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Tiny Tin Men :: Archives

Hex-based terrain systems

February 21, 2006 11:23 AM - Posted by Phil - Category: Terrain

Over the years, I have experienced with many different terrain systems in my games. I started with chalking rivers and roads on a table surface, gradually adding styrofoam hills. Later on, my brother and I painted our wargames table limegreen (we had some leftover paint from a home-decoration project), and for bigger battles we used the ping-pong table. From that period I also have some 30cmx30cm home-made terrain tiles lying around … we never got more 10 tiles ;-)

Then a friend and I bought a Geohex master set. We considered this the ultmate system, but in the end it was considered to be too fragile for easy and fast setup and storage. Then I bought a big green flocked felt mat (back to basics). This was now the perfect system due to ease of setup, and transportable! So I acquired new styrofoam hills that go with the mat. These days, I’m using a Kallistra terrain set (hex-based), and I now consider this the ultimate system, especially because of the many terrain attributes available. All these previous terrain systems are still stored in my house, of course. And I didn’t even mention some of the very specialized terrain boards for convention games and the felt mats I have for starship combat, air combat and naval combat. Oh yes, I also have a hex-gridded map made out of brown packing paper for desert games.

Sigh. How many terrain systems do you need for ‘generic’ games? Right now, I feel that the Kallistra set is the most flexible, but maybe this will change again in a few years? Should I sell or throw out the previous ones? Existential questions … !

But let me go on a bit and tell you why I think the Kallistra system is the best. It is high-quality material, light and has a good visual appeal. But the main advantage is that it speeds up gameplay because it is inherently hex-gridded; i.e. it superimposes a hex-grid (about 10cm side-to-side) on your playing surface. And this is the best advantage of them all.

I have become a big adept of hex-based games over the past 2 years. Hexes allow for easier movement (no more measurements), range calculations etc., and so in general, significantly speed up a game. I used to think that no serious wargame should use hexes, because we need those 1” accurate movements and ranges. But, movement and ranges in most game systems comes in multiples of 3” or 4” anyway (I checked a few systems to make sure). So, if you would divide your distances by 3” or 4”, you get the range expressed in hexes, and nothing is lost. So, for movement and range calculations, hexes are a big win.

What about visibility? Visibility is always a problem in miniature wargames, and is often eye-balled. Traditional hex-based board wargames assume that visibility is ‘calculated’ from hex-centre to hex-centre, and one is inclined to do the same for a hex-based miniature wargame. That is fine, but not strictly necessary. Visibility can still be determined on a figure by figure basis, even though you compute ranges expressed in hexes. And thus, skirmish-based games such as Western shootouts bacome perfectly possible, with all the expected detail of hiding behind a single tree or bush. And eye-balling the visibility the traditional way is actually faster than drawing a line from hex-centre to hex-centre. And for games involving precise orientation of figures or regiments, this is also perfectly possible within the hex, since the lines of sight are not determined using the hex-grid, only their length is.

Now, the Geohex system also come in hexes, but mich bigger ones, and this is not useful to translate into a gaming system. A Kallistra hex can contain one unit of let’s say 10 25mm figures, but a Geohex hex is much bigger than that. So, although Geohex is also hex-gridded, the grid is not very useful for games. Being a computer-graphics person, I can ‘visualize’ all sort of finer resolution grids on top of the Geohex (e.g. all the centre-points and corner-points of a hex-grid also form a hexgrid at double resolution), but I think that most people will not be able to make those abstractions, such that gaming speed will slow down again.

My main objections against hex-gridded systems has always been twofold: visual appeal and accuracy of gameplay. The first one is solved by Kallistra; the second one is not an issue when using small enough hexes, and being able to move away from the inch-crunching mentality.


Comments on this entry


If you buy them premade, that is. I still am missing part of a fingertip from when I was building a hex based desert terrain out of styrofoam. Bugger of a thing to get right, those hexes (hardest part is not cutting a hex, it’s keeping the edges absolutely vertical so the fit snugly together).

Game wise, I do see the advantage of hexes. In fact, I’ve got half a mind to rebase my WWI planes on something more handy than meter high antennas and work out some hex system for the rules.

February 21, 2006 12:54 PM - Posted by Robartes

When I said that the centre-points and corner-points form another hexgrid at double resolutions, I actually made a small mistake:

The number of hexes is multiplied by 3, so the ‘dimensions’ in either directions go up by roughly sqrt(3), being 1.7something. Also, the orientation of the hexgrid is rotated 90 degrees.

Compare it to a squaregrid: you can put another squaregrid on top, by taking all the centre-points and corners as the centres of a new square grid, but it will be rotated 45 degrees, and you will have twice as many squares, so the ‘dimensions’ increase by sqrt(2), being 1.4142 (and this number I know by heart ;-)), such as some other useful mathemtical constant (Pi up to 20 decimals anyone?).

Ok, sorry, geek-mode off now, nothing to see, carry on.

February 22, 2006 6:26 PM - Posted by Phil

Phil, I hope you’re not trying to get ME into hex-games?…..


February 22, 2006 8:48 PM - Posted by Rudi


No, one doesn’t preach to the converted …

For everyone else: Convert now, repent later! Phil

February 22, 2006 9:58 PM - Posted by Phil

Bart Hex WW1 aircraft. No need to work it out yourself just yet. I have a WW1 version of Bag the Hun that I am wanting to try out as soon as I can finish making a hex map that I can transport. Seems to work very well and the full rules will be available from TFL at Easter. Regards Graham

February 23, 2006 12:16 PM - Posted by graham k

How to make a hex-map?

This is my way in which I have drawn big hexgrids before:

  1. Choose the surface (felt cloth, packing paper …)

  2. Buy a stack of Hoegaarden beer mats — perfect hexagons!

  3. lay out the beer mats at the desired resolution. Move them slightly apart depending on how big you want your hexes to be.

  4. Mark lines between the beer mats — freehand style or using a ruler, depending on your desired visual appeal.

February 23, 2006 4:21 PM - Posted by Phil


I have a copy of Bag the Hun and was indeed thinking along the lines of a WWI version of those rules. The fact that TFL is apparently working on such a version is great news! Go, TFL.

February 23, 2006 6:14 PM - Posted by Robartes

Hi, I just “discovered” the Hexon II system. Are there any US distributors? Thanks Lance

October 5, 2006 6:04 PM - Posted by Skyking20


I passed your comment on to Kallistra, and apparently they’re working on getting a US distributor, but for now it’s ordering straight from the UK:

At the moment US customers are ordering directly from us. However, we are currently looking into the distribution of Hexon in the US which should reduce the costs to our US customers.

October 7, 2006 2:23 PM - Posted by Robartes