Much of Hex relies upon cards known as actions, which are cards that do one (or a few) things and then wander off into the graveyard or the void. They are not troops, but they can create them; neither are they constants or artifacts, sitting around doing their thing turn after turn. Many other card games have similar cards with names like “spells” or “events” or some such, but Hex adds a layer of complexity.
Many actions in Hex can be classified as “combat tricks”, these are cards that change the combat math, hopefully in your favor. In Limited play especially you want a couple of combat tricks in order to push through an attack or mount a defense your opponent didn’t bank on. Most of the consistent combat tricks we have now came from Shards of Fate, while Shattered Destiny added some more situational ones. Knowing when you can—and should—play combat tricks is a crucial part of gameplay. Some cards might be a good trick if they weren’t saddled with the limitation of being a basic action, and you wish they were quick instead. What are basic and quick? I am glad you asked.
A basic action is a card that can only be played at basic speed, meaning only when it is your turn, you are in your main phase (either first or second), and there are no other effects on the chain. These actions have this limitation for game balance reasons, as there might be an exploit or some other abusive behavior if the card could be played on either turn or it may simply be too cheaply-costed to allow to be played freely.
Know that if you play a basic action, your opponent will get a chance to react to it with quick cards of their own, and you can’t play basic actions in response to what your opponent does. Take Augmented Awakening for instance. If you play this action, and your opponent puts Cosmic Totem’s effect on the chain, shuffling your targeted troop into a deck, you can’t play another Augmented Awakening in response—even though it’s your turn on a main phase, there is a chain of actions that are waiting to resolve. What you want in that case is a quick action.
A quick action is free from the timing restrictions saddled on basic actions. These can be played like basic actions, but are generally more powerful when played in response to something else that just happened. For this reason, the majority of combat tricks consist of quick actions, because manipulating the combat math is usually something you want to do as late as possible. Your opponent may jump the gun with a trick of their own, for example, a Ruby Aura that makes your Blood Aura pointless. Sure you might lose a troop, but you save wasting that Blood Aura on a card that was destined to die.
When you listen to the pros talk about new cards, they are generally turned off by the word “basic” on any actions. Primarily, a basic action limits their options on when they can play it, and therefore how powerful of a combo it can make with other cards. If a constructed deck contains basic actions you can rest assured that they contain other powerful effects to offset these timing limitations.
In limited play you will see more basic actions, if only because there are not a lot of actions going around. Remember these are the decks where you will see combat tricks most often. For a forty card limited deck, you want about four to six actions to fill out your deck (this is just a guideline).
When To Play
Quick actions are great because they can be played in response to anything a player does, or just the act of your opponent finishing a phase. If, for example, you wanted to play a card after you generate resources but before you draw, you can put a stop on your preparation phase and play the card then (to adjust what phases the game stops for you and your opponent’s turns, click the gear icon between the players’ clocks).
If you want to use resources that you didn’t expend on your own turn to play a quick action on your opponent’s turn, you have a lot of options. If you don’t want your opponent to be able to respond with a basic action or a troop, then you want to play it in a phase where they can’t play those types of cards—either in the pre-combat phase, or often better, your opponent’s end phase. Playing during their end phase directly leads into your turn without your opponent able to do much in response. A Stormcall during your opponent’s end phase, for example, allows your to exhaust all troops your opponent controls withiout giving them a chance to play any during their second main phase, leaving them without blockers and refreshing your resources so you can afford a game-winning Gore Feast of Kog’tepetl when your turn arrives.
Now, although this article specifically calls out basic and quick action cards, many troops and some artifacts have abilities on them that can be used as well. If said ability doesn’t have the “basic” modifier then you can use it at quick speed. For a starter deck like the dwarves’, the various Construction Plans are a great example. You can use the “exhaust a dwarf or robot to add a construction counter” ability at quick action speed; this means that you can wait until your opponent’s end phase to add counters, not giving them a chance to attack through your exhausted troops. In addition, you can block with a troop, like a Worker Bot, and then—before damage is dealt—use the construction plans ability to exhaust and gain counters. The Worker Bot will still block the attack (it only needs to be ready to perform the act of blocking and once it blocks, you can exhaust it just fine).
I hope this article helps new players, especially players coming from other games that don’t have the complex timing rules found in Hex. If you have any other situations of “best time to play” feel free to add them below in the comments, whether it involves actions or card abilities. Good luck, and have fun!