Transcript of the podcast published on July 16th, 2010.
This time I am going to talk about a German game company that few of you will know, but which was extremely influential in the rise of the Euro Game phenomenon in Germany. The company was called… Hexagames.
For 10 years, 1982 to 1992 â€“ which seems to be the lifespan of many game companies â€“ Hexagames was an independent voice of quality in the German gaming scene.
It was founded by L. Hensley to promote his stock market game â€śLong Shortâ€ť. I say L. Hensley because nowhere on the web could I find his first name, not even on Boardgamegeek.
There is actually an interesting story behind this game: L. Hensley was not a gamer but a business man who did something that today would probably be called â€śDay Tradingâ€ť, meaning that he bought the rights to buy and sell shares only to wait until the shares had fallen before actually buying them, then selling them for the old price making a profit.
This activity â€“ which regularly brings on financial breakdowns until today â€“ was regarded as highly dubious in Frankfurt at the time, so L. Hensley actually went to prison in Frankfurt. There he had 7 months and 1 day of leisure time which he used to create this stock market trading game. Hagedorn met him and became his business partner after his release from prison. The resulting publicity about the â€śstock market game that was invented in prisonâ€ť fired up the company that was Hexagames. It was Hagedornâ€™s idea to create a special hexagonal game board that could be looked at from each side and give the same information to everybody, because he was annoyed with the usual boards where some players always have to read everything upside down. As he used the hexagonal board design for several games in a row it gave the early games of the company a distinctive look and the name Hexagames was born and quickly became a trademark.
At itâ€™s time â€śLong Shortâ€ť was regarded as something of a hit, and if one believes the comments at the Geek it still can be regarded as a business game of high quality, simulating the turns and tides of the stock market quite well. Together with Juergen Hagedorn Hensley wanted Hexagames to publish further new games, but quickly they found themselves as the inheritors of the Buetehorn games line instead, a company that went bankrupt roughly the year Hexagames started business. Buetehorn had several beautifully produced games in its line, most notably the strategy game â€śConquestâ€ť which still exists in one form or another until today. Buetehorn games had a specific box design â€“ a sturdy cardboard box that opened and closed with a button that was also used by many of Hexagamesâ€™ games.
Hexagames was quickly recognized for their design quality. First was â€śUisgeâ€ť by Roland Siegers, which garnered the special â€śbeautiful gameâ€ť or â€śSchoenes Spielâ€ť prize at the Spiel des Jahres 1984. Already their next big game, the fabulous â€śAbileneâ€ť, also by Roland Siegers, made it on the selection list of the same prize a year later.
I still have a special place in my heart for â€śAbileneâ€ť â€“ it was an unusual design for the time: a fun Western game that was specifically designed to be only played by 3 players, something that is still a rarity and difficult to pull off. Sadly it fell under the curse of the Western game genre â€“ always a difficult sell in Germany â€“ and is now mostly forgotten. But I can only recommend it to anybody interested in unusual games.
Also in later years Hexagames always was a contender for the Spiel des Jahres, but it unfortunately never won the coveted prize. But the company attracted top game designers like Sid Sackson (who did â€śDie 1. Millionâ€ť for them) and especially the young Reiner Knizia, who did one of his first and some may argue still best card game design for them, â€śRes Publicaâ€ť, a very good civilization light card game that is in print until today.
Like many game companies Hexagames also specialized in bringing interesting games over the pond. They were the first German company to produce a German version of â€śCosmic Encounterâ€ť for example, still a rarity among collectors. â€śCosmic Encounterâ€ť had attracted them because of their similar use of a hexagonal game board, so it was a perfect fit to them. Alan Moon did â€śBlack Spyâ€ť, a game that was also published by Avalon Hill.
Other games in their very varied line were for example:
â€śChoiceâ€ť – an interesting dice game by Sid Sackson which can be seen as an influential multiplayer solitaire dice game, later known as â€śEinsteinâ€ť:
â€śGimelâ€ť â€“ a 2 player abstract game influenced by Egyptian designs.
â€śIndiana Jones And The Temple Of Doomâ€ť â€“ an unsuccessful movie tie-in attempt.
â€śKarriere-Pokerâ€ť â€“ a wonderful card game that later became â€śThe Great Dalmutiâ€ť and which can be seen as the direct predecessor of the wonderful â€śZoff im Zooâ€ť, sharing some of its mechanics.
One of the most legendary games ever produced by Hexagames must certainly be â€śMcMultiâ€ť by James St. Laurent, though, a game that still is held in high regard in German gaming circles. This is an economic game that has some design similarities to the much later â€śSettlers of Catanâ€ť and which has been published in the US under the name â€śCrude: The Oil Gameâ€ť.
Another notable Hexagames game is â€śShowbizâ€ť by Derek Carver, a game that bears a not too slight resemblance to â€śModern Artâ€ť in a way and which has players manage stars with varying success levels.
Many of Hexagamesâ€™ games may seem as if they havenâ€™t aged that well, but in their time they were highly influential. One impressive aspect of Hexagames output was a great variety of games with a preference for simple and non-convoluted designs paired with good production values.
The end of Hexagames was a prolonged one. First Hagedorn left the company and was replaced by Joe Nikisch who later founded â€śAbacus-Gamesâ€ť, a company that is still going strong today. Hexagames was dissolved in 1992, but was taken over by the Berlin company â€śSala Gamesâ€ť which published the best of Hexagames under their brand name. But also Salagames went down, only 2 years later, in 1994.
Today Hexagamesâ€™ games are sought-after collectorâ€™s item â€“ their legacy is not forgotten and they have shaped many designers that still are successful today.