2 September 2014

PC Game Review: Hexwar Revisited

Brandon Musler re-visits Hexwar, a unique online gaming service which offers board wargames from Decision Games and SPI through a subscription-based service.

Published on 10 JAN 2005 12:00am by Scott Parrino
  1. turn-based, operational, online or multi-player

Six Month Check-Up

Where subscription services are concerned, it’s a good idea to check in periodically and see how things are progressing. Over six months have passed since The Wargamer’s initial review of Hexwar, a subscription-based gaming service that has made legacy SPI board wargames available for online play. It’s time I revisited it.

Measuring Progress

In November the 10,000th game was played on Hexwar.com. Game Master Keith Martin-Smith reports there are hundreds of game turns actively being played on any given day and, although not all are paid subscribers, the service has passed 800 players who are willing to accept challenges.

When I first reviewed Hexwar, in June of 2004, five games were available for play. There are eleven now. Here is a current accounting:

Era / Title June Status December Status
Napoleonics -

Marengo

Not promised Delivered

Napoleon at Waterloo

Delivered v1 Delivered v2 with 2nd scenario

The Battle of Nations

Under consideration Delivered (3 scenarios)

Wargram

Under consideration Delivered
American Civil War -

Blue & Gray Quad

Under consideration Undelivered with no complete date

Blue & Gray Quad II

Under consideration Undelivered with no complete date
World War II -
North African Quad

Cauldron

Promised Delivered

Crusader

Delivered 3rd scenario promised

Kasserine

Promised Indefinite hold

Supercharge

Promised Delivered
Island War Quad

Bloody Ridge

Delivered Optional air rules promised

Saipan

Delivered Free deployment scenario promised
West Wall Quad

Arnhem

Promised Historical scenario delivered.  Free deployment scenario promised

Bastogne

Delivered Delivered

The table above can be broken down into five categories. First, Hexwar committed to and delivered: Arnhem, Cauldron, and Supercharge. Kasserine was promised but never materialized. Marengo wasn’t floated as a possibility but got introduced anyway. Battle of Nations and Wagram comprised “maybe” games that eventually made it. And finally, the Blue & Gray quadrigames were the “maybes” that were not delivered.

"Glass half full" folks will see overachievement. It’s possible to regard Marengo as a substitute for Kasserine, and be pleased with two “maybe” games coming to fruition. Also noteworthy is that some games saw scenarios added and overall technical (interface, efficiency, connectivity) enhancements were made. 

But “half empty” types may regard Hexwar’s track record differently. The service has yet to introduce an American Civil War game, despite the period’s vast popularity and coverage. There are also no playable modern or ancient battles. There hasn’t been a sea or air based game introduced. 

While it may seem unfair to dwell on what wasn’t done, high expectations were often encouraged by founder Keith Martin-Smith himself. It felt like he would spark interest whenever there was a lull by polling subscribers about which games they would like to see next. Suggestions ranged far and wide beyond SPI’s basic quadrigames. Members requested everything from monster games like War in Europe to Scrimmage; even including other publisher’s titles. Regardless of whether Hexwar has sufficient technical acumen to deliver an online Squad Leader, it certainly doesn’t have the legal right.

That said, SPI titles that Hexwar does have the right to convert, such as Battle for Germany, cropped up repeatedly. After all the online debate and discussion reasonable folks might have assumed favorite games would be forthcoming. Wrong. When the latest update to the production track was published, it became evident that SPI efforts had been scrubbed in favor of Decision Games. The latter may be excellent, but they aren’t the original SPI “classics” subscribers pine for; all the hoopla on the listserv felt like bread and circuses (not to be confused with Circus Maximus, an Avalon Hill title.) Whether one sees the glass half full or empty, it’s fair to say the service has been adding games, but not always those anticipated or requested.