Reviewed by Nigel Buckle, copyright © 2002
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
For your money, the box contains a rulebook and 22 hexagonal pieces (11 for each player, with each player having a queen, 3 ants, 3 grasshoppers, 2 spiders, 2 beetles). The game idea is to play or move your pieces so that they surround the opposing player's queen. The other pieces all have their own rules for movement. Play is by way of alternate moves. There's no board, but each piece must always be in contact with another, so the board moves and grows as the game progresses. It looks very visually appealing and if you play in public then you will get people watching, and it's simple enough to appeal to non-gamers (if you go to the website there are a few pictures of the pieces).
The game starts by the first player choosing a piece and placing it, and then the second player plays one of their pieces adjacent to it. From now on players can only play pieces adjacent to their own. You have to play the queen within the first 4 turns (so you can play 3 other pieces then the queen maximum), but once the queen is in play you can either play a new piece or move an existing piece around the hive. All the pieces have their own way of moving; grasshoppers can leap across the hive, beetles hop, ants move anywhere, spiders only move exactly 3 hex sides. There is a surprising depth of play once you get into the game. All the pieces have their uses, and because you have to keep the hive together you can often pin an opposing piece just by moving next to it (so, if it was moved, your piece would become unattached). It shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to learn the game, but rather longer to master it. The huge variety of ways in which the pieces can arrange themselves, and the different moves of each piece, makes for a varied and interesting game. I think going first is a slight advantage, however as the game is
so simple and quick to play (around 20 minutes a game or less) this isn't really a problem if you just alternate who starts.
There are a few negatives, however - the game isn't cheap; the hexagonal pieces are nice, thick bits of wood - but this has driven the price up. The full-color box and artwork on the pieces also have that look of quality about them, but have also contributed to the price tag. Secondly, I'm not sure how resistant to wear the stickers on the pieces are; already my set is showing minor scores and chips. Finally, some people struggle to differentiate between the silver pieces of one side and the blue pieces of the other. This problem is especially acute in low light, but you can get
around this by marking the edges of one set with a marker pen (the stickers do not reach right to the edges of the pieces and its relatively easy to add a black border to the blue set, and I don't think it detracts from the look of the game).
I haven't played the game enough to claim I'm an expert, but already the Spider is looking like the weakest piece, which is a shame as all the other pieces (except the queen) have their strengths/advantages. The problem with the spider is it moves like the ant, but whereas the ant can move any distance the spider has to move exactly 3 hex sides, no more, no less. I'm tinkering with the rules for the spider; one idea is to make the spider pin any non-spider, so if you move the spider next to an opposing non-spider that piece cannot move until the spider moves away (or gets covered by a beetle).
All in all, a nice- but quite expensive- strategy game, good as a little filler when you have half an hour spare and equally good for an evening gaming. Portable and visually appealing, so you don't feel too self-conscious playing it in a cafe, or similar public environment. You might have trouble tracking down a copy unless you order on-line.
Cost: 20.00 (UK), $29.00 (US)
Available: www.hivemania.com (and a few resellers, listed on the web site)