Game Review: Hex Hex XL

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Playing Hex Hex. Photo: Jonathan LiuPlaying Hex Hex. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Playing Hex Hex. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Hex Hex XL boxHex Hex XL boxOverview: Playing Hex Hex XL is a bit like playing Hot Potato — you throw hexes at each other, and try not to get stuck with one when it goes off. Unlike Hot Potato, however, whoever wins the game gets to lay down the law for the next game. Hex Hex XL combines two earlier versions of the game with two additional variants.

Players: 3 to 6 (though I bet you could squeeze in a few more players if you really wanted to)

Ages: 14 and up (you can go younger, though they need to be able to read and understand the actions)

Playing Time: 20 to 30 minutes per game, if you can stop after the first one

Retail: $37.95

Rating: Chaotic and hilarious. As Smirk & Dagger Games‘ slogan says, “games are a lot more fun when you can stab a friend in the back.”

Who Will Like It? This is more of a party game, better with a bigger group, with just a hint of strategy and heavy on the spite. One of the variants is reminiscent of Curses, with ridiculous restrictions placed on certain players during the game. Another is more like the game of Spoons (or musical chairs) and involves grabbing a wooden bar before they run out. If you like quick games that result in a lot of laughter, Hex Hex XL is worth a shot.

Theme:

The theme here is that one person starts off by casting a hex, and then all the other players are trying to deflect it and pass it to other players. Along the way you can split it into multiple hexes, make them stronger, and defend yourself with counter-hexes. Eventually somebody runs out of cards to play and the hex goes off, costing them a Voice point and giving it to the player who cast it at them.

Many of the cards have names that sound like spells, and the gold symbols make it a little more arcane and magical. I suppose maybe it feels like a bunch of wizards duking it out with spells, but I don’t really have much experience with that other than, say, reading Harry Potter. Still, it’s pretty fun.

The scoring is done in “Voice” points, with players gaining or losing Voice depending on what happens.

Hex Hex XL contentsHex Hex XL contents

Hex Hex XL Contents. Image: Smirk & Dagger Games.

Components:

Hex Hex XL contains:

  • 150 Hex Hex cards
  • 6 Voice score cards (stiff cardboard scoring tracks)
  • 6 glass beads for scoring
  • 1 First Caster token
  • 28 Hex tokens (12 standard, 16 enhanced)
  • 5 wooden Hexen Stix
  • 9 Hexen Stix main deck cards
  • 16 Hexen Stix cards
  • 25 Vexed cards
  • 12 double-sided Vexed/Hexed tokens

All of the tokens are punched-out cardboard tiles, fairly thin and about and inch or so across, but they just get passed around and serve their purpose well. The cards are pretty nice quality, with black backgrounds and shiny gold symbols on them. Each card has a name, a symbol, and a description of what it does. The wooden sticks (used for a variant) are a good size for grabbing.

The scoring tracks are small cardboard rectangles with a long track that goes from -20 to 21. The glass beads are placed on these to track scores for each individual player. The numbers on them are pretty tiny, and the glass beads (sort of your standard size glass beads) are huge in comparison.

Hex Hex cardsHex Hex cards

A few of the Hex Hex cards. (Click to enlarge)

Gameplay:

The full rules can be downloaded from the Smirk & Dagger website, but here’s a brief rundown.

Each player starts with 5 cards — some of them will say “Play immediately” and take effect right away. Some of these are “Standing Effects” which will last for the duration of the round (or even the entire game), such as a Ward card that protects a player from losing Voice for any reason. The player left of the dealer will cast the first hex. In total, you play one more round than there are players; each player gets a turn at first hex, and then the player with the lowest score gets to cast first in the last round.

The hex is “cast” by playing cards, and there’s a wide variety of cards to play. Basic deflections send it right, left, or across the table. Enhanced deflections add to the hex: it can be boosted, making it more powerful, or split in two and sent both left and right, or have other effects added to it. One of these, the Maddening Compulsion card, forces players to send the hex in a particular direction — any other card causes it to go off. There are Counter Hexes which can nullify cards played, dispel hexes, and so on. Some cards say “Play Only When Hexed” and must be played if the Hex goes off, for good or ill.

Whenever a player is unable to deflect or cancel a hex, then it goes off, and that player loses one Voice and the player who passed it to them gains a Voice. Any additional effects from enhanced hexes are also resolved. Once all the hexes have gone off, the round is over. Everyone discards all their cards, deal passes to the left, and another round starts.

The basic hex (red) and enhanced hexes.The basic hex (red) and enhanced hexes.

The basic hex (red) and enhanced hexes.

At the conclusion of the game, the player with the most Voice wins. And if you want to play another round, then the winner gets to Lay Down the Law. They can make up a new rule which will take effect for the next game, such as “Anyone who points a finger during the game loses a Voice” or “Players who are Hexed in a round may cause an equal loss of Voice to any target player.” If you keep playing, the rules accumulate until there are lots of things to keep track of.

The two variants included are Hexen Stix and Vexed.

Hexen Stix is like Spoons, with a twist. There are 9 cards which are shuffled into the deck before play, and the wooden sticks are placed on end in a circle in the center of the table. (You use one fewer stick than there are players, and at least one black and one white stick.) There are particular cards that affect the sticks on the table, and occasionally a Grab card will appear. When that happens, everyone grabs for a stick. Then you flip over a Hexen Stix card, which has instructions for Naught, Ebon, and Bone. The player who didn’t get a stick follows the instructions for Naught, and the other players follow instructions for Ebon or Bone depending on whether they got a black or white stick. Once these effects have been resolved, normal play continues.

Vexed is a quicker way to introduce some of the wacky new rules in case you want to just play one round instead of several. In each round, players who get hexed that round are then “vexed” for the next round. A Vexed card is drawn from the deck and read aloud to all the players, and anyone who is vexed is affected by that rule for the round. In the following round, that vex is over and the newly-hexed players become vexed, with a new Vexed cards. Here’s just a sampling of some of the vexes:

  • Woe: Vexed players must loudly bemoan their fate each time a Hex is passed to them, or discard a card at random.
  • Bam: Each time a vexed player plays a card they must do so with a flourish and say, “BAM!” or lose two Voice.
  • Endark: Vexed players must keep their eyes closed, only opening them to play cards or other necessary game actions, or they lose a Voice.
  • Babble: Vexed players may only utter the words “Ba-Zinga!”, “Ka-Pwing!”, “Sproing!”, “Ooh-Fah!”, and “Nurtz!” If they say any other words which aren’t critical to playing the game, they must discard a card at random.

It’s up to the other players to enforce the vexes, but it can make for a really silly game, particularly in rounds when many players are vexed at once.

Conclusion:

I hadn’t heard of Hex Hex XL until earlier this year when it was nominated for an Origins Award as one of the Best Traditional Card Games, even though the earlier incarnations have been around since 2003. I don’t know if it’s my favorite new card game of 2010, but it’s definitely a great, simple-to-learn game that results in a lot of hilarity. If you’re looking for a game with serious strategic depth and planning, Hex Hex XL is probably not the game for you. But if you want something that plays quickly and is great for table talk, I recommend giving it a try. It may also be a good one for drawing in those folks that you’re trying to get into gaming but are just a little wary of learning something new. Play this in the next room, and they’re guaranteed to come in to see what all the ruckus is about.

Ok, here’s about the highest praise I can give a game: I’m packing it (or at least the basic set of cards) for my upcoming trip this weekend. I’m headed to Maker Faire and then off to visit some friends who love games, and it’s always tough to decide which games to bring. As you can imagine, it’s pretty easy to go over the luggage weight limit when you’re packing board games (and that whole pay-for-checked-baggage thing is a bear!). So I don’t take my game selection lightly, and I’ll probably have to bump another game to get Hex Hex to fit. It’s a good one for a wide range of audiences and ages, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with some friends.

One note: so far I’ve played the game a couple of times with four players, and we had a good time, but all of us felt it would be even better with more players. The game says 3 to 6 players, but I bet you could squeeze in a couple more if you really wanted to — you’d just have to have your own way to keep score for the extras (and there wouldn’t be enough wooden sticks in the Hexen Stix variant). There’s certainly plenty of cards, and the website has a link to print out extra hex tokens if you need those.

For more about the game, head to the Smirk & Dagger website.

Wired: A quick, funny game that will have you and your friends throwing hexes at each other (and laughing a lot).

Tired: Not for those who want a serious strategy game.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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