What do you make after a white-knuckle high speed endless flyer? How about a relaxing puzzle game where you tend a hexagonal garden? Hexarden is Flippfly’s next game after Race the Sun, and it couldn’t be more different from their previous effort. About the only similarity I could find was the complete lack of texturing on the polygons, which is always a nice look when handled with care. Hexarden looked lovely, colorful and pleasantly calm, with only the rogue bunny intent on eating your carefully cultivated plants to mar the peace of tending its garden.
Hexarden gets a big disclaimer before I go into the details, though- this was a very early build. The rough structure, aesthetic design, and basic rules are in place, but everything else is subject to change without notice for no particular reason. Having said that-
The PAX East demo was a basic level comprised of a hexagonal playing field, four hexagons wide per side. There were two or three tiles of water to work with on the board and the rest of the tiles were overgrown with grass. Each click took a day’s work, as marked on a hexagonal indicator at the top-right of the screen. You had 18 weeks to grow the garden as efficiently as possible, with each week being six days long.
The first thing to do, once you’ve planned what you want the garden to look like, is to start clearing away grasses. Low grass goes away in a single click, tall grasses take a couple before the dirt is revealed. For the cleared earth to be any use it needs to be by water, otherwise you can’t plant it with a seed. You can spread water around by clicking and dragging a single hexagon per turn, eventually creating a stream or small pond. If you want a pretty garden you can leave the pond as-is, or you can roll a rock into a water space to turn it back to dirt. Scoring is about getting the maximum efficiency of plant density, but sometimes it’s nice to have a pretty garden, too.
As you clear dirt away you may find items underneath it. At the moment that would be either rocks or a special water drop that grows a plant to its next stage, but as mentioned it’s still early days so there should be plenty more to unearth later. The rocks you find count as both an obstacle and a tool, because while you can’t plant on a spot with a rock you can use them not only to fill in extra watery spaces but also block the rabbits from eating your plants. When a bunny shows up on the outskirts of the garden it will hop a single space forward per day, but if it encounters a rock it gives up and disappears. Part of the strategy in the PAX East build was making sure you had rocks near all six garden edges, because seeing a plant with over a dozen berries on it disappear in a single turn is not a pleasant experience.
While the rabbits were a problem, the real opponent in Hexarden is time. 108 turns sounds like a lot until you need to move water two spaces over and then roll a rock from three spaces away to turn the stream into two water holes, or click on a grass tile twice to clear it and a third time to plant a single seed. Maybe there will be powerups to add days to the calendar later, but for now you have a certain number of turns and they’d better be used well if you want a full board of berry-filled plants.
Hexarden is simple at the moment, but it’s also barely a sprout at this point so maximizing the garden’s yield is still a bit easy. My second game went for maximum efficiency by having a single water hole in the board’s center and six other water tiles a hex away from each edge. Get six plants growing in a ring and you get a bonus (not honestly sure what it did but it looked neat), and the maximum number of plant/water rings you can create on the board is seven, spaced perfectly evenly and only a bit more aesthetically pleasing than a brick. In this early stage of development, though, the point is to build a base that the rest of the game can rest on, and Hexarden already feels filled with promise. There’s a million ways to turn Hexarden’s framework into a luch gardening puzzle game that’s both relaxing and properly tricky, and watching it grow into its potential over the development cycle should be a lot of fun.