Ode to Hive
Hive is a fantastic strategy game about cute little bugs and outsmarting your opponent. With the explosion of modern board games, there’s a short popularity cycle from announcement to played out and few games survive to be mentioned again beyond a few months after release. This pattern has been nicknamed “the cult of the new” by long-time hobbyists. But Hive came out almost twenty years ago now and is still the first game to be mentioned whenever someone for a 1 vs. 1 or travel game recommendation.
Understanding the rules of Hive is quite simple. The objective of the game is to surround your opponent’s queen bee hexagonal tile with your own buggy tiles (or your opponent’s if you’re clever enough). The beauty of Hive is that it really only has three rules:
1. The One Hive Rule:
Throughout the game all of the tiles in play must be attached to the same cluster of tiles, or “hive”. At no point can a new tile be placed separately for the hive. Nor can a tile’s movement split the existing hive in two, even if for a moment. If moving a tile would split the hive into two sections, it is considered an illegal move and that tile is unable to be moved.
2. The Freedom of Movement Rule:
Whenever a tile is to be moved, it can not be picked up off the playing surface. Instead, it must be slid out of its current position and moved to the new one. If there is not enough room for the tile to slide out, then it is considered an illegal move and must remain where it is. The only exceptions to this rule are any types of tiles that move by climbing on top of others (i.e the dung beetle).
3. The Tile Placement Rule:
Hive doesn’t consider this as central of a rule to include it in the “rules” section of the included game paperwork, however I felt it was significant enough for the purposes of this article. Whenever a player adds a new tile to the board, it must be placed adjacent to tiles of their own color and can not be touching their opponent’s color.
The strategy comes into play when looking at each of the different bug tiles that player’s have at their disposal. Like pieces on a chess board, each bug tile has a unique way of moving that can be used to trap your opponents.
Take the grasshopper for example. This piece can be placed on the board early on in the game and patiently wait until the right moment for it to leap over all other tiles in a straight line making it the perfect piece to lay a trap with.
Understanding how each bug moves is easy to do thanks to the included diagrams provided in the instructions. But the associated strategies are up to the players to discover for themselves.
Need to obstruct a tile’s movement? Perhaps you can move the dung beetle on top of it to prevent it from moving. Or maybe you can use the ant or grasshopper tiles to move to the perimeter of the hive and prevent your opponent from moving a tile without illegally breaking the hive. Cleverly place a spider to lie in wait for the coup de grace, or force your opponent to block themselves in.
The simplicity of each tile’s movement makes Hive incredibly accessible and easy to pick up. Yet, the sum of it parts is a complex composition of potential that leaves each game feeling different depending on how the tiles move.
Over the years there have been three expansions that add new tiles providing a new level of strategic variety to Hive.
In 2007, Gen42 Games released the Mosquito expansion pack which introduced the most erratic tile in the game. The mosquito tile is an absolute wild card piece that absorbs the movement and abilities of adjacent tiles at the begging of the turn. For that reason, it’s a fantastic piece to get on the board early on and leave in wait. As tile placements shift throughout the game, the mosquito’s abilities will vary and become more or less effective. It’s easy to force your opponent to avoid making their optimal move when it means giving the mosquito a fun new ability on the next turn.
Three years later, the Lady Bug expansion released. While I don’t personally feel that it had a large impact on the gameplay experience overall, the lady bug tile is a fun combination of the existing dung beetle and spider movement abilities. The lady bug moves exactly three spaces by climbing on top of the hive, moving two spaces, and then dropping down into an unoccupied spot as its third move. It’s simple in practice, but is a good way expand the hive when it gets too crowded by moving the lady bug out to the perimeter.
The Pillbug expansion was the last one to be released in 2013 and is a fun twist on the dung beetle’s movement. Instead of moving over other tiles, it has the flexibility to move underneath other tiles, relocating the target tile. It seems of small consequence, but it’s a clever way to relocate your queen bee away from imminent danger. It’s a simple but easy way to make a last ditch effort to save your hive.
But what might be the best part about Hive is how compact it is. The core game consists of only twenty-two tiles, eleven for each player. Tiles are durable sturdy and all fit back into a zip-up travel bag that’s only six inches and diameter and an inch and a half thick when full. The handy bag makes it easy to carry around and keep in your day to day bag for a quick rounds over lunch with colleagues or unexpected delays. And that’s just the normal version of the game. Hive Pocket is an even smaller version that has a reduced tile size that can all be stored in pocket sized cloth bag. The pocket version even comes with both the Ladybug expansion and Mosquito expansions included, leaving only the Pillbug as a separate purchase for the completionists out there.
My wife and I love to travel with games so we can play at the airport or with the friends and family we’re visiting and no game makes that easier to do than Hive does. In fact, despite trying to pack two weeks worth of clothes into a small suitcase for our honeymoon, we still made sure we had space for Hive. On two occasions during the trip, we found ourselves with a lay over where we sat at the airport over lunch and a beer playing Hive together. Games are quick, take up minimal space, and have next to no setup time at all, giving us enough time to play two or three rounds between the first round of drinks and when the appetizers arrived.
But as much as we love Hive, there’s a huge community that loves it more. Board Game Geek’s page for Hive is loaded with fans who have created convenient one sheets for tile movement or print and play custom expansions like the Dragonfly and the Scorpion rules. Hive‘s community still supports the game after two decades with new and imaginative tiles and re-themes, continuing to keep the game alive for both new and veteran players.
Most of my friends don’t really play games and are slowly starting to dive in with me and discover the joys of it. However, some of my favorite games such as Gloomhaven, Kingdom Death: Monster, Nemesis, and Hellboy: The Board Game have a tendency to overwhelm newcomers based on the sheer size of them. What I have found to be nearly universal with Hive is how simple it is to teach the game and how naturally the strategy reveals itself. The best paths to victory are uncovered by mere trial and error and with Hive‘s short play time, it’s easy to fit in five to six games at a time. It’s more than possible that a brand new player can go from learning to ropes to defeating the teaching player in just one sitting.
All of this is ultimately to say that I’m remarkably impressed with Hive‘s resilience in a market that tends to lean toward newer releases. Two decades in and Hive remains one of the most accessible and enjoyable games out there for two players. It’s ready-to-travel size, easy to learn rules, and strong variability makes it the perfect game to add to the collection of both experienced and new board game players. If you haven’t already started your bug collection, it’s time to start.