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With hex grids, you can choose to arrange the tiles with the pointy sides up, so that you can move along the west-east axis, or you can arrange them with an edge up, so that you can move along the north-south axis.

"Horizontal" or pointy-side-up hex grid:
Horinzontal hex grid image

"Vertical" or flat-side-up hex grid:
Vertical hex grid image

According to this page, the vertical alignment is "by far the most popular" in pen-and-paper RPGs, but it doesn't explain why. This blog post also mentions both varieties but again gives no reason to use one or the other.

And if you look at some PC games using hexes, it seems both have their adherents

Horizontal: Heroes of Might and Magic series (except V), Civilization V , ...
Vertical: Panzer General and many similar wargames, Battle for Wesnoth, ...

But what are the main reasons for choosing for a vertical or horizontal layout of hex grids?

I'm looking for objective advantages and disadvantages in terms of data structures, graphics, gameplay etc, not personal preferences. Or is it really inconsequential which orientation you choose?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Josh Petrie Feb 13 at 0:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
The terms "horizontal" and "vertical" hex grids might not be the most intuitive, but I borrowed them from one of the pages linked to in the question. Pointy-side-up and flat-side-up are more easily understood perhaps. Hope it's clear. –  Junuxx Feb 20 '13 at 19:29
    
RE: what is most popular in pen-and-paper RPGs, in my experience most tables have four sides. And whether a particular RPG has its hexagons with the pointed sides on the top or on the side depends exclusively on which side of the table you're sitting on. –  Trevor Powell Feb 21 '13 at 8:09
    
@Trevor: That's true, I realized the same thing holds for hexes in tabletop games like Settlers of Catan. But I think they might be referring to e.g. campaign maps, in which North would usually be considered the real up. –  Junuxx Feb 21 '13 at 8:58
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RPGs use the vertical style because that's the convention for printed hex paper. Why is it the convention for printed hex paper? Questions within questions. –  Jack Aidley Feb 21 '13 at 10:38
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Horizontal grain and vertical grain are perhaps the most succinct description of the two map forms. –  Pieter Geerkens Jun 1 '13 at 12:42

6 Answers 6

I have been able to come up with a few reasons myself, but I'd really like to hear more.

  1. Horizontal layout matches the layout of the keyboard. You could use WEADZX for movement, similar to WASD on square grids. On the other hand, I have also found suggestions that QWEASD is a natural fit for vertical hexes.

  2. Horizontal hexes seem to be better suited for 3D/isometric perspective, where the bottom row is closest and the top row is farthest. In this layout, high sprites won't obscure the center of the tile behind it, but just the edges. This would possibly make the vertical hex arrangement better suited for top-down views.
    Compare to square vs diamond ("isometric") grid, as in Simcity Classic vs Simcity 2000.

  3. For an NxN grid, the horizontal layout results in a grid that is wider than it is tall, just like PC monitors. In other words, with horizontal hexes the view of the map that fits on your widescreen has a slightly more equal row/column ratio. Depending on the display area available and the size of the map, this could give the player a better view, and it might require less scrolling.

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+1 for reason #2, good thinking. (Though I don't see why you might conclude from this that the vertical grid is better suited for top-down views.) –  Eric Feb 20 '13 at 14:02
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@Eric: I meant to say that vertical grids appear to be more useful for top-down than for isometric views, not that vertical is better for top-down than horizontal is. There is a huge number of Panzer General-like wargames which all use top-down views and vertical hex grids though, so maybe there is some hidden benefit to that. –  Junuxx Feb 20 '13 at 16:24

From a technical and programming perspective, there should be no fundamental difference in data structure between the two orientations - any reasonable scheme should be easily modifiable to work well with either setup.

Design-wise, in the end it will come down to preference — as you've noted, there are multiple games using either scheme, which is pretty clear evidence that neither is technically superior. One thing that's worth noting is that Western text flows horizontally rather than vertically; because of this, Western players are likely to latch on to the horizontal elements of a design more quickly and more strongly than the vertical elements, because they're wired to look for horizontal structure. In the case of hexes, this means what you're calling the horizontal hex grid will draw attention to its horizontal straight lines more readily than the vertical hex grid draws attention to its vertical straight lines, and so if you want to emphasize the straight-line movement then the horizontal grid is likely to do a better job of that.

Contrariwise, though, if you want to de-emphasize the straight lines in the grid (which is one good reason for choosing a hex grid over a square one in the first place!) then you may want to use the vertical hex grid over the horizontal, since the lighter weight given to vertical lines will minimize the overall sense of straight lines in the grid for players.

One caution, though: note that this is a culturally-trained trait, not an inherent one, and that if you want to introduce your game into Japanese or other markets then you may want to reevaluate the decision, since the natural flow in those cultures is often vertical rather than horizontal (compare, for instance, Japanese 4-koma vs. American comic strips).

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Excellent answer, appreciate the UX viewpoint, as well as the cultural relativism. –  Junuxx Feb 20 '13 at 19:20

Bees!

Sounds like you're leaning toward horizontal as having more advantage. For what it's worth, bees agree with you when they build their honeycombs:

The axes of honeycomb cells are always quasi-horizontal, and the nonangled rows of honeycomb cells are always horizontally (not vertically) aligned. Thus, each cell has two vertical walls, with "floors" and "ceilings" composed of two angled walls(disparity with image "Honeycomb-Process"). The cells slope slightly upwards, between 9 and 14 degrees, towards the open ends.

Try as I might, I couldn't find a theory as to why bees do it this way. (Don't get me wrong, there are various theories as to why they use the hexagonal geometry, but that doesn't appear to explain why horizontal rather than vertical.)

Anyway, thought I'd add to the list of horizontal advantages/disadvantages: "It's how bees do it." If your game is some kind of bumble-bee sim, that would be a persuasive reason to go with horizontal hex.


Alternate benefit of the horizontal approach: By using a horizontal (or pointy-side up) alignment for the hex-grid, you make your grid conform to the instructions for setting up a tent.

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Lol, +1 for bee sim! –  Paxinum Feb 20 '13 at 19:12
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A vertical cross-section - as seen in this image from Wikipedia, where if you zoom in you can clearly see a horizontal hex grid. –  Nathan Reed Feb 20 '13 at 19:20
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I, for one, welcome our new horizontally-aligned-hexagon-inclined insect overlords. –  Junuxx Feb 20 '13 at 19:30
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I have a feeling this has more to do with structural strength than anything else. In the vertical setup, the weight from above could possibly squash the bottom cells, whereas the horizontal setup means the forces from above are distributed equally on the 2 cells below. Anyways +1 for creativity :D –  Destrictor Feb 20 '13 at 21:22
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@Paxinum not that far-fetched... –  AakashM Mar 18 '13 at 16:38

Your hex orientation will influence both your general aesthetics and your asset production.

If you choose vertical tiles, you can make your hexes twice as wide as they are tall and have pixel-perfect accuracy. Here are some 64x32 hexes.

Single hex

Field of hexes

Note that the diagonal edges are at 45 degree angles, making them easier to render in pixels.

The narrow height of the hexes relative to their widths can suggest depth, especially when you pace objects on them that can overlap with hexes behind them.

Single hex with object on it

Field of hexes with objects

Another example of how the hex orientation can affect your asset production is with objects placed on horizontal tiles. On horizontal tiles you can only go roughly left or right. You can not go directly up or down. (Similarly, you can only go roughly up or down on vertical tiles). You could therefore possibly get away with only using a single side-facing image for objects on horizontal tiles.

Horizontal left Horizontal right

With vertical tiles you'd have to make dedicated front and back images for the objects at the very least if you want different orientations, while on horizontal tiles you can use a single image that gets flipped.

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If you are building a strategy game, the game requirements and design itself should dictate which orientation you choose. Note that defensive lines are more easily held with the grain than against it, so your choice of grid orientation relative to map orientation will affect game play. To emphasize defence, such as in WWI, align the hex grid with the natural defensive lines; to emphasize offense as in WWII, do the opposite.

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I agree, this is something I was just thinking about too! Although this probably matters more on small maps with a clear directionality (e.g. hexagonal chess, hex-stratego) than on large and complex maps (e.g. Civ 5 or this monster) –  Junuxx Feb 25 '13 at 14:36
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That monster - played it once in 1976. The hex grain is important even in that one, because the Germans are always attacking west to east, until '42 when the Russians attck east to west. In both cases against the grain, which was a deliberate design decision. When the Germans swing south in the Caucasus, defense gets easier; if they try to swing north (Voronezh?) defense gets easier. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 25 '13 at 20:33
    
That's really interesting. I wonder how hard it would be to determine the direction of the probable fronts on random maps. –  Junuxx Feb 26 '13 at 13:01

enter image description here

I would go with vertical layout if you are using any sort of bird's eye perspective, as in the image above.

Why? Because all walls will be visible. If you use horizontal layout, and you have walls that run along the vertical lines, you will not be able to make out details on them very well (such as doors or gates). Furthermore, if you are using the aforementioned perspective type, your hexes will look a lot better, because you will probably have to squash them half way. If you squash a horizontal hex halfway, it has very low slope on its points (roughly 1/8) vs a 1/2 slope for a squashed vertical hex. In other words, if you are simulating bird's eye perspective and/or using pixel art, vertical tiles will give you a better look.

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