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In many games I have played, initial editions (eg the 1960s version of Midway) use squares for their boards.

Often, later editions (eg the 1990s edition of Midway) change to a hex pattern.

Hexes get around awkward movement rules (like being able to move 14 squares, or 10 on the diagonal (10 / sqrt of 2 is very close to 14)), but I wonder when squares would give a better feel for the environment?

In Clue it makes sense because they represent tiles in the hallways (and while you can be whisked around the house by being involved in an accusation or via tunnels, the hallways analogy makes sense). However, in a simulation game, I cannot see how squares could be useful.

When are they a good mechanic in simulation game design?

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It is possible to use squares that are offset every row/column (like a brick-wall pattern), but still have 6 directions of movement like a hex-board. Hex movement has advantages of being equa-distant from all adjacent squares/hexes, but works better when the points are oriented perpendicular to most movement (I.e. if you have two armies squaring off against each other on the top and bottom of a map, you want the hex points left and right –  user1873 Jun 12 '13 at 6:57
    
@user1873 that's a fascinating thought I hadn't considered –  warren Jun 12 '13 at 15:47
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Well one point towards squares is simplicity. It is a much easier system to grok (outside of weird rules for diagonals)

The most important thing to consider is what your playing field is. If you are talking about a mostly open plain with very few obstacles, then a hex field is great as it avoids the diagonal rule cleanly.

However if you were going with, say, an urban layout, then a hex system would have a harder time with all the straight edges (not impossible, but difficult) while also not helping too much, since diagonals aren't a huge deal with hallways.

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What is the nature of your game? Combat, commerce, both? This might shape the role of movement in your game as well. Hex-based maps makes movement slight less expensive, especially when trying to around obstacles.

For example, if the player is trying to move their token from South to North, but another player's token is in their way. On a square-based map, it would take four moves to get around the obstacle (W, N, N, E). On a hex-based map, it would take only three (NW, N, NE). This is assuming you're not using a facing/turning mechanic, such is used in Battletech.

The Civilization series on the PC also made the transition from squares to hexes. My friends who play the game were all pleased by the change because it made movement smoother and less frustrating.

Unfortunately you can't foresee where your game will go in the future. I'm sure hexes where the right solution for Battletech when the scenarios were all played on an open battlefield. But hexes make things really weird when you try to take the battle into a city.

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