A two-player game, your goal in Hive is to completely surround your opponent's queen bee. Each player has a small army of different insects, each with their own kind of movement.
One of the signature elements of Hive is that it's played without a board. Every piece is a hexagon (my set has them made out of chunky Bakelite) and players either place a piece or move a piece that's already out.
Every piece must be placed next to a piece that's already out on the board. More than that, as the pieces form a constantly shifting shape, that shape can never be broken. That's the hive the game is named after.
However, Go-like placement is only one third of the game. The other two thirds are chess-like movement. Each piece moves in a different way. With almost every piece, there needs to be an outside edge for them to work with and move from. Otherwise they will be pinned in, which is game ending if it happens to the queen.
While the game is a pure abstract, there is something in the way that the different insects move. Ants run at lightning speed while grasshoppers jump from one side of the hive to the other and beetles can crawl on top of other insects.
While the board-less play and the neat-looking insects are what makes makes Hive distinctive, what made it so important for me in my growth as a gamer is that it's a fast and dynamic game that's still really good.
When I was in high school and college, I played enough Chess to know that I still wasn't any good at it. I still enjoy the Chess but it was a methodical, drawn-out experience that required setting aside some serious time, unless we were using chess clocks.
Now, Hive is not anywhere nearly as deep as Chess but I could play it in a fraction of the time. Heck, I could teach in a few minutes. And every move changed the board dramatically. Things happen fast in the insect world of Hive.
Hive is not the only abstract that fits this bill. It wasn't the first abstract to be quick and dynamic. In fact, I started playing the GIPF Project around the same time I discovered Hive. But Hive does such a good job at it. Portable enough to play anywhere, no need for a board, neat looking pieces and easy to teach.
And games like Hive and the GIPF Project really did change what I was looking for in abstracts. They became something I could find the time and the opponents to play. Which made me play a lot more of them.