Wargames do it in classic ways. Meaning to say that wargames (abstract mostly) represent some of the oldest board game styles and derive their themes from clashes of warriors on the battlefield under the command of epic generals. The components generally don’t need to be fancy, and often the simplest components allow players to focus on strategy over flashy army men (not that those aren’t awesome in their own right).
PHALANX is a publisher aiming to take one of these classics (in terms of theme and age) and spruce it up for a 2018 audience. Hannibal & Hamilcar is a 2 player wargame set in the classic conflict of the Punic Wars. The original game, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage is a venerable title from 1996 and while age has not dimmed its allure to wargaming fans, this new edition now includes the Hamilcar expansion and (fancy?) miniatures for generals. Not that it may bother wargamers prepared to settle in for a long fight, but the full experience of the game can take over 3 hours.
Before any discussion of the rules and play of the game, it’s necessary to understand what comes in the box to see if this title meets expectations of a reboot. There are 3 lengthy books included. One is the main rulebook, one is the scenario book showing various setups, and rules from the early conflicts of the Punic Wars all the way to the denouement. Finally, and a bit confusingly, there is the “Playbook” which serves to guide newer players through the experience. Whether that succeeds will be discussed later.
The board is a double-sided six-panel Mediterranean monster. The quality of the illustration is high and attention to detail is paid throughout. One side features the Hamilcar scenarios including naval battles while the other features the later Punic Wars featured originally in Rome vs. Carthage.
What all this gets to is players’ first set up and play. The playbook aims high to walk new players through each step of learning the rules. Unfortunately, all this really does is mandate that the player(s) read the appropriate section of the rules and then follow the instructions in the tutorial scenarios.
Once players are into the meat of the game, the game plays mainly turn-by-turn with each player using a hand of strategy cards. The card has operational points for movement of armies and deploying new units. The card also has an event which may instead be used for special actions or troops.
When combat occurs, the game provides rules for either siege or open field battle. Sieges reduce defending units over time through die rolls, while open field battle initiates a contest using battle cards. Each player gains a count of cards based on their total unit strength. These cards represent field maneuvers and it gives a great high-level view of how the battle played out. Certain cards will defeat other cards and a lengthy battle usually results in higher casualties.
In addition to the above, Hannibal & Hamilcar provides deep but understandable rules for an elephant charge, subjugating the people, consuls, walled cities, mountain passes, and winter attrition. Unless players are aiming to go to micro level detail, what’s presented is plenty deep for sustaining the lengthier play time.
In the scenario book, every scenario takes a step further along the Punic War timeline to present a conflict as a game. Thirteen scenarios are included with special attention paid to the first Punic War scenario with extensive additional rules for naval warfare.
As a newcomer to this game, there are some aspects to this production that won’t be such a bother to those already experienced with this title. Specifically needing to be called out is the playbook. The content here is really inadequate. The requirement in the book for reading the full rules really just puts the onus of understanding the complexity of the game back on the reader. This isn’t that hard, but the rulebook is dense and hampers any kind of quick introduction to the action of the game. As such, it feels like the playbook is a map as to how to learn the game rather than helping understand any of the rules.
Another small gripe are the scenarios. Only those in love with the Punic Wars will find much difference between many of the scenarios. Overall the game plays similarly with not a huge difference in setup. This is great for experienced players who love alternate setups but doesn’t vary the play style enough from game to game for this reviewer.
That being said, the overall production quality and presentation is phenomenal. This is a top-tier production for a wargame and should turn some heads when presented on a table. The sparse use of miniatures really helps the presentation. In this age, it was the army that mattered. Any units without a commander had no guidance and were easy fodder for a large well lead force.
The biggest question here is whether or not Hannibal & Hamilcar succeeds in attracting a new audience. Unfortunately, as excellent as the presentation is, the lack of any help on the learning curve save for the most patient rules reader really relegates this title to “learn by playing with an experienced friend”. The depth of each action is intriguing and engaging, and patient new players can get going with instruction, but experienced wargamers will still be the core audience.
Hannibal & Hamilcar is a great game, but it won’t be that game that really draws new players into wargaming unless they have a guide. The concepts in Hannibal & Hamilcar are deep enough for what can be considered a “medium” weight wargame, but this will also seem to be a heavy title for those inexperienced with card driven games or the ancient military concepts presented. As such, mileage will vary heavily with the user’s past experience. Even though this game gets a higher rating from Board Game Quest, it comes with a caveat that the rating represents a score for experienced wargamers.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A definitive game for the biggest fans of the Punic Wars.
• Playbook doesn’t introduce play well
• Lack of real variety in scenarios