Updated: Wizard Hex Review

Wizard Hex has just gotten an update that addresses our biggest issue with the game. Now, if you tap the stone with a question mark on it, you’ll find a detailed instruction manual that explains the ins and outs of the gameplay.

Since that makes the game way more playable to new players– or playable period– it’s a big deal. Like we say below, we enjoyed playing Wizard Hex quite a bit once we understood how. This update also seems to have fixed the crash bug that we complained about in the original review.

So we’re upping our score and recommending Wizard Hex to anyone who likes board games. The AI is still pretty weak, and we’d still like to see online multiplayer, but now that you and your buddies can figure out how to play from within the app, you’ll have a great time with it.

When you boot up Wizard Hex for the first time, you see a hexagon-shaped game board sitting on a well-worn desk. Next to the board is an open book that seems to provide instructions on how to play the game. Cool, you think. So you read the instructions, which consist of a few short sentences and several pictures. Then you go to start up a match, and you realize that, even though your read the “instructions,” you still have no idea how to play the game. Not so cool.

Only after fumbling through several rounds of gameplay and scouring the Web for “real” instructions (which you can find here, buried in the forums on the developer’s website) will you manage to piece together a thorough understanding of how to play the game. Or at least that’s how it went for us.

I put a hex on you.

Let’s get this out of the way now: No gamer should have to devote that much time and energy to understand the basic concepts of how to play a game. In their defense, the developers have said that they’re working on improved in-game instructions for an update; but for now, buyer beware.

That there’s such a high barrier for entry is too bad, because once we cracked the Di Vinci code and figured out what the hell was going on, we enjoyed playing Wizard Hex quite a bit. In the game you choose one of six elements to control. The goal is to end up with more of your elemental tokens on the board than your opponents. Once you understand how to play, you’ll quickly learn that there’s quite a bit of strategy at work here.

The unique thing about Wizard Hex is that not only can you control your tokens, but you can also control the tokens of your “allies,” which are the elements on either side of you. Your tokens are still what count in order to win the game, but strategic players will use their allies’ tokens to wall off their enemies. To mix things up even more, you can play against one of your allies. This means you and your opponent can control each other’s pieces, which creates new potential strategies. But you can’t attack your allies, so to harm your opponent in this scenario you have to use your other ally. Like we said, the game is deep.

Well done, squiggle.

For a game with so many strategic possibilities, it’s unfortunate that the computer AI isn’t very smart. Even when playing on the hardest difficulty level against one computer opponent, we had no problem winning every game just by being aggressive and trying to cover up their starting spaces as quickly as possible. Adding opponents ups the challenge, but playing with any more than three players starts to feel chaotic.

Because of the lacking AI, playing against other humans is much more fun. Unfortunately, multiplayer is single-device only. Wizard Hex is a universal app, so playing against others on an iPad is great, but on an iPhone or iPod Touch, multiplayer feels cramped. The developer has said they’re working on multiple-device multiplayer but, again, it’s not available yet.

Our last complaint is app instability. On both an iPod Touch and an iPad, the game crashed on us several times. It saves your game each time this happens, so you can start where you left off when you boot it back up, but it’s aggravating nonetheless.

If you’re willing to struggle, weather the frustration, and do some extracurricular reading in order to figure Wizard Hex out, chances are you’ll enjoy it, particularly if you have someone else to play it with. But less patient players would be well advised to wait for an update with a thorough tutorial. This game has a ton of potential. We’re just waiting for it to be realized.

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