Now that I have two sessions of a hexcrawl down, I thought I would share some tiny hacks and secret rolls happening.
Meeples are little figure tokens. The White Box is loaded with all kinds of cool stuff for gaming. If $30 is too rich for you, try a search for used on Abebooks. The White Box by Jeremy Holcomb on Abebooks.com.
Using tokens for the party enables the players to see basic information without turning the Theater of the Mind into a game like Car Wars or something. The players were able to determine the approximate range and distance to targets and come up with plans for dealing with problems.
Normally, I would grab whatever tokens were on hand for the players: a chess set, a Risk game, dice, etc., but I had other ideas for the tools in The White Box.
Old School Essentials has a great item-based encumbrance system. You can download the rules and tracking sheets here. The quick gist of the rules is you can have 2 items in your hands plus 10 items in a pack and still move at 120'. Two more items drop you to 90" and so on.
Since the majority of the stuff my players are carrying is not their personal property and also consumables like food, I had them use the small blocks from the set to figure it out. Green is the full 120" movement while yellow means 90", red is 60" and 30" is black. By doing this visually, the players were able to visualize picking items up from a pile of gear and load up their boots.
I also have a few environmental hacks to help me DM my first hexcrawl. Since the players are on the Island of Sardinia, I have simply googled the weather in Palau, Sardinia. Todd Leback's Into the Wild has some great rules for generating weather, but this is one less thing for me to track. I'm 99.99% certain that Mr. Leback didn't expect someone to use his book to hexcrawl a real-world place, so there is that.
The characters are also experiencing some other things not included in the session reports. Since they are on a grassy plain, their line of sight extends to the sea. Every time they enter a hex in a direction that faces the sea, I roll a 1d20. On a 1, they spot something in the water. 1 and 6 is their ship, 2 and 5 is a different ships and finally, 3 and 4 are one of those dreaded sea serpents. Additionally, once per hex, I allow the party to actively search for The Zypher. The only difference is they roll a 1d20 instead of me. Should this come up after I make my secret roll, I will override my roll with the party's die roll.
This puts some agency in their powers of observation and planning. Quite a few times, a ship has passed by but it wasn't their ship. They seem to appreciate that detail because they are not ready to give up their quests, but if they did, the real civilized world calls.