Casting A Hex On Civilization V

During this week's broadcast of our Kotaku Talk Radio podcast, legendary game designer Sid Meier explains how the new hex-based map enriches Civilization V, and why it took so long for the series to go six-sided.

The first question that comes to mind when many see Civilization V's gorgeous new hex-based geography is why hasn't it always been this way? Why have we been mired in those soulless square worlds for so long? Sid Meier blames the war gamers.

"In those days hexes were really associated with war games, with board games. With games that took you five hours to put all the little counters on the map and then by the time you were ready to start playing you were out of energy."

Even old-school war gamers have to admit the man has a point. My entire war gaming career consisted of me falling asleep in a chair in front of a couple of guys setting up hundreds of little metal men on an intricate map that covered an entire dining room. One can easily understand why one wouldn't want a hit computer game making people fall asleep.

"Basically they were associated with a different kind of gaming that was prevalent 10, 15 years ago," Meier continues. "We've moved now to where those games just aren't around anymore. If you look at board games today, they're multiplayer, they're fun, they're card-based; that kind of hardcore hex-based strategy gaming has kind of gone away, and it no longer something associated with hexes.

Hexes are almost kind of a fresh new idea in Civ V. The times have kind of moved to where hexes make sense in this iteration of Civilization."

It seems ridiculous to call something as old as hex-based strategy gaming a fresh new idea, but when the genre has spent the past decade moving away from hexes, bringing them back suddenly could be considered innovative, though as Sid explains, Civ V wasn't the first Civilization game in which hexes were considered.

"We have actually debated (the question of hexes) probably for the last two or three Civilizations, and we finally had the courage to do it with Civilization V. What we found is it really makes movement, battle, strategy, and positioning of the units much more interesting. It's a more natural and more logical connection."

But why are hexes different, aside from having two more sides? What makes them superior to squares? Meier has all the answers.

"Basically in a square grid, some distances are longer than others, it's not clear whether the corners connect or not. Just some issues that we've cleverly solved over the years that go away when you go to a hex-designed map. It makes the graphics look more natural. Things like coastlines and rivers and things like that look a lot better. Combined with the one unit per tile system that is part of Civ V, it really makes battles a lot more tactical, a lot more interesting; about planning; about positioning the right unit in the right place.

"As with all of our ideas we try them out. We play them. Some of them work, and some of them don't, and I think we found with the hexes in Civ V that it added a cool new dimension."

So the hex-based maps in Civilization V were a long-time coming, but now that they're finally in, Sid-tested, and developers approved, Meier doesn't think they'll be going away any time soon.

"I think that they'll love the hexes, and every strategy game from now on is going to have hexes, or people are going to say, 'Why didn't you use those cool hexes like they had in Civilization V?'"