HexCrawl Chess

I've been thinking about fusing hexagonal chess with a hexcrawl, and here's what I came up with. It requires an RPG ruleset but it's system-agnostic. I imagine something like Traveller but you could probably do it with a fantasy setting or anything else. The important part (I think) is that the RPG system should have very simple, cut-and-dry, combat rules.

Disclaimer: This is a first pass. I don't expect it to be 100% playable yet, as I'm sure there are missing bits and unconsidered edge cases. But I think it's done enough to start playtesting. Let's tweak it!


Two groups are warring for control of an alien planet. Neither is very familiar with the local lifeforms. Write statblocks for each piece using your chosen RPG system. When you move a piece into or through a hex no one has occupied before, roll its terrain and climate (perhaps using the Welsh Piper rules), and draw the terrain icon on the board. In addition, every time a piece ends its move, make an encounter roll based on terrain and climate. If an encounter occurs, that unit must defeat or bypass the encounter before proceeding. If an encounter occurs in a hex occupied by two opposing pieces (i.e., a capture has just been attempted), roll 1d6 to determine which side is affected by the encounter: (1-2) attacker, (3-4) defender, (5-6) both. If both sides are involved in the encounter, it's up to the players to determine whether or not they cooperate; think Braunstein-level roleplay. When a unit defeats an encounter, roll 1d6 for the value of the treasure found there. If both sides shared in the victory, each side gets 1d3. These "treasure points" accumulate and may be used to purchase new pieces (using traditional chess scoring rules: pawn=1, bishop or knight=3, rook=5). New pieces must be purchased at the beginning of one's turn, and must enter the board via one of the original starting positions for that piece.

For extra flava, consider adding a GM.

Dragonfly Chess by Christian Freeling

based on Gliński's Hexagonal Chess by Władysław Gliński


  • Interesting idea! I like.

    My first reaction is:

    Why the chess? I mean, what is to be gained by, for example, keeping the types of units and their restrictions on movement? Are you still trying to checkmate your opponent, for instance?

    Not terribly helpful, perhaps - or perhaps you have a great answer. If it's just an experiment, though, that's cool, too.
  • It's chess because I happened to discover "Dragonfly Chess" just after I had been working on hexcrawls for several days. Simplest possible act of semiotic creativity: putting two things together that share a resemblance. :-)

    So it's fundamentally still Hex Chess, meaning it retains the basic rules and goals of that game, but with an extra layer of OSR goodness on top to mix things up.

  • edited September 2015
    Note: I have not playtested this at all.

    The idea of buying new pieces is designed to simulate recruitment or the arrival of reinforcements within the fiction, but mechanically it's intended to offset the attrition suffered by random encounters. To retain a semblance of balance, the "levels" of the units should probably reflect their chesspiece values, i.e.: Pawns are Level 1, Bishops and Knights are Level 3, and Rooks are Level 4.

    It goes without saying that you should have at least two chess sets worth of pieces, because it's possible to recruit more than two knights, etc. Also, you'll notice that Dragonfly Chess begins with 9 Pawns.

  • Interesting.

    To me, as a potential player, I see a bit of a disconnect between the "explore new terrain"/OSR-style play and some of the rules of chess (particularly the movement of any piece which jumps over many hexes with a move, especially the knight, castling, en passant, and other such rules). Not sure how to reconcile this.

    Recruitment of pieces seems fine, in contrast (but then again, isn't a standard chess rule).
  • edited September 2015
    Actually, in Dragonfly Chess it's not the knight but the bishop whose move gives pause to my mapping approach. I'm considering that bishops are either aerial transports or they literally fly (with the powers of their deities) over the intervening hexes!

  • There are a lot of hexagonal Chess variants out there if you want to mix things up a bit, see here.

  • The idea of buying new pieces is designed to simulate recruitment or the arrival of reinforcements within the fiction, but mechanically it's intended to offset the attrition suffered by random encounters.
    This reminds me very vaguely of shoji, where you can actually redeploy captured pieces to use against your opponent.
  • Whoa. Thanks for the link, @Peter_Aronson!

  • This whole concept sounds *a lot* more interesting to me if we have more than just two sides involved.

    Let "combats" be settled at the end of each "full" turn and you can even have three-way piece captures (possible with reaction rolls or negotiations or surrenders or what-have-you).

    Perhaps capturing a piece allows you to put it back into play two turns later, but if the piece voluntarily surrenders, you could put it into play immediately?
  • Sure, there's a jillion ways you could go with it.

    Here's a video showing 15 turns of basic Hexcrawl Chess, using the Wilderness Hexplore rules...

  • My recommendations, based on that video:

    1. When an encounter is included in a hex, those monsters should remain there. (Although perhaps only the player encountering them knows? That would be interesting, making the game into an intelligence-gathering battle, as well.)

    That way, your strategy could be guided by the need to avoid particularly powerful monsters, or the possibility of luring the enemy into combat with them.

    2. When a capture takes place, it should play out as a combat between the capturing piece and the captured piece (as in Battle Chess, if anyone remembers that).

    The capturing piece "swoops in" and gains automatic surprise (or a bonus on the surprise roll), but the outcome of the fight is still (at least potentially) variable.

    If different pieces have different "stats" or "strengths", this gets more interesting. It's relatively low-risk to capture your opponent's Queen with a pawn, perhaps... but you're less likely to succeed than if you send your knight.

    And maybe the opponent is parading that pawn in front of you in a hex that contains a rare and dangerous monster, to lure your Queen into a trap.

  • edited September 2015
    /totally nodding along. Yup.

    Actually I was assuming that the ghouls were still there. That's why I left a small star in that hex. But making it secret from the opponent - now there's something fiendish! ("We don't know what's in that swamp, sir... but we know it killed one of the enemy's battlesquads.")

  • Yeah, then it gets interesting. (Because, given the value of Treasure Points, attacking those "insurgent" hexes becomes a very important strategy: if you can defeat the monster, you'll quite possibly get a new piece to add.)

    Have you considered including traps and/or just plain treasure as well, in your "encounter" table?

    It would be fun to include Wandering Monsters, too, but I can't see an easy and fun way to do that right off the top of my head.
  • edited September 2015
    I don't think I've got "a game" here, but more like a collection of optional rules for different kinds of hexcrawl chess games. Because the rules used for the RPG will also determine what makes sense, and I cannot predict what RPG you might use.

    In my original concept all monsters were wandering. There were only ever two players. It was really just chess with wandering monsters based on terrain. But I had been reading a lot of hexcrawl rules (and writing a few) lately, so it expanded to what I posted above. I was beginning to think about prepping (in a literal sense, i.e. before the game) when I wrote "For extra flava, consider adding a GM." I didn't hit that nail very hard, but I thought of it. It made me think of the "Death Arenas" I would design for others to do battle on back in the Car Wars days, which would involve traps and treasure (weapons, actually). This game could be totally prepped by a third-party GM, not just selecting the RPG rules and adjudicating encounters, but even to the extent of designing custom pregen armies for the Players, if desired.

    I have also been considering both "lairs" and "wandering" monsters. I think they work together almost naturally already: for instance the ghouls are a "lair" because they were found on the same hex as a terrain feature (a temple). But the wyvern that shows up in turn 10 is clearly wandering. Although the initial concept was more Traveller/science fiction, I've been using the Wilderness Hexplore Revised rules, which do a good job of suggesting whether you're dealing with a lair or a wanderer.

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