A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 5 September 2011

Hex Cells - Round & Round We Go

There are occasions when I find that I am somewhere I've been before. Sometimes, the number of footprints makes it clear that an awful lot of people have been there, but it doesn't make it any more likely that the path leads anywhere.

Prompted by comments to the previous post, I reckon it is time for one of my periodic visits to the subject of hex cells on the wargames table - specifically, what size they should be. Since the mid 1970s, I have had 7" hexes on my table, and only occasionally have I wished they were a different size. They are seven inches (across the flats) because that looks OK and fits my unit sizes nicely. Six inches would be a possible alternative, anything smaller would not be viable, given that I have no wish to allow hex sizes to drive a complete re-engineering of my armies, rules and figures-to-men ratios, nor to initiate an extensive re-basing programme. Since no-one made commercial hexagonal bits in the 1970s (as far as I know), there was no option but to manufacture my own hills, so the odd size did not make things any worse than they would otherwise have been. If someone had made pre-formed hills and rivers for 6" hexes when I started, I would probably have gone for 6".

In recent years I looked at various mats and tile systems. The most basic was a printed tablecloth made by a Spanish concern that was promoted by NapoleoN Miniatures. I can't remember the name of the firm - Microgames? - something like that. I corresponded with them for a little while, and they sent me a couple of samples. They did a range of off-the-shelf cloths, including a decent-looking Peninsular War job with 100mm hexes, but they were more than happy to discuss bespoke products. They were prepared to print anything I wanted on the cloth (it didn't warrant the description "mat"), and make it any size I wanted, which sounds ideal. The cloth, sadly, was very flimsy - you could see light through the weave, it would certainly stretch and wrinkle and move about in action. A friend said that you couldn't even dry dishes with it, which is an interesting criterion. So I dropped that idea - not without difficulty, since the manufacturer seemed very excited by my interest, and looked forward to meeting me at a wargames convention in Dublin (which is obviously just down the road from here) to finalise my order. I have seen impressive examples of heavier, textured mats, which look good (though the hex grids come in a small number of unsuitable sizes), but I worry about storing them without damage, and I have a weird dread of covering my home with bits of shed flock and resin flakes.

Tile systems are invariably impressive - sometimes spectacularly so. The old Geo-Hex tile system (which I have never actually seen) appears to have used large hexes, but it's long OOP. I have heard mention of TSS making hex tiles, and their website shows some interesting pictures, but it makes no mention of sizes. I emailed them, and they came back very quickly and politely and said they no longer make the hex tiles, since they had trouble with manufacture and accuracy of the finished pieces. They did, however, recommend their excellent square terrain tiles, and they do look very good.

One of the familiar aspects of following a hopeless path is that frequently people will fix you with a slightly pitying gaze (especially in email) and imply that they are surprised that you are still doing whatever it is you are doing, and that the rest of the world has moved on from that - all the cool guys are now buying our latest product, and here's some pictures and a price list.

Hexon - state of the art?

At four inches it's a breeze. Kallistra make what appears to be the standard-setting product, Hexon II. Looks terrific. It probably looks awesome, though I am not an expert in awe. 4" tiles in a bewilderingly huge range - you can build the most convincing looking countryside in all sorts of regional shades. I am really very impressed, but it wouldn't do for me. The hexes are too small for my armies, and the whole approach of using a wall-to-wall set of tiles involves costs and storage issues which put me off. No - I am not decrying any of this, it really is wonderful - if I was starting from scratch now I would do Napoleonics in 15mm, with small unit sizes, and I would buy the Kallistra system. The snag, of course, is that I am not.

My wargames have never been scenically realistic. There is no whiff of diorama about my set up. Plain boards, unflocked bases, simple, representative villages and woods - that's how I've always done it. I've found it practical and pleasing, and I like the traditional look. I also like the look of more exotic approaches, I hasten to add, but they are not for me. A plain table with some blocks on it for hills is fine. If the hills look half-decent and troops can stand on them, and if I can store them easily without damaging them, so much the better.

As Mr Kinch has correctly pointed out, the real reason for choosing to move to smaller hexes is because that is how you want the game to be. It is possible that I could use 6" hexes, and it is possible that there would be advantages for the game size, but it does not (yet, at least) strike me as a must-do. Cutting out hills is a royal pain in the ass, to quote Mr Salinger, and no mistake. If someone makes suitable 6" hexagonal hill blocks which could be used, singly or in multiples, without leaving raw edges, and without requiring me to cover the whole world in the things, that would be a small push toward making a switch.

I have read interesting forum threads about casting tiles in plaster, papier maché or secret-formula gloop, and all kinds of mine-is-bigger-than-yours discussions of tile systems past, present and mythical. I am, I think, not much the wiser. It looks like a choice between staying where I am or some DIY-based change. The more I think about this, the less I fancy a change. I must Google "hex terrain" and look yet again at those TMP exchanges from 2006, and count the footprints.

By the way - what happened to Hexon I?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, yes, I've hunted a few Woozles myself.

    Rebasing/reorganizing an entire collection is a lot of work and it does make things easier when a unit fits in one hex. Standing pat makes good sense, at least until you replace your table top.