Tann’s Hexcity took me by surprise. Initially, the install time of–what had to be a tenth of a second–raised a red flag immediately. Oh boy, another hastily ejected indie title that thinks an hour spent intensely zoomed into MS paint is work worth a cent. As I peered through it, however, Hexcity revealed itself to be something fabled among android gaming: a counter-example. Next time your snarky friend says he doesn’t care for the market due to the glut of shovel-ware one expects when looking indie android strategy games, get out your list of counter-examples, and make sure this one is on there.
Hexcity is a strategy game with very simple rules: Build a city using six different tiles in a limited amount of turns and get the most points you can. Three tiles are randomly chosen for you each turn, and such tiles can only be placed along the hexagonal edges of the previous one. Depending on which tiles you use, the points accumulated will differ: forester tiles will give an additional point for every impassable tree tile they are able to remove, gardens will give extra points if three are place right next to each other, etc.
By keeping such a simple premise, the game is immediately graspable, yet remains difficult to master. As simple as Hexcity is in practice, it still refuses to be mindless tapping at any point, and constantly creates scenarios in which tight, considered moves are required, often in a claustrophobic space. One could always blast away at the buttons until their inevitable loss, but in order to gain the achievements (which serve as the game’s only end-goal), one needs to consider each move with foresight. This is the kind of game where one bad move could wreck an otherwise fabulous opportunity, and your failures quickly compound into something only relieved with an abrupt reset.
The inclusion of random elements creates a skill-vs.-luck equilibrium as old as gaming itself. Because you know your failure will just as likely be from a bad hand of tiles as from a deadly user mistake, retries are common and the challenge often results from the addicting flux of short-lived mis-steps, or rather your urge to try again despite them.
Everything fits into itself so nicely, and nothing feels like wasted space, sans the disappointing campaign mode. It’s merely a combination of the three difficulties played back-to-back, with no change in the initial layout of the city, as one would expect from such a mode, given even a cursory glance at strategy games and their general formula.
The hyper-blocky big-pixel art style is hardly something surprising in an indie title wanting to slim down on resources, but it mirrors the minimalist nature of the gameplay wonderfully. More impressive to me is the inclusion of a motif beyond a simple throwback to retro graphics. The majority of the screen is a black void like some isolated computer terminal, and the menu is littered with bizarre, incongruous shapes.
Beyond that, the aura of a Japanese aesthetic drips through, what with the representation of each tile as a contained area with a specialized use, a la urban Japanese city-planning, and the inclusion of Shinto shrines (that offer more points when spaced apart from each other to boot). In this way, there is actually a clear connection between the real-life compartmentalization of a Japanese city, and the thought process around arranging chunks of a city to best serve their purpose, despite the abstract way in which they’re presented. Such a sharp focus is certainly more than I expected for such a cheap and visually unassuming title.
I rarely mention the price in my reviews, but this game is 99 cents. This is important because one has to realize what Hexcity is trying to be to appreciate it. Is it barebones? Well, sure, but it has as much content as it needs to be enjoyable, especially given the price. Tight-laced design and time-wasting are concepts symmetric with the very nature of mobile gaming, and titles like Hexcity are the reason the platform has become so popular in the first place.
But is it Hardcore?
An extremely light strategy game that does everything it needs to do in order to be fun.