Saturday, 20 March 2021

Hannibal, Rome vs Carthage on Vassal

I was expecting to be well into reporting our most recent Vassal adventure, namely the Vae Victrix magazine game by Fred Bey, Eylau 1807, sadly that was not to be as after two nights of struggling with a very clumsy module, not to mention a very ill-defined rules translation, we gave up and decided to play another Avalon Hill classic, Hannibal, Rome vs Carthage which came out way back when, soon after the release of its precursor, We the People.

These first card driven games really revolutionised the way we played boardgames back in the late eighties and early nineties, bringing as they did a great way of combining the historical context and events that characterised a particular theme in the cards that could also be used to generate movement.

To a modern audience card driven games (CDG's) probably seem so normal but I remember them being very much a new and rather strange way of playing an historical war-board game and the idea was not universally greeted with enthusiasm in all quarters, we however loved them and continue to do so.

Having not picked up Hannibal on its release, it was a gap in my collection that I was keen to fill and at Xmas, Carolyn got me a first edition copy which I am looking forward to playing face to face, but in the meantime Steve and I decided to try out the Vassal module and got started this week.

The game has gone through some changes since its launch but its basic layout and appearance has remained constant with the classic components of political control markers, military combat unit counters and key generals being the principal components seen displayed on a lovely point-to-point map with of course some classic artwork adorning the cards that players use to generate play.

A gorgeous map from our Vassal game of Hannibal shows off well the cockpit of war in the Western Mediterranean between Carthage and Rome in the Second Punic War, with the positions midway through turn two or 217 BC, with the game set to progress through hopefully to 202 BC captured in nine turns of play with variable card hands starting at seven per player and ending up with nine as the war escalates.

Being very familiar with We the People and Washington's War the learning curve for both Steve and me getting to grips with Hannibal wasn't quite so steep as it is with other less familiar games and so we both got into happily removing and replacing political control markers from the map as revolts broke out in Celtiberia, Corsica and Sardinia, whilst we also started to build up our forces, whilst getting our heads around slightly more unfamiliar game concepts such as the use of elephants in battle and the difficulties of siege operations, as Hannibal tromped off towards the Alps and I (being Rome) had to deal with a revolt in Syracuse, which is proving rather difficult to suppress.

Proconsul Publius Scipio has just landed on the Iberian coast at Malaca (bottom left of map) with his 5SP Proconsular Roman army, but Hasdrubal with his standing force of two Carthaginian strength points up the road at Novo Carthago (New Carthage) is planning a reception committee!

However the Romans do at least have something in common with the British in Washington's War, namely a good control of the seas and so after being made Proconsul at the end of turn one, 216 BC, Publius Scipio promptly took ship with a five point Roman army to land in the Punic recruiting heartland of Iberia at the pretty coastal town of Malaca, hoping to cause a bit of mischief in the process.

This while Hannibal was busy losing elephants and men to attrition has he forced marched off through the Alps bound for mainland Italy, easily skirting around the garrison Scipio had left at Massilia (modern day French Riviera) before his setting off to Spain.

In anticipation of a possible Hannibalic incursion into Italy the Senate handily went and voted for Fabius Maximus to take up a Consular position in 217 BC and he now commands the home army at Rome of 8 Strength Points and given his undoubted abilities at running away, may well find himself taking up the vacancy of Proconsul.

Oh dear, how sad, never mind, as a famous old drill sergeant used to say!
Publius Scipio and his army is no more and Hannibal with his 5SP army is in Gallia ready to advance into mainland Italy. Well now we'll see what these Romans are made of.

Oh yes, did I not mention that there was a vacancy going for the role of Roman Proconsul, ever since Proconsul Publius Scipio's excursion to Spain never got past the ports at Malaca as his Proconsular army got stomped on by Hasdrubal who promptly raised an army of four strength points to match that of the Roman's 5 SP but also brought three extra strength points of Spanish allies together with his undoubted military skills, (3 strategy rating vs 2 for Scipio) and despite losing the initiative after the first round of battle and not getting it back, dismissively dealt with every one of the seven strategy cards Scipio threw at him to win the battle, losing two SP to the Roman's one but cutting the remaining four down in the resultant rout back to the beaches.

The Battle of Malaca 217 BC Hasdrubal beats Proconsul Scipio
despite losing more troops in the fighting causes the Roman army
to break and run back to boats, cutting them down to a man

So, we are very much enjoying our excursion to the Punic Wars with all the fun that card driven games offer in terms of the unexpected and with the feeling that you are never really in control of events, no matter how well things seem to be going.

All to play for and with about four card plays still remaining in turn 2, we'll see how well Steve's Carthaginian offensive proceeds in the next report.

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