History of Tactical Games: Evolution of Squad Leader


The Year was 1969…..

  • Richard M. Nixon began his first term as the President of the United States.
  • Soviet and Chinese forces were fighting on the Manchurian border over some disputed island.
  • A total of  25,000 U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, leaving 474,000 remaining.
  • Formal truce negotiations began in Paris to end the Vietnam War.
  • Charles de Gaulle resigned as President of France.
  • American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr were the first men to walk on the moon.
  • Radio Hanoi announced the death of Ho Chi Minh.
  • John Wayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor in True Grit.
  • The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.
  • The New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series

In the Wargaming World, the following happened that same year…..

  • New York’s Strategy & Tactics beat Baltimore’s Avalon Hill to the punch in designing the first true tactical wargame.
  • Avalon Hill released Anzio: A Realistic Game of Forces in Italy, 1944.  The ad copy read “Why Not Visit Rome this Year…..and bring along the 5th Army.”  Many today consider Anzi to be a classic.
  • James Dunnigan formed Poulton Press and purchased the gaming magazine Strategy & Tactics. 
  • Dunnigan released Strategy & Tactics issue #18 which revolutionized the wargaming industry by adopting the “game-in-the-magazine” format. In that particular issue, Poulton Press ran a full-page ad announcing ten new games which was an unheard format back then.

Some of the game titles listed in the ten new games ad were Barbarossa, Normandy, Leipzig and another game which was simply titled Tactical Games 3.  The ad copy of that issue of Strategy & Tactics described Tactical Games 3 as:

“A new departure in games. A platoon/company level game whose main objective was to compare different weapons/tactical systems. This version deals with the situation on the Russian front in 1944. Counters include T34c, T34/85, JSII, Su85, PzIV, PzV, PzVIb, and many other armored fighting vehicles as well as infantry, mortar, artillery and other types of weapons. A radical new approach to historical gaming. The first to be published of a series of similar games… $5.00.”

Tactical Games 3 was reported as being a “new departure” due to the fact it touched on areas that had never been attempted before.  The games prior to Tactical Games 3, designed by James Dunnigan, were based on a strategic/operational level.  Tactical Games 3 opened the doors to a new genre of games as well as a new methodology for playing and designing wargames.  These new methodologies included realistic terrain considerations,  line-of-sight and proper tactics, and a type of “plug-in” multiple scenario format.

In 1976, Fire & Movement Magazine was founded.  James Dunnigan was interviewed for the July 1976 issue of Fire & Movement.  Dunnigan was asked about any recent rumors regarding the wargame hobby industry and he said John Hill had been approached by Avalon Hill to design a wargame like Tank!, but instead a squad level game.  My father, John Hill, was the most respected admired independent game designer.  John Hill had a reputation of being the head designer of Conflict magazine and was also the president and founder of Conflict Games Company.  My father was until the day he passed away an important figure in the game’s public eye.   During the interview with Dunnigan, it was noted that one of John Hill’s earlier games, The Battle of Hue, a tactical game, was very popular and showed promise of paving the way to designing a squad level game similar to Tank!

One year later in 1977, John Hill’s design for Avalon Hill was released as Squad Leader: The Game of Infantry Combat in WWII.  In November 1977, Fire & Movement Magazine featured Squad Leader detailing a full report.  The rest, as they say, is warame history.


SOURCE: Fire & Movement Special Report History of Tactical Games by Rodger B. MacGowan


Thank you for reading this article on the history of tactical games and the evolution of Squad Leader.



  1. Kevin

    This article was beyond interesting and intriguing.

    I consider myself a pretty well seasoned gamer but I have never heard of this game before. It sounds very interesting.

    I feel compelled to try this game out and see how I like it. How long have you been playing this game? I would be curious to know.


    1. Stephanie Hill

      Hi Kevin:

      Good to meet you. Squad Leader was one of my father’s first wargames he designed. That is what this website is about – it is a tribute to John Hill, my deceased father. Since you are a well seasoned gamer, you might enjoy it. Tabletop miniature wargaming has been around for a long time and probably will continue to be around. Many people have stated that it is a dying hobby, but with so many people turning out at various wargaming conventions such as Historicon and Nashcon, it is easy to see that will be around for a long time. My father spoke about it in a video about that very issue, found on additional links.

      Since you are compelled to try this game, you may purchase it from the Squad Leader Amazon Store. I kindly thank you for your support of my father’s legacy. It is not a game that you can play with one person. You should ask your local hobby shop if they are any wargaming groups in your local area that you can hook up with, because that will be the best way to get a taste of Squad Leader as well as the other wargames designed by John Hill.

      I hope you enjoy the game and I certainly hope you return to tell me what you thought.



  2. Carlton Gonder

    Hi Stephanie,

    I enjoyed reading your article taking me back before I was even born. It is quit interesting learning that they made a game called squad leader for infantry man. As I was in the Army for fourteen years, love hearing history related to the military.

    Yours Truly,

    1. Stephanie Hill

      Hi Carlton:

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed reading my article on the History of Tactical Games. Being that today is Veteran’s Day, I wish to thank you for your 14 year service to the Army. Your bravery and courage are commended.

      Thank you, Stephanie

  3. Brandon

    I love playing tactical wargames. I thought this website is very encouraging it made me want to look into more. I always thought history was interesting. You can understand a lot of the present and future by the past…They say history repeats itself. But great website, love the niche, keep up the good work.

    1. Stephanie Hill

      Hi Brandon:

      Thank you for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed my article on History of Tactical Games. I appreciate the kind words about the niche of my website. My father, John Hill, was an extraordinary person with lots of love to share and one of his loves was for American Civil War miniature wargaming.


  4. Juliet

    Hi Steph,
    I love history and I love sports, your article is a combination of the two. It has to do with history because a player needs to have a basic understanding of the historical scenario being played. But, it also has to do with sports, because you have to think on your feet and be able to react quickly to a sudden change or game tactic from one of the other players. My brothers used to play Squad Leader when they were in their teens. Are there other game designs your father did that I could recommend to them?

    Great job!

    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      Hi Juliet:

      Thank you for visiting my website. I never thought about wargaming having any relevance to sports, but I can see your point about being able to think on your feet and react to whatever scenarios that are being created. I am glad to hear that your brothers enjoyed Squad Leader. It was one of my father’s earliest game designs. In answer to your question, another game I could recommend for your brothers is my father’s most recent and the last one he did before passing away earlier this year – Across A Deadly Field.


  5. Hanizan

    Great site. With the history of World War II,.I’m sure many fans of Squad Leader and that of your father will gravitate to follow your site. Why? Because they know, love and have a deep appreciation and understanding what your father’s games are about. I read the page about his most recent release, Across A Deadly Field: War in the West. Can I purchase these ADF rulebooks on Amazon?

    Your presentation really looks alive. Keep what your doing until you achieve what you’re targeted for. I have learned so much about your skill sets and your father from reading through your website.

    1. Stephanie Hill

      Hi Hanizan:

      Thank you for taking the time to carefully read through my website. My father indeed had many fans following me. Squad Leader came out in 1977 and is still one of the most highly talked about wargames today.

      In answer to your question, yes you can purchase my father’s games at Amazon. You can purchase them from the

      ADF Amazon Store or the Squad Leader Amazon Store.

      Thank you again for visiting my website. Hope to see you again soon.


  6. Sophie

    Hi Steph! So it’s here that we meet again. I salute your father for being a man ahead of his time. Being a war game designer is no mean feat. It takes intelligence, wit, and an extensive background on war & history.

    My late father was a surgeon, but he had the bearing of a leader and a general. He was a great storyteller too, and thus, we all grew up on war movies and on stories about the most decisive battles in history. I miss him every single day.

    I have heard about Squad Leader before, but from the daughter of the one who made it? Well done!

    1. Stephanie Hill

      Hi Sophie:

      Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate them. Interesting that you too lost your father. Your father, being a surgeon, sounds like he was a strong leader and very intelligent and accomplished in his field as well. I salute your father as well for his contributions to saving lives.

      Good to know you have heard of Squad Leader. Thank you for visiting my website today. Come back soon.


  7. Maarten

    Hi Steph,

    It’s fascinating your dad designed war games. As a kid, I’ve always been intrigued by tactical board games like Stratego or Risk. He must have had an enormous passion for the matter to do what he did. 🙂 There’s a board game cafe nearby where I live with thousands of games. I’ll know what to look for next time I visit. I’ll let you know if I found any of your father’s games! Cheers

    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      Hi Maarten:

      You are correct. My father did have enormous passion for designing wargames. I have played Risk before as well and enjoyed it. Risk is similar to many of my father’s games in that you have to defend your territories when your opponent attacks.

      That is pretty neat that there is a board game cafe nearby where you live. However, I am not sure if they would have any of my father’s games such as Battle of Stalingrad, Squad Leader or Across A Deadly Field because wargames usually take many hours to play, in upwards of eight hours or more. The cafe probably would close down for the day before one of my father’s games would be concluded.

      Thank you for visiting my website today. Have a wonderful day!


  8. Rawl

    I find it fascinating that your father was a game designer. That’s awesome! My sons’ play war games. They like the Games of Thrones board game. Your website gives me some new ideas on games I can get for them when they get tired of their old ones.

    1. Stephanie (Post author)

      Hi Rawl:

      I am glad you found this site as a possible way to search for new games your sons might fall in love with. My father designed a number of wargames. His most recent was Across A Deadly Field. He completed it the day he went into the hospital and passed away three days later. ADF was released this past May 2015. The one mentioned in the article, Squad Leader, was one of his earliest games and probably one of the most well known of all his games. With the holidays upon us, you could find some great buys for your sons on this website.




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