Thursday, April 24, 2008

History Repeats Itself

That title could apply in oh so many ways.

For the last two weeks, my game night experiences have been remarkably similar. Two Tuesdays ago I started the evening by playing a three player game of Container, the last game made by Franz-Benno Delonge before he finished his final turn. It was my first playing and I enjoyed it well enough but I suspect that one playing isn't really enough to "get it" and three players seemed like too few.

But the majority of that night was spent playing a game that's rather out of character for me. I'm talking about Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, originally one of the classic Avalon Hill war games and now re-released by Valley Games. This game uses a card driven system which originally appeared in We the People and most recently inspired the system used in 1960: The Making of the President.

Jason played Carthage and I played Rome. This is a long game anyway but we got off to a little bit of a late start and that, combined with our lack of familiarity with the game, resulted in a very long playing time. I didn't get home until after 2:00 AM. But at least I went home with a victory. Rome soundly thrashed Carthage, denying them of nearly all of their territory by the end of the game. The death-blow came about half way through the game when Rome managed to corner Hannibal in northern Italy and give him a thrashing that he would never forget. With Hannibal out of the game, Carthage never really had a chance and although they continued to be a thorn in Rome's side, they were never more than a nuisance from that point on.

I enjoyed that game enough to want to play it again so this Tuesday, Adam and I planned to play. I loaned Adam the rules beforehand so that by the time he showed up, I had the board all set up and ready for him. There were still some rules issues that we needed to clarify before we could start playing but we still managed to get going at a reasonable hour. This time I played Carthage and Adam played Rome.

Early on we accidentally ignored some rules which gave Rome a bit of an unfair advantage. Adam was able to cross back and forth between Italy and Hispania a few more times than he should have been if we had both been more familiar with the rules and had I been paying closer attention to the cards he was playing. That left me at a bit of a disadvantage in the early game, something that can be disastrous for Carthage since, true to history, in the early game Carthage has by far the strongest general in Hannibal and it's very important for Carthage to do as much damage as possible early in the game before Scipio Africanus (Rome's historical savior) comes on the scene.

During the early game, he tore Hispania apart and was gobbling up most of North Africa while I ravaged Italy. Then Scipio Africanus came on the scene. By then he securely held Hispania (denying me two of my meagre four reinforcements each turn) and was on his way to controlling much of North Africa but he had left Rome largely undefended. I decided that my only chance (since he would continue to get five reinforcements each turn to my two) was to lay siege to Rome itself. Scipio immediately reacted but instead of rushing to Rome's defense, he chose to lay siege to Carthage. So both of our huge armies were encamped outside the other's capitol. The race was on. Which city would fall first?

Soon both cities were on the brink of collapse. Two siege points were on each. Just one more successful siege roll from either army would end the game. Finally Scipio succeeded. Carthage fell. And on the very next die roll (which we rolled just to see what would have happened) Rome would have fallen. What a finish!

Having a long drawn out war game like that decided by the result of just a single die roll seems a little strange but it sure was fun.

So why have I been playing a long two-player war game? I usually prefer much shorter and much lighter fare. My favorite games usually last around an hour and involve at least three players. So why play this one? Well, first of all, it's been very highly recommended. The card driven system used by this game was a significant influence on many other games. Second, my son has been begging me to play a war game with him for a while so I'm planning to play this with him too and wanted to learn how to play it. Third, the Second Punic War is actually something I know a little bit about since I've been listening to Mike Duncan's excellent podcast: The History of Rome. This seemed like a nice tie-in to what I've been hearing in the podcast.

Finally, what are my thoughts about the game? It's a great game. It's not one that I'll want to play too often due to its length but it's certainly a game that I'll be wanting to play every now and then. If you feel up to a four hour (or longer) two player game then this is an excellent choice.


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