Influential Game Companies of the Past, Part 5: Hexagames

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 – which seems to be the lifespan of many game companies – Hexagames was an independent voice of quality in the German gaming scene.
It was founded by L. Hensley to promote his stock market game “Long Short”. 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 “Day Trading”, 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 – which regularly brings on financial breakdowns until today – 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 “stock market game that was invented in prison” fired up the company that was Hexagames. It was Hagedorn’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 it’s time “Long Short” 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 “Conquest” which still exists in one form or another until today. Buetehorn games had a specific box design – a sturdy cardboard box that opened and closed with a button that was also used by many of Hexagames’ games.
Hexagames was quickly recognized for their design quality. First was “Uisge” by Roland Siegers, which garnered the special “beautiful game” or “Schoenes Spiel” prize at the Spiel des Jahres 1984. Already their next big game, the fabulous “Abilene”, 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 “Abilene” – 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 – always a difficult sell in Germany – 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 “Die 1. Million” 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, “Res Publica”, 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 “Cosmic Encounter” for example, still a rarity among collectors. “Cosmic Encounter” had attracted them because of their similar use of a hexagonal game board, so it was a perfect fit to them. Alan Moon did “Black Spy”, a game that was also published by Avalon Hill.
Other games in their very varied line were for example:
“Choice” – an interesting dice game by Sid Sackson which can be seen as an influential multiplayer solitaire dice game, later known as “Einstein”:
“Gimel” – a 2 player abstract game influenced by Egyptian designs.
“Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” – an unsuccessful movie tie-in attempt.
“Karriere-Poker” – a wonderful card game that later became “The Great Dalmuti” and which can be seen as the direct predecessor of the wonderful “Zoff im Zoo”, sharing some of its mechanics.
One of the most legendary games ever produced by Hexagames must certainly be “McMulti” 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 “Settlers of Catan” and which has been published in the US under the name “Crude: The Oil Game”.
Another notable Hexagames game is “Showbiz” by Derek Carver, a game that bears a not too slight resemblance to “Modern Art” in a way and which has players manage stars with varying success levels.
Many of Hexagames’ games may seem as if they haven’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 “Abacus-Games”, a company that is still going strong today. Hexagames was dissolved in 1992, but was taken over by the Berlin company “Sala Games” which published the best of Hexagames under their brand name. But also Salagames went down, only 2 years later, in 1994.
Today Hexagames’ games are sought-after collector’s item – their legacy is not forgotten and they have shaped many designers that still are successful today.
Moritz Eggert