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Tacticular Cancer reviews Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War

Tacticular Cancer reviews Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War

Review - posted by Trash on Fri 5 July 2013, 14:24:26

Tags: Forced March Games; Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War; Matrix Games

Oscar donned his sandals to walk all over Italy and give us his review of Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War.

Perhaps the most stand-out feature of this game is its AI. Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War features AI quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a turn-based strategy game. I’m not strictly talking about difficulty here, though the AI is astute and generally capable in exploiting player weaknesses. Each general possesses a different behaviour based upon that commander’s historic personality. For instance the aggressive Marcellus will instinctively try and take Hannibal head on in the field while the cautious Fabius, who earned the nickname ‘Delayer’ due to his initially unpopular strategy of avoiding direct battle with Hannibal, will be extremely reluctant to attack unless he possesses overwhelming force. Winning great victories with Hannibal also increases the AI’s caution over time who start the game reckless and overconfident but tend to become more cautious and cunning as the game progresses. This system grants generals a lot more personality than other games in the genre, where choices of officers usually only result in different statistical bonuses and zero change to behaviour, priorities and actual strategy. One learns to be wary of worthy foes such as Scipio Africanus while it is difficult to resist rubbing your hands together in delight when the incompetent Sempronius blindly leads a large force to its almost certain demise against you.​

A decent AI that actually displays character? Can't say I've seen anything like that in pretty much any recent strategy game. Go check out our indepth review to see if there's more the game succeeds at.



It is extremely difficult to try and imagine a world without Rome. Rome’s enduring legacy upon Western law, politics, military and education is immense and enduring. Yet, in what would seem strong evidence for the Great Man theory of history, one person came extremely close to crushing Rome in the struggle for dominion over the Mediterranean, successfully fighting his way across the Italian peninsular for 15 years with an outnumbered and mismatched army of Gauls, Iberians, Numidians, Libyans, Latins and Moors only held together by his genius.

As the name would suggest, Hannibal really is the star of the show of Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War. More than the highest rated general in the game, Hannibal possesses the ability to make strategic movements that would be impossible or result in crippling attrition for other generals and can utilise special ‘Punic Trick’ cards that represent his ability to pull off devastating ambushes such as at Lake Trasimene or envelopments such as the famous, and studied by military theoreticians millennia later, Battle of Cannae. Indeed, of the game’s generals only Scipio Africanus (who eventually succeeded where many other Romans failed) comes vaguely close. Unfortunately, like the real Hannibal you must also deal with a Carthaginian Senate that isn’t quite as brilliant as yourself and has its own (obviously inferior) strategic plans and ambitions that don’t always fall in line with the player’s. This is a feature that is turned off on lower difficulties but is required for full simulation of Hannibal’s very real problem of having to convince and cajole the naïve and greedy Carthaginian politicians back home into sending him adequate reinforcements and support. Historically, the short-sighted Senate of Carthage neglected to spend on providing Hannibal the reinforcements he needed to take Rome as they believed that his military victories were more than enough to secure a peace beneficial to Carthage and were reluctant to commit to total war. When reinforcements did arrive, they proved too little and much too late. In-game success however will increase the Senate’s trust in Hannibal, making them more likely to agree to your plans while failures will make them more liable to ignore you and make their own decisions.

Thankfully the game's in-depth tutorial left me feeling confident enough to immediately leap into hard mode, which results in a keener Roman AI and the aforementioned Senatorial political management. While it will still likely take the player a game or two to completely get the hang of things and learn what is generally a good idea and what is generally not, adequate contextual information at the mouse click and a comprehensive in-game manual is available to clarify any doubts about the game’s mechanics. Hannibal plays somewhat like a board game, with the player (and AI) drawing a new ‘card’ at the end of every campaign turn or after defeating an enemy. These cards have a wide range of potential effects from ‘Gallic Insurrection’, a Carthaginian card which sees Roman forces stationed in Cisalpine Gaul lose strength and possibly territory to revolting Gauls (how much varying on Roman strength in the region) , to ‘Scratch Legions’, a Roman card that allows the AI to immediately conjure up two legions in addition to normal recruiting during the turn, a representation of Rome’s aggressive and extra-ordinary utilisation of manpower during the Second Punic War. While powerful cards such as ‘Syracuse Revolts’ are obvious game changers, even seemingly weaker ones (for instance a card that makes the Senate more likely to follow your recommendation that turn) can be extremely helpful in the right circumstance. Much of the strategy of the game derives from the timely and cunning use of cards.

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Gauls provide fearsome tribal warriors to swell the Carthaginian ranks. However their ill-discipline makes them unable to rally if routed.

Perhaps the most stand-out feature of this game is its AI. Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War features AI quite unlike anything I’ve seen in a turn-based strategy game. I’m not strictly talking about difficulty here, though the AI is astute and generally capable in exploiting player weaknesses. Each general possesses a different behaviour based upon that commander’s historic personality. For instance the aggressive Marcellus will instinctively try and take Hannibal head on in the field while the cautious Fabius, who earned the nickname ‘Delayer’ due to his initially unpopular strategy of avoiding direct battle with Hannibal, will be extremely reluctant to attack unless he possesses overwhelming force. Winning great victories with Hannibal also increases the AI’s caution over time who start the game reckless and overconfident but tend to become more cautious and cunning as the game progresses. This system grants generals a lot more personality than other games in the genre, where choices of officers usually only result in different statistical bonuses and zero change to behaviour, priorities and actual strategy. One learns to be wary of worthy foes such as Scipio Africanus while it is difficult to resist rubbing your hands together in delight when the incompetent Sempronius blindly leads a large force to its almost certain demise against you.

[​IMG]
Syracuse is a highly useful ally based in Sicily who begin the game allied with Rome. Both the Carthaginians and Romans (if Syracuse defects to Carthage) possess cards that attempt to sway them to their side.

While Rome wins the game if Carthage falls and vice versa if Rome is captured, there is also a points system which can determine that, even if he has been unable to capture Rome, Hannibal has won enough victories to force even the stubborn Romans to come to the peace table. Overall the strategic situation is not too dissimilar from Operation Barbarossa. You possess a massive initial advantage in the form of Hannibal that will allow you to score great victories early in the game. However defeating armies doesn’t grant control of Rome, so Hannibal will soon be sucked into sieges that can prove bloody and time-consuming Meanwhile, the Romans slowly learn from their defeats and utilise more competent commanders and strategies. They also possess greater production than Carthage, allowing them to either accumulate huge forces to counter-attack or bunker down in Italy further. The player (and AI) still have a great amount of freedom in their operation though. Instead of the famous crossing of the Alps, you could instead attempt a landing in Southern Italy and speedy march to Rome. Or focus on attaining naval parity with the Romans (at the expense of soldier recruitment) for the first few turns and then utilising your fleet to allow a direct landing at Rome, skipping the slog across Italy entirely. There are always plenty of options available and tough choices to make.

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Rome under siege. If the Romans decide to sally Hannibal will be outnumbered and unable to utilise his Punic Trick cards as it is a siege, not a field battle. Generally, the inability to deploy Punic Tricks makes sieges more challenging than field battles for the player.

Special mention must go to Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War's production values. The soundtrack is an excellent one and the varied flute and drum compositions are both pleasant to the ear and immersive, something I can appreciate after being exposed to one too many bombastic symphonies and aggressive (also ahistorical) ‘epicness’ that is common amongst the genre. There are lots of nice touches, like the worried squabbling of the Senate in Latin during the Roman turn. The interface is also excellent, having a great aesthetic style alongside on-demand tool tips for everything the player could want to know. While the game is not cheap at around USD 40 a download (currency exchange rates depending), which can be compared to the mid-USD 20s of Alea Jacta Est, the attention to detail and extra effort in these departments does help to soften the blow. The level of replay value to be gotten out of this will depend on how enthusiastic you are to attempt different strategies and ploys, as the game unfortunately lacks a Roman campaign. While Rome may be easier than Carthage and the player would likely be able to easily escape making the same (historical) mistakes as the AI does in the early-game it is still an odd omission, especially considering a lot of the mechanics are already present and the robust finish of the rest of the game indicates that the game was not rushed or troubled in development. Still, on its interesting AI and satisfying mechanics I feel confident to recommend this rather unique title to anyone with an interest in the period and a taste for strategic dilemmas.

Summary
-Challenging and historical AI
-Board game-esque mechanics
-High level of polish
-$40
-No Roman campaign?

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