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Red Poppies Campaigns Volume I: The Battles for Ypres by Compass Games     Ypres, or to the British troops &...

Red Poppies Campaigns Volume I The Battles For Ypres by Compass Games Unboxing Red Poppies Campaigns Volume I The Battles For Ypres by Compass Games Unboxing

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

January 2018

Red Poppies Campaigns Volume I The Battles For Ypres by Compass Games Unboxing



 Ypres, or to the British troops 'Wipers', was either the seminal battle where the British Army found out how to win the war, or just another 'Blood Tub'. There are probably as many books written about the battles of the Ypres salient as there have been about the Battle of the Somme. This is a relatively new game from Compass games. I have been looking at this title longingly since it was released. I picked it up during Compass Games winter sale. This is just going to be an unboxing instead of a full review. I will do the full review when time permits. 

 The rulebook is in color, and also is printed in large print. It has only fifteen pages of rules. For such a large game with many pieces, I was somewhat surprised. Considering that it has rules for off board artillery and creeping barrages, among many others, it came as a pleasant surprise. The rulebook also contains three pages of examples of play. Then comes a half page of more instructions for playing the scenarios, followed by two and a half pages of rules for playing the campaigns. The following ten pages are taken up by the setups and instructions for each scenario and campaign. These are:

Scenario I, Eating Fire at Gheluvet - 1914
Scenario II, The Volcano In Flanders - 1915
Scenario III, Unfrozen at Frezenberg - 1915
Scenario IIII, Hot Time at Houge  - 1915
Campaign Game I,  Gheluvet - 1914
Campaign Game II, Fezenberg - 1915
Campaign Game III, Menin Road - 1917

 The rulebook ends with a nice touch. It has three pages with both the front and back of all of the counter sheets.

 The game comes with two, two sided terrain charts with a sequence of play breakdown on the other side.

 The turn record track is its own sheet, and not on the map.

 The games counters are well designed to be able to see and read the information quickly. There is no embellishment to them, just very utilitarian in their look. I am not knocking them, only explaining how the counters look. For a game about the death machine that was WWI, they fit the subject fine. These are the counters:


 The game has some novel rules that help it simulate WWI battle. They have a 'Mass' rule that facilitates command and control and a rule about 'Blobs' that deals with infiltration tactics. As mentioned, there are rules about off board artillery, onboard artillery, and mortars. The later scenarios also have rules for gas, and everything else you would expect in a WWI game.

 The game follows a novel approach in that the three maps are all of the same area, just shown differently for the three years of 1914,1915, and 1917. As you view the maps through the years you actually see the effects of the war on the landscape until you get to the almost frightening 1917 map. The Ypres salient was one of the few places even in the trench system that had major battles in different years. For those of you who read about the battles I wanted to showcase some of the places from the maps that we all know. The maps are all 22"x34", and they are of the open hex-side type.

                                         Hooge 1914  

                                              Hooge 1917

 The game is playable by one to two players with a rating of eight out of ten for solitaire play. The innovative rules of the game look to be some of the best to represent the real tactical challenges of WWI. I am looking forward to playing the 1917 campaign first. I will also be doing a review of the actual game play.



Holdfast: EastFront 1941-45 by Worthington Publishing  We have another Worthington publishing game for review. T...

Holdfast: EastFront 1941-45 by Worthington Publishing Holdfast: EastFront 1941-45 by Worthington Publishing

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

January 2018

Holdfast: EastFront 1941-45 by Worthington Publishing


 We have another Worthington publishing game for review. The new game's area is more than a few thousand miles away and ninety years later than the American Civil war. This game takes you to the steppes of Russia in the Second World War. The game board is mounted, and it encompasses Berlin to Moscow and Stalingrad and a little beyond. The map is colorful, and it is easy to see the borders for the different scenarios and rivers etc. On first look, the map looks bunched up. This is because the furthest south the map goes is Sevastopol. There will be no fighting for the Caucasus in this game. This game, like the other Worthington games I have played, is a block one. The blocks represent armies on the German and Soviet side. The supply rules are also simple but effective. You must have a path of five hexes to a city controlled by your side or the west or east edge of the map. A Russian unit in a fortress city is always in supply.

 The rules take up only four pages with an extra page for the scenario setup and rules for the 1942,1943, and 1944 scenarios. The rulebook also comes with two pages of designer notes. This game system runs on 'Resource Points'. Everything a player does or can do revolves around his or her resource points. This is a list of what costs actions take in resource points:

Replace one Infantry Strength point - 1 RP
Replace one Armor SP  - 2 RP 
Replace one Eliminated Infantry Unit at 1 SP  - 2 RP
Replace on eliminated Armor Unit at 1 SP  - 3 RP
Activate a Unit for Movement - 1 RP
Activate a Unit for Rail Movement  - 2 RP
Activate Units for Combat  - 1 RP per hex Attacked

 This is a link to the rulebook:

 This is the turn sequence:

A full game turn is the sequence below. After the Russian player
finishes, the turn marker is advanced one space. At the end of the
January 1943 turn, the 1941 game ends and a victor is determined.
Determine resource points for each player.
Roll a die to determine the weather for the turn.
German player places reinforcements and replacements.
German player checks supply for movement, and activates units
for movement and combat.
German player checks supply for unit elimination.
Russian player places reinforcements and replacements.
Russian player checks supply for movement, and activates units
for movement and combat.
Russian player checks supply for unit elimination.
These are the player aid cards:

 This game fits right in with the other two games I have reviewed for Worthington games. All of them have a short rulebook, and very easy to understand rules. The player is left to concentrate on his strategy, and not on how many counters he can stack before the pile falls. That is not to say that the game play is simple. It is just easy to know what a player can do. On the other hand, it is not easy to figure out what a player should do. The mechanics of the resource points makes a player feel like a beggar or a sot. He always needs just one or two more resource points each turn. In Chess, there are nine million possible moves after each player has moved three times. So you can see that the possibilities in this 'simple game' are mind boggling. Again, like the other games, this one has a small amount of counters and the map is really not that large. So, it is perfect for people with limited space for playing. The quick action also means that you can play through 1941-45 in one sitting. 

 From my play-throughs, the 1941 scenario, like in history or other games, is the easiest for the German player. With each succeeding year's scenario, it becomes  more difficult. The weather is well represented in the rules, which is good considering that it played such an important part. The weather, just like in real life, can hamstring both players. The gradual improvement of the Soviet Army is shown by the reinforcement of Guard units, which are roughly twice as strong as the original Soviet units in 1941. The 1941 scenario ends in January 1943, and the German player has to hold two out of these three cities: Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. If he doesn't, the game can continue until May 1945 and the Soviet player has to hold all three of these cities: Berlin, Warsaw, and Bucharest. 

  For gamers who want to delve into the tiniest minutae of the Eastern front, please look elsewhere. For game players who are looking for a good evening of fun, I can easily recommend this game. 

 This is the setup for the 1941 scenario:



RICHARD THE LIONHEART FROM CMON GAMES In an age when a Eurogame always tends to spell quality, Richard The Lionheart produce...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

January 2018





In an age when a Eurogame always tends to spell quality, Richard The Lionheart produced by CMON Games shouts quality at the top of its voice.  In the days when they were known as Cool Minis Or Not {before they decided to become an acronym}, you might have guessed  that somewhere in the box would be exactly that - some cool minis.  And you'd certainly be spot on, cos here they are.
All lined up in their perfectly moulded little slots.  With a game called Richard The Lionheart, you'll certainly hope to find a model of the king himself.  In fact, you get two: one on the left and one on the right in the photo below.
What will surprise you is that both serve purely as markers on two of the game tracks.  That's right - markers.  No cardboard markers, however glossy and colourful, but nicely sculpted models purely to look good as play aids!  There are in all four important tracks: Richard's Army, Saladin's Army, King's Return and King's Treasure.  I think you can guess that the large warrior with shield and scimitar goes on Saladin's Army track, while the figure with the rather odd conical hat, clutching a money box goes on the King's Treasure track.

Your player piece may come from one of the two opposing factions in the game.  One group of models make up a set consisting of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John.  Hurrah!!
While another set {Boo! Hiss!} consists of Prince John, the Sherriff of Nottingham, the Bishop of Ely and Isabella.  Isabella {?} - think she might be a counterpart to Maid Marian.  At least they've given her a sword.

By now you should have guessed that thematically at least we are in the legendary struggle between the outlawed denizens of Sherwood Forest and the current "legal" power in the land, Prince John and his henchpersons!

Richard, the great but absent king of England, is away fighting the 3rd Crusade against Saladin.  Meanwhile back home, you-know-who and his cronies are seeking to empty the coffers and make sure Richard never returns, while on the opposite team, fighting for freedom by robbing the rich and giving to the poor are Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe - sorry, Robin and his merry band.  

Surprisingly, there are still a few more models to come: two named ones - Leopold of Austria and Marie of France.  One each of these is to be played as the Neutral character when you have an odd number of players in the game.  "Neutral" is rather a misleading choice  of adjective.  In fact, quite a number of players are already taking a shine to choosing this role in the game, as each turn you ally yourself with one or other faction.  Consequently your game play is significantly different from the others and gives you an opportunity to revel in an even greater degree of deviousness.  
Leopold and Marie - the "Neutral characters".

When you turn to the 4-6 player game, there are two further figures to add in: the Merchant  and the Mercenary. Now these I would truly call neutral, as they are moved randomly at the end of each turn according to instructions on the current Event card.  Ending in the same location [the only time two figures can end a move in the same place] as one of these figures gives you a useful bonus in coin or Influence cards.

The truly neutral figures: the Merchant and the Mercenary

In purely visual terms, everything complements the theme.  The game board is a stylised map of part of England with large town/city emblems, mainly linked by roads in white and a few, but crucial, rivers in blue; crucial because, just like today, the east/west journey is trickier than travelling north/south!  Here we start to depart from any history whether factual or legendary.  As a player of one of the characters, you will be journeying the length and breadth of England to these locations to use/ collect/ exchange cards/coins/prestige points. 

Rather oddly concerning these places, supporters of John are the only ones allowed to activate Grimsby and Richard's followers Bridgewater.  A few other queries have been raised about the choice of locations with the feeling that some, like Cambridge, are included mainly because they are well known internationally.  Ok hands up, how many of you reading this could have pinpointed Bridgewater on a map? 
The map you see above is for 4 - 6 players, while the one below on the reverse of the board is for 2 - 3 players.  You'll notice that in this less crowded version of the realm Grimsby and Bridgewater are no longer off limits to one side. 
Setting aside the question of the geographical choices, the actual look of the two map boards is superb and matched by the other two boards necessary for game play.  Below is the combined Crusade and Purchase Board.
A larger detail of the Crusade Board shows the attention to making this a stunning product.
The final board is the Reserve Board - a simple display, but again gloriously presented.
Added to the boards are 279 magnificent cards - Event cards, Edict cards and most numerous of all the six types of Influence cards - oh not forgetting a small addition I really, really welcome - 6 Player Aid cards.  How many games have at best two of these that keep getting passed around.  Though to be honest, they'll soon be largely unneeded, because this is a game whose rules are quick to learn and easy to remember.

Nor is the game lacking in good quality counters [two sheets worth], from Prestige Points and Coins to Faction Skills, Ship tokens and Horse tokens.
Equally attractive are the Player mats, whose pictures match the models used in the game.

A final touch to this package that is more than worth a mention is the plastic inlay to contain all the components.  This deserves an award in itself.
Looking here it may seem fairly standard, but there are just a few extra details that I think merit the praise I've just handed out.  Each and every compartment has a slightly recessed point that makes lifting out any counter perfectly easy, no scrabbling for the last one or two.  In particular, the bottom row contains three compartments for counters stacked vertically that widen out in size to accommodate each size perfectly.  Finally, while looking at the three stacks of cards and their compartments, what you cannot see is that below the clear plastic moulded tray to hold the figures are two more empty compartments so that all the cards can be comfortably stored even when you have sleeved them.  How often have you bought games, only to discover that once you've sleeved them they wont fit the designated compartments?  So, full marks to CMON for their foresight and care is designing this whole package.

OK I've waxed lyrical about all things practical, physical and artistic about this game.  So, how well does it play?  At its core the rules and mechanics for Richard The Lionheart are very straightforward and clearly set out, explained and illustrated in the beautiful rule book.  You should have no problems understanding and following any aspect of the game. 
The sumptuous Rulebook

There are three main phases that the players have control over.  As I've described in dealing with the map board, each player moves to a location mainly to use/collect/exchange cards/coins/prestige points.  Below each location is a banner containing a language-independent explanation in icon form of what you can do there. 

Here there's a need for a brief, but I think important digression. Personally, I have found some physical difficulties being able to recognise some of these from across the gaming table.  This is easily dealt with by referring to the very useful two page appendix which lists and explains them all and I have made several copies of these to help other players while we're gaming.  However, a less easily solved problem and one which has been a major question raised already by several players is the extensive use of red/green as the basis of  the colours for the cards, the icons and the models themselves. 

So, back to the rules. You can move up to 3 locations, but can never end your move where there is already another player's figure.  You may, however, pass through a location where there is a player figure of the opposing faction and steal a random card from them!

Next each of you has a chance to buy one item from those available on the Purchase Board.  This is where you can acquire such assets as a boat to allow you to navigate those important few waterways or a horse to increase your movement rate to 4 locations.  Or you may like to buy a skill applicable to your faction or a specific card from the reserve Board. 

Finally, in the third phase, every player may contribute up to 2 Influence cards to the Crusade Phase, but for each card that they cannot or do not want to contribute they lose a Prestige point.  Safe to say Prestige points are the victory points of this particular game.  These cards are added to the Influence cards in the Crusade Deck, shuffled and the number of them drawn is twice the number of players in the game.

For me, this is one of the high points of the game.  These cards are now revealed and affect the movement of those four figure-markers on the Crusade Board tracks.  How they move depends on how many of each of the six types of Influence card there are and how they stack up in specific combinations of each faction. 
My table set for a 3-player game

In essence that's it, so far, so simple.  So what makes this quite such an engrossing and, for me, an exciting game.  First of all, I love games that have players lined up in factions against each other with conflicting goals, BUT where only one player can ultimately win. 

Here I must clearly state that I believe the game gets infinitely better as the number of players increase.  For two players it is enjoyable, but frankly there are so many two-player games out there that are better.  Three players is good, because it introduces the added complexity and uncertainty of the Neutral player.  But the game really shines from 4 players upwards.  

Here is where those four tracks are all important, as they determine both the winning faction at the end of the game and when the game ends.  As soon as the marker on at least one track has reached the end of it by the completion of a turn the game is over.  So, if you are a character of Richard's faction  then you are striving to push the marker to the end of Richard's Army track or the King Return's track first - if you are of Prince John's faction you want to be the side to get a marker to the end of Saladin's Army track or the King's Treasure track first.

There are a further two wrinkles in the victory conditions that make this game very appealing to me.  One is that if the game goes the full ten turns, then victory is determined purely on which player has the most Prestige points.  The second is that if more than one track has reached its end point by the end of a turn, then there the lowest of those Tracks on the table is judged to be the one which decides the winning faction. 

So, you generally need to make sure you're on the winning faction.  Well if there's only two of you playing that's all you need to do.  Hence my view that 2-player is only satisfactory.  Any other number of players and you have to be both on the winning faction and have the most Prestige Points.  

The 3-player game is good because you are in something like the stand-off at the end of film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. As the Neutral player, you have to make sure you end up allied with the winning side when the game concludes.  The only drawback is if the Neutral player decides that their best chance of winning is mainly to ally with one side and race them to get the most Prestige Points.  However, the Neutral player is more likely trying to play off both opponents.

The reason for this is that at the beginning of the game each player draws an Edict card that they keep secret.  This provides a personal end of game target and a small, but extra detail of uncertainty.  For the Neutral player his/her target usually involves gaining points by having the markers in very balanced positions on their tracks.  In addition, the Neutral player also gains a bonus of 3 Prestige points if the game plays out to its full potential of ten turns.

Once 4 players are involved then most of the game's machinations and back-stabbing come to the fore, as you aid your partner in making sure that your faction wins, but want to make sure they don't end up with more Prestige points than you do.  With 5 players, the game hots up even more and all elements of the rules come in to play.  With 6 players, I'm sorry to lose the uncertaincies and balance produced by the lack of a Neutral player, though it is replaced by the tension of having three people on each faction all trying to make sure that their side wins, but with each needing to come out on top of the heap for Prestige Points. {One possibility not in the rules that I'm hoping to explore is having a 6 player game with two of each faction and both Neutrals in play.}

other key element that makes for this game's appeal is the combination of simple rules and actions set against the complex interaction of other players' choices.  Choice of where players move to, which may frustrate your intended destination; choice of which cards to draw; choice of which cards to play in the Crusade Phase; choice of when to stop cooperating with your ally and start to make sure that they don't come out ahead of you in Prestige points and so it goes on.

Really important too is the mechanic
of directly contributing to how soon the game ends.  There are other games where there may be a target to bring the game to an end, as with Scythe's achieving six stars ends the game, but few where game play focuses so much on the balance between balancing timing the ending the game, being on the winning team and having the most victory points.

Finally, I like the game because, though you are all directly attempting to influence how the game works out, there is also a fair degree of uncertainty {especially in the Crusade Phase} as to how each player's unknown choice of cards is going to interact and effect those crucial tracks. 

So, there you have it.  Excellent visual production that matches the theme, some simple and some intriguing game play mechanics, but not for those who can't stand working with another player in order to beat them to the winning post at the end!

Once again many thanks to Esdevium for providing the review copy. 

RRP – £69.99
Online Retailer –


HANNIBAL & HAMILCAR from PHALANX This must be one of the most anticipated games of all time for me, as it ticks so many boxe...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

January 2018





This must be one of the most anticipated games of all time for me, as it ticks so many boxes - ancients, the second Punic War pitting Carthage against Rome, a CDG game, a revision of an Avalon Hill  game of which I still have both the original edition and The General magazine that contained the material to play out the First Punic War and, most of all, HANNIBAL. 

Valley Games had already produced a 2nd edition of the original Avalon Hill game.  This was primarily a visual upgrade or retread, depending on your point of view.  A larger box, with more dramatic art work, hexagonal shapes rather than circles for both the military units and the point to point locations on the map, redesigned Battle Cards and a few limited changes to the rules.  I've played with both, but didn't feel the need to buy the new edition.

Their intentions of producing Hamilcar on the first Punic War, however, did grab my attention.  This promised to be a whole new design with a more focused map appropriate to the more limited geographical scope of the 1st Punic war and much more attention to the importance of the naval conflict.  But little seemed to happen. So, when news came that the Polish company Phalanx,  producers of Race To The Rhine, had acquired the rights to both Hannibal and Hamilcar, I was all agog and fired with enthusiasm for what might be.

Would they get it right?  Would it be more than another attractive cosmetic job?  Would Hamilcar just use the same map with some minor rule changes and a few different generals, as The General magazine had done?  Consequently, this opportunity to receive for review the final product was like manna from heaven and a very big thank you to Phalanx for giving me this opportunity.  So, shoulder your pilum  and, with elephants at the ready, come with me to journey back to the Mediterranean world of Hannibal and his father, Hamilcar Barca.

If you want drama, there it is immediately staring out at you from the cover of the box lid - a grizzled, one-eyed veteran, Hannibal himself.  Open the box and there's plenty more drama to come.  I've no hesitation in stating that Phalanx would have had every right to have DELUXE in large capital letters emblazoned below the title words.  Everything about the production values is first class - none more so than the generals.  The originals were cardboard standees.  These - all 24 of them - are in very durable plastic.  On the plinth that each stands on are the Strategy and Battle ratings in
  relief sculpting.  Admittedly at the moment it's pretty difficult to read these numbers without picking the model up and peering closely at the base.
One such stack of Carthaginian units -
in this instance Hanno defending Carthage

Once I've painted them, which these figures absolutely beg you to do, there won't be any problems.  Until I do, the accompanying full-colour card and accompanying octagonal counter are more than enough to keep off board and make sure that I know instantly what these two essential stats are.  These overwhelming generals, colossi of the game board, may occasionally teeter and fall; no more so than when crossing the alps precariously balanced, not on a crumbling icy ledge, but hopefully atop a maximum tower of 10 cardboard units. 
Just three of the beautiful cards
and their accompanying counters

I like the decision to vary the images on the unit counters, but do be careful not to confuse some of the cavalry pictures as they can easily be confused [OK, I admit - I can easily confuse them] for elephants.  Also note that there aren't any actual cavalry rules in the game, despite the images and the fact that cavalry symbols are used on some of the new dice - more about the dice later.  

Having started with what is perhaps the icing on the cake, let's look at the all important map boards.  First of all, the one for Hannibal.

Instead of the original map in two halves, we have a single six-panel fold out.

If you compare this with the original board or the 2nd edition one, the colours are more muted with a matte finish instead of high gloss.  Gone too are the variety of images superimposed on the sea areas.  My reaction is mixed - some elements I prefer in the original, some in this new version.  I like the return to circles rather than hexagons, but prefer the more intense colours and gloss of the original, especially in Africa,  What I do find very strange, as did my opponent when we sat down to our first face to face game, is the contorted geographical orientation.  Or is that disorientation?  It's certainly what we both felt as we struggled to adjust to it. 

For both of us, accommodating the various useful charts seemed to underlie this strange distortion of the geography.  Distinctly odd was the final verdict.  I shall truly have to leave that to your personal taste and judgement as to how acceptable you find it.  Still, no reservations at all on all the many cardboard components. 

All are of very good quality and thickness.  PC [Political Control] markers are significantly larger -  a point I like, as are the square ones for the walled cities and full marks for the single inland walled city of Capua and the trouble taken to make sure that it did not have one edge depicting a coastal strip in blue.  Just as the map's point-to-point markings have returned to circles so have the PC counters that you place on them.  I'm sorry to see the familiar and far more military image of the eagle and SPQR standard gone from the Roman PC markers.  In their place comes another long-standing image, the she-wolf of Rome.  Still looks good, but I know which I prefer.

New to the mix are supply train markers, some much improved triangular siege point markers along with square ones bearing an illustration of a siege engine and, boding well for my anticipations and expectations of Hamilcar, warships!  All together there are four large sheets of counters.
Here you can see just a few of the octagonal general counters.  You can use these instead of the lovely, large plastic models - there will be someone out there who will want to - but each to their own [and you can probably get help with your phobia for plastic models too].

Just as the counters have gone up a notch so too have the cards.  First of all there are lots more.  As mentioned, an individual card for each General and these I greatly appreciate, especially as they serve, in practical terms, as very helpful play aids.  They contain full-colour pictures of each general with details of their specific attributes.  I tend to keep these cards and counters on a separate display with each figure currently not in play located on the card.  Then when it comes time in the Reinforcement Phase of each turn to draw for new consuls, the counters go in to a cup to be drawn from and the general cards of those drawn are placed by me to be easily referred to.  No more peering at what was printed in very small letters on the board or producing your own play aid to read from.

However, the heart of the game as with any CDG is the deck of Strategy cards.  The 2nd edition had already made some artistic improvements and yet again these latest ones have maintained the deluxe feel to this whole ensemble.
Gorgeous feel, gorgeous use of colour and a whopping bonus: an extra 26 cards that can be added to play.  And that's just for Hannibal alone.  Hamilcar brings its own separate deck of 18 Strategy cards, marked with a small trireme in the bottom left corner for ease of recognition.  This is just one of the many ways in which Phalanx really have worked everything out so carefully.  Many of the Strategy cards used in playing Hannibal are similarly identified with a small elephant symbol, but there are a substantial number with no symbol.  To play Hamilcar,  you simply add all these cards which, as you can imagine contain generic Events, whereas those cards marked with either trireme or elephant contain historical Events specific to the 1st or 2nd Punic war.
Here is a typical generic card that features in either war.  Note the boxed R which denotes that the card has a supplementary note in the Strategy Card Notes section of the rulebook.  

Just as the Strategy cards have upped their quality so have the Battle cards though this is a much more marginal change.  The one I like is the additional symbol in the top corners.  This means that you can easily fan your hand out and see at a glance how many of each type of card you hold.  Previously, without these symbols there was a tendency to have to keep checking and searching; a fact that often could give your opponent critical clues to which cards you were running short of and thereby influence their play. 
Clearly these cards can only be used in land battles and so I was very keen to see how the design for Hamilcar with its new facility for naval combat would handle this.  Would it just be a copy of land combat, but finding naval tactics of the ancient world to adorn the cards?  Or would it be a simple table to roll on?  I was very pleased to discover that, though there is a deck of Naval Tactic cards, the construct of naval combat has a totally new dimension. It brings together the introduction of Warships and the concept of being Ready or Spent, the possible play of a Naval Tactic card with die rolling on the attrition table  and the significance of an Admiral's battle rating.  It has also allowed the introduction of the largest piece of cardboard in the game: a large disc with a mighty trident on to show who had Naval Supremacy.  

As always how to acquire all this knowledge for playing the game brings us to the Rulebook.  Well there is only one Rulebook still, but there is beside a Scenario book and  Playbook.  And what books!  Gone is the early, rather coarse paper mainly with lots of black print on white and miniscule illustrated examples of play incorporating perhaps a bit of blue or red print.  Admittedly it's 20 years since the first edition, but for today's market it's definitely the WOW factor that's needed and this provides it in spades.

None of these covers may shout colour, but for me they still have a powerful, I would almost say tragic atmosphere: especially the Scenario Book with its listing, apparently abandoned vessel.  I imagine the spirits of drowned warriors and mariners clustering somewhere silently observing.  In keeping with everything that I've said about the physical quality of this product, these three books are in the same mould.  A glossy, tactile feel and profusion of colour that would grace top quality coffee-table books.  They are a pleasure just to hold and flip through the pages.

But let's get more practical and down to earth.  What's in them beside their looks?  The Rulebook contains everything from the original game with only two small changes.  One is that you can't Intercept into a location that contains enemy units - no big deal that - the other is far more significant.  Crossing passes now has a beneficial modifier, while crossing Alpine passes no longer has an adverse modifier.  Suddenly, that fabled passage of the Alps has become much easier to achieve.  I'm still not sure how much I agree with this historically, but it does open up the game much more and I think has made it even more dynamic.  So, for that alone, I'm happy.  Illustrations and examples are in full-colour and the layout is spacious making reading a very easy task.

There are some tweaks to naval movement, but not in terms of rules.  In essence, they are identical to the original, but instead of having +/- modifiers on the map, there are now red or blue dots.  These are combined with a new dice that sports red diamonds or blue dots as well.  Combined together they achieve exactly the same as an ordinary D6, under the old rules.  In fact, Phalanx have even supplied a play aid so that you can play using purely the old tables and a D6.  However, it does mean turning blue dots into negative numbers and red dots into positive numbers.  The rationale is that the new system with the specialised die makes for ease of play, but I haven't played against anyone who doesn't know the original rules.  So it's hard to judge the efficacy of this change.

The only other changes also involve new dice and that's for Land battles.  You still use Battle cards thankfully and roll for initial casualties to both sides on the Attrition Table.  But instead of the loser rolling a D6 on the Retreat Table, there are now two special dice: a large one and a small one.  For forces that begin the battle with 4 or fewer units you roll the small die, for forces that start with 5 or more units you roll the large die.  The faces of these dice carry different combinations of three symbols: a circle, a cavalry symbol and an infantry symbol.  Sadly these in a way are purely cosmetic as there is no division of units into different types.  Instead, you compare them to the instructions and identical symbols carried on the last Battle card played that ended the battle.  It's cute, but I'm not sure it's an improvement on the simple throw of an ordinary D6.

What I like least about some of these new dice is the size, as I've always found that over-sized dice don't roll well and particularly can't be used in a dice-tower [unless you have a very over-sized dice-tower to match!]

Here you see all the new dice.  The large and small blue ones are those I've just described the use of.  The top red and white dice are used for the revamped siege/subjugation rolls.  The large white one [in reality grey - don't know what my camera has done to the colour here] at the bottom with red diamonds is the one used for determining the success of Carthaginian naval movement.  Oh, and the other die at the bottom is an ordinary D6!

All in all then, rule-wise the Rulebook is virtually identical to the original, just infinitely more attractive, easy to read and containing expanded information on the Generals' individual abilities and notes about the Strategy Cards.

The Scenario Book contains the REAL meat of what's new.  44 pages long [that's 12 more pages than in the Rulebook]. it starts with the one and only, full, original whole Second Punic War 218 - 201 B.C. scenario.  What follows are 11 Scenarios of varying length playing out sections of the war and then Scenario 13 offers a modified Set-up once more for the whole Second Punic War.  This part is what I would call a completist's dream.  It also does mean that if you're pushed for time you can always indulge in a mini bit of Hannibal.

Then at last, to a fanfare of trumpets, we arrive at Scenario 14 Hamilcar the First Punic War 264 - 241 B.C.  Hamilcar retains all the rules from Hannibal - except those for crossing mountain and Alpine passes.  Reason being the more limited geography of the 1st Punic War and hence of the map.  So, no Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul and therefore no passes to cross.  Also no Iberia and even Africa is much truncated with only two provinces, one of which, Numidia, starts occupied by mainly neutral tribes.  What markedly sets it apart from Hannibal is the inclusion of a substantial set of rules for naval movement and naval combat.  Rightly, I think, the decision was made to put these in the Scenario Book.  They do take some thought to get your head fully round them and this has significantly slowed play so far while making sure that we're getting it right. [Bear in mind that this is by contrast with playing Hannibal, which for me is like slipping on an old, familiar, well-worn jacket!].  They don't have the immediate clarity I associate with this game, but a very substantial example [three and a bit pages]of the whole of one Naval Combat does a very good job of easing you along the right track.

Finally, we come to the Playbook.  This has become a familiar and very welcome feature of many board wargames.  The normal expectation is a play-through usually of a full turn with plentiful illustrations and often followed by extensive historical and Designer's notes    This one is an unusual hybrid.  In the main, it attempts to be another way to teach the rules.  A single page historical background is followed by first presenting some of the basic concepts accompanied by lavishly illustrated examples and then at length provides a series of tutorials where you are introduced to major rules along with a puzzle you are invited to play out in order to practice the rules you've just read.  

I've already watched at least one video with a reviewer waxing lyrical about this format.  I have to say I was less enthusiastic,  mainly because it seems to be doing the same job as the rule book, but in a different way.  Whereas the typical Playbook allowed you to see the game being played and so both helped to clarify points and, what was even more helpful, showed if you had understood the rule correctly, this simply gives you the opportunity to practise for yourself the rules in stages.  In other words, it's almost like having two different types of rulebook.  Considering the quality of what has been presented, it just seemed an opportunity missed to provide what would have been the most spectacular traditional Playbook.

 So far I've largely written for those of you like me who have at least a reasonable background understanding of this game from one of its two prior incarnations.  I tend to assume that, if you have that knowledge, then you're highly likely to start with a good and, I hope, glowing opinion.  If you don't share that glow, well I could say please leave quietly now and don't slam the door, but I doubt that you ever bothered to read this in the first place.

This final section then is for those who have the wonderful experience of coming to this game with no prior knowledge and perhaps even no experience of CDGs.  I've accompanied this part with just a few shots taken from a recent game of this magnificent new edition.  For the gaming world, Hannibal was the second instance of that new development in board wargame design: the Card Driven Game [or CDG for short].  As such it was and still is definitely at the easier end of some that followed.  Many consider, as I do, that it is probably one of the finest designs.  It marries the ability for the whole war to be played in about 3 hrs with a set of rules that needs little reference to the rule book after a few games, while offering a look at a fascinating period of history.

I hope what you've seen may already have inspired you to find the nearest store or online supplier.  But just a little about CDGs as an added enticement.  
The whole package at a glance

The essence of CDG games is that each player uses a hand of Strategy cards drawn at the beginning of each turn either from a single shared deck [as with Hannibal] or in many cases each player has their own specific deck of cards [as with games such as Festung Europa and  Shifting Sands].  Each player will play one such card alternately, using either the Event described on the card or the number of points [usually called Operations points or OPs for short] printed on the card in order to carry out one action from a range of possible actions.  In Hannibal, the main choice of action is to use the OPs either to place control markers or move units. 

Hannibal already shows his ability to invade Italy

This may sound very simple.  Having said that, such movement may result in battles, sieges, subjugation of hostile tribes, attempts to intercept or attempts to avoid battle, the problems of moving by sea and many other factors will come into play.  Also one of the best features of CDGs is that there is virtually no down time and even when your opponent is taking their action, you will need to be watching carefully and possibly intervening by either counter-card play of your own or use of a specific rule of the game.

Hannibal's inroads in Italy increase
The other familiar feature of CDGs has been that movement is from point to point rather than using the more traditional hex map of board wargames, though there are a few [again Festung Europa is an excellent example] that do play out on a hex map and  occasionally area movement will be found as another alternative.

Whether you are an aficionado of this game, an experienced gamer who's somehow missed out on the experience so far or a newcomer to board wargaming, I have exactly the same advice.   Get this game in to your collection.  It is one to keep, to admire, but above all to play.