The emergent complexity of Hexopolis: a strategy game with infinite possibilities

A few months ago, I had the chance to try out game developer Andrew Coeytaux's debut game, Hexopolis. When we met at a cafe, I expected him to take out a large game board and start explaining a long list of rules to learn. Instead, he pulled a small wooden box out of his backpack and revealed the game medium: a small collection of hexagonal wooden tiles. There was no game board, no cards, and no dice.

The rules were as simple as the pieces themselves. Each turn, you draw tiles and connect them to the board wherever you want, aiming to trap your opponent's player tile or move your player tile over theirs.

Usually, I go into playtests with a critical mindset. I expect there to be rough edges, bugs, or loopholes that could be improved in most in-development games I try. And usually, this is the case to some degree. But after losing my first game of Hexopolis (Andrew is a great player), I wanted nothing more than to try again. With each game I played against Andrew, I put all of my efforts into finding a dominant solution or some loophole to break the game. But there was none in sight. And with each game I played, my desire to keep playing only grew and grew. The only disappointment I had was that I wouldn't be able to play it again at home after our meeting.

I recently finished Jesse Schell's book The Art of Game Design. In it, he discusses innate versus emergent complexity in games. Innate complexity comes from long and difficult rulesets (often the type with many exceptions and edge cases) that are essential to the game running correctly. This reminds me of Riichi Mahjong, where it often takes weeks for people to get the basic rules down, and even then, they usually still struggle to do many things like counting points, which should be simple in most games. 

In comparison to this, emergent complexity can be found in games like Go or Chess where the ruleset itself isn't complex, but the complexity comes from the vast amount of game states and possibilities in each match. 

Hexopolis is, without a doubt, a game with an incredible amount of emergent complexity. Andrew has stated that he was inspired by "design by subtraction, Occam's Razor, [and] emergent gameplay" among other concepts, and this comes through very clearly. I was extremely impressed by the potential of the simple game.

You can sign up for Andrew's Hexopolis newsletter at The Hexopolis Website, or you can follow the game's Instagram here.

After our meeting, I reached out to Andrew to ask a few questions.

Interview with Andrew Coeytaux

How did you come up with the idea for Hexopolis?

Hexopolis started as a paper prototype where players would form mathematical formulas with numbers and operators. I wanted to abstract the game further and open up possibilities for players, so I experimented with ways to represent the numbers as units that players would draw from, and I quickly landed on the present-day design of cells that could be stacked to form towers. Soon after I decided to ditch the math component entirely and change out the operators for paths and walls that would determine how players could traverse the board. With a few tweaks to the rules and a final abstraction/unification of the game's aesthetic, Hexopolis was created.

(Andrew has also written a blog post on designing Hexopolis, which you can read here)

What makes Hexopolis different from other board games?

Hexopolis is a board game, and that means that it has a responsibility to provide a new, innovative tactile experience that rivals other games on the market. No cards, no 20-sided dice; those were commitments I made early on in the development of the game, and they were some of the driving forces behind the decision to replace numbers with units and a lot that followed.
Hexopolis is different because it's vertical. The design of its pieces and how they fit together allow it to leave the flatness of the table that it's played on and assemble itself into geometric edifices sprawling upwards.

Most importantly, Hexopolis is different because it is focused. Every aspect of the game, from the cells stacking to the jigsaw-puzzle locking of the connectors, all the way down to the box itself, has been designed to evoke a handful of ideas in the simplest form possible. Each iteration has been rigorously hacked and pruned so that the end product is nothing but the purest essence of the mechanics the game seeks to convey.

What kind of people do you see liking Hexopolis?

When designing Hexopolis, I wanted to create a game that would surprise me after years of playing it. I think that the end result is a game with simple rules that produce complex results, making it ideal for anyone looking for something that's quick to pick up and has replayability. The soundbite for Hexopolis is "easy to learn, difficult to master". Anyone can learn how to play in 5-10 minutes, but it takes dozens upon hundreds of rounds to recognize patterns and situations and learn how to adapt and respond to those situations in the best, most strategic way possible. This has made it popular with players who enjoy Chess and other abstract strategy games. Hexopolis can be analyzed, dissected, and mastered.

The compact, portable nature of Hexopolis as well as the 15-30 minute duration of a round makes it ideal for a coffeehouse environment. This makes it a great choice not just for highly strategic players, but also for casual players looking for a game they can learn quickly and play a few rounds of while catching up with a friend over coffee.

Where do you see Hexopolis going from here?

The current focus is on getting more people playing Hexopolis with the long-term goal of it becoming a ubiquitous game that anyone could play together and hold tournaments for. Through its abstract design and aesthetic, it aims to earn a spot on the shelf next to Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Go, and other 2-player competitive abstract strategy games that have become timeless and continue to be played today because of their unique aesthetics, easy-to-learn rulesets, and complex outcomes.
Accomplishing this means introducing different, more accessible price points by offering a greater variety of set types, as well as exploring new methods and avenues to bring Hexopolis into the public eye. There's a Kickstarter in the works as well as several events lined up to kick off the year, including PAX East 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts, March 21-24.

Hexopolis is ready for the world. I look forward to seeing the strategies and challenges that arise once this game is available to the public. If you want to be one of the first to own a copy, Hexopolis will have a booth at PAX East 2024 where people can play and even purchase a set of their own.

Previously: Armaculture is a free indie game in which you survive the war any way you can.

Images courtesy Hexopolis (