Friday, 3 March 2017

A simple but insightful idea

One of the problems that I have always had with using a grid of offset squares rather than standard grids of squares or hexes is the fact that they did not seem to feel right, even though they are easier to draw than hexed grids whilst retaining many of the advantages of a hexed grid.

Yesterday David Crook made a very simple suggestion to me via an email. It made me realise that what was making grids of offset squares feel wrong was my perception of how units moved on them because of the way in which I had the grid orientated. He proposed using the grid with the rows running horizontally (or landscape) for battles where linear formations were the norm (i.e. up to the beginning of the twentieth century) ...


... and vertical (i.e. portrait) for battles where linear formations were not the norm.


This set me thinking. Almost all hex grids seem to be orientated vertically, thus ...


... and very rarely horizontally.


For some reason, we seem to find the former grid orientation preferable to the latter, possibly for the same reasons that we tend to prefer horizontal grids of offset squares rather than vertical ones.

The more I thought about this, the more I realised that David had raised a very interesting point. My next step should be to do some experiments with both grids of offset squares and horizontally orientated hexed grids, but in the meantime it seems to me that David's simple idea is actually very insightful, and certainly challenges our perception of the way in which grids can be used on the tabletop.

46 comments:

  1. Could the prefference for viewing the horizontal versions of the boards be as simple as our "view" of a horizon line, as we look about our own world?

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    1. Brigadier Dundas,

      Probably very true. I think that we naturally like things to look that way.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. This has the potential to 'do your 'ead in' as we were wont to say in our yoof. It certainly looks odd with the vertical view (on squares), and horizontal (on hexes). I wonder how it might affect play - looking forward to your findings!

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    1. AlFront,

      It certainly has the capacity to 'do yer 'ead in' ... but it is also worth looking at just in case it produces some interesting insights in the best use of gridded tabletops.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Hi Bob,

    I thought some more about this and came to the following conclusions - a landscape grid to give a larger unit frontage whilst portrait style makes for a greater depth of the unit - which I believe better reflects the defence in depth of the modern army. Stylised I know but it somehow feels better than it reads!

    I will be trying this out with the block armies - simply because it has piqued my own curiosity!

    All the best,

    DC

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    1. David Crook,

      As you started this ball rolling, and comments that you make will help to move the topic forward ... and I think that you might well be right with regards to the perception that a landscape grid gives the impression of width whilst the portrait grid give the impression of depth.

      I look forward to seeing how your experiments with your block armies work out.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Interesting. When I read this I had to check. The Command & Colors series (including Memoir '44) uses a horizontal hex grid

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    1. Kevin Kearney,

      I suspect that most people would have assumed that the grid on the C&C game boards had a vertical rather than a horizontal orientation. It is interesting to note that they don't.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Interesting, I will have a wee go with my board of my last post...

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    1. Tradgardmastare,

      I look forward to reading your feedback.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I think the minds eye / perception thing etc is exactly right. I love hexes, I have a long association with them through boardgames and in many respects, they disappear from the conscious, but are clearly there in the sub-conscious - why I think this is as follows - none of which makes sense, since a grid should be a grid.

    I like hexes and don't see them

    but if I play an open game on hexes (i.e. don't use the hexes themselves, just use them to create the battlefield and terrain), then it drives me mad that the figures are not sitting exactly inside each cell .... so I must be very conscious of them even though I don't think I am.

    I can't cope with the offset square in whatever orientation - I just can't and that is unexplainable since I like hexes.

    If I see a square grid, it feels very constrained to me, rather chessboard like.

    So there you are, I find it strange that plenty of gamers can't cope with basic hex concepts, such as zig zag movement and multi combats etc, yet I struggle with any other kind of grid. All very odd, perhaps it is conditioning related ... if anyone feels sorry for me, then send me your best painted figures, that should fix me!

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    1. Norm,

      I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would buy something like Hexon II hexed terrain ... and then not use the hexes! What is the point?

      I am gradually coming around to the fact that grids of offset squares might have advantages that I hadn't seen before, but unlike you I have no problem with grids of standard squares. In fact Joseph Morschauser actually argued that the constriction you mention was an advantage when designing wargames to fit on a relatively small tabletop as it channeled the players' thinking.

      Each to his own, as they say!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob, I know there are some Hexon buyers that want the slope hexes, so that they can construct an accurate contoured battlefield, though I would have thought that that was most efficiently done (and cheaper) by buying blank hex tiles and then covering with a blanket.

      My own experiences with lifelong use of hexes and being less happy with other grids is probably more due to a closed mind than anything else .... not a good thing!

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    3. Norm,

      I don't own any of the Hexon II slope hexes, but if the hills are anything to go by, the slopes are relatively steep. I agree that the tried and tested blanket method is a better and cheaper alternative.

      I came quite late to grids in general and hexes in particular, and must admit that buying my Hexon II terrain was one of the best things that I ever did, and it has proven to be an excellent investment. I have fought more wargames since I bought it than I ever did beforehand.

      I doubt that I'll ever convert you to using grids of squares (offset or otherwise) but at least you haven't dismissed them out of hand, and that indicates to me that your mind is by no means closed!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. A small remark w.r.t. sloped Hexon hexes: they come in 2 different heights (1 hextile and 2 hextiles). Depending on your preferred basing and size of miniatures, go for 1-tall slopes or 2-tall slopes.
      Personally, I use the 2-tall hex slopes. The look better, and I did found that most figures (including 28mm or larger) do not fall over.

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    5. Phil Dutré,

      Thanks for the very helpful comments. I may well look again at the slopes when I next see the Kallistra stand at a show.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. Interesting. I prefer square grids but am also happy to use a standard hex system. As for offfset squares, I have never had the opportunity to use them because I have never been able to bring myself to draw one out. Not much of an excuse I know but I acknowledge my failing!

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    1. Barry Carter,

      I find that grids of standard squares work well for most wargames set per-1900, but that hexed grids tend to work better post-1900.

      I have yet to draw my first grid of offset squares, but will need to do so at some point if only to find out if they do have the advantages I think that they might have.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. Having spent some time visualising rotations of the hex grids to try and understand the implications of your note I suddenly realised that I had no idea what was going on! My problem is that I’m not sure whether the opposing armies are entering from the top and bottom edges or from the left and right. Top and bottom seems the more natural rule for offset squares but I could not convince myself that there is a natural result for hexes; of course, there is no reason that a scenario has to have the forces entering from opposite edges.

    In fact, for hexes, I kept visualising the forces forming neat lines with the units facing the vertices rather than the edges of the hexagons, which I don’t think is how it’s normally done and would require changes in movement and firing rules. One reason that I’ve never really used grids is that I tend to get lost in abstract theorising when trying to write the rules (even though I never had any problems when playing Avalon Hill’s Waterloo fifty years ago; but board games are different.)

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    1. Mike Hall,

      In my enthusiasm to write my blog entry, I did not mention that I was assuming that - as in most scenarios - the opposing forces were based along the top and bottom edges of the grid. Sorry for the confusion this omission might have caused.

      As a wargame designer I love grids, but I can understand why others do not.

      I am very interested in your statement that board games are different from other types of wargame because I don't see them as being so. In my wargames the playing pieces and terrain are 3D whereas in board games they usually are not; other than that the differences seem to be very small ... but as I wrote in reply to Norm, each to his own!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. The orientation of a hex-connected grid (whether using true hexes or an offset square grid) is also an important issue in (old) hex-and-counter wargames.

    When I was addicted to Avalon Hill games in the 80s, I started noticing that the hexgrid often was oriented in such a way that the "expected" frontline ran in such a way that the frontline was staggered (such that units were not ligned up next to each other in a horizontal hexgrid).
    This is not unimportant. Many of these old games have a Zone-of-Control rule: you have to attack ALL adjacent enemy units. In a horizontal hex-grid, this becomes very difficult without attacking the full line, or attacking with at least unfavourable odds at the end of the attacking line.
    But if the frontline is staggered, there are always "bulbs" in the frontline where the attacker has an easier chance of picking out good attack spots.
    If you look at some classics (e.g. Russian Campaign), you see that the hexgrid is oriented such that the event that all units line up along an hexline is minimal.

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    1. As an addition: this might be less important if most of the combat is ranged. But if most of the combat is based on adjacency rules (and whether ALL adjacent units have to be attacked), the orientation of the grid relative to the expected frontline is an important issue.

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    2. Phil Dutré,

      Not having played many board wargames, I had never realised the importance of the grid orientation to the options available to the players. Thanks for pointing this out; it really helps to clarify the thinking behind the design of gridded wargame.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    3. Phil Dutré,

      I have tended to find that with my gridded wargames, the ranges shorten quite quickly as the battle progresses, thus making the orientation of the grid even more important.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. I have been exercising my head for days over this - even harking back to 1991, when I came up with the same offset square pattern in order to create a campaign map for a 'Bathtub Operation Crusader' game I had in mind using Command Decision for the actual battles. But I've suddenly realised that my grid was never 'offset squares' but 'offset oblongs' (I called it the 'brick pattern' or 'stretcher bond' pattern for that reason.

    That oblong pattern had a particular aspect ratio, too, settled upon after a little bit of trigonometry and the application of the Theorem of Pythagoras. That aspect ratio, if we were to be exact, was 10:8.66. If the cells ( 'bricks') were laid horizontally, they would be 10cm wide and 8.66cm high.

    Of course, the 8.66cm presents certain difficulties. One is that it seems too exact. That can be got around simply by approximation: to 8.5 cm or even 9 cm. Alternatively, use inches, 4 inch by 3.5 inch would be bally close.

    The other difficulty is that 8.66 cm is a trifle less that 3.5 inches, and that might be a size slightly smaller than you really want. There are a couple of ways to deal with that. One is to make the cells larger, making the height 10cm, and the width around 11.5-11.6cm.

    The other is to transform the 'brick' cells into hexes in some way. Taking our brick pattern of 10cm (4inch) wide and say 8.7cm (3.5inch) high, scribe further 'horizontal' lines right across the pattern 3cm above and below the horizontal lines of the pattern. Then you can join up the horizontal zig-zag pattern where those new lines intersect the vertical lines of the 'brick' pattern. That will give you cells very close to 10cm across all 3 pairs of faces. Even if the hexes look slightly distorted, they will look and behave better than the offset brick pattern.

    I think I'll write this up, with diagrams, on my blog.

    The 'Bathtub Operation Crusader' never did get off the ground, though I had worked out all the organizations and maps. My problem was lack of equipment. And no Italian army...

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      Wow! You have been doing a lot of thinking about this.

      I think that I understand the concept behind the brick pattern grid, but I really need to either draw one or see one before I can fully grasp its full potential.

      I look forward to read all about it on your blog.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. The 0.866 factor is of course the cosine of 30 degrees, which is exactly the shortening of the connecting line between two staggered bricks projected on the vertical.
      It doesn't matter that much in practical game situations, since the number of hexes you move is always a integer number. It's not as if you can say that when you move along diagonal connecting bricks that you should cover "less" distance or something like that.
      The only aspect where it might matter is when you would transform real maps to a brick-grid. But if you invent your own layout, why bother with the 0.866 factor?
      Imagine the following: suppose you draw an irregular grid, with areas of roughly equal size and shape (e.g. https://i.stack.imgur.com/W15Wf.png), and use that grid for movement and distances. Would the game change dramatically? Or doesn't it matter?
      (Disclaimer: I have done some academic research into what mathematicians call "periodic and aperidoc tilings of the plane" :-))

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    3. ... see also the many board (war)games that use area movement as a mechanism. The size of the areas can be made smaller or larger such that you con move "more" or "less" distance, depending on terrain - but if areas are roughly equal size and shape, but still irregular, would that validate the map as such?

      I just want to point out that one shouldn't be too obsessed about the perfect grid. An irregular grid can be very aesthetically pleasing as well ;-)

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    4. Phil Dutre,

      My knowledge of trigonometry and geometry is rusty, but I remember enough to understand what you have written about regular grids.

      I think that irregular sized and shaped grid areas are great on maps, but I'm not sure they would work on the tabletop ... although it might be interesting to see if they could be made to work.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    5. Phil Dutre,

      I've been thinking about the use of different-sized movement areas on the tabletop, and have come to the conclusion that they might work.

      For example, if woodlands and built-up areas were made up of smaller movement areas, there would be no need to include penalties for movement or combat as the size of the area would impose them automatically. Likewise, moving along a road area would be quicker because the area would be long and thin, but crossing it would slow units down ... just as happens in real life.

      This is certainly an idea worth pursuing.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    6. Phil Dutre makes some interesting observations. The sort of game with irregular 'cells' or 'regions' does create a kind of terrain in itself that can impact upon the play. If every region has exactly the same number of regions bordering upon it, chances are the thing is pretty regular, and no particular region is strategically much more important than another.

      But as I recall in the game Shogun, there was on Honshu as region that was distinctly oblong in shape, that was a natural route for travelling east-west/west-east. Whenever I got possession of that place, I'd whack a fortified castle upon it, which gave me exclusive use of that highway.

      In games of that type I was always on the lookout for the arrangement of the regions and how they might affect the play.

      On the matter of how more regular grids look, I think aesthetics comes into it. I said I went for the oblongs for the sake of the distance between the centres of the cells. I daresay the offset squares took as its starting point the shape of the cells. But if it all 'feels' wrong, then it can interfere with one's enjoyment of the game.

      Although I have occasionally played hex-gridded board games, I am a complete newcomer to the notion of gridded games with miniatures.

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    7. When using irregular grids as a measure for movement speed (i.e. smaller cells imply slower movement), one comes into trouble if the same grid is also used for firing distances. I think that with such grids, combat is best limited to adjacent combat only.

      There are also games that have "hidden" irregular grids. E.g. in Crossfire, one could move from terrain feature to terrain feature. In essence, this means terrain feature form the grid, with empty space between them functioning as grid cells as well.

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    8. Archduke Piccolo,

      It is interesting how we have come to this discussion from different wargaming experience. I've played very few hex-based wargames that didn't use figures, and the only game that used irregularly-shaped movement areas I have ever played regularly is RISK.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    9. Phil Dutre,

      I see your point about limiting combat to adjacent grid areas if they are drastically different in size and shape.

      I'd never considered the concept of 'hidden' grids before as I've never played CROSSFIRE. I did buy the rules but never got around to using them.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  11. Having just knocked up a quick bunch of hexes 5cm using this method, I have discovered a mistake in the above message. The 'further horizontal lines' should be just 1.5cm above and below the pattern's horizontal lines, NOT 3cm.

    The three rows I've done (4-3-4) look pretty OK actually...

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      It sounds as if you have come up with a sound way to reproduce a reasonably accurate hexed grid. I look forward to seeing the finished hexes.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Here's a link: http://archdukepiccolo.blogspot.co.nz/2017/03/portable-wargames-and-drawing-hexes.html

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    3. Archduke Piccolo,

      Thanks for the link.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. I've been thinking a lot lately about irregular grids based on terrain type. It was fascinating to see it brought up in the context of hexes/offset squares and their orientation. I've played at least a thousand or two hours of hex and counter wargames and the orientation can matter when it comes to units supporting one another or figuring out who is all involved in a multi-hex combat resolution.

    The irregular grid based on terrain also has interesting implications for maintaining a battle line and protecting flanks. Might require a "zone of control" type rule.

    Also wanted to say that I enjoyed the book. I'm starting up a Renaissance Italian Wars project and will definitely be figuring something grid based out (perhaps irregular terrain based).

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    1. Nheastvan,

      Thanks for your very interesting comment. My experience of hexed board games is relatively limited, and it is great to hear from someone who has much more experience than I have had.

      I am glad that you liked my book, and I wish you well with your Renaissance Wars project.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Something just came to mind. What about how farm fields on many maps are of different colours? Or have hedges or fences bordering them? From Salute, I think: http://i.imgur.com/DiDdYCv.jpg Would things have really gone wrong had they moved inside those fields?

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    3. Nheastvan,

      My personal experience of trying to move across fields and through hedges is that the type of crops and hedge will affect how easy it is to move through them.

      A wire and post boundary can be quickly pushed over whereas a hawthorn hedge is like barbed wire and almost impossible to get through. A field of standing corn or tall grass can give concealment but slow movement on foot to a crawl whereas a field of cabbages gives little cover but has little effect on movement.

      Very rarely do such considerations seem to taken into account in wargame rules.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. Sorry, I was just talking about that game at Salute if they had used the fields on their battle mat as spaces on a grid.

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    5. Nheastvan,

      I'm sorry to say that I have no idea if they did or not.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. Hi there

    I seem to have a different problem ? with no obvious solution ?

    I want to make some 1ft x 1ft boards and use them for multiple types of game.

    So I thought dead easy make a few and just use the ones I need for that scenario, except I want them to have hexes on them as well for Portable Wargame/Memoir 44 etc.

    However I cannot find a hex solution that allows the tiles to ' tile ' in a flexible manner ?

    Am I missing something ? or is maybe offset squares the answer ?

    regards Paul

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    1. Paul_n,

      I don't think that it is possible to create a hex grid that will fit inside a square and tessellate with similar squares to produce a perfect larger hexed grid.

      A squared grid (both a normal one and an offset squared one) will fit into a square board and will tessellate with similar squares with squared grids on to form a larger squared grid.

      All the best,

      Bob

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