Buzzworthiness: Hive

Time for this week’s review:

image by BGG user Astinex
image by BGG user Astinex

Hive is a 2001 two-player abstract game designed by John Yianni and published by his company, Gen42.  The object of the game is to surround your opponent’s queen using bugs with different powers.  The things that really sets it apart from other abstracts like Chess and The Duke is that there is no board – you build the playing surface as you go.

A game of Hive comes with 22 bakelite hexagonal tiles, 11 white and 11 black.  Each player has the same distribution of bugs – one queen bee, two spiders, two beetles, three grasshoppers, and three ants.  Each player alternates taking a turn in which they can either place a piece from their reserve in the hive, or move a piece currently in the hive.  To place, just take one of your pieces and place it adjacent to a tile or tiles of your color – just placed pieces cannot touch pieces belonging to your opponent (except during the first turn).  If you want to move, each tile has its own rules of movement:

  • The queen bee can only move one space at a time (a space is the edge of another piece).  You must place the queen bee within the first four turns, and can’t move anything until it is placed.
  • The spider moves exactly three spaces.
  • The beetle can only move one space, but may crawl on top of the hive, effectively blocking and changing the color of the tile beneath it.
  • The grasshopper can jump in a straight line over the hive to the first empty space.
  • The ant can move anywhere around the outside edge of the hive.

Your move can never break the hive into two pieces.  Also, while grasshoppers and beetles can drop into holes, other pieces cannot slide into spaces where there is not room for them to fit without pushing other tiles out of the way.  When one player’s queen is completely surrounded, whether by their own pieces or their opponent’s, they lose.

COMPONENTS: The components of Hive are one of the main draws of the game. The original edition had hexagonal tiles made of wood with stickers on them. Later editions turned the tiles into nice bakelite pieces that are chunky, lightweight, and definitely add some good tactile appeal. The bugs are all clearly what they are, and while there is no in game reference as to what they do, you’ll have no trouble distinguishing them. Additionally, the game comes with a round carrying case that helps make the game very portable. It’s a nice compact set that is playable anywhere…even outdoors (which makes sense with the theme).

THEME: Hive is about bugs, but the game is primarily an abstract game. You’re just moving pieces around trying to surround one particular piece. But, like Chess and The Duke have a military theme to help organize the game, Hive has bugs. Each bug has its own power, and the powers make sense. The queen can’t move much, but she doesn’t have to – she’s the queen. The grasshopper jumps. The spider can move quickly, but is limited in range. The ant can move anywhere (within reason). The beetle is slow, but can crawl over things.

Where the theme falls short is in the reason all these bugs are coexisting in the same hive. It is cool to see the hive develop over the game, but if you stop and think about it, how are all these bugs getting along? Why hasn’t the spider eaten everyone yet? Where are the other bees? Why just these five (plus a mosquito, ladybug, and pillbug if you get the expansions)?

My advice – don’t think about it. The theme doesn’t matter. You’re just moving bugs around. Leave it at that.

MECHANICS: Hive is a game very similar to Chess in its structure – each player has the same number and distribution of pieces, and each piece has its own special rules of movement. The big difference is that, in Hive, you get to choose when to introduce those pieces to the board. And while the movement rules are strict, they still allow for enough flexibility that you can figure out how to manipulate your movement to achieve your goals. Another big difference is that there is no capturing of pieces – once a piece is out, it will remain until the end of the game. It may become pinned so it cannot move, but it will always be there.

I think everything works well together in the game. The rules are fairly clear and the placement/movement all make sense.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Hive is a game that has absolutely no luck. It is skill vs. skill alone. You have to determine when to introduce your pieces to the board, and you have to decide how to position everything to accomplish the goal of surrounding the queen. There are a number of ways to accomplish that, and you’ll be surprised how much each bug can contribute. The spiders may seem weak, but in the right spot can surprise people. The ants are really good for defense, to swoop in and stop an opponent’s move that would cripple you. The beetles can be deadly since they can crawl on the hive. The grasshoppers have a long range, and can get into some tight spots. The queen can’t do much, but if you keep her on the move, your opponent will have a difficult time pinning her down. This game is very high in strategy.

ACCESSIBILITY: There are not many pieces in Hive, which helps people to not be as intimidated as they would be for something like Chess. Additionally, the rules are very simple and new players can pick up the basics quickly. They may not get the finer points right away, but it’s a game all can play and enjoy.

REPLAYABILITY: There’s always a new strategy to explore in Hive, and each game feels different than the last. Because of the lack of luck, I’m sure it’s a game that could be studied to death and “solved”, but I’d suggest that you don’t play with people who would do that. Just in general.

If you do get tired of the base game, there are three expansion tiles out there. The mosquito can take the power of a bug it’s next to. The ladybug is like a cross between the spider and the beetle – it moves three spaces, two over the hive and then landing on the table. The pillbug can either move one space like the queen, or can move an adjacent unstacked piece (friendly or enemy) two spaces – one on top of the hive, and one off. I haven’t felt the need to play with any of these expansions – I think the base game is fine the way it is. I still want to try them sometime, I just don’t feel that the game needs them.

SCALABILITY: Hive is only for two players. There are some multiplayer variants on BGG, but nothing official. If you want a game for more than two, Hive is probably not your game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. I think this is a game everyone should have in their collection. The simplicity of the rules and the depth of strategy make this a viable alternative to Chess. And I know I’ve been ripping Chess a lot lately. It’s not that I have anything against Chess per se, it’s just that I think it’s overly complex and too studied out to be fun for new players. Hive can be picked up quickly, and can be enjoyed by even the newest of newbies.

Thanks for reading!

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4 comments

  1. I saw Hive as I was reading about abstract games earlier this week but never got a chance to read up on It. Thanks for this post, now I’m more interested in looking into this game and getting myself a set.

  2. It is definitely “buzz” worthy! Seriously though, I agree that it is a good candidate for one of those essential games for any collection (if the idea essential games actually exists).

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