The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Hexagony

Designer: Ken Hodkinson
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Players: 2-6
Time: 60 minutes
Reviewer: Caleb Diffell

Introduction

I played my first game of Hexagony last night (August 20, 2002). My first response to the game is that it is a very enjoyable abstract strategy game with enough chance to keep things interesting but enough strategy that losing happens more due to poor planning than poor die rolls. The game is a combination of chance and skill that I find quite refreshing and indeed, quite challenging. Due to the chance factor, it is definitely a "lite" game that one shouldn't take too seriously, but it is quite fun for all that. I will provide a brief description of how the game is played, and some informal analysis (albeit based on only one game played) about some of the strategy involved.

Background/Theme

Hexagony is based on something called "the Tao of War". "Tao", pronounced "dow", means "Way". From the back of the box: "The Tao of war is the path that leads, by the most economical means, to victory". The game is basically an abstract strategy game with an oriental flair. The rules of the game supposedly hearken back to the teachings of Sun Tzu. They do have a decidedly oriental slant, much like Go has an oriental slant to it. Incidentally, the designer, Ken Hodkinson, has retained the rights to the game and is now producing and selling it on his own. You can find info on it at www.binfa.com. In its current form, the game is slightly different than that sold by Avalon Hill back in the early 80's (this game's publication date is 1980).

Game Description

Hexagony is played in 2 parts. The first part consists of the game board, which is broken down into 96 separate triangles in 6 colors. These triangles combine to form one large hexagon that makes up the playing board. Players move their pieces (each player has 12) on the playing board, attempting to capture opposing pieces by surrounding them or forcing them to retreat (more on this later). No more than 3 units may occupy any triangle. Each move on the playing board must be "paid for" using a supply marker. Supply markers are replenished by moving a supply piece around the outer track, attempting to land on a space of the player's own color. Each turn, a player may move on the playing board (as many moves as he has supplies for) or attempt to gain supplies on the supply track, but not both. This is one of Hexagony's main tensions—whether to try for supplies or to continue maneuvering against your opponent.

Each move on the playing board must be paid for by a supply marker. Paying the supply marker allows the player to roll 2 dice. He must then make a number of moves equal to the number on one of the dice rolled. If he rolls a doubles, his turn immediately ends. Moving one piece one space counts as one move. Thus, for a roll of 4, he may move one piece four spaces, 2 pieces 2 spaces each, or 4 pieces one space each, and so on. A player may continue to pay supply markers, roll the dice, and move until he chooses to stop, runs out of supplies, or rolls doubles.

Moving on the supply track does not require payment of a supply marker. Instead, the player simply rolls the dice, makes a move equal to either or both of the dice, and, if he lands on a space of his own color, takes a number of supply markers equal to the number of spaces he moved to land there. Players also have a chance to take supplies from opposing players by landing on a space with the opposing army's symbol on it.

Pieces are captured by being surrounded. A piece is considered surrounded (and therefore captured) if, at any time, it has no legal moves open to it, even if the "surrounding" is caused by pieces of the same color. Pieces can also be captured if they are forced to retreat and have no legal avenues of retreat. In order to force an enemy stack to retreat, a player must have a stack of 3 units in an adjacent triangle. Then, after paying a supply marker, if one of the die rolled is a 6, the enemy pieces must retreat. Finally, a single piece is automatically captured if two opposing pieces of another color move into its triangle.

As an added twist on the playing board, 12 terrain markers are randomly placed at the start of the game. These markers act as walls through which no pieces may move. The markers can be placed in any configuration (provided they do not make one part of the board inaccessible from the rest) and allow for customization of the game board.

Components

HexagonyThis game was produced in the 1980. That is the only way I can rationalize the garish primary color scheme. The board is divided into equal parts of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The non-playing surface of the board is a pastel yellow (why the various colors weren't printed as pastels is beyond me). The individual units are of the same six colors which can make them hard to see when they're on their native background.

The black sticks used as terrain markers are long and thin enough to fit in the 1/8 inch of white space that is between each triangle. They can be easily upset, so care is needed not to accidentally knock them around.

The two board halves are not attached in the usual Avalon Hill manner, instead they're separate. Each half folds once to fit in the box, but when playing on a smooth surface (such as a table), the halves can be accidentally slid apart quite easily. If any of the terrain markers are on the seam, they can easily fall between the halves of the board.

The game box comes with a plastic storage tray with four compartments. They are completely useless to hold the pieces in (and inadequate since there are six groups of pieces). I bagged my counters.

All in all, the production quality is really not up to Avalon Hill standard. The only saving grace is that the counters are round and large, about the size of a quarter. The game would be much more difficult if they were the usual ½ inch counters.

Rules

The rules are generally well written. There are several examples and the writing is clear. The only thing I didn't like is the use of Roman numerals for each rule. It's unfamiliar and hard to think of when trying to find a specific section. There is a section of optional rules at the end, modifying the game with such things as unlimited occupation of triangles, more free or more restricted movement, and nuclear explosions! Some of the optional rules seem to be rules that Ken Hodkinson wanted to include as his version of the game includes them as part of the normal rules.

Strategy

The key to this game seems to be to not get surrounded. This can be achieved using the terrain to your advantage. Always position your forces so the terrain blocks any attempt to encircle them. This is especially crucial when setting up for the first turn, especially if you don't move first.

You need a lot more supplies than you think. Since it costs one supply marker to roll the dice once, it can take a lot of supplies to move around the board. Nothing is worse than running out of supplies when you're two spaces away from your goal.

Remember that even if you have enough supplies, rolling doubles will end your turn immediately. Don't leave yourself exposed like low-hanging-fruit for your enemies.

Due to the high chance factor, this game is best played in an easygoing state of mind. It's fun to laugh at the outrageous reversals of fortune, even when they happen to you. In summation, this is a great game that everyone should try if they can find it.

Quick Scores (on a 10 point scale)

Playability: 8 - Easy to get in to, plays pretty quick, fun!
Complexity: 3 - Not very hard once a few concepts are understood
Player Mix: 9 - Can be played by 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 players!
Components: 3 - Even Avalon Hill should have done better than this! Awful rainbow colors!
Overall: 8 - I really like this game; it will stay in my collection forever, most likely.

- Caleb Diffell

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