Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Perfect Hex Board

Recently I decided I wanted to upgrade my Hex board. Currently I’m using a printed piece of paper attached to stiff felt, with blue and red glass beads of the sort that belong in flower arrangements as the pieces. It took all of 10 minutes to make, it’s tiny, and the glass pieces have a tendency to slide along the paper surface. It’s simply unsatisfactory.

Making your own Hex board is something of a tradition. While I appreciate the fun in creating boards, I feel that this is more for necessity’s sake than anything else.

Some people are taking some pretty drastic measures to play this most beautiful of games, which is understandable given the scarce availability of commercial boards. As far as I can find, the only ready-made Hex boards you can buy are from the following sites:
50 EUR (68 USD)

This one is laser etched on what appears to be a single piece of "vintage wood," although it looks mysteriously like plywood. The boards are also hexagonal, not rhomboidal, and printed with the website's address and a unique number. It's also available in glass and a vinyl mat, with the website and number printed twice. Apparently meant to be played with Go stones, a set (60 black and 60 white) of which is available for an extra 10 EUR. Coordinates are printed around the edges of the glass and vinyl board, but not the wood, it seems.
427 SEK (60 USD)

The size variety is nice, but there is no 11x11! This is a little strange to me. The price I listed is for the 10x10. They also sell a 19x19 for around $180. If I had to guess, I'd say these were laser printed. According to the site they are made of plywood. The style is rhomboidal hex grid meant to be played with Go stones. The acute corners are sharply cut off. Coordinates are printed around the edges. Note: according to the site, these boards are 3mm thick. That’s less than an eighth of an inch! Surely it’s a typo for 3cm...

Update: I was set straight. The boards are actually too small to be used with standard Go stones, and instead come with a set of plastic stones. And the 3mm is not a typo - they are just very thin.
250? USD

This is the Con-Tac-Tix board produced by Piet Hein's publishing company (he is the original designer of Hex). I cannot find anywhere that still sells this, so it may not be available at all, but I am led to believe (by a comment on that image) that these were being sold fairly recently. It is a 12x12 board, and I think it's very attractive, but that's all I know about it. No coordinates; cylindrical pieces.
120 USD

[Added here 4-21-2010] I had to email Kadon to get this link; apparently these are only made on demand. It's only available as a 14x14 board right now, but it's no doubt possible to contact them for another size for an additional fee (according to the email response I got, they specialize in custom work). The board itself is square with the hex board stretching along the diagonal; there are no coordinates but the phrase "Hex14" is printed on both sides of the board, presumably to do something with the blank space. According to the site, it's meant for standard Go stones.
29 EUR (39 USD)

[Added here 4-21-2010] Found this one completely by accident. The site is available in English, so I assume they ship internationally, although that might add a few bucks to the price tag. It's an 11x11 board with wood pegs, the same style as Piet Hein's board, but not 100% comparable...
27 USD

A vinyl mat with round plastic red and blue tokens. Coordinates are printed around the edges. Unlike those before it, this one is portable, which puts it in a different class than those listed above. Is portability a big issue for you?
19 USD

I don't really know what this is. Is it paper? No picture of the actual board is given, just a raster image that I assume is printed onto it. I'd be wary of buying this without some more information. It says it comes with glass beads, but that could mean anything. No indication is given of the size, either. I also think the font and texture is a little, ah, dramatic for the game of Hex...but this is just my opinion.

And that's it! (If you know of any others please let me know and I'll add them to the list)

But I have a query: if you could design your own Hex board, regardless of cost or mechanical concerns, what would you like to see?

To perhaps help get the discussion started… There are three types of "common" hex boards:

Hexes Actual Hexes: All the boards listed above, with the exception of Hein’s, fall into this category. Although they all use round tokens, the boards themselves are hexagonal.

Circles Circles: The Con-Tac-Tix board uses this style. So does every Chinese Checkers board ever made. But it doesn't seem too common for Hex itself. The beautiful giant Hex board in the BGG photo gallery uses this style as well.

Diamond Lattice Diamond Lattice: I can't find any commercially available diamond lattice board, which surprises me a bit. Heck, the BGG preview image is a diamond lattice! There are some homemade boards in the BGG photo gallery that use this, but you can't buy them.

Then there are others. There's the square lattice, which I'd never even heard of until reading Cameron Browne's Hex Strategy. There's the offset square board. Then there's Herringbone and some even more bizarre irregular tilings.

Other Hex Boards

Of all of them, I think only the primary three are aesthetically viable. The square lattice board is just ugly, even though it has a few things going for it -- it could double as a Go board, and it's very space efficient when it comes to actually crafting the board. But would anyone actually want to play on one? Has anyone ever played on it?

Here's my quick take on each of those three:


Inherently beautiful, but in my opinion less so when used with round tokens. I think that a Hex board with custom hexagonal tokens would be quite attractive out of wood - it would just be extremely difficult to make, as you'd need to carve each hex as an inset, otherwise you'd go crazy trying to rotate each token just right. Or maybe that's just me. And then there'd be the matter of creating the tokens, which would be infinitely more difficult (at least out of wood) than just plain round tokens. (To see what I mean about the insets, look at the shape of this board)

But this is fantasyland -- if you could have a Hex board with whatever pieces you wanted, would you go for a hex grid? Does the circle-hex mismatch bother you at all?


I think this is quite attractive, personally. One of the beautiful things about a hexagonal tiling is this relationship with circles. I think that a Hex board with circular insets for marbles would be very attractive (if you used nice marbles - there's quite some variety in quality).

I also think this could have some mass-market appeal, as hexagonal tilings may seem intimidating to the typical (American, at least) consumer. But they don't notice it when they play Chinese Checkers.

What do you think about Hex with marbles? Blasphemy? Do you prefer the cylinders of Con-Tac-Tix? Personally I wouldn't mind having a wood board with some nice stone marbles.

Here's a picture of what I'm talking about. This is not a beautiful board, but it's not bad. It's actually meant for two-person Chinese Checkers, but it's a perfectly usable 9x9 Hex board.

Diamond Lattice

This seems like a no-brainer to me. People like to use Go stones to play hex anyway -- why not use them on a board made for it? What do you think about a Kaya wood hex board? As an example of the potential aesthetic qualities of this board, I’d point you towards my Chameleon post (in my opinion the BGG and Hexwiki preview image is a bit drab).

The Dollar in the Details

Size: 11x11? 14x14? 19x19? 11x11 seems most common, but 14x14 has many diehard fans. I think, optimally, you'd have all three of these sizes, but which would you want most? Perhaps a reversible 14x14 - 11x11?

Labels: Would you want numbering on the board? In my opinion this detracts from the beauty of the board. You don't see luxury Goban with the coordinates printed. Useful for your practice board, perhaps, but I wouldn't want it on my own custom board. What about you?

Edges: Finally, there's the trickiest question: how would you like the players' target edges to be distinguished? A solid border, a single piece, or what? Should that be on the board, or should the players just place tokens off the board to indicate it? Or are you a fan of the horizontal-vertical distinction?

Drawing it on the board has the problem of locking you into the colors used. That's fine if you're only playing with Go stones, but no good for a board played with marbles - what if you wanted to upgrade your marble set?

You could have the grain of the wood parallel to two of the edges, and one player is "with" and the other "against" the grain. Or would you prefer the grain to run from acute corner to acute corner? Should the "dark" player be clockwise to the obtuse corners, or counter-clockwise?

Shutting Up Now...

Perhaps I'm getting a little too nit-picky, but these are important details! Well, not really… but I'd love to hear your opinion on them if you have one.

And now that you've got your perfect Hex board, could you put a price tag on it? I know, I know -- why am I asking all this? What's my angle?

Mostly, I am interested from a design standpoint. I think a lot of interesting discussion could be generated if Hex fans (or board game fans in general) took the time to think about the best Hex board.

But there may be a little more to it than that...

As you may have realized, there are no comments on Tabletop (they were disabled a while ago for various reasons and haven’t been re-enabled yet). I posted this question on BGG’s Hex forum, so if you have an opinion on the matter please post it there (is it stereotyping to assume anyone reading this site has an account there already?), or if you’d like you can let me know via email. I’d also very much like to hear similar opinions on non-Hex boards - have you been hankering for that perfect Surakarta board? Anything else?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lines of Action

Lines of Action

Lines of Action is a weird one, both in play mechanics and victory condition. It’s a modestly popular game these days, as far as abstract strategy games go, but it’s not exactly the biggest game around. Which is a shame, because it really is unique and entertaining -- and odd combination of connection and movement that you won’t want to miss. It’s interesting in that there are so many ways of accomplishing the same simple goal -- but I must move on.

It was invented by Claude Soucie, but I’m not exactly sure when. I would guess some time in the sixties, as Sid Sackson included it in A Gamut of Games (1969), but it is possible that it’s even older than that (Claude Soucie was a contemporary and friend of Sackson -- when I get my copy of Gamut back I’ll check if there’s any note about the design date).

But enough of the boring bits -- to the game!


Standard chessboard; twelve tokens per player. As always, you can find chessboards here and use whatever you have lying around as tokens.


In the standard game, the board is setup like this:

Setup Man, jpeg compression is really unfriendly to reds

However, Soucie himself proposed an alternate setup, referred to as the Scrambled Eggs variant. It looks like this:

Scrambled Eggs

I assume that Scrambled Eggs takes longer to complete than standard Lines of Action, but I can’t swear to this.

Anyway, regardless of the setup, the game itself is the same: players alternate moving their pieces around the board in an attempt to join all of their tokens into a single contiguous body. What? Basically, you’re trying to get all of your tokens to touch (diathogonally). An example wherein blue has won:

Victory Victory for blue

It’s a simple enough goal, but accomplishing it is severely complicated by the movement mechanic...

Each turn, players must move one of their tokens in any direction (No passing). The number of spaces it moves must be equal to the number of tokens in that line of movement (the entire row or column or whatever along which the piece is moving). So the number of spaces you can move depends on the direction in which you’re moving -- a given piece may be able to move two spaces in one direction and one in another, or whatever.

There are a couple of other restrictions: you cannot jump over an enemy piece (although you can jump over a friendly piece), and you cannot move off the board (obviously). You can land on an enemy piece, however, in which case the piece you landed on is captured and removed from play. But be careful -- the fewer pieces your opponent has, the fewer he has to join together! Often it is disadvantageous to capture pieces, but sometimes it is useful -- breaking a key link in your opponent’s connection, for example.

Here’s an example of all the possible moves of a single piece. As you can see, there are only two. The first is to move four northwest (as there are four pieces total along that line of movement) and capture the red piece; the other is to move two spaces northeast. Note that the piece cannot move north or southwest because doing so would involve jumping over an enemy piece, and any other direction would either go off the board or land on a friendly piece, which is not allowed.


If a player makes a move that results in both his and his opponent’s pieces becoming joined at the same time (for example, if capturing an opponent’s only unconnected piece), the player who made the move is the winner. Also, if your forces are ever reduced to only one piece, you win automatically, as “all” of your pieces are connected.

And that’s it! Go forth and enjoy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tumbling Down

Tumbling Down

This is a neat little game that I discovered pretty much entirely by accident, but have grown to like for a novel but intuitively logical movement mechanic. It was designed in 2001 by Michael Shuck, and was one of the finalists of the 2001 8x8 Game Design competition (it lost to Breakthrough). That’s all I really know about it. So... onwards!


The game can be played on a standard chess- or checkerboard with standard checkers or any stackable pieces. You'’ll need quite a few --29 for each player, to be precise -- so if your Checkers set can’t cut it you might have to consider coins. If you don’t have a board, print one here, as always.


The game is set up as shown, with a four-high stack in each player’s corner surrounded by two three-highs, then two lines of two-high stacks, and finally a line of single pieces (stacks of height one, for consistency). Different starting arrangements are of course possible -- you might consider nuking one of those lines of doublets if you’re low on pieces, for example, or just do something completely different. This is merely the setup suggested by the designer.


The goal of the game is simple: to capture your opponent’s king. By capture, though, I don’t mean remove (there are no “captures” in the traditional sense in this game), but rather “dominate” -- gain control of the stack by landing a piece on top of it (as in Focus). And by king I don’t mean a single piece, but rather a dynamically defined stack. More on that later. First: moving your pieces around.

Moving and Tumbling

There are two types of moves, standard “moves” and “tumbles.” I’ll talk about tumbles in just a second -- for now, moves:

At any time, you may move the top piece of a stack to a diathogonally adjacent space (assuming, of course, that your piece is on top). For stacks of only one piece, this would involve moving the entire “stack.”

You don’t have to move on to an empty space, though -- if there is another stack adjacent to you, you can move the top piece onto the other stack, regardless of any potential height difference. For example:

Movement By moving this piece, white relinquished control of the smaller stack to gain control of the larger stack. Sorry about the art for this post, by the way. That whole ghost-piece thing did not work out as well as I thought it would.

And that’s all there is to moves. Fairly simple -- short-range; covers a little ground. But what if you want to move a whole stack?

Enter the “tumble.” This is pretty much exactly what you might expect -- knocking over a stack and having the pieces tumble into new areas. It’s not as messy as that may sound, though -- essentially it means laying out the pieces of a single stack in a straight line such that the top of the stack lands furthest away. Alright, that’s confusing. Let’s do pictures.

Tumble How are you supposed to represent tumbles with arrows? That’s hard.

As you can see, each piece in the stack moves, and once the tumble is complete the space that the stack used to occupy is completely empty (in other words, the bottom of the stack doesn’t stay where it was -- I could see this as being potentially confusing. I also smell a simple variation). You can tumble a stack in any direction including diagonals. If a piece tumbles onto another stack, the tumbling piece goes on top, as you might expect. So for example:

Stacking while Tumbling The same tumble, if that middle white piece had been there.

Oh, and one other thing -- if you tumble into an edge or corner, the edge “stops” the tumble, and all pieces remaining that still need to be tumbled are not tumbled. The is the only situation wherein a tumble can stop early -- normally it must continue until it’s been laid completely flat.

Edge Tumble Tumbling against an edge


As I said before, the goal is to capture the enemy king. As I also said before, “capturing” just means getting one of your pieces on top, which can happen either by moving onto it or tumbling over it. But before we can do that, we must know: what is the king?

At any given time, a player’s king is the tallest stack made up entirely of his own color -- his tallest “pure” stack, if you will. But what if a player has multiple “highest” stacks? Well, then they are all kings. Sounds pretty good, right? Now your opponent has to capture all of them, right? Nope. If you have multiple kings, you lose if any one of them is captured, so it’s usually best to make sure you only have one king. Your king can change every time you make a move (if you make a new highest stack, if you tumble your current king, etc), so make sure you’re mindful of where your kings are!

Kings A game with each player’s kings marked. Yeah, I pretty much
reused this from the preview image. Shhh.

Obligatory closing comment: and that’s all there is to it!

Sunday, July 5, 2009



What a weird game. That’s all I can really say -- this is just a weird game. It’s incredibly simple and almost instantly familiar, but at the same time the gameplay is almost completely foreign. It’s weird.

Why is it so weird? Well, for starters, it was designed by a computer. I don’t know about you, but that throws up a couple weird flags for me. It is the only game I’ve ever heard of to have such an origin, and it’s interesting that such a unique and creative game came out of a program.

The “designer” in question is a program called Ludi which, as far as I’ve garnered from some light googling, takes in the rules to a few dozen games, mixes them up and scrambles things around, and then spits out a brand new game. As far as I can tell, Yavalath seems to be its flagship offering, but I’m sure there are many others out there that I just haven’t heard of yet.

Okay, so the game came from a program. But where did the program come from? It was created by none other than Cameron Browne, a rather big name in the realm of modern abstract strategy games. He has written what is still the only book on Hex strategy (Hex Strategy: Making the Right Connections, 2000) as well as a great compendium of many other connection games (Connection Games: Variations on a Theme, 2003). He also has no shortage of original games to his credit, many of which you will no doubt see here in the future. But enough of this -- on to the game!


The game is played on a standard hexagonal hex board with five squares to a side. If you have an Abalone board lying around you can use that, or, if not, you can print one here and play with checkers or coins or whatever else.

Board Yes, I know that’s actually a trihexagonal tiling. I’m hoping you don’t.

The game can be played on a larger board as well, although it probably isn’t necessary unless playing a variation. Depending on how good you are, you could need anywhere from ten to thirty pieces each, so make sure you are well stocked.


The game couldn’t be simpler: players take turns dropping pieces anywhere on the board trying to make four in a row. If you make four in a row you win -- but if you make three in a row before then, you lose. It is this losing condition that makes the game so interesting, and from it the strategy arises: you don’t try to make four in a row. You try to make your opponent make three in a row.

How do you do this? Well, by forcing your opponent to block you from getting four in a row in such a way that he makes three in a row doing so. Make sense? Of course not. But just look at the picture.

Forcing Move Now it makes sense, I hope. Black’s only response is a losing one.

Forcing moves like this are pretty much the backbone of the gameplay, which generally doesn’t last as long as other comparable games simply due to the fact that there are so many times where you don’t really have a choice about where you go -- you have to block or prevent a future three in a row, etc. Games generally play out quickly in exciting sequences of forced moves. It’s a fun game. Get on that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Game of the Month, July 2009


I know it’s a day late, but hey -- those trophies don’t make themselves. The new Game of the Month is Focus, so you can look forward to more stacking games in the near future!

Also, blue? Yeah, that color is way out of place, but I have spent too long on this already. I’ll be moving on to more important things now...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Standing Y

Let’s be honest -- I was pretty lazy with the Y post. I mean really. I was in a hurry to get it done so I literally just copied the graphics I did for Hex and shoved it out the door. I did not do it justice in the graphics department, and for that I apologize. One of my favorite games, too! I can excuse myself for my fairly lazy artistic work for “lesser” games, but I feel too guilty for Y. So I return to it, in an attempt to do it justice.

Standing YA Standing Y board (if you have a better name for it, please let me know. I’ve tried everything. VerticallY, Yrect, you name it). Oh, and click for full size.

This is a design that I thought of not too long ago, and it is the Y board I wish so badly that I had. Unfortunately there is nowhere I can get it (obviously), and I do not have the requisite skills of a woodworker required to make it, so I shall have to content myself with the design alone. Perhaps some kind saint will come along and start producing these (call me), but until then pictures are all I can offer you.

Anyway. I believe this to be superior to a standard flat Y board for three main reasons (Yes, this pretty much reads like a sales pitch. It kind of is. Be warned that what follows is a designer defending his design, and will come off as very self-serving and arrogant. You have been warned):

1. It takes up much less space than a traditional Y board. Let’s be honest, the triangle is a fairly inefficient shape as far as fitting on tables goes. And since Y requires a relatively large board to be enjoyed fully (a minimum of fifteen spaces to a side, I’d say), it’s difficult to make a board big enough to see but small enough to use.

2. It can be used as a standard Y board if you really want -- just take it off of its stand and set it down, then play normally -- viola. It’ll look something like the old CON-TAC-TIX board, and no one would say no to that.

3. It looks cooler. I mean, come on. There’s something so beautiful about an upright triangle, something vaguely symbolic and monumental...I would love to have a large (3-4 feet tall) version of this resting on my coffee table. It’s a functional sculpture, in way.

In order to play it with the traditional alignment (laying flat), another set of stands is necessary, one at each corner. This prevents the bottom from becoming scratched and also ensures that the pegs can be pushed in to the correct distance and don’t stick out the top too much (the height of the stand is exactly equal to the width of the extruding pegs).

Supine Y Supine Y. Click for full size.

Finally, it gave me a unique and interesting idea. Since the two players will be looking at two different sides of the board, they could easily be looking at two different things, right? I mean, no one would know the difference. Thus I got the idea to use the reversible “pills” that you might remember from Ataxx instead of traditional pegs, which allows both players to play the same color at the same time -- or did I just blow your mind??

Both players would place their pieces with the white peg pointing towards themselves, but your opponent would always see it as a black peg. It’s a little hard to explain, perhaps. Basically what you see as white your opponent sees as black, and vice versa, so to both of you white is friendly and black is enemy (or the other way around).

This makes the Pie Rule a little more interesting as well: after the first person plays, the second person doesn’t switch colors, but assigns colors -- and assigns both players the same color. So the first peg can be put in with either side showing, and the second player will say something like “We’re playing black,” which means that both players will be playing with the black tokens as theirs.

I hope that this makes sense -- it isn’t something that I’ve explained to a lot of people, so I apologize if I sound like I’m talking to a child. It’s really something you have to see more than hear, I think. Or maybe you get it. Whatever.

Anyway, that’s all there is to it. I realize that this is a bit of a departure from my traditional posts, but I hope it marks the start of some more interesting content. No longer will you just see game rules (and the occasional random Semibreve post), but perhaps some more design, history, strategy, etc. We shall see!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Semibreve Update

It’s been a while since I posted a progress update, so here you go. I haven’t been able to do too much work on it lately, but I have made some progress with the work I’ve been able to do. Check out the latest screenshot and read on for more details about the improvements!

Semibreve - Hex Click for full size. Annotated game of Hex taken from Hexwiki

Major changes this time include a completely redone rendering method which produces faster and prettier graphics, automatic recognition of many games (so all the setup is done for you), and greater graphical portability. Remember when I said that it would be completely skinnable? Yep. It will indeed, so don’t worry about my rather bland graphics here -- they will be as good as you like. It will also now support tile-based games (like Hive or Tantrix) if that’s your fancy.

There’s still a bit to do, most of which is making graphics for more complex games like Chess and Shogi, supporting weird boards like those in Y and Unlur, and adding more user customization. But that’s just icing -- the core functionality is pretty much complete now. Look for Semibreve on shelves soon! (False. Look for it here. It’ll be free.)