Hannibal : Rome vs. Carthage

Published 1996 by Avalon Hill
Designed by Mark Simonitch, based on Mark Herman's We the People
These remarks copyright 1996 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated March 10, 1997

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 rules.

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 match.

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 that turn.

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 Double Envelopment.

Great game, highly recommended.

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