Anyone following the hexagonal news of late has no doubt noticed a flurry of stories related to the upcoming release of Civilization V, and in particular its new hexagonal tile system. In this blog's opinion, the adoption of hexagonal tiles by the Civ franchise is a long overdue development, and frankly one that should've been incorporated into at least the last two Civ releases. Indeed, many DOS-based strategy games have used hexagonal tiles going back to the late '80s, and one has to wonder why Civilization ever used square tiles. (I remember playing the original Civilization in the early '90s, well before the advent of my own hexagonal illumination, and thinking that, in fact, it would be better with a hexagonal grid. I can only imagine part of the media excitement here—aside from just the general awesomeness of hexagons—is due to the fact that many, many other people have had the exact same thought over the past twenty years.)
Even the most casual player of Civilization will immediately appreciate the advantages here of hexagons over squares. In the olden square-based system, a diagonal move between the corners of two squares was treated the same as a move across a square's von Neumann neighborhood to an edge-adjacent square. This had the effect of, among other things, making edge-adjacent movement fairly useless, except where necessary due to terrain, opposing units, et cetera. Whenever possibly, particularly when patrolling or exploring, it simply made sense to always move diagonally, and to move in a diagonal zigzag to traverse two or more edge-adjacent squares. Furthermore, the square system necessitated weirdly truncated city radii—the familiar 20-squre city radius being, essentially, a 5x5 square grid, minus 4 corner squares and 1 center square. As any Civ player knows, this leads to awkwardly-placed cities that either overlap or leave dead space between them, and to the preposterous fact that it takes three moves to leave a city radius edgewise while it takes only two moves to leave it cornerwise. A dangerous situation often arises where an enemy unit with two or more moves can enter from outside a city radius and attack the city in one turn, where if the same unit had been approaching edgewise it would have required an additional move. This is of course merely one of the idiosyncrasies one learns when playing Civilization—it's not a "flaw" per se, it's just a fact of life in the Civ universe—but it is certainly part of an overall tapestry of inconsistency and irregularity in gameplay necessitated by this bizarrely antiquated reliance on such an inefficient and inappropriate tiling system.
Conversely, in a hexagonal tiling, all moves are between six equally-spaced neighbors—there are no diagonal, corner-to-corner moves. This topologically simplifies and balances close-tile moving, as there is only one path between two adjacent tiles. Also, it allows for smooth-radius cities. I do not know how city radii will work in Civ V—rumor has it that there have been major overhauls to vast areas of game play (though the media seems mostly fixated on the hexagon issue)—but a two-tile radius on a hexagonal map would create eighteen-tile enclosures, which is fairly close to the traditional twenty. A hexagonal radius, in addition to "solving" the issue of inconsistent city radii, also allows cities to be tiled indefinitely on an ideal map. For the first time, city spacing will not be a compromise between spatial efficiency and lebensraum. Cities will be able to be constructed back to back, in an indefinite tessellation, with no leftover space. (Again, assuming there hasn't been some underlying systemic change to the nature of city radii.)
None of these hexagonal principles are actually new to the world of civilizoidal gaming, of course, since Freeciv has provided a free, open source Civilization alternative with hexagonal tiles for years. But it is good to see the original franchise finally getting on board with our glorious hexagonal future.
Do you have money? Do you enjoy things? Why not order Civilization V today!