Archive for May, 2006

Hexing Matters

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

The Hexagon is really a marvelous shape.  It’s loved by nature and used to solve problems where you want an efficient yet strong way of packing things…say a honeycomb for example.  It’s often found on the molecular level or in the patterns of naturally occurring crystal lattices…..benzene, graphite, many steroids and even TNT show hexagonal symmetry.  War gamers love it because the distance to the center of any adjacent cell is the same no matter which direction you take.  Moving along a diagonal therefore doesn’t entail a little double timing.  Armageddon Empires is fundamentally a war game so a hexagonal board had a strong appeal.  I also like the feel it gives to the game.  It harkens back to days my brother and I would set up a game of Avalon Hill’s The Russian Campaign at the beginning of the summer on a cardboard table and see if we could make it through a couple of turns without the board being thrown up in the air. 

Another reason I chose the hexagon is how easily it allows the construction of random maps.  Board games often come with stacks of hexagonal tiles that are set up by chance or design to form the playing area.  To get an idea of the traditional board game implementation you can check out games like Fantasy Flight’s Twilight Imperium or the Euro that launched an industry, Settlers of Catan .  So each game of Armageddon Empires is unique.  The terrain is generated a little more methodically than a human would do it however.  A random height archetype is chosen each time i.e. flat wastelands, hilly, mountain chain and the hex grid is seeded with some height data.  After that the computer does what it does best and an erosion algorithm based on Markov chains makes the pattern look fairly natural.  The result is interesting board topography. 


Each hex is a world unto itself so let’s dissect a few:  


The border colors of each hex indicate their respective movement costs.  Light brown costs 1 Movement Point.  Medium brown costs 2 points and the darkest brown costs 3.  Ever striving for simplicity the numbers are kept low on purpose.  An army of fast recon type cards might have a movement points (Speed) rating of 3 or 4 so they could travel far in a single turn across most of the open 1 point terrain (Desert, Wasteland, Dunes etc.).  A large strike force of mecha, armor and artillery is going to be traveling at a more leisurely pace of 1 or 2 movement points a turn.  The engineering tradeoff dynamic is usually speed for firepower and that plays out in Armageddon Empires as well.  The name of each hex tile is revealed as it is explored….i.e. an army actually moves into the hex. 


Also presented on the hex are any resources available for exploitation. The colored icons across the top represent the unit number of humans, materials, energy or technology that can be harvested from the hex in question.  On the hex with the large silver bit you will notice a nice resource base of 1 of each of the game’s 4 resources.  The Machine player has his starting stronghold there and it automatically harvests 1 of each resource per turn.  You can see that listed as a special ability of the Machine stronghold card: RC: 1H 1M 1T 1E  (Resource Collection: 1 Humans 1 Materials 1 Tech 1 Energy)


Also scattered across the map are hex specials represented by a gold star.  The star is only revealed if the hex has been explored and usually the exploring unit is immediately offered a chance to grab the special.  Specials can range from caches of resources that will give you an excellent boost to get those key cards out early, to powerful weapons and devices that can be attached to your units.

The blue bits represent independent units on the map.  They may be friendly, indifferent or hostile.  Some will even offer to join you or fight for your cause if paid in resources.  Others will simply fight you to the death.  Their responses are determined in large part by the faction you are playing.  The Empire of Man has the best chance of finding allies in the wastes while the Xenopods penchance for eating humans and destroying machines makes for a tough PR problem to overcome.

Victory point hexes appear when the Victory Point option has been selected as a win condition.  They are almost always guarded by universally hostile independents so you will need to come up with a plan to conquer and hold them.

Some hexes the players will bring to the game with them and set up to form their resource base to start the game.  These hexes may have special green icons on them.  They can represent tunnels or earth works for a defensive bonus or an ambush position where an army waiting undetected can get an extra bonus in battle and gain the initiative of being the attacker.

 The art style of the hexes in Armageddon Empires is meant to reflect the monotone palette of the earth’s surface post Cataclysm.  Brown, brown and yet more brown punctuated by an occasionally salt flat, toxic swamp or burning plain.  Most hex tiles give no indication that they harbor anything of significance in them.  There are however some exceptions.  The ruins of large cities and towns are noticeable from the start of the game.  They usually have something of value in them (multiple resources) but they also attract nasty things like rad zombies, howlers and tentacle beasts…..nothing a good army can’t handle but a challenge to a lone recon unit and a threat to a lone hero.  Occasionally rarer sights spring up in the wastes and are noticeable from the get go on the map.  Huge canyons, mesas, unusual rock formations….definitely something you might want to send a search team to go check out.

Well, that’s it for now.  Check back soon for another installment on what makes a hero.