"I love it when a plan comes together"
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Um, no, that isn't the Hannibal I was referring to. This being a game blog, I could only mean Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. This of course is the Valley Games reprint of the classic Avalon Hill game. Considered by many as one of the finest card driven wargames, it was out of print and VERY expensive for a long time. Valley Games reprinted it, and I actually nabbed a copy off Tanga for a good price. I had yet to get it to the table though. Mike Garrett came over last night and I got to pull this out for us to fumble through (as most first playings always seem to be). Mike played the Romans and I the Carthaginians. I went over the rules (as best as I understood them) and we got started, with neither of us having a clue what we were doing. My cards were such that I risked moving a general from Spain to Sicily to start attacking, but Mike squashed that in short order - in part by breaking a rule we wouldn't figure out for a while - that a general can only move 5 combat units (CUs) on a ship. His larger army attacked (as Mike put it - to see what combat was like) and beat me. I was a bit tentative with Hannibal and used my first turn to mostly try and place political control (PCs) markers in play. This went pretty well for the first couple of turns, though neither of us was making much headway. Then Mike went for an assault on Africa. Normally, doing so leads to a large advantage for the Carthaginians (due to allies giving the Carthaginian player a larger number of battle cards), but Mike had a card that canceled out the African allies help. His attacks took out my general and he started to siege Carthage. I was forced to recall Hannibal to Africa to try and stop the Romans. One good roll for me and a bad roll for Mike let me save Carthage and expel the Romans from Africa - saving the game. It was of course at this point we figured out the CU limit for sailing, which drastically changed how the game was played - since Roman generals can't move unless they have at least 5 CUs, going to war via the ocean meant risking your general (and his armies) getting stranded. Oh well. a couple of turns later, Mike again assaulted Africa and this time was able to siege Carthage before I could stop him - winning on turn 7.
Now, for a first playing, I have to say I still have no clue what needs to be done. I have a better feel for the strategy cards and what's out there, but the rule we played incorrectly about moving armies skewed this game pretty badly. Though the basic mechanic of the strategy cards is similar to Twilight Struggle, its sufficiently different that the games are not all that alike. In fact, unlike TS, I didn't feel like the strategy cards were the defining factor of the game - the dice were. As the Carthaginian, the dice give you pause when considering moving by sea. They also play a roll in the outcome of a fight (you can win a fight and still lose a load of guys). Sieges are determined by the dice. In the end, a lot of things are simply determined by the dice - and yet, I didn't feel like the game was nearly as random as say Manifest Destiny. I liked how the battles are resolved, though again, you can be the dominant attacker and lose quickly with a little bad luck. Overall, the luck factor here is just enough to make things interesting (its about playing the odds) without taking away from the strategic and tactical portions of the game. This one needs a few more plays before I settle in on how I feel about it, but I like this one from what I've seen.
Lastly, some notes on the components. On first look, the components look super, but I think things are really hit or miss. The board is a giant 10 piece puzzle. I like it - it doesn't warp like a regular board might, but... I think I'd have preferred a folded map ala GMT games. They could have made it with the same artwork, but there are a couple places where the lines of the puzzle make it hard to tell if there is a line between cities or not. The art on the board is great - its quite beautiful. Its also hard to tell exactly where the regions are though. The rest of the pieces are neither spartan (heh) nor overly artsy, but I HATE the counters used for the armies. They have different numbers on either side, and they tend to get knocked over in their stacks, which can be a huge pain - which side was it on? A minor complaint, but it seemed to happen a lot. Also, maybe a lot of folks are familiar with the ancient geography of the Mediterranean, but I'm not. If a card says I can do an action in a region of the board, I'd like the art to show me where its talking about, rather than trying to scan the board in the middle of a game. I'm sure you'll hear - "after you play it a couple times you'll know", but I think that's a cop out. Don't get me wrong, the pieces and board for Twilight Struggle were far inferior to what you get here, but I think there is still some obvious room for improving things. My complaints are not going to drop my rating/feelings about the game just yet, but I thought I'd throw those out there.