I’ve been aware of Hexographer for many years. Every comment I’ve read about it says that it is an amazing program that is very easy to learn, allowing users to start mapping within minutes. However, I did not have any direct knowledge of the program and recently had some of my assumptions about the program pointed out to be fallacious. Therefore, I decided to take a look and do a proper review.
I’m sure you all know that I am a huge fan of Campaign Cartographer. It is a CAD-based, mapping program that is robust, feature-rich, wonderfully well supported, and (imo) second to none. Those that take the time to learn the software, find it to be utterly amazing and indispensible. However, the learning curve is steep, the documentation is quite lacking, and it takes a serious investment in time in order to become proficient.
For these reasons, many people desire an alternative. After looking at Hexographer, I heartily recommend it for those looking for an easy to use, yet powerful mapping package.
There is a free, web-based version and a Pro version (which runs locally). Most of the features of the Pro version are available in the free version (which is what I have been using). Check out their website to see what extra features come with the Pro version.
To start the free version, simply click the link on their website. This will download a couple of java files (the first time) and then start the program. You then setup the basic parameters of your map (hex size, number of hexes horizontally and vertically, etc). The program can create a random map based on your settings, a blank map, or load a previous saved map.
The most basic map simply contains a hexagonal terrain piece (with a default background color and symbol representing the terrain type) in each hex. These symbols (apparently called “floor icons”) are depicted in what the author refers to as the “Mystara Gazetteer style”. Others may like them, but I find them extremely dated, overly simplistic and downright ugly. I had the (mistaken) impression that these symbols were all that came with the free version and that you needed the Pro version in order to use different sets. That was my previously-mentioned misconception. As it turns out, you can simply click a checkbox to disable these symbols. Or you can disable these symbols for each terrain type individually.
In addition to the “Terrain/Floor Icons”, there are various other categories of symbols. The “Map Items” are extremely higher quality symbols (as seen in these maps by Joseph Bloch at Greyhawk Grognard).
During placement, most symbols have the option of automatically aligning to the center of a hex or being placed freehand. Symbols can be scaled, moved, deleted, and rotated. In addition to symbols, text and freeform lines can be added as well.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
The above is just an extremely cursory look at an expansive program. There is much more to the program than I have described (and probably much more than I have discovered myself). As everyone told me, it is very intuitive and easy to learn. I felt comfortable using the interface within minutes. Moving/deleting objects felt a bit odd at first (only because it is different than what I am used to) but I got the knack of it very quickly.
My only real complaint is that, as a web-based app, it felt slow. Not terribly so, but noticeable. But honestly, for $25 just buy the Pro version and run it locally. It’s an awesome program and well worth the money.