Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Nuts & Bolts #131 - Review: Hex Kit

This map took me less than 30 minutes...

This is, I think, a first for my blog: a review of software. I'm not the most computer literate guy around. For the past decade or so I've been getting by using Chromebooks at home and whatever they gave me to use at work. I always knew it was a stop gap measure, but for a good while the Chromebooks worked for my needs. The one biggest downside was their lack of software support.

When I back Torment: Tides of Numenera, I knew I would eventually have to buy a "real" PC to be able to play, and when I later backed Cecil Howe's Hex Kit mapping tool I figured "Well, I already have to buy a PC..."

Both Torment and Hex Kit have been available for month now, but it was only this past weekend that I finally bought into a new PC. It's hardly a supercomputer, but considering I've been getting by on Chromebooks it feels a bit like on to me!

All of that preamble is to explain why I'm reviewing something that has been available since April. That said I'm so impressed with the artistic quality of Mr. Howe's Hex Kit map hexes, and the ease of use for the Hex Kit tool that I felt "better late than never" would apply.

Hex Kit is an inexpensive ($15) mapping tool for PC (Windows, Mac, Linux) published by Cone Of Negative Energy (Mr. Howe's publishing self) via It's a tool that allows one to use pre-render tiles to build hex maps. The above image was constructed mostly from the "Fantasyland" set (an add-on that I also purchased) which consists of literally hundreds of hexes in numerous styles with a few dozen of each style being available. You can click on farmland for instance and just quickly fill in a 6 by 6 hex sheet with the following at random:

Alternately I can choose a specific tile and populate the same, I can even rotate the tiles to form a neat and tidy look if I choose:

It's quick and easy and even a caveman can do it. These tiles are gorgeous because ... they're hand painted. Mr. Howe hand paints these on paper and then scans them. This project is a huge labor of love as much as it is a useful tool for players and GMs. The lead in image was created for the DCC game I am playing in where the characters just arrived on the Purple Planet. Since the GM (+James Walls) said it would be a hex crawl I jumped at the chance to not only fully embrace the classic hex crawl but also to use this awesome new tool I'd finally started to play with.

I back the kickstarter, and got in for short money, but I can't stress how impressed I am with this from a tool standpoint. It supports multiple layers (so you could even create a fog of war layer to hide stuff from your players) and features numerous unique places of interest, roads, rivers, coasts, forests, mountains, hills, etc. There's even a space themed add-on set that you could use to create maps for sci-fiction games like Stars Without Number, Star Trek, or Star Wars. And every tile is something that was hand painted, and scanned. Every. One.

Oh and on the off chance you aren't already sold there's a dungeon kit in works. Also you can output random maps with barely any clicks at all. Check this out!

I don't wholeheartedly recommend stuff with this kind of wild abandon very often, but I think for the price this is this kind of tool that any GM or player with a hankering for maps will probably be happy with. I do recommend you grab the Fantasyland expansion however. While the base set of black and white tiles is still not only very functional, but also attractive, these tiles really pop if you get into the full color sets.

As a before after I converted my MS Paint map of Blackstone Ford from my Shadow of the Demon Lord game to Hex Kit in about an hour. Here's the before/after.