My first exposure to hexed terrain for use with miniatures came from a magazine article in the rather marvelous Practical Wargamer magazine, penned by Clive Lane in the Sept / Oct 1990 issue, who proposed 5" hexes with his 15mm napoleonic armies. Being a boardgamer, I was at ease with the hex, but it is not the easiest shape to reproduce accurately by hand over a tabletop.
My first serious attempt at hexing my tabletop came around 2002 with 5" hexes drawn onto fibre board and ACW 1/72 plastics, for which I developed a set of rules called Two Flags - One Nation (there is now a 2017 version of these on the ACW page). But it would be another few years before I would discover the flexibility of 4" plastic Hexon hexes by Kallistra (photo at the top of this page), of which I have been a fan ever since.
This is a shot taken from Clive's article in the magazine, giving a clear depiction of his table. The bright flat green hexes giving its 'old school' credentials. This set-up covers the re-fight of Redinha 1811. For scales, he always selects a battle fought on a frontage of three miles or less, with turns representing 20 minutes. His units on the table used a figure ratio of 1:30 to represent a battalion, though these in turn were representing higher level formations such as brigade, which he calls slip scale in the article, also known as bath-tubbing, so that OOB are actually using ratios of 1:100.
Under his rules, units get given an order chit, there are 12 different orders in his rules and as players reveal them, they must be strictly adhered to, so the Hussars may be told to wheel out to the left in anticipation of blocking an enemy move, but that enemy may be doing something totally different, but forces must still comply with their orders, requiring the players to second guess their opponents intentions.
It has been a joy getting a copy of this magazine and reading (and re-reading!) the issue again, as this is where it all started for me.
The humble hex has much to offer. It saves measuring and worrying about the millimeter precision of placing units onto the table. It defines a units facing, making flanks and fire arcs easy to assess and it also helps clearly define specific parts of the battlefield itself - that hex is a woods, that hex is a town etc.
These days there are thankfully alternatives to making your own hexed surface, with a number of commercial products such as hard tile and gridded mats available. The examples shown on this site use the hard plastic hex system produced by Kallistra, who also do a wide range of matching hex based accessories such as roads, rivers and hills etc. Each hex cell is 4" (10cm) across from flat edge to flat edge.
The Kallistra battlefield base is made up from a number of 6 hex tiles, with just 8 of these tiles being enough to make a playing area of 8 hexes by 6 hexes, which would fit into a 2' x 3' space for. For the kitchen table perhaps, a 12 wide by 9 deep hexfield fits in a 4' x 3' space. In addition to the terrain sets, Kallistra sell blank hex templates, which are handy for doing bespoke items such as the marsh hex below, which is just made using filler and flocks.
The centre picture below represents an area that has been churned up by artillery fire, though I just use it as a general piece to represent rough ground. To the left is a marsh and To the right is a custom piece that is just made from gluing 6mm buildings, walls and turf to a blank hex tile.
This is an example of a small battlefield that is just 8 hexes wide by 6 deep. Adding a couple more base tilesI have a couple of more base tiles to the side and ten single tiles to the top row can expand the board out to 10 wide by 7 deep. This boost in size still allows the game to fit on a typical small kitchen table.
The flexibility of the system allows a variety of battlegrounds to be created, including coastal, desert and specific contouring. There are some modular hills of varying sizes and with features such as escarpments, as seen in the photo below in which the road looks like it goes through a cut in the road.
Additionally the company sell slope tiles that together with standard 6 cell tiles stacked on each other can give bespoke high ground, such as ridges that can run the entire width of the table (useful for the Hastings 1066 game that I have as my next project), which can be difficult to replicate with some other set-ups. In the second photo below, the top right hand corner of the board has high ground created from these slope pieces. I think I will add an extra flock texture to my slopes, just so they stand out from the base boards a bit more so that the photography picks them up better.