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Hex (board game)

Hex is a board game played on a hexagonal grid, usually in the shape of a 10 by 10 or a 11 by 11 rhombus. (The book A Beautiful Mind says Nash et al settled on 14 by 14 as best.)

Table of contents
1 History
2 Rules
3 Strategy
4 Templates
5 Variants
6 See also:
7 External links and References


The game was invented by the Danish mathematician Piet Hein in 1942, and independently by the mathematician John Nash in the late 1940s. It became known in Denmark under the name Polygon; Nash's fellow players at first called the game Nash. According to Martin Gardner, some of the Princeton University students also referred to the game as John, because it was often played on the hexagonal tiles of bathroom floors. In 1952 Parker Brothers marketed a version. They called their version "Hex" and the name stuck.


Players have two colors, say "Red" and "Blue". (Of course, the colors are merely a convention and the actual colors vary from board to board and from version to version.) They alternate turns placing a piece of their color inside a hexagon, filling in that hexagon with their color. Red's goal is to form a red path connecting the top and bottom sides of the parallelogram, and Blue's goal is to form a path connecting the left and right sides.

Red moved first in this game, and won.


The game can never end in a tie, a fact found by Nash: the only way to prevent your opponent from forming a connecting path is to form a path yourself.

When the sides of the grid are equal, the game favors the first player. A standard non-constructive strategy-stealing argument proves that the first player has a winning strategy. It is obvious that since hex is a finite, perfect information and can not end in a tie, either the first or second player has a winning strategy. Note that an extra move for either player in any position can only improve that player's position. Therefore, if the second player has a winning strategy, the first player could steal it by making an irrelevant move and then follow the second player's strategy. If the strategy ever called for moving on the square already chosen, the first player makes another random move. This ensures a first player win.

There are two ways to make the game fairer. One way is to make the second player's sides closer together, playing on a parallelogram rather than a rhombus. However, this has been proven to result in a win for the second player, so it theoretically doesn't improve matters. The proof of this involves a simple pairing strategy.

A better way is to allow the second player to choose his color after the first player makes the first move, or first three moves, which encourages the first player to intentionally even out the game. See the pie rule for a more detailed discussion. Nowadays, in most online sites, the swap rule is the default, with the swap made after only one move (ensuring a second player win).

Cameron Browne wrote a book entitled Hex Strategy: Making the Right Connections, which covers Hex strategy at a greater level of detail than any preceding work. However, some hex players feel that this book contains many factual errors and advocates questionable strategies. Another book, to be written by Jack van Rijswijck and Ryan Hayward, was put on hold soon after the publication of Hex Strategy; it was to have a more mathematical bent than the somewhat conversational tone of Browne's book.

Hex has been proven to be PSPACE hard. But don't be frightened by this. After all, checkers, chess and go are EXPTIME


An important concept in the theory of hex is the template. A template is a subset of the hexes with an assignment of red, blue or empty to each hex with two red edges set apart such that if blue were to move first, red would still be able to connect both red edges no matter what blue does.



Hex had an incarnation as the question board from the television game show Blockbusters. In order to play a "move", contestants had to answer a question correctly. The board was much smaller than in standard Hex.

The game of Y

See Y (game). It has a lot of similarities with Hex.

The Shannon Switching game

See Shannon switching game. Unlike Hex, this isn't PSPACE hard.

See also:

External links and References