A Hex board is made up of hexagon-shaped cells arranged in a rhombus. The most common board dimension is 11x11. The pieces are two colors of beads, buttons, coins, or colored glass "stones", twenty or thirty for each player.
Print out a board:
These boards work with pennies and dimes if they are printed on legal sized paper (8x14 inches).
The players attempt to connect opposite sides of the board with a continuous line of pieces. The first player must connect the vertical sides, and the second player must connect the horizontal sides.
Players alternately place a piece on an empty hex. The first person to connect their two sides of the board is the winner.
In Hex, defense is truly the best offense. Due to the nature of the board, in order to completely block your opponent from winning, you must connect your two sides. Therefore, if you play flawless defense (easier said than done), you will end up connecting your sides and winning the game.
The center hex on the board is the strongest first move, therefore, the first player enjoys a distinct advantage. The Swapping Rule may be used to make the game more fair.
The bridge is a powerful arrangement of pieces. In practice, the two pieces in a bridge formation can be considered to be connected. In the diagram, the two blue pieces form a bridge, blocking the red pieces from connecting. If red plays in one of the shaded hexes, then blue will play in the other. Also note that the topmost blue piece has formed a bridge with the top edge of the board.
Another common formation is the ladder. It occurs when the players alternate laying their pieces in a straight line. In this case, red is building a ladder to keep blue from continuing his line to the top of the board. Ladders can also be built with bridges.
Connecting to a side
There are certain situations where a piece placed near a side can be connected to that side no matter what the opponent does to try and block it. It is good to be able to recognize these situations, and an excellent discussion of this topic can be found in the Hex FAQ, written by David Boll (see section 4, Edge Techniques).
To help counteract the first move advantage, many Hex players employ the swapping rule. The second player to move has the option of swapping colors with the first player, effectively stealing the first move. If the second player chooses to swap, then the first player moves again, but playing the opposite color.
If you use this option in your games, the first player must make an opening move that is not too powerful (such as taking the center hex). If he does, then his powerful opening move will be used against him.
When an experienced player is playing against a beginner, a simple way to even the odds is to allow the beginner to take the center hex, and do not allow the experienced player to swap.
Hex was independently invented by Dutch mathematician Piet Hein in 1942, and by American mathematician John Nash in 1948. It is said that very early on, the game was played by Princeton students on the floor of their dormitory bathroom, which had hexagon-shaped tiles. Martin Gardner popularized the game when he wrote about it in The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions in 1959.