The last time I used 'innovative' or 'refreshing' to describe a hex wargame, Good Queen Bess was on the throne and bear-burning and witch-baiting were legal. While HPS explore some unusual themes now and again and Matrix flirt with modernity occasionally, on the whole six-sided PC strategy seems firmly wedged in the past. Three cheers for Hours of War then. This Finnish-made WW2 operational wargame currently in open beta, blends the unorthodox and the familiar in a most enticing way.
Much of HoW's novelty stems from the fact that you play alongside dozens of other human wargamers. Every army is divvied-up into battalions and each of those battalions is distributed at random to anyone that happens to log in. One game you might find yourself shepherding four of five Allied mechanized infantry companies still sandy from Omaha beach. The next you might be in charge of a clutch of hungry StuG tank destroyers or fragile-yet-fearsome artillery batteries.
There's currently only one smallish scenario on offer (the struggle for Carentan) and many important features (command hierarchies, 2500-player campaigns, air cover, victory screens, drawing directly on the map...) are yet to be implemented, but the game is still capable of generating memorable moments. There's a sense you just don't get from other wargames of being in the midst of something huge and fluid - a sense of the importance of communication and coordination. As battles develop, the chat window begins to fill with confused sighting reports and panicky calls for support. Ad-hoc battle groups form and move off, defence lines re-orientate in response to perceived threats... It's a lovely thing to be part of. Assuming Sauma Technologies manage to fill the feature gaps and come-up with a sensible subscription model, I can see myself playing a lot of this over the coming year.