Saturday, 23 March 2013

Thoughts on grids and hexes

I'm increasingly drawn to grids and hexes as opposed to 'free form' measurement, a split in approach that goes back to Joseph Morschauser and Donald Featherstone. The only grid/hex game I play at the moment is Square Bashing, but I have plans to extend this both for post-WW1 tactical games and pre-WW1 grand-tactical games.

I've never played hex boardgames very much and I originally found miniature wargaming with grids rather strange. Unlike board wargames you can't literally stack miniatures, but you can set limits either by numbers (e.g. Square Bashing) or model footprint (e.g. Bob Cordery's Hexblitz in which I've recently taken an interest). Looking back now, it feels like moving from the mushy world of analogue to the crunchy precision of digital.

A grid formalises measurement of movement, range, facing and contact with unarguable precision. You lose the infinitely variable angles, and movement and firing distances are shoehorned into multiples of the grid.  There is some loss of granularity but free form measurement also has its fixed points e.g. base sizes, being 'in range', being at half range, being behind the flank, and measurement multiples of 1" or 1 cm. The rigidity is still there, it's just harder to measure accurately.

The major downside of grids/hexes is aesthetic, and especially the impact on scenery. Here large squares (e.g. 6" x 6") are more forgiving than small squares or hexes. Some of the gains include:

  • Unrivalled speed of measurement.
  • Elimination of "just in"-"just out" arguments.
  • Elimination of micro-adjustments, clipping and exploitive shuffling.
  • Clarification of meanings like 'at' and 'within'.
  • Elimination of accidental cloth movements. 
  • Potential reduction in dithering and taking moves back.
  • Everything is crisper and more definite.

Another advantage of area movement rules is that basing requirements can be more relaxed and authorial rewrites won't force you to rebase an army several times during its wargaming lifetime.


  1. I agree with all of this.
    Perhaps it's my eyesight fading as I age, or perhaps I enjoy getting a game finished by the end of the day.

    I've been a wargamer for several decades, usually playing the free form game.
    My #1 reason for adding rules to my "Will not play" pile are ones that are broken by "fiddly distance exploits" or have over half their pages filled with weird multiple unit combat exceptions.

    Digitising the battlefield cures both these problems, eliminates much micro-management, allows the players to stop fiddling about and get on with the game.

    Of course the "It's just a boardgame" brigade will raise their objections, and that's OK, it's a broad hobby with room for all.
    I like to think I'm getting the best from wargames and boardgames.

    1. Hi Stephen

      Thanks for your comments which strike to the heart of the matter.

      I have noticed that hex games can appear to accentuate 'get the drop on' issues when units approach one another, but that happens in free movement games as well - it's just less obvious.