miniatures, gaming and history, but this was my first experience with a full-blown miniatures battle with great looking terrain and figures. I was blown away and hooked. I thought the rules were really amazing, and played with what I thought was a realistic, tactical feel, based upon the ACW books I had read. You could almost hear the Rebel Yell and smell the black powder! The game played intuitively and the hidden order chits really added a whole new dimension to the game, compared to what I was used to. I can say that from that day forward, “Johnny Reb” has been my favorite set of wargaming rules, and John Hill has been my favorite wargame designer.
John has written many Boardgames, with Squad Leader, being his most popular (search his name on Boardgames Geek for a complete list). He was into model-railroading and even owned a hobby shop many years ago. His true love however, was gaming the American Civil War in miniature. John was a larger than life guy, super generous and friendly, with a zany personality and high-pitched voice, that once you had heard it, would never forget. He was a one of the best historians I’ve ever met, amateur or professional. John really knew his stuff, be it Romans, ACW, WW2 or anything in between. If you ask his friends, one of the small pleasures in life was to sit with John in the bar over a beer, after a long day on the miniature battlefield, and hear him talk history, game design and military history. John had an unorthodox view on a lot of things and it was fascinating to listen and discuss his theories. I’m saddened that my last opportunity to do that was at Nashcon last year.
John had emailed me as recently as Jan. 5th and we exchanged some thoughts on terrain mats, game plans for Nashcon 2015, and his upcoming Western “Across A Deadly Field” scenario book. I’m going to miss those emails and his insight and guidance. John was super supportive of gamers and was always willing to give advice and encouragement. When I started my first blog (Cigar Box Heroes), John encouraged me and was always there if I had a question or needed advice. If you talk to a lot of people in the ACW wargaming hobby, they probably crossed paths with John at some point and will tell you that they are better for it.
John was an innovator and had vision. He was a true leader and he was definitely always on the cutting edge of things. I believe that “Squad Leader” and “Johnny Reb” were way ahead of their time and provided the basis for a lot of rules systems and games that came after them. My personal experience with John as an innovator came when he had some boardgame graphics that he and Todd Davis had worked on, printed onto a 5×7 terrain mat for me to use at Nashcon (pictured above). I can honestly say that I don’t think Cigar Box Battle would be making terrain mats today if it wasn’t for John Hill.
I worked with John and his design team on “Across A Deadly Field” and I can say that it was an honor and a privilege. John had super high standards and it was great working with him. I know that all the other guys would say the same thing. We are actually doing some proof reading of his final draft of “ADF- Western Scenarios” this week. This scenario book will be one of John’s last published works.
With John’s passing the gaming community is a little less. We are really a large family, or fraternity of gaming brothers and it affects us all when one of our best passes on. John always lead the charge in life and I know that he would want us to press on and keep painting figures, rolling dice and playing games. I think John would want to be known as a guy that loved history and loved playing game with like-minded friends. It’s just so sad that he left us so soon. There were still so many figures to be painted, scenarios to be designed and games to be played….
Godspeed John, your friend,
PS – What did the future hold for John? Only he really knew. Osprey will release his “ADF Western Scenario” book this summer. John also has a completed, but unpublished boardgame “Shiloh Dawn” from Pacific Rim Publishing. Hopefully that will be published soon. John had also mentioned to me that sometime in the future he was interested in reworking “Across A Deadly Field” for tactical battles at 1:10 scale. I think that would have been a great project that married his ACW masterpiece “ADF” with the tactical flavor of his classic “Johnny Reb”. John has left behind a tremendous body of work and games and has provided countless hours of gaming pleasure to me, my gaming group, and many gamers across the globe. That’s his real legacy.