It is said that board games are having a ‘come back’. Exactly what that ‘come back’ means is a discussion for another article; however it yields within itself quite fruity results. For example, the emergence of a lot of talented designers who either show off their new board gaming ideas or dust off the ideas that had little attention until the said ‘come back’ happened. With so many games out and different ideas bouncing about, it is no wonder that some games have developed into complicated beasts, full of strategies, moving pieces, storytelling, betting and luck. And we love them for it! Although, the rule book for Game of Thrones: The Board Game does send me into a mild panic attack. It is almost expected, or at least almost expected by me, that when I open a shiny new board game, different pieces, die, cards, boards and meeples will fall out of the box.
However, recently I have discovered a little game called HexAgony that proved to me that a great simple idea is sometimes all that matters to make a great game. The design of the game is almost purist; in fact it consists of only hexagonal tiles and a combination of three colours. Yet, that does not make the game simplistic or boring, in fact quite the opposite. Everything related to the design, gameplay and physical look of the game is based around one core idea, and it works so well, that, in my opinion, nothing else is needed to be added.
• Designer: Andy Allen
• Number of Players: 1-3
• Playing Time: 15-30min • Available: Now; Official UK Launch: 29-31st of May at UK Games Expo
Taking a small detour from the review, I would like to mention a little bit about the development of HexAgony. I find it fascinating purely as a consumer and I believe it will be even more so for the aspiring or even current designers. I was lucky to chat with HexAgony‘s creator Andy Allan during one of the TableTop Tuesdays, and the creator himself wrote about a long 30 year development road of the game. The idea of HexAgony came to be when Andy and his co-workers realised that their lunch break was not enough time for good old, yet time consuming, classics like chess and dominoes. They needed a game that would be fast to play but also easy to teach others. So hexagons were cut out of paper and coloured by hand, as not many people had colour printers in 1985, and that is how the very first version of HexAgony was born. While the colleagues enjoyed the game, the publishers were not so eager, and so the idea was left dormant. Sixteen years later there seemed to be a chance that HexAgony might have a few manufactured sets, however, unfortunately, that had not proven successful either. Then, another ten years later, after a chance conversation, HexAgony finally came to be the game that can be played today.
To me the story of the development is the perfect example of persevering and believing in your idea, even if it takes thirty years to come to life. It is also about the complicated reality of publishing that each designer will be faced with at some point. While the board game ‘come back’ might not have been the reason why Andy has decided to return to HexAgony, it is definitely a more friendly time for the board game designers – for the ideas that are one day old and those that are decades old. As I love board games and want to see more of them, and more diversity in them, this is very exciting for me.
Thirty years later HexAgony still embodies all of the ideas that have been at its conception. The rules of HexAgony can be explained in 30 seconds. When I first heard this, I had made a sceptical snort, which I quickly regretted, because the rules are indeed that simple to understand. In a three player game, every player receives 16 hexagons which are coloured in red, blue and white, and an additional completely red, white or blue hexagon. The last hexagon signifies that player’s colour. The objective of the game is to create as many hexagons as possible of your colour. The rules vary slightly with two players and there is even a special alteration to the rules if the player wants to play alone.
However, there is one trick in the rules: if your colour is white, you can only attach white sides to white sides on your turn while making sure that all other colours align as well. The triple coloured hexagons come in two colour arrangements which allows for variety in your hexagon building endeavours. It is also important to take note of what types of hexagons other players still have at their disposal, because blocking other players from making their hexagons is an absolutely valid strategy. If your opponent runs out of one type of hexagon there are only so many arrangements they could do, which would make it easier for you to make sure they don’t get to complete a hexagon.
I really like the balance between simplicity and strategy in the game. While playing the game, players end up rotating their hexagons and trying them at different positions to figure out in which spot they would be the most beneficial. This might not be the most complex thinking that has ever been done, but it definitely tickles the brain. I imagine with more colours and colour combinations, this process could become daunting, almost too much like a geometry exam. However, with only three types of hexagons available the game gives you just enough complexity to be challenging, but not enough to drive you to give up. This might also be a reason why it is so incredibly addictive! One game is approximately 15-30 minutes, but I could seat arranging hexagons for hours.
The design of the game pieces feels very nice. In essence, the actual tiles could be anything – tricoloured hexagon paper or cardboard cut-out. However having plastic tiles with one design on the front and the blackened back, shows that thought was put in the aesthetic look of the tiles. Extra care and detail has been added, even though for the game to work, this was not necessary required.
It is probably clear that I enjoy the game a lot; however I found that describing the game and even showing pictures does not do the game justice. HexAgony really needs to be played for people to understand its full potential. This is not a problem unique to HexAgony. For example, another one of my favourite small games, Timeline, a card game about arranging events in a timeline, does not sound exciting from its premise, and even with its wonderful artwork, it is a hard sell. Yet everyone who I played the game with has enjoyed it. This is also the case with HexAgony. It is a lot of fun to play, and when played once, players easily return to it, but the initial sell to get people to play it, could be difficult.
When told that the board game is about spies in space, people who like spies or like space will be very likely interested in the game. Obviously, there will be those who will happily avoid all covery activities in a vacuum. However, the goal has been achieved, there is a group of people who are excited by the concept and thus are willing to try the game. Yet the premise of ‘let’s compete in building hexagons’ is thematically harder for people to get excited by. While I still strongly stand by my statement, that HexAgony’s design is perfect exactly how it is and needs no embellishments, I can also see those who will choose space over geometry every time. I am not implying that the base game needs to change, but maybe a future expansion with a more thematic flavour could attract a little bit more attention to itself.
HexAgony is a very simple, yet not at all simplistic, little game. While it is not as flashy as a lot of modern board games are, it is a great board game that is easily accessible but is also fun for the board gamers of all levels of experience. The idea of making different coloured hexagons with different coloured hexagons is so obvious and ingenious, it seems impossible that it took so long for this game to finally be made. However, now it is here, and I think everyone should play it.
A copy of this game is available to play at Loading Bar.