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Subject: Hive: a review of my 47th ranked game in 2013 rss

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Mike Amos
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This review is a part of a series that I am attempting in which I review my top fifty ranked games from 2013. To see the rankings check out this geeklist.

Hive seems to be the darling of the abstract gamer community with endless depth, complexity and strategy. Why would I place it at number 47 of my top fifty games? Also, where did the horse that I rode in on go?

I think almost everyone has to agree, Hive is fun to handle. It's nothing but these big heavy hexagonal pieces that just feel good in your hands. The insects printed on the pieces look good. The style is very simplistic but perfectly representational. This, however, is where we run into trouble. Instinctively, I know that I am holding an ant, but what does an ant do that I will do? As it turns out, apparently and ant run around the outsides of things at the speed of thought. Now, I'd argue that a narrative can be made of this and even further I'd argue that this is an abstract strategy so shut up and move on. The fact that there is an image there, makes me want it to make sense. It's honestly a nitpick but there it is.

The gameplay is simple and the first few times won't make much sense or reveal much strategy but with repetitions it becomes intuitive. I don't know that I feel the strategy is quite as infinite as we've been led to believe but I'm also not a person with mastery of this game. It's very cool that the play space takes on a new configuration not only every game but every turn. It suffers from the same attribute as chess, if one player has a noticeable difference in experience, it will almost always determine the game. The one solution is more play time for the less experienced player.

Variety in this game has the same issue as checkers or chess, there are a fixed number of pieces, you will see all them most games, many players will have favorite openings and pieces they feel more powerful in moving. It's kind of a knock, but not really, it's very much in line with what this game is supposed to be.

I think that really sums it up for me. Hive is the abstract game from the twenty first century. It's at least as accessible as chess and easier to set up and play. However, you don't see chess and you don't see checkers on my list, nor really anyone's. They're good games and for some people they are THE BEST games but if you're not one of those people, they will simply never be your favorite and I'm afraid that me I acknowledge the rightful place of Hive in the abstract universe but as someone who will not play it hundreds of times and seek out players of similar competence, it's just not that magic fit for me.

PS: Please feel free to feedback with agreement and disagreement or thoughts on my writing in general as this is an exercise that I am just getting warmed up on.
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David B
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amosmj wrote:


However, you don't see chess and you don't see checkers on my list, nor really anyone's.




Chess is on a lot of people's lists. Just check out The Dice Tower's people's choice top 100 videos. Chess makes the list every year. And chess is more popular than any game on your top 50 list. By far. How many games on your top 50 list have numerous websites dedicated to them alone? Do a google search and see how many websites are dedicated to chess. True, many more people on this site talk about Race for the Galaxy, Agricola, and Pandemic. But don't make the mistake of thinking this is the only place where people talk about games.

Also, the fact that a game usually results in victory for the experienced player over an inexperienced player is more often than not a quality of a good game. If an experienced player has roughly the same chances as an inexperienced player, then the game really does not have very much to explore. So I certainly do not think this is an issue where Hive "suffers".
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Mike Amos
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I would wholeheartedly agree that chess has more fans and that they are more fervent than any game on my list. That it's on all the Dice Tower top 100's I'll have to check out. It's not that way in my memory but that's rarely correct.

While I agree that experience should play a role in victory, if it doesn't then the game is just random, games have varying degrees of this. Abstract players in general hold this as the highest virtue, I like a little randomness in my life. I like the idea that a slightly less experienced player can have a great die roll or a card draw or that two equally good players can have the game for them.

Fear not though, there are more abstracts further up my list (and they have a lower BGG rating than Hive). When you see them perhaps it will give some additional insight into why Hive just isn't the right one for me.
 
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Carthoris Pyramidos
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Quote:
The one solution is more play time for the less experienced player.


Well, actually, there are a lot of solutions. Here are two more:

In chess, the usual way to provide a handicap is to "spot pieces," removing pieces of the more skilled player before play begins. Since the game state in Hive proceeds in the opposite direction--adding pieces rather than eliminating them--the less skilled player can be allowed to play two or more pieces before the opponent.

One way to nerf the open-information aspect of Hive (creating randomness to mitigate the advantages of skill and experience) is to place all pieces other than the queens in face-down pools for random draw.

I use the second of these as "teaching mode," because it also allows me to explain the different piece types gradually, as they enter play.
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Tim Schmitt
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Mike, I'm more or less with you on Hive. Historically, I've always been drawn to these two-player abstracts, but in practice I've found that one needs to find a similarly skilled opponent for them to be truly enjoyable. And generally I don't find that they contain enough variety to keep me invested in exploring strategies and developing my skill level. In recent years I've been diverted into the Euro-style strategy games with a mix of luck & skill.

This really touches on a classic conundrum in game design - As a player, you want your choices to feel meaningful all the way through. If a game includes catch-up mechanisms (which often involve luck), it makes the early game choices less important, and if it doesn't, you're faced with the potential of runaway leaders and lack of suspense. It is nearly impossible for a single game to have it all, and in the end what we like in this regard is a personal preference.

In short, I like Hive, but I don't love it - but that's more or less how I feel about the 2-player abstracts in general (including chess).
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Mike Amos
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Carthoris, you pose an interesting solution. I'm not knowledgable enough to handciap this game well but will think upon this a bit. I find that in some of the other abstracts I play, I quickly reach a place where I demolish my regular oppoents simply because I get more reps in. Handicapping is something I will experiment with.

Tim, I think you said it fair more eloquently than I have.
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AbStrateGyk
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Carthoris wrote:

One way to nerf the open-information aspect of Hive (creating randomness to mitigate the advantages of skill and experience) is to place all pieces other than the queens in face-down pools for random draw.


Random Hive/Shuffle Hive. I don't think that's even proposed before in the variant forum. This would give it an element of luck with the possibility of either player getting an overwhelming or underwhelming position over the other.

How about (except for the Queen Bee of course) just requiring the more skilled player from drawing random pieces out of a bag or all faced down while the less skilled player has his pieces all faced up for him to see?
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