I am a fickle gamer – a jack of all trades and master of none. Sometimes I get enthusiastic about wargames, sometimes Eurogames and now abstracts. The last time this happened it was Go and Twixt. Now it is Hex.
For those of you that don’t know, the rules of Hex are incredibly simple. On a grid of hexes, lay down pieces one after the other until one of you has connected a line between two opposing sides. It makes Chess and Go look complicated. Of course it does not have the depth of those games, but it is deep enough for me. (I read Wikipedia fairly carefully, but I still can’t work out what PSPACE-complete means.)
I gave up on Chess at the age of 11 because I got fed up of Steven Hawkings lookalikes humiliating me. I gave up on Go in 2004 because I got headaches playing online. Hex on the other hand is a gentler game and a solid competitive 10×10 game can be finished in six minutes at Kurnik – which is the best place to go for real-time Hex.
John Farrell’s Facebook Hex application started me off. He has documented his experience of coding it and he did a really good job. Unfortunately, there are only a few people available to play against.
There are some other good ways to play Hex over the web. The most popular is Little Golem, but my favourite so far is Richard’s PBEM Server (Gamerz.net). I have known about Gamerz.net for years, but I didn’t realise that there is a play-by-web interface with 79 different games available to play. The site is very plain and easy to use and the fact that you can seamlessly switch to play by email is slick. The most popular game is backgammon, and some really strange variants of it, most of which seem come from one interesting looking book, but there are lots of games available. Feel free to challenge me – my username is icheyne. I have been playing David Bush (twixter at the Geek), an expert Hex and Twixt player, and he has recommended me some more games: Akron, Amazons, Batalo, Druid, Havannah, Hexade, Octi, Punct, Renju, Shogi, Unlur, and Yinsh. Hopefully I will be able to tell you what I think of them. So far we have played Y, a Hex variant connecting three edges of a triangular board, and Crossway, which is a connection game cunningly adapted to a Go board.
As you can tell from my record against David, I am far from an expert abstract gamer, but I am getting more competent. There are some excellent Hex computer AIs available, although they are still weaker than the strongest humans. Hexy is good on Windows – but if you play more than 20 games you have to register via email which took several days to get an answer. Overall I prefer Six, on my Linux home PC, although there is a new Windows port. I have even managed to beat it at beginner level – which is a first for me as I could never beat Chess AIs on any setting. It is a good way to improve quickly.