Hannibal is an exciting development from Avalon Hill: a
low-complexity wargame that holds the interest of both experienced and
novice gamers. Most of their previous low-complexity wargames had a
low replay ability for old-timers; not so Hannibal.
The game uses the system first introduced in We the
People, a fine game about the American War of Independence.
Both games use cards to initiate actions, and other cards to resolve
battles. Both games have point-to-point movement, not hex-grid. Both
are enjoyable games that are never played the same twice. And
finally, both games are very attractive, with mounted, colorful
boards, stand-up generals, simplicity in pieces, and fairly clear
But Hannibal goes beyond We the People in
its design. It adds a little complexity, but the result is a feeling
of more depth and choices.
The setting is the Second Punic War, which included Hannibal's famous
crossing of the Alps with elephants in 218 B.C. For the next seven
years, Hannibal either destroyed or frightened away every Roman army
that he faced as he marched up and down the Italian peninsula, trying
to win support from Rome's subjugated neighbors. It wasn't until
Scipio Africanus came on the scene in 211 B.C. that Hannibal met his
The game is played in phases: Reinforcements, Strategy phase, Winter
Attrition, Political Isolation, and Victory Check. The Romans have
the advantage in the Reinforcement phase: they not only get more
troops, but can concentrate them. However, the Carthaginians have the
initiative in the Strategy phase, and that can be very important.
Carthage also begins with Hannibal, while Scipio Africanus doesn't
arrive until the sixth turn.
The Strategy phase is the heart of the game, and uses Strategy Cards
to determine actions. Each player is dealt seven to nine Strategy
Cards each turn. They take turns playing them one at a time - when
all Strategy Cards are played, the few remaining phases take but a
couple of minutes, and the next turn begins.
A Strategy Card can be used in a number of ways, which is one of the
beauties of the game. Each card contains an Event as well as a number
from 1 to 3 in the upper left corner. A card can be used as an Event:
simply follow the instructions on the card. Or a Strategy Card can be
used as an Operations Card, in which case you ignore the event and use
the number. An Operations Card can be used in many ways: to move an
army, to increase your political control, or to raise troops. Thus
there are many options available to each player each card, which is
why the game is different every time it is played.
Armies consist of generic Combat Units and a General. A general is
rated for his Strategic ability (from 1 to 3 - lower is better), and
his Battle Ability (from 1 to 4 - higher is better). Thus you have a
range of quality of generals from Hannibal's 1/4 (the best that can
possibly be) to a 3/1 (no general is that bad, but some are 3/2 and
others are 2/1).
To move an army, you must use an Operations Card with a number equal
to or greater than the general's Strategy rating. Thus Hannibal can
move on any Operations Card, while Fabius (3/3) can only move on a
``3'' card. This allows the Carthaginian player to save his ``1''
cards for moving Hannibal, and use his ``3'' cards to gain Political
Control - the higher the card, the more political influence you create
The game is much more a game of politics than war. While there is a
fair bit of combat (resolved with Battle Cards rather than dice), the
victory conditions are largely political in nature, though sacking
Rome or Carthage can also win the game.
The Event cards are often entertaining, and can allow sudden reversals
of fortune. Each general also has a special ability, giving some
flavor to the game. Oddly enough, this is one place the game falls
down slightly: Hannibal's special ability is frankly too weak. This
is the mightiest general of his day, and he deserves better. I have
seen a few suggestions on the net on how to improve Hannibal, but my
favorite is to let him use Double Envelopment cards without automatic
loss of initiative. (The opposing general may still roll normally to
gain initiative, but it's not automatic.) This rule is quite in
keeping with Hannibal's abilities, as you will realize if you read
about the battle of Cannae, which Hannibal won decisively with a
Great game, highly recommended.
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