Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage

It’s actually been quite a while since I played Hannibal. I think I probably last played it 2 and a half years ago, perhaps? I played it a ton back in 1998-2001, but not so much since then.

Part of that has been playing through the new card-driven stuff from GMT, but quite frankly, a lot of those games have turned out to be disappointing. Paths of Glory and Barbarossa to Berlin got a fair amount of play, but For the People was awfully complicated, Wilderness War was fun but fiddly and lacking serious replayability, and Thirty Years War had serious problems.

So it seems things came full circle … back to Hannibal.

I played Carthage, Matt was the Romans. Hannibal did his usual thing, heading off to cross the Alps and invade Italy. Trouble started right away. Strategic tip #1: Always, always leave Mago behind in Spain. It’s so easy to just bring him along with Hannibal, but he needs to stay behind to sea move reinforcements. I regretted this mistake, especially in light of the fact that Hannibal then painfully lost his first battle, losing 4 CUs and the Elephants. I was somewhat demoralized.

One of the great things about Hannibal, though, is that defeats are rarely as bad as they look for either side. Hannibal hung tough, stalling the Romans, while Hasdrubal brought in reinforcements. Once re-energized, he went back on a tear, getting up to four provinces in Italy, triggering Capua’s defection, and beating up on a couple Roman armies. Spain and Africa were very weakly-held, but the Romans could never really take advantage. Hannibal is ultimately doomed in Italy of course – the Romans just have too many guys and the good generals will show up eventually – but if you can keep Italy in play long enough, you should do well.

This was only Matt’s second or third time with the game, and there are definitely subtleties to the game that it takes a couple (or more) plays to appreciate – managing risks with the battle cards, the flavor of the event deck and what this means for the weight to give to the three theaters (Italy, Spain, and Africa) and the risks and advantages of campaigning there. Despite this though Matt played a good game, and it turned out to be pretty close; the Carthaginians won by one province in the end.

I’ve played this game a lot, even if not recently, and it’s still a wonderful game. It’s not too long – 2.5 to 3.5 hours for most people, not too complex, with lots of tactical details and plenty of excitement. After playing so many GMT card-driven games, I had completely forgotten what it’s like to look at a hand of strategy cards and be able to plan out tactics and specific operational goals for your entire turn based on the mix of events and activations (let’s see, I’ve got the Traitor in Tarentum card, so that means if I can secure Apulia I can then play it to set up a base in the south, but that would mean that I would need to use X and Y for activations…). No other card-driven game, with the possible exception of Successors, has nearly such an interesting mix of cards. Paths of Glory is the next best, but even it’s still more about separating the cool and/or relevant events from the weak ones and deciding which events you can afford to play give pressure to play operations rather than having a card mix which can really drive the on-board game by presenting real opportunities and surprises.

I enjoyed this game and hope to get some more play in. I’ll be hosting a Hannibal event at Origins, and I need to do a bit more prep work, figure out the timing for rounds and such. If you’re going to be the and like Hannibal, sign up!

A final note, I noticed going through my box that I had an old copy of the First Punic War variant from the General. I even have the generals mounted and cut out … but it really needs a new card deck since so many events are changed. I think it would be a fun variant, so I’m thinking going over to BoardGameGeek and seeing if we can get a pool of GeekGold going to offer to someone who makes up a nice deck.

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