In Memoriam – John Hill, 1945-2015, Designer of ‘Squad Leader’
If there is a heaven just for game designers, it has a new archangel. John Hill, best known for designing the groundbreaking board wargame Squad Leader, passed away on January 12. He was inducted into The Game Manufacturers Association’s Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Hall of Fame in 1978; Squad Leader was inducted into the HoF in 2004.
His many boardgame designs include Jerusalem (1975), Battle for Hue (1973), Battle for Stalingrad (1980) and Tank Leader (1986 and 1987), but John was always a miniatures gamer at heart, and anyone who ever got to play a game on his magnificent game table considered themselves lucky. Squad Leader was originally intended to be a set of miniatures rules, but the publisher, Avalon Hill, asked him to convert it to a cardboard-counters boardgame design. His Civil War miniatures rules Johnny Reb were considered so significant that even Fire & Movement magazine, which primarily covered boardgames, published a major article on the JR system. Most recently John designed Across A Deadly Field, a set of big-battle Civil War rules, for Osprey. He completed additional books in the series for Osprey that have not yet been published.
On a personal note, John was my friend of many years. I was introduced to miniatures wargaming through a Johnny Reb game with John and one of the JR developers Dana Lombardy (designer of Streets of Stalingrad and other games).
He never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a unique, cockamamie way of interpreting and describing historical events that could force people to re-examine what they believed. With his high-pitched voice, raucous laugh and eyes that often seemed to be looking in different directions at the same time, he was a memorable, one-of-a-kind character. I doubt that anyone who ever gamed with him or heard one of his historical presentations ever forgot him—or ever will.
He leaves behind his beloved wife of forty-six and a half years, Luella (Lu); his daughter Stephanie, and two grandchildren, Danielle and Carl Anthony. He also leaves behind a wargame hobby that is richer for his contributions and many heartbroken friends who will find it hard to believe we will never crack jokes or roll dice with him again.
Thanks to friend Dana Lombardy, who knew John long before I did, for contributing to this article. Watch for Dana’s own tribute to John Hill in C3i magazine.