HexCrawl Chess

Tod's picture

I've been thinking about fusing hexagonal chess with a hexcrawl, and here's what I came up with. It requires an RPG ruleset but it's system-agnostic. I imagine something like Traveller but you could probably do it with a fantasy setting or anything else. The important part (I think) is that the RPG system should have very simple, cut-and-dry, combat rules.

Disclaimer: This is a first pass. I don't expect it to be 100% playable yet, as I'm sure there are missing bits and unconsidered edge cases. But I think it's done enough to start playtesting. Let's tweak it!

HexCrawl Chess

Two groups are warring for control of an alien planet. Neither is very familiar with the local lifeforms. Write statblocks for each piece using your chosen RPG system.

  • When you move a piece into or through a hex no one has occupied before, roll its terrain and climate (perhaps using the Welsh Piper rules), and draw the terrain icon on the board.
  • Every time a piece ends its move, make an encounter roll based on terrain and climate.
  • If an encounter occurs, that unit must defeat or bypass the encounter before play continues.
  • If an encounter occurs in a hex occupied by two opposing pieces (i.e., a capture has just been attempted), roll 1d6 to determine which side is affected by the encounter: (1-2) attacker, (3-4) defender, (5-6) both. If both sides are involved in the encounter, it's up to the players to determine whether or not they cooperate; think Braunstein-level roleplay.
  • When a unit defeats an encounter, roll 1d6 for the value of the Treasure found there. If both sides shared in the victory, each side gets 1d3.
  • Treasure Points accumulate and may be used to purchase new pieces (using traditional chess scoring rules: pawn=1, bishop or knight=3, rook=5).
  • New pieces must be purchased at the beginning of one's turn, and must enter the board via one of the original starting positions for that piece.

For extra flava, consider adding a GM.

Dragonfly Chess by Christian Freeling

based on Gliński's Hexagonal Chess by Władysław Gliński

Here is an image of the starting positions, followed by a short video example of play...

Paul T.'s picture

...and a fantastic demo! That's a really handy illustration. Very nicely done.

I'm trying to figure out the *purpose* of mixing Chess rules with the hexcrawl procedures, though. Like, is the idea to make a more unpredictable, challenging Chess game? Or to use Chess play as a way to generate some fictional series of events? Or just to experiment with mixing two unrelated activities?

My concern would be that the random encounter business makes it a poorer Chess game (so strategic Chess players wouldn't enjoy playing), and that sticking so closely to the Chess rules messes with the developing narrative/fiction/events. You know? Seems like, ultimately, this might just be the first step to ending up with a game that's actually fulfilling to play.

Or how do you envision this taking shape?

A really interesting thing to experiment with, in any case. Lots to think about here!

Tod's picture

The Purpose? What's the purpose of Hexagonal Chess in the first place? Or for that matter, Yahtzee? Or Cosmic Wimpout?
I don't know, man. But not everything is a testbed for advanced theory - not even for moi.
Sometimes we just like to play goofy things.

Tod's picture

The Purpose of why humans play cannot really be answered except in a very general and psychological way (Piaget, etc). So I'm not gonna bother with that. But I can describe what's going on here: it's a synthesis of two types of simulation game into another type, which is less abstract than Chess but more abstract than Traveller. It's for - uh what's the word? - fun. Of course, Chess is already a simulation of war. So this is a simulation of war with an added layer of fiction. Not only that, but the fiction can "bite back." It contains dangers that can and probably will affect the state of the conflict in ways that neither combatant can predict, and the possibility of riches that can tip the balance. Think European forces fighting each other for control of portions of the unexplored African continent if you want a real-world example, but that's already a deeper concept than we really need to justify playing.

Paul T.'s picture

Ah, it seems you took my question in a far more depth-sounding and profound way than I intended. It wasn't a theoretical question, but a practical one. Like, why do you think combining these things, in particular, is cool? What elements of gameplay do you think they will highlight?

I'm curious, in other words, perhaps whether this is more of an experiment ("hey, I wonder what happens when you put these two things together?") or more of a very specific design targeting a particular experience. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other; I'm just curious how you see it yourself and what excites you here, beyond the practical details you've already outlined.

I often find that discussing that kind of concern can help us see whether we might want to simplify (remove) or complicate (add) a design.

Tod's picture

Well, it's not targeting a particular experience, or if it is, that experience arose after the initial work on the concept began, not before. Basically my thought process went like this:

  1. I'm reading about variants of Chess, just because.
  2. I notice something called "Hexagonal Chess" and check out the rules.
  3. The board makes me think of hex maps, an association which shouldn't surprise anyone.
  4. "Hmm, chess is a war simulation. What if it had terrain and monsters, like hex maps?"
  5. "Would you place the terrain and monsters before playing?"
  6. "That sounds like a lot of work, and that's GM prep, not playing. Bah. Besides, isn't it fun to be surprised?"
  7. "Ok so then, what sort of situation would this be a representation of?"
  8. "Well... 'Two groups are warring for control of an alien planet. Neither is very familiar with the local lifeforms...' That sounds workable."

Chess is very well defined and limited, but rather dry. Hexcrawls are highly heterogenous, but open-ended and sometimes seem purposeless. By taking aspects of each we get (in theory anyway) something that meets in the middle, providing just enough narrative structure, firm mechanical limits, unforeseeable surprises, and a meaningful goal to shoot for.

Paul T.'s picture

I really like that; your "designer's notes" shed a lot of light on the whole process.

The insight about hexcrawling feeling potentially purposeless, and building in structure to give clear metagame goals, is particularly interesting. We could borrow all sorts of conceptual ideas from this minigame to inform other hexcrawls. Connecting certain types of movement across the map with XP goals, for example...

Probably my favourite part of these rules is how you've connected exploration (via treasure) to purchasing new pieces. You have to keep searching the board, and risk losing pieces, in order to reinforce your army, but eventually the resources of the "planet" run dry. A great way to combine a quintessential D&D idea with the Chess game.

The rules seem pretty solid (assuming all the rules of Chess are still in effect), except for the order in which we resolve encounters and capture. In your demo it seems that, whether conveniently or coincidentally, a weird situation (like two pieces sharing a hex) never comes up, but it would have to be spelled out before anyone could play this.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

I'd like to see what happens with this; I am reading this thread with interest. So, I'm just putting down an encouraging word here.

Tod's picture

I've played it against myself a couple times, using the following rules:

  • A piece's "bonus" = its point value (so, pawn=+1, bishop or knight=+3, rook=+5)
  • Except for the King, which only gets a +1 (security forces failed you, eh?)
  • Monsters were rolled on some D&D WM table and their HD = their bonus
  • When any 2 pieces (incl monsters) occupy a hex, combat must be resolved before anything else happens, and one will die(I know I said "defeat or bypass" above, but I wasn't sure how to make "bypassing" work, so I just skipped it.)
  • In combat, both opponents roll 2d6 and add bonus, trying to beat the other one. Ties = reroll. High roll = winner. Loser dies.(Yes you could be much more subtle about this, hit points and all, and if playing against another person I probably would. but that's up to you.)
Tod's picture

Encounters do not occur on Starting Hexes; these are assumed to have been cleared by the initial occupiers. All starting hexes are assumed to be terrain type "Plains".

When moving a piece into (even if just passing through) a previously unknown hex, roll 1d6 to determine the terrain inside the new hex, based on the terrain of the last one (i.e. the hex you moved from). Consult the following table:
Terrain Table