Removing the Hex

Removing the Hex on Your Game Board

A long time ago when I was introduced to tabletop wargames, I was intrigued by the hex-patterns used to regulate movement. This was during the halcyon days of Avalon Hill and classic wargames such as Panzer Blitz, Panzer Leader, August 1914, and many others. The magazine Strategy & Tactics added to the fun with an innovative bi-monthly format that included a complete wargame with each issue. Always, there was that magic hex grid.

Hex grids are great for gaming; they offer flexible movement and lend an aesthetic appeal to the game which is almost as important as the games themselves. The use of hexes to help simulate movement is due to the fact that like a few other regular polygons, hexagons can be nested as an infinite repeating pattern (also called a periodic tessellation)which conveniently serves as a matrix within which the game is played. Squares that form a chessboard play the same role for a similar reason.

Recently, I began wondering if others periodic tessellations could serve as the basis for a game such as Silent Death. Consider an octagon. You can get a repeating tessellation with them, but only if you add small squares at the diagonal faces. An octagon has the advantage of allowing movement in eight directions that correspond to eight points of a compass. But would it work for space combat?

Using an octo-grid, movement would work pretty much as before, just allow the same point costs for sideslipping and for changing directions. It would just cost a little more to turn around unless you use the “tight turn” option. Firing arcs would pose a slightly bigger problem, since they are laid out to fit a hexagonal playing space. I took a stab at kludging six firing arcs into an octagonal format and came up with the following:

MX012-01
Firing arcs for a standard Silent Death fighter/gunboat
mapped for an octagonal surface.

No, it’s not precisely symmetrical. It’s an experiment we’re doing for fun, so sit down and shut up. Another problem is that the centers of the octagons are not equidistant from each other. If the distance from the center of one octagon to the center of one adjacent to the “north” face is 1 inch, the distance between the center of the first space and the one diagonal to it will be 1.41 inches (Can you figure out why? Show your work.).

Seriously, though, things like how game units move and how they orient themselves relative to other units will have a huge impact on how a game is played. And now, I’d like to toss out a question to all you imaginative and inventive MX readers out there. Can you find a way to play Silent Death without the hex grid, or any grid, for that matter?

This is certainly nothing new. Games like Full Thrust successfully simulate space combat without the use of a grid mat. Could a similar system be developed for Silent Death that uses a minimum of new gadgets or rule changes? Could simple modifications be made to the existing ship bases to help fix position and direction, firing arcs, and so forth? Could it be done without requiring players to have a degree in Surveying?

I’m genuinely curious to hear from readers on this subject. And if someone really wants to try adapting Silent Death to an octagon grid, well I guess I’d be interested to hear about that as well.