It can be a delightful pastime to create a star map for a sci-fi campaign. But sometimes it needs to go fast. There are many mapping programs available but two new apps have been released recently that make for unusually quick work. Sector is an iOS app that creates random sectors in Traveller style at the push of a button, and Hex-Kit is a small program for Mac/PC allowing for both random creation and manual placement.
Hex-Kit is a generic hex-based map tool and creates both fantasy and sci-fi maps. The basic operation is easy: pick the style of the map and use a paintbrush to spread one type of hex - forest, water, grass and so on. Or rather, a family of hexes. Each 'biome' can contain many variations, nicely avoiding the repetitive feeling of the map. Starry backgrounds, nebulae and various planets are included in the sci-fi package (bought separately). There is a nifty random generator, where only the size of the different areas are defined, and the program takes care of the rest. Hex IDs, labels and short descriptions can be turned on and off.
Three features make Hex-Kit stand out to me. First, the hand-drawn hex artwork is in a lovely quirky style. Second, it's easy to create your own kits, combining new art for specialised maps. Third, the program is dead simple. Taken together, these things make Hex-Kit a very interesting proposal.
This app is so simple it takes merely three words to describe it: push the button. Voila, a new sector of space is created, complete with planet names, trade routes and world details. And the map is graphically pleasing without any tweaks or workarounds - very uncommon in the world of map making software, in my experience. Adding and removing worlds is as easy as clicking Edit and touching a hex.
The app was released about a week ago. It still needs a few more features to be complete (exporting and printing comes to mind) but I find it exceptionally useful already.
Given the low price of both programs, it's easy to try out both. Sector provides instant gratification, while Hex-Kit is more open-ended. For star mappers to-be, they add new interesting opportunities for long afternoons of daydreaming, or quick and dirty scenario backdrops.