It's sometimes worth stepping away from electronic games to acknowledge the board game renaissance that's been going on for the past decade. Tabletop and card games are in the best place they've been in ages, and these games are exerting an influence on video games - not just through electronic versions of those games, but in broader aesthetic and design terms.
One growing trend to come out of this synthesis is what you might call the "fast" strategy game, meant to be played in about an hour. It's a sign that developers are acknowledging that not everyone has time for the 100-hour mega-marathon games that enrapture critics. Hexarchy is an early entry into this category of fast games and gives an early look at what these electronic-board game hybrid titles can offer to both casual and hardcore strategy game enthusiasts.
First things first: Hexarchy is a game heavily inspired by the Civilization series. The inspirations are clear at first glance; Hexarchy uses iconography that's very similar to that used in Civilization V and VI, employs a similar tech tree (albeit a truncated one that ends in the Renaissance) and similar units, buildings, and wonders. Where it varies is in how the player interacts with the world.
Everything in Hexarchy is tied to the cards in the player's hand. At the beginning of each turn, the player draws a number of cards that are based on the size of their empire. These cards are played using either hammers (representing the production capacity of the empire) or other resources harvested from natural features. These cards are used to train units and settlers, construct buildings and terrain upgrades, research technology, adopt new government types, and activate civilization-specific abilities.
There is a deckbuilding aspect, though it's fairly narrow. Each new technology or civic adds two to four cards to the player's deck. The player can also "burn" cards at any time, gaining some extra production while removing that card from future draws. There are a few other ways to manipulate one's deck - including spending resources to draw more cards or banking a card for use in a later turn - and understanding all of these tricks is critical to winning the game.
Victory is greatly simplified compared to a Civilization game. The goal is to reach 100 victory points, which are earned by controlling territories, building wonders, and keeping one's people happy. If no one reaches 100 points, then the winner is whoever has the most points after 30 turns. Yes, a game of Hexarchy only lasts 30 turns, max - most will run about 15-20 turns, and a 10-turn win is certainly not impossible.
The ruleset is simplified in many other ways as well. Hexarchy has no naval combat or disembarkation, no builders/workers, and no limits on how many units can occupy a tile. Building (or conquering) cities helps increase the victory score as well as allowing the player to recruit more military units per turn, but there's less need to expand in order to increase production capacity, as everything is built with cards. There are no declarations of war - everyone is essentially at war all the time - and most combat is decided by which unit has the higher strength number.
On that last point, you may find that expansion through war is harder than in a standard 4X game. Most units can't move and attack on the same turn (unless assisted with cards) and the strength score for units serves as both HP and power, meaning that they lose a lot of their might after a battle. Conflicts are skirmishes more often than wars, and conquest tends to be an option of last resort for a player running out of elbow room.
All of this means that seasoned strategy game enthusiasts will need to make some adjustments to the gameplay style. Winning in Hexarchy means playing more aggressively in some regards and more prudently in others, and above all recognizing that time is greatly compressed. It means getting your head around the fact that it's possible to research an age's worth of technology in a single turn, or for a seemingly defenseless enemy to raise and mobilize an army faster than seems possible.
Above all, Hexarchy is designed for short, fast, competitive matches. That makes it ideal for board game enthusiasts, people who are new to 4X games, and anyone who lacks the time or patience for a protracted campaign. There's fun to be had for strategy fanatics as well, but it might be a bit lacking in depth for anyone with thousands of hours of experience.
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