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







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.


  1. Don't stack your CUs. Place them on the general's card. Also, the ratings are on the card so you don't need to pick up the minis.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Mine were written tongue in cheek [i.e. mainly for humorous purposes], though my opponents do prefer to see how strong my forces are directly on the map rather than having to look at what I'd placed on general cards.

  3. The "no interceptions into a location that already had enemy units" has always been a rule. The modifiers for mountain crossings have been the same at least since the AH Second Edition rules, though there was an unfortunate typo on the Valley Games gameboard (though the Valley Games rules had it right).