Take Civilization 6, with its strategic city building and decision making as you expand your empire across a hex-based map while outsmarting your rival factions. Add Slay the Spire, with its card-based tactics, asking you to build a deck capable of consistently delivering the tools you need to secure victory. Now shake those up and pour over ice, and you get Hexarchy, a cool 4X deck builder coming to Steam in October. Ahead of its release, PCGamesN spoke to developer Main Tank Software at WASD to find out what makes it tick.
Hexarchy aims to capture the “weighty decisions” of the best 4X games and inject them into fast-paced matches that last just 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll use your deck of cards to build your cities, armies, wonders, and improvements, as well as use special actions to impact your opponents. You’ll research technologies and adopt civics to unlock new cards, and can even strategically destroy your own cards to tailor your deck to the needs of the match.
To keep things moving at speed, your military units can capture any hex they reach. You’ll also get the ability to customize their abilities as they earn promotions. Hexarchy includes global market trading for resources, allowing you to strike deals for the goods you need. With ten civilizations to choose from, each with their own unique abilities, there’s plenty of depth in here as well.
Alongside the skirmish and quick play modes, there’s also the likes of single-player challenge modes. These will put you in specific scenarios, or demand you score victory under a certain set of conditions. The plan is to include daily and weekly challenges, where players take on the same game mode but with unique victory conditions, testing your ability to adapt and try new strategies.
So, with how short-form Hexarchy is, how do you condense the soul of a 4X game – which can go on for weeks if not months of playing a single match – into an experience that lasts under an hour? The main thing is the victory points, Main Tank explains. “No matter which path you take with your Civilization, you’re going to get those points very quickly – they’re more like ‘good player’ points.” Don’t expect to complete the whole map or reach the end of your research tree in every match, then.
The team has considered introducing “a mode that is like domination, where you have to kill everyone. Those games would be longer, but I think we’ve reached a place where, I would hope, it wouldn’t be hours and hours or months. That really is the opposite of the game’s desired ethos – 45 minutes to an hour, play on your lunch break, that’s the ideal session.”
The team also hopes this will make multiplayer more enjoyable for everyone involved. “If you’re losing on turn five [in a traditional 4X game] and you know it’s game over, then you have to spend 60 hours watching your friends have fun. And you’re thinking, ‘I’m just here to have a bad time.’” In Hexarchy, even if you know you’re not going to win, “you can have your own fun by messing around with the other players.”
Hexarchy can support up to six players online – “It’s a lot of fun, especially with the fog of war, with that many players you are just clueless as to what’s happening at first.” In multiplayer, your attacks don’t take place instantly, but are played out at the end of turn. For the single-player mode, however, “to make it more snappy, when you queue up an action you do it there and then – there’s a slight advantage in that you get to attack before the AI.”
With both 4X games and deck building games being quite intense to pick up and learn, we ask whether approachability is a key concern for Hexarchy? “Absolutely – we’ve been reworking the tutorial over and over again. I feel like we’re getting close to it.” The length is also a boon in this area: “Because the game is shorter, in your first game, if you make a mess of it, at least hopefully you’ll pick a few things up. And so when you have your second game, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening.”
That work towards a game that’s easy to pick up and play has influence elsewhere too. “The tech tree we’ve redesigned many times to make it more approachable. Because otherwise it’s just a bunch of text on the screen that means nothing. The same thing with resource management – things that, over the past six months, we’ve kept rehashing and reworking to get right.”
Another aspect that’s always tough to nail down is balance. “We’ll find one strategy that is so overpowered, like if you do these things you can get a wonder on turn one – you can burn off your deck to get there and really strategize on one choice.” The team wants to encourage unique strategies but avoid complete steamrolls – “that line is really fine.”
As more and more players get hands-on with the game, the strategies the team is seeing continue to grow and expand. “At first it was, like, one strategy – now it’s different strategies. We don’t know which is the best yet, but we’ve got a feeling that, post launch, people will really grind to get their strategies perfect. We’re seeing players beat the game on turn 11 – they’re already thinking ten steps ahead of themselves; they really take the strategy aspect of it and make it their own.”
The Hexarchy release date is October 19, 2023 on Steam. You can wishlist it now, and there’s also the option to sign up for playtests ahead of launch, although we’re pretty close to launch already. Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on it and see what weird and wonderful strategies I can cook up.
If you’re looking for more of the best card games on PC, we’ve got a full hand ready to deal out some winners. We’ve also put together our picks of the best strategy games on PC, so whatever flavor you’re after there’s sure to be something for you.
Interview conducted by Nat Smith at WASD.