Originally posted at www.ign.com/blogs/brkinney
Anyone who plays first-person shooters knows that there is one multiplayer mode that is always included in a game, but is often overlooked. A majority of folks jump right into the Deathmatch mode, or try their luck in the single player campaign, and one mode stands alone - Capture the Flag (CTF). The apparent lack of love for Capture the Flag modes is baffling to me as it is a elaboration of a childhood favorite (the major elaboration being weapons). Well, CTF modes are often overlooked in board gaming too, but I have received a preview copy of a game that takes the all of the CTF tropes and mixes them with some well-known game mechanics to bring a very unique space-themed product to the table. Today we are going to take a look at Hexica from Linty Fresh and designers Eric Terry and Eli Ortiz. Does this deep-space game take the flag and run or does it drop the prize behind enemy lines? Here are my impressions of Hexica.
Cover Art for Hexica
As was mentioned earlier, Hexica is rooted in the mechanics of a game of capture the flag. The object of the game is to be the first player to collect a pre-determined amount of FLAGS (yes it's capitalized because it's an acronymn, more on this later) using their various space ships. Players can also win the game by being the last fleet of ships on the game board (and if there is a stalemate when it comes to the FLAGs, it must end this way). Hexica accommodates 2 to 4 players and plays in 60-90 minutes (a play time that is just right and doesn't overstay its welcome). Although there are a lot of moving parts to the game, the turn order is actually very intuitive and well laid-out, which is a big draw for the game. The turn order is as follows:
1. Roll for a FLAG - The player rolls two 12-sided dice to determine where the FLAGS end up on the board
2. Roll for Bonus money - The player rolls a D6 to see what kind of bonus credits they will have to spend this turn
3. Earn Harvesting Money - A players harvester ships are tallied and credits are awarded based on where they are on the board
4. Spend Money - The money earned from phases 2 and 3 (and any money from previous turns) can be spent on new ships, repairing ships, or buying Advance Systems Cards
5. Move Ships - This is the phase where you move...your ships
6. Attack - AAAAATTTTTAAACCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!
Each player goes through this sequence each turn until a winner is determined. The step by step turn sequence is something that everyone in your game will grasp after one rotation around the table. The game has tactical and strategic elements and feels like a amalgam of a miniatures game, chess, pick up and deliver, and good old-fashioned "Ameritrash" dice rolling.
The ships that players can buy and commission in the game each serve a different purpose in the game and can be used in conjunction with each other to execute strategies. Some of the ships are faster and have more of a range of motion each turn. Others are used for resource collection (the harvesters). While other ships are used for picking up the FLAGs and reclaiming ship wreckage for more money on your turns. All of the ships are launched from the Mothership, which is the cornerstone of your Hexica fleet. Trying out different strategies with these ships was very fun. Will you be an aggressive fleet made up of F35s and F13s trying to take down the enemies Mothership hub from the get go? Will you be more tactical and try to run interference with you Salvager, snagging FLAGs and sticking to fringes of the battlefield collecting wreckage for credits? Maybe piracy is more your style, if so, you can deploy a bunch of Bandit ships that have the ability to commandeer opponents ships with a fortuitous dice roll. or maybe you want to hunker down and play defense, setting up harvesters to rake in the cash while you wait for the battles to die down. Strategy fans and tabletop generals will really dig into the different ways to use the ships in Hexica to achieve their goals.
A game of Hexica in progress
The 6 ship options add a lot of variety to Hexica, but the variability in this game really kicks up a notch with the Advanced Systems cards. These cards can be bought during the purchase phase of your turn and grant the buyer an exclusive power to use at certain points in the game. The cards come in 4 different flavors - Attack, Defense, Economic, and Movement. These cards can do anything from sabotaging opponents Harvesters, to granting freedom of movement, to buffing your attack, and much more. A well-played Advanced System Cards can bring a weakened player right back into the game or deal a crushing blow and spur you on to victory. Being aware of the power of Advanced System Cards and having the ability to be flexible in your strategy is key when playing Hexica. The high power of the Advanced Systems Cards may be a turn off for some, but I really enjoy the variability that they provide and if the game did not feature them, I feel like it would be more of a "vanilla" experience.
A lot of the the outcomes in the game are handled with dice. Where the flags are placed, how combat is resolved, and how you earn part of your bankroll is determined are all done with polyhedrons. This is an area of the game where strict strategists may balk a little bit. I found that some unlucky rolls of the FLAG dice can place them far away from where you have ships and make it difficult to win the game. Also, the rolling for money step in the turn order seems a little arbitrary to me, but I understand that it is there so that no one goes bankrupt for the game. If you don't mind a little bit of a luck element in your game, neither of these things will detract from your experience.
One thing that I did notice in the times that I played the game is that each of my games ended with the enemy being routed, and no one ever won by collecting a majority of the FLAGs. This could be a function of my play groups (some aggressive players) or the smaller sample size of plays I have had with the game, but it was something that I wanted to note.
The copy of the game that I received was from their first batch of copies that were homemade, so all component critiques need to be taken with a grain of salt, especially considering that Linty Fresh will be launching a Kickstarter for a fully mass-produced version of the game.
The board in Hexica is the centerpiece of the game, and it really is the main event when it comes to the components as well. it is a nice quad-fold board with cool space art. The board is a 12 by 12 grid made up of, you guessed it, hexagons. The spaces are marked clearly and make it very easy to navigate your ships around the board. Also there are areas on the side of the board that are used to show how many FLAGs are yet to enter the board.
The artwork for the ships in Hexica is also very well done. They have a very Galaxy Defender/Space Invaders classic arcade vibe to them. The attack ships are a little similar to each other and you will need pay close attention when moving those to make sure you are using the right ones, but this is a minor quibble. Also, the ships are cut out of thinner card stock, a upgrade to cardboard tokens would really make them hum.The colors are vibrant and jump off of the dark expanse of space that is the gameboard.
A look at the Hexica ships and board up close. Watch out for the pirate Bandit ships!
FLAGS and damage counters are your typical Euro cubes and serve their purpose well. Each player gets a Fleet aid that reminds them of the turn order and the abilities and costs of their ships. I love when games include these player reference guides that are integrated into the theme, and Hexica did a great job with theirs.
Finally, the Advanced System Cards and the money in the game are probably the biggest elements that took me out of the game. The Advanced System Cards are printed on regular business card type stock, but their color-coding is a great touch to let you know what type of card you have drawn (Blue = Defense, Red = Attack, Orange = Movement, Green = Economic). The money on the other hand, is the dreaded Monopoly paper money. It is functional, but it is really easy to get bills tuck together and detracts a little bit from the theme (surely in the future our money has advanced further). Playing cards with money denominations would have been preferable in my opinion. Once again, these complaints may be unfounded when the mass produced version comes out, but it is something to be aware of if you are interested in a first edition copy.
Space Battles. That is all you really need to know here. There is some flavor history to Hexica that involves a tribes of space people living in harmony for awhile until resources got scarce and then things got chippy. The resource in question is the FLAGS. FLAG stands for Fragments of Latent Artifact Granules. Whoever controls the FLAGs controls the world of Hexica and can restore order to the galaxy. These are themes that we have seen played out in science fiction many times before and even current events (Wars over resources...hmmm...sounds familiar), and the familiarity of the theme makes it that much easier to get into the game. This game could have been themed in regular warfare where players were trying to capture certain mines or oilfields, but the space theme is much more palatable and even though none of us have ever piloted a space ship, actually makes it more relatable because of the pervasiveness of sci-fi themes in pop culture. If you are a fan of Star Fox, StarCraft, Star Wars, or Star anything, you will probably dive right into the theme of Hexica and maybe even build your own narrative around the hexagonally-marked game board.
Hexica is a game that has a lot of promise. It melds a lot of different mechanics into an over-arching theme that is familiar and works well. I really enjoyed the variable powers of the ships and cards in the game, and this really seems to lend itself to a good amount of replayability. This is a very ambitious game in putting all of those mechanics together, and is definitely not like anything else on my shelf. I also really like that it had a great sci-fi feel, but it was distilled down to a battle game instead of some of the larger and longer drawn out games like Eclipse and Twilight Imperium. I had a few problems with the game, but most of them were cosmetic and fixable with a larger print run of the game. So, I will finish this tour of Hexica by outlining the types of folks who I think would be drawn to the game, and also the types of people that may not take to the game.
You will like Hexica if:
You dig all things sci-fi
Capture the Flag is your favorite multiplayer mode in Halo
"Rolling dice and taking names" is your motto
Turn-based strategy games are some of your favorites
You may not enjoy Hexica if:
Randomness and dice rolling gets on your nerves
You do not enjoy games with conflict
You are expecting a 4X game like Eclipse or Twilight Imperium
You don't like board games (how have you read this long already?)
If you are interested in learning more about Hexica, visit the Linty Fresh website, where you can order a first edition copy. Otherwise, stay tuned for their Kickstarter project "launching" soon!