by Moritz Eggert
"Hexwar" (www.hexwar.com) is a semi-commercial endeavour that allows players to play classic hex-and-counter wargames via email. I say "semi-commercial" because although there is a fee to pay it is clear that this is mainly a labour of love, and the money is put to use to pay for bandwidth and programming instead of making loads of money for the owners.
First a little history lesson.
SPI was the most prolific producer of wargames, and their magazine Strategy and Tactics (which still exists today, now published by Decision Games) published a historical simulation every month. The early designs by SPI were the ones that we would call classic now - very accessible, "light" wargames, which were very close in playing style and also playing time to traditional abstract games like chess. These games used similar rules sets for several games covering the same period, which was a new idea at the time, and enabled gamers to quickly grasp the concepts and try them again and again out in so-called scenarios.
Everybody remembers these games being played virtually everywhere - In my early gaming days there were a couple of guys obsessed with Chickamauga for example - and these memories are coupled with a certain innocence, because this was before the arrival of the monster game period, which blew up the designs with increasingly complicated and unplayable rules.
But these games seemed to have vanished forever, damned to spend the rest of their existence in dusty flea-market bins. Until now that is...
Hexwar is a grognard's dream come true (and who of us isn't a little grognard deep at heart, even if we're Eurogamers like me?). Run by an entrepreneur couple (Keith and Carola) and old time and new SPI fans from Britain (with special license to use the old game designs by current SPI license holder Decision Games) Hexwar tries to bring the old classic games to the computer age, with the simple concept to make them available for easy online play via the HexWarLauncher, a small utility program that runs on all types of computers.
The praise for Hexwar has already been great, and deservedly so. I discovered their service through an ad on consimworld and proceeded to play their free intro game, Napoleon at Waterloo (which SPI also used to distribute free to get people into the hobby).
To use Hexwar you have to first download the GameLauncher (which is free). For each game that you are interested in playing there is a separate small download, so you don't have to download huge amounts of data at once. These game subprograms mostly contain the graphics and special rules for the different games; the rest is handled by the basic interface.
Play is strictly by email - every time you start the Hexwar launcher it checks the server of Hexwar if your opponents have done their turns and if they have all these turns are downloaded at once immediately in a few seconds, ready for you to play whenever you want.
I myself have always 10-20 games on the go, and as doing a turn mostly only takes 1-5 minutes it is easy to always have an interesting game going on. If you are a fan of these old wargames but never find time nowadays to play them in one go, Hexwar will be the perfect vitalizer for you. Finding opponents is very easy, as the database of players is constantly growing, and challenging or being challenged is very easy, so starting a game can be a matter of seconds if you wish.
The GameLauncher enforces the rules by the way, this is not a utility like Vassal or Cyberboard which simply tracks pieces on a board, no - here the computer actually knows the rules, shows you where the pieces can move, does the combat resolution for you, etc.
Now to the games themselves, which are constantly expanded and new series added. Currently there are games from the
Napoleonic Period (one rule set):
Napoleon at Waterloo, Marengo, Wagram, Battle of Nations, La Belle Alliance, Ligny, Quatre Bras,
Right now the team is working on the campaign game "Napoleon's Last Battles" which will be awesome, I think.
2nd World War (one similar rule set)
Africa Campaign: Cauldron, Crusader, Supercharge
European Theater: Arnhem, Bastogne, Kursk 1943, Moskow Campaign, Turning Point: The Battle of Stalingrad
South Pacific Theater: Saipan, Bloody Ridge
American Civil War (varying systems):
Chippewa, The Thames, Shiloh, First Bull Run, Second Bull Run, Chickamauga, Cemetery Hill, Fredericksburg, Marye's Height
The website is only mildly competitive at the moment - although there are rankings for each game these are of little interest, and there is no "overall best players" feature yet. I have found the message system to be a little limited, usually there will be no or only very short messages during games - it would be nice to comment on single actions to have more of a face-to-face feeling. What is especially nice is that the players I have encountered so far seem to take things pretty easy -most enjoy playing the games and experiencing interesting developments more than winning or losing, and this makes for a very friendly and welcoming general spirit.
©2007, Westpark Gamers