Calvin’s Commentaries: Hive

The list of games being produced each year is simply massive, and that has been the case for at least the last 20 years.

So a game has to be particularly good to float to the top of the gaming morass to be more than what is becoming a ‘buy-play-toss’ board games’ world.

While there is nothing wrong with spending $50 on a game, having four or five hours playing it with two, or three others, then boxing it up and forgetting about it. The entertainment cost per hour, per player, can still crunch out at less than a cold one at a local brewhouse, so the value is there.

But, it’s still nice to find that game that is so good it stands up to repeated plays, that is addictive enough you want to play it again and again, looks so nice you hope to pass it on to the next generation of the family one day,

For me at least that typically means abstract strategy games, and in that regard Hive, first released in 2000, enhanced with a trio of piece expansions since, fits the bill to a ‘T’.

The game, as some regular readers will recall, might be likened to a modern take on the theme of chess, albeit this one is played without a board.

By creator John Yianni, the pieces are bakelite-ish, large, and chunky so they look great and will last.

It’s just a great game, one that is worthy of Top-10 consideration among abstract strategy games all-time, a list I find fluctuates in my case, but Hive is always in consideration.

So, it’s no wonder Hive is a game where an online World Championship is held annually, an event won recently by Joe Schultz his second straight title, making him one of the best at the game presently.

The obvious question is; what keeps him competing in Hive after having already won?

“A big saying I have always had in my head: ‘If you cannot do it twice, you cannot do it at all’,” he replied when asked that question via email. “This saying came to be from my years of skateboarding, doing dangerous tricks and such. The thought is that by being able to do something difficult more than once — preferably on command — one can build a sort of consistency that throws luck out the window.

“For Hive specifically, there is some luck involved. I want to prove to myself that it isn’t a fluke that I was champion.

“And in the world of competitive fighting — boxing / MMA / etc — there is another saying: ‘you are not champion until successfully defending the crown.’

“So I will continue to play competitively and try to retain the championship, which is very difficult, especially when in the limelight and all the young talent wants my blood.

“Also, there is another goal: to win the most championships in Hive history and solidify some sort of legacy. I am tied at two with Eddy Marlo (sic) and behind Quodlibet who has three – I beat Quod this year to win.”

And then there is simply the love of the game for Schultz.

“With all that said, the fundamental piece that started it all and maintains my participation: I love competition,” he said.

“And I love tactical strategy. It is just ingrained within me — I don’t’ really know any other way. I really try to hold back any thoughts that I have reached the summit of mount Hive. Just because I have won twice now, it doesn’t mean I am the best or that I cannot reach new heights — this is the main type of thought that makes me keep going and how I avoid the ‘I’ve arrived’ attitude that would make me put the game down.

Of course, the next obvious question was whether the championship road has gotten tougher?

“Yes, definitely,” offered Schultz. “This was by far the toughest year in Hive World Championship history. More great players joined the fight than ever before. The numbers of participants were the most ever too. I think 100 or 98 players joined who thought they had a chance to win.

“I expect it to get tougher and tougher each and every year.

“It is strange to say that 2020 was the toughest year to win when I have failed in 2018 and 2019, but I dug very deep to pull out the victory in 2020. I had to improve myself to meet the competition and I had a lot of adversity.”

Having new faces in the competition of course is great for the future of Hive.

“New players are constantly popping up,” noted Schultz. “Some of them come from chess backgrounds or from other games, and they reach a peak in Hive pretty quickly.

“I have the advantage of a lot of experience, and I have been able to win with a lot of the same tricks that I have been teaching people through friendly games and with my book.

“As time goes on, the game will continue to evolve. This is a great feeling: I know that I have helped a ton of good players to become great players.”

Are there however barriers to growing Hive even more?

“I think there is a natural plateau for players who find the game and reach a basic level of understanding,” said Schultz. “These players find the game, get decent at it, and then move on because they don’t have the tools to unlock certain ideas and concepts on their own — at least not in a streamlined way.

“So, I think that by providing material on that exact subject, I am helping these players stay in the game with my book.

“Other sources of info about the game help keep the talent in the game in a similar matter.

“As far as barriers go, there is one more: Finding the game in the first place. I think over time Hive will naturally increase in popularity as it has been, but articles like this can help with that exponentially.”

As noted at the start of this article there are hundreds of new games out there, yet Schultz stays focused on Hive, begging the question why?

“I used to play real-time strategy games quite often and at a high level. Mainly Command and Conquer: Generals,” related Schultz. “Nowadays, I really only play Hive. I think I get my strategy fix that way and I really don’t have time for much else.

“This isn’t a video game, but I also really enjoy the physical ‘game’ of Judo. Many of the concepts I have learned from Judo have helped me a tremendous amount in Hive.

“Hive, at its core, has a beautiful simplicity to it. No fancy gimmicks, just rock-solid gameplay. The way the pieces interact with each other’s unique abilities is brilliant. Many new games do not provide such depth in a way that maintains simplicity. That is why Hive is, in every bit of the word, classic.”

Obviously, only a few abstract strategy games have decades-old international organizations (chess/go/Othello), can Hive be such a game?

“Yes,” said Schultz. “These games you mention are all “classic” because of their depth while remaining simple. Hive is no exception.

“Hive will achieve something similar, it just needs time to do so — and exposure.”

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