Hamilcar the Thunderbolt
Who was Hamilcar?
Hamilcar was Hannibal’s father. A great military and political leader. A man with vision. And a man who considered to have an unsettled bill with the Romans. His three sons, known as Lion’s Breed, were the main commanders in a war that was supposed to settle that bill.
HAMILCAR is a game based on the First Punic War using mechanics known from HANNIBAL. And there is a few good reasons why a strategic First Punic War game based on Hannibal has waited so many years to see the light.
Alan R. Arvold’s variant in the General, published nineteen years ago, has more or less defined public expectations with regard to Hamilcar. Apart from all the events and generals it added to the game (which I will cover later), it introduced two important concepts.
First: the theater of war was limited to the eastern part of the map.
Second: naval warfare has been abstracted and represented by the concept of Naval Supremacy.
Both had their shortcomings.
The limited theater of operations led to repeated head-to-head encounters between two powers, something actually quite rare in the war (only 4 pitched battles). Use of the unaltered Hannibal map didn’t help. There just wasn’t enough space for maneuvering. Abstracted naval warfare was heavily dependent on luck and failed to represent both sides’ efforts to keep the upper hand on the seas. Naval movement employed even more modifiers than in Hannibal. One of them was based on the presence (or lack of), of a corvus (a boarding device similar to bridge) on Roman ships, which arrival in the game was tied to arrival of Gaius Duilius as a Consul (he was the one to introduce that weapon of sorts). This in turn was very much luck based and in many games, the corvus has never appeared or appeared too late to make a difference.
Apparently when a second attempt at the design of Hamilcar was made, the shortcomings were noted. The game was now expanded to include the naval system. Some of the player’s effort was thus redirected into building and maintaining fleets. The concept of seamanship was introduced but it was presented as yet another negative modifier to the Romans with no possibility to influence it. The same was true for corvus, which remained introduced just only after the arrival of Duilius.
The game was now also expanded to make use of the whole map as seen in Hannibal. But not a single connection or city was altered. And it was perfectly possible for the Carthaginians to march on Rome in what would be future Hannibal’s route over the Alps. That was what we would call an ahistorical insight. The game also heavily relied on the Hannibal card deck. In fact, there were only three new events introduced, compared to the old General’s variant, while two cards from the variant were removed. This game was supposed to be printed on the other side of the Hannibal board in what was supposed to be Valley Games' new project: Hamilcar. First Punic War.
When we took over the project, we thoughtfully examined and playtested it. And to our disappointment, we weren’t in a position to publish the game as it was. Also Mark wasn’t much impressed that the design relied so heavily on the variant from the General. We could understand the business reasons Valley Games was willing to do so (in essence: selling again the same product in a different packaging), but we had other ambitions. We just couldn’t dress the old variant in new clothes and offer as a new game. That was against our integrity. Mark agreed to this point of view.
We weren't’ impressed with the look of the board neither. It was overcrowded with tables, tracks, and drawings. In turn, the important stuff - provincial boundaries and connections between cities - were hardly visible. The setup markings on the board were overwhelming and created confusion during play (red and blue space borders are only relevant at start). Add to this a cumbersome Carthaginian die, which was both ahistorical and hard to read. The game also offered even more expanded modifier-based naval system. Oh no…
Other game and history related issues had to be addressed too. We quickly started to work on the art and on the game itself. And that process took us a year.
Today, with much of anxiety, I am presenting where we are with Hamilcar and why the game looks and plays the way it does.
Third time’s charm?
Let’s start with the theater. In this case, we went back to basics for we were with agreement with Arnold Arvin's approach, that the game should be limited to the Tyrrhenian Sea and immediate surroundings. The First Punic War was an elephant vs whale conflict during which the elephant learned how to swim. The outer rim of islands (Corsica, Sardinia, Sicilia) limited Rome’s expansion not only towards Spain but also towards Greece as there were no ports of importance on the Adriatic, which is a difficult sea to dominate too (lots of islands, strange wind patterns, and the relative ease with which any move out of the sea could be blocked - exactly the reason why Venice controlled the littoral at a great expense). Geopolitically, it was much similar to the current conflict on the China - USA line.
We quickly determined that we needed to leave out Spain, Gaul, and the western parts of Numidia. Those territories were out of the scope at the time and any operations there would be just ahistorical. They came into play once the first act of the competition was completed. Spain was conquered by Carthage as a result of lost war. Romans become interested in the Gaul once they secured the southern flank. Hannibal might have been inspired to march across Alps by a similar feat of his father, who marched across northern Africa to reach the Pillars of Hercules.
The stake in the first game between Rome and Carthage were three islands in the middle of what became the board,with Sicily being the main prize both due to its position and its wealth and political importance. That was exactly the reason something had to be done to Sicily if she was to serve as a focal point for the campaign.
It became clear to us that both Lilybaeum and Agrigentum deserve to be turned into walled cities. Both were put under very long, repeated sieges and effectively removed from map in the process. Their existence as walled cities would also allow more historical Carthaginian play: keep the cities and drag the Romans to the western parts of the island to bleed them dry in sieges and guerilla warfare. One of the early playtest pictures shows the new Sicily. You can also see that Catana was introduced to allow for some maneuver on the island. This wasn’t enough, so gradually the map for Sicily was redrawn until it reached the final layout.
Let’s now turn to the naval system. The original Hannibal naval system was based on the assumption that Rome enjoyed naval superiority and relative security on the seas while there were risks for Carthage. This wasn’t true for the First Punic War, which was a naval matter in the first place. The General’s variant has totally abstracted naval warfare as I wrote above. The VG edition tried to tweak Hannibal’s system to fit the changed strategic situation. This in turn led to the introduction of more and more naval die roll modifiers. The naval system had a naval move subsystem and naval battle subsystem and both of them had a large number of variables. For a long time we went that route trying to build the set of modifiers so they would prevent an immediate landing of both involved armies right at enemy capitals. It took a lot of time and playtesting to reach the conclusion that the system is unfit to represent the First Punic War naval engagement and strategies. We were in agreement with Mark, that we need something different.
Wind from the East. I’ve studied the naval strategies and flow of campaigns during the conflict, and it became clear that a less abstract system is required. Navies of the time were very much tied to shores. They travelled in the day and spent the night on the beach. This both limited their range and made them dependent on friendly bays in the area of their operations. It struck me that a system which takes above into account actually exists, and it was designed by the very designer who produced Hannibal: Mark Simonitch in his very next game! It became obvious that Mark faced the same design challenge when he was working on Successors. So I decided to draw inspiration from that system. This is how sea lanes came to existence and their introduction of was both a major breakthrough and a step in a historically justified direction. And that was a departure point for the rest of settling the naval matters.
Hamilcar comes of age
Naval movement. The rest of the system took considerably longer to design. At the beginning naval moves were only initiated with cards worth 3 Operational Points and the fleets had maximum size of 5. As soon as both limits were removed the game turned out to work very nicely. The surprising naval operations are now more frequent and navies are harder to build. Introduction of ‘stormy lanes’ was the final step, which then helped to make quick moves, using shortcuts more risky than the slow advance along the coast. Lipari Islands were added as they seemed to be an important outpost, which control was essential for the Roman force wishing to enter Sicilian waters or Carthaginian one trying to leave them. A strait was removed between Corsica and Sardinia as we believed that would help to better represent the fact, operations in those islands required involvement of naval assets.
Seamanship. Roman Seamanship is now a variable. It may improve or decrease. Mounting or dismounting the corvus is also a decision by a Roman player, provided he has an Admiral to introduce the change. Using corvus now means less seaworthy ships but better tactical efficiency. Just as it was in reality. It very much reminded us the scene from the movie ‘Midway’ when Japanese Admiral decides to arm his attack planes with bombs, then re-arm with torpedoes only to be caught unprepared. We wanted the decision of mounting or dismounting a corvus to be an important one.
Naval Battles. A decision had to be made also about how the naval battles would be fought. An idea of using or adopting Hannibal’s battle deck was unanimously discarded as we wanted to make game shorter rather than longer than Hannibal. A modified die roll was discarded as we didn’t want to create another modifiers check list. At the same time we wanted unpredictable battles and feeling of anxiety on the player’s part. We’ve devised no less than 20 various battle systems until I arrived at something that ticked my boxes. Mark gave the system final polishing. There is a decision in each battle, un-predictiveness and some luck, which was sometimes a deciding factor in naval encounters of the era (represented by 18 naval battle cards).
Supremacy. We kept the concept of Naval Supremacy but gave it not only operational but also political importance. In the operational dimension, the player, who enjoys Supremacy is able to intercept enemy naval moves at larger distances. In political dimension, having Supremacy is equal to controlling a province (and gives a VP) observing the fact that Ancient people considered the Seas another realm. Both players have now a real reason to compete on the seas.
VP distribution. Two more decisions have been made with regard to that competition. Control of Samnium was rendered irrelevant when it comes to determining a winner, Samnium being too distant a province to have any impact. This was countered by increasing VP yield for Sicily. Control of the whole island gives now a player an extra VP. That, from the retrospective, explains why Roman control of Messana was a thorn in Carthaginian body - in game terms it deprived them of a VP. At the same time, it explains why Carthage defence of Lilybaeum was so determined - it was the last city not controlled by Romans and if they took it, they would be granted another VP.
Miat. There is yet another ‘offboard’ entity, which control gives a VP to Carthage. The Hundred and Four (Miat) was a Carthaginian council which enjoyed almost tyrannical powers and only future reforms of Hannibal curbed its influence. In the game, Miat must be influenced by a player in order to increase military spending (more units and generals). If enough influence is gathered, Miat yields a VP to Carthage player representing the political will to continue the war.
OP spending. Miat now allows for the OP (Operational Points) to be spent elsewhere, not just for PC placement. We went further that road and allowed the OP to be spent on:
- Naval builds (ship construction and refit).
- Collecting war supplies (a concept, which Mark believes will be very popular with the players).
- Introducing two important leaders.
War Supplies. These are a form of Operational Queue, known from For the People but the work slightly different. In essence, whenever playing a card for PC placement, a player may decide to ‘save and store’ some of the OP from the card in the form of Supply Train (also referred to as Supplies). Each OP saved this way is placed in chosen walled city controlled by the player or with his army. Supply Train behaves just as Siege Train with the exception, that it can be taken from the enemy in Siege or in battle. Supplies may be spent to increase the value of played cards, for land and naval movement. A card must always be played for activation but the balance may be covered with Supplies. Supply can be captured when the city is taken or when left behind by a retreating army.
How much are mercenaries? In the General’s variant Xanthippus was represented by an Event, which required a separate passage in the rules. In VG version, Xanthippus (with 3 combat units) arrived as a Carthage general, also via card. In both cases a further Roman play of the same card removed Xanthippus from play. As Mark has observed, this created two problems: both arrival of Mr X. and his departure was totally luck based. In fact, hiring of Xanthippus required expense of considerable financial reserves. He was an expensive mercenary. This might have been very well a reason, he was quickly dismissed despite being successful against the Romans and repelling their assault at the city of Carthage.
There were also costs associated with calling in Hamilcar Barca to take command in Sicily. This time, the cost was political. Hamilcar was from House of Barca, a family, which wasn’t at best terms with the ruling House of Hanno. Thus in order to summon Xanthippus, Carthage player has to expand Operational Points which spent otherwise would allow mobilizing more troops or ships. Hamilcar will arrive late in the game, if political concessions aren’t made. This again means expenditure of Operational Points.
Last but not least
Last fix. Hamilcar required one more fix. This is considerably shorter game compared to Hannibal. The latter is played in 9 turns and sees a total of 144 card plays (excluding Battle Cards). Hamilcar lasts only for 7 turns and the total number of card plays is 102. This translates into a shorter game (if we take 5 minutes per turn for the interphase and battles and just 1 minute for a card play, Hannibal can be estimated at 3hrs. As such a game of Hamilcar shouldn’t take longer than 2,5 hours). There is a downside to the lower number of cards in play. The probability of bad draws deciding the game is much higher. Hence a concept of War Chest, which is in a way a balancing mechanism which has historical reasoning behind it. This is how it works:
War Chest. At the end of each turn Players add value of all the OPs played by each of them player and compare their totals. The balance must be covered by removing or adding Supply or PCs. Starting with the player who spent more OP: he may remove any Supplies or PCs from the board, reducing the difference. Unless there is no further difference, the other player may then place the balance of onto the map in the form of Supplies or PCs. In reality, increased activity of one side of the conflict, usually triggered more military expenditure on the other side. And that’s how the War Chest works.
End note. I need to wrap up here. There is still an update on the Generals waiting to be written. I hope above summarizes the Hamilcar story well and gives you enough insight into how the game works. As I write these words the work is well advanced when it comes to the rulebook and scenario book. Those will be published as soon as possible.
Thank you and happy gaming.