Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hannibal Rides Again

My very favorite wargame is the AH chestnut, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Sadly, I haven't played this title since I had a spate of five games in 36 hours at the WBC tournament in 2004. I played Carthage in four of the five games, and won the first three, later losing to the guy who won and missing wood by a die roll or two in my final game. Chuck was one of my opponents in that tournament, and I'm sure he was looking for a chance to get me back. Well, here it was.

Hannibal is the reference for all of the shorter (less than six hours) two-player card-based wargames. Considering that it was the second title in the series after Mark Herman's We the People, it was an amazingly tight design, especially after the 2nd edition rewrite. I myself have never played 1st edition more than a couple of times, as the 2nd ed rules are so much easier to follow (especially for consular armies). After a few stabs at Twilight Struggle, I really have to wonder why I bother with that flawed design when H:RvC is around.

Me, I prefer playing the Carthaginians, and I like taking the heffalumps over the Alps. Getting Gallic allies (CUs are hard to come by in this game!) once I take attrition made this a mandatory strategy, once I'd locked up Idubeda in Hispania. Of course, I roll a six for attrition with a fully loaded army, knocking me down to seven with one elephant. Not a great start, but I did get back up to 9 with the reinforcements. Note to self: leave a CU with Mago in Saragentum when you leave. At least I remembered to leave Mago this time.

Hannibal was getting off to a good start in Italy, grabbing a couple of spaces in Samnium by the end of turn 2, when Chuck decided to be aggressive and took an army into Western Numidia. Unfortunately, I'd already blown 5 CUs when they sunk with Mago, and a later run with Mago and some CUs to cut off the Roman bridgehead also sank. By now, Chuck had two armies in Africa, and Hanno was getting punched around quite a bit. By turn 5 I'd lost both Numidia's and was losing Carthagenia. At one point, Longus was sieging Carthage while Hannibal was sieging Rome with the siege engine!

When it was clear that my rolling wasn't going to be helping me out, I decided I had to send Hasdrubal with most of the Spanish army to Carthage to save it from Longus. He landed successfully at Utica, then managed to smack Longus around significantly. This was a crucial battle, as there were now three Roman armies in Europe!

Having saved Carthage for now, I sent Hannibal against Africanus, who sadly never made it to Africa. After three battles, I managed to kill the bugger, and could focus on retaking Africa. By the end of turn 8, I was poised to kick the Romans out of Africa completely, and while I'd lost two of the three provinces I had controlled in Italy, Rome was down to around 10 CUs on the board and things were looking good. My hand helped some - I didn't get any really useful cards such as Diplomacy or the good Hannibal cards, but I did have a card that wiped out Celtiberia (which I'd already lost three times during the game), and my hand had 7 3 cards and two 1's.

I'd already taken Capua via a card play, so I knew that all I needed was 9 provinces to win. The trick would be to keep Numidia from being wiped out. The problem was that Spain was all but undefended. In the first couple of card plays I managed to destroy the last of the Romans in Africa, controlled both Numidias (with CUs on three spaces in each province to make them revolt-proof), but by then Scipio the Elder had gone to Spain and I had to hope that Chuck had a lot of 1 cards.

After sending Hasdrubal and Mago to Spain to pick up the units that had been collecting in New Carthage and confront Scipio, I still had my hands full. I'd been so busy taking back space that I hadn't been able to build my holdings in Spain back up, especially after Celtiberia had revolted the previous turn. Chuck spent a lot of cards gaining those areas, but he needed an army to keep them, and I had an opening. Hasdrubal made an attempt on Publius to knock him out of Baetica (he already had Idubeda and Celtiberia), but I lost the battle and was barely able to get Mago up to Idubeda in order to steal one extra province back (and Hannibal, now alone in Italy, to take back Samnium). Had I left Hasdrubal and one CU in Baetica, I could have forced Publius to fight one more battle with Mago to take back Idubeda, but I hadn't been thinking that far ahead.

As it was, I'd already lost one card (amazingly, one of my 1 cards) to an intercepted message, so Chuck used his last three cards to good use to take Baetica and win with 9 provinces. Certainly one of the closest games I've played (the closest came down to a 50% die roll at WBC), and certainly a moral victory for the Carthaginians who were within two siege points of giving up Carthage itself.

Thanks, Chuck, for playing what has to be one of the top 10 wargames of all time, certainly the most elegant of the CDGs. This one will come out at WBC West (my own wargaming micro-con in July) for sure. I can only hope that MMP's Shifting Sands title, in preorder for years, will be half the game this one is.

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