I’m of the age where, if someone mentions Hannibal, I immediately think of a ropey 80’s TV show with four guys building a cabbage launcher out of a threshing machine and some duct tape after being locked in a barn, then talking about plans coming together whilst escaping in a black van driven by a man with a medallion the size of a hub cap. What don’t instantly spring to mind are the somewhat more historical events surrounding the Carthaginian occupation of Roman Italy by the A-Team’s namesake. Whilst both characters could equally be described as tactical geniuses, only one of them currently has a board game named after him.
I must admit a slight (ok, pretty large) weakness for complex tactical games, especially those that require careful consideration and long-game planning. It probably explains why I like games like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse, but also for my instant affinity to Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, which I was introduced to by Phalanx Games during UK Games Expo 2016. For those of you old enough to remember Jimi Hendrix on Top of the Pops, you’ll probably know that this isn’t the first incarnation of Hannibal – indeed, it’s actually the 3rd version of the game and it’s had a modern spit and Polish (pun intended) from the eastern European publishers.
My first draw to Hannibal was the appearance of the game – a multitude of red and blue counters on the hefty sized board to indicate control of various settlements in southern Europe. Blue for Carthage, red for Rome, so Hannibal is for two players only, but don’t be put off by that – there’s a lot going on.
Unlike a few of the tactical games out there, Hannibal isn’t a Victory Point acquisition game – it’s all about territory dominance and retention, something that may pass a few players by initially. There’s a nine turn limit to the game, after which, the side with the most territory is the winner.
That might sound pretty straightforward, and I suppose in principle it is, but of course, it’s not that simple. Beneath the surface of the game – which, incidentally, reminds me a little of Othello in the sense that you’re taking, then losing, then taking again counters by flipping them over – there requires a strong capability in politics. The game’s driving mechanic isn’t simply choosing where to put your counters; it’s which political or military action to take to get you to your objective. You could simply choose to dump down a load of counters (representing controlled settlements) on the board, but if they’re not connected to friendly cities or ports, they’ll become disaffected and bail on your cause – you’ll lose them.
The strength of the game lies in the cards you’re dealt. Or rather, how you play them. Each turn you’ll receive a set of cards with the hand size increasing as the game progresses – so the game gets more complex as you get further into it. The cards represent either political action (e.g. subterfuge, assassination, defection etc.) or military where you can activate one of your Generals to assert their might on unsuspecting citizens or enemies alike. Stomping all over the country is all well and good, but if your opponent has wormed their way into one of your cities at the other end of your empire, you’re potentially in a lot of trouble. It’s all a game of move and counter-move, something which I personally enjoyed.
I won’t lie; the game could be quite a dry affair – almost like a more colourful version of chess. Personally, I like the idea of a battle of wits against a single opponent (even if I might get whipped), but I do accept it’s not for everyone. The satisfaction of seeing a well thought out strategic manoeuvre reaching completion almost outweighs the countless times you are foiled at every turn. Not that I speak from experience of course.
The standees representing Generals looked great and felt robust, although Phalanx may make miniatures for different versions which would add a little panache to the setup and let’s be honest; we all love a bit of bling. The board is very clear, although one small change may be to rotate one of the tables to face inwards so it’s easier for both players to see. Phalanx are still taking feedback so I’m sure they’ll make everything tip top before release.
I’d be very keen on seeing the game hitting Kickstarter soon – if you’re the brooding military type, Hannibal is certainly worth a go.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game played at the UK Games Expo 2016; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.