Hannibal: Rome and Carthage playtest

I got and finally had some time to play Hannibal – Rome and Carthage, the game I’ve written about a couple of time before.  Now, I’m ready to pass judgement.

While I really enjoyed it, I think the true pleasure of this game comes from having a familiarity with the subject matter.  Without it, it might be a casual wargame of some limited potential but it really comes alive (and is worth your time) if you’re familiar with the course of the Second Punic War.

And if you are familiar with that war, boy are you in for a treat.  I was blown away at how the designer could use such an apparently simple set of game mechanics to realistically capture the flow and feel of that war.

The game graphics are beautiful if decidedly low tech.  Everything about the game is designed to replicate the feel of the time, from the parchment notes to the sound of stones sliding against each other while you’re moving tiles that represent your armies.

It finds a nice balance between strategy and fate with both random events (Yeah, that huge fleet you’ve been building up?  Storms can be a bitch in the 2nd century BC.) and through event cards that you can use for varying effect (encourage a revolt at Syracuse to get them to switch to your side; play up the unpredictability of the Guals by making half of them get drunk right before a crucial battle, let Hannibal slip through the Roman fingers by escaping by sea, etc.).

The game flows back and forth with mind spinning speed and, just like the real war, you can be convinced all you’ve got left to do is mop up some rag tag Romans one moment and the next turn you’re scrambling to regroup before you’re the one that’s crushed.  But how you can develop your long term strategy will determine how well you can withstand cruel twists of fate.

The AI is very robust and I was quite happy playing at the introductory level for quite a while.  The ‘normal’ level gives me a good run for my money and I’ve yet to beat expert.  What I particularly like about the AI is that it just doesn’t increase the size of the Roman armies or make harder to damage.  The Romans actually strategize better.

And the real gem is that at the ‘advanced’ level of play, you not only have to deal with Roman armies, but you also have to contend with the Carthagenian senate.  At all levels of play the Senate decides what the main theater of the war will be and that’s the ONLY theater that you can move reinforcements in to.  Things looking ripe for a raid into Sardina?  Too bad. The Senate thinks you should be paying attention to Spain so quit screwing around.  This isn’t Rome after all. We’ve got civilian control of the military.  Now do what you’re told or you’ll find yourself cruicified.

At the introductory and normal level of play the Senate will do whatever Hannibal wants.  It still means you can only move forces to one theater at a time so you still have to plan several moves in advance while trying to hold off Roman advances if you want to make your plans comes together.  At the advanced level, however, the Senate feels free to do what it wants and Hannibal can only offer advice.  There are ways to exert more influence on the Senate (through event cards) but that usually comes at the price of giving up additional army units.  So you have to decide how important it is to try to get the Senate to go your way and how much you can try to ignore them and just get the job done in spite of them.

The game turns each represent one year and if neither Rome or Carthage hasn’t been captured (or Hannibal killed) the game ends at the end of the 20th turn and some system determines how you fared (it explains the system in the rules, I just haven’t read it since I generally don’t like to look too closely under the hood while I’m first playing a game).

I defy you to play this game and not have at least one or two moments where you go ‘Ah…now I get why the Romans did this or Hannibal didn’t do that.’

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