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Posted on Nov 29, 2005 in Boardgames

Carthage – Boardgame Review

By Chris A. Cornaghie

The Carthaginian player is not without difficulties; his leaders stay in command of an army until destroyed or recalled to Carthage after a defeat to discuss his short term plans. Both players decide if they wish (and are allowed) to increase or build new land units or build fleets; but not both.

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An example of the opening moves of "The Mercenary War 241 B.C." scenario. This is the first and smallest of the scenarios of Carthage and as none of the political, naval or manpower rules are used it is quick and is essential to adequately learn the continuous movement/attrition that is the vital element of the game. The above situation has brought into play the rules of interception, avoidance and coordinated attacks, as well as combat. The Mercenary player has moved Matho first, captured two towns in Carthage province and raised an additional 5,300 rebellious Libyans. By moving a small force, he has not lost any troops to attrition. The next move turned out to be another Mercenary leader, Spendius, who with the remainder of the Mercenary army moved past Matho, captured another town and raised 3,800 more men. Now the LAM of Hanno the Great has been drawn and the Carthaginian has several options. The scenario can be played and should be played several times, a firm understanding of the basic rules is critical before proceeding on, and this situation can be intriguing.

Phase C; The Initiative phase consists of placing LAMs (Leader Activation Marker) in an opaque cup and randomly drawing one at a time. Each leader has an initiative rating which is the number of LAMs which go into the cup, poor leaders have a 1, better leaders 2 or 3, great leaders such as Hannibal have a 4. Also placed in the cup are 1-3 siege attrition markers and the augury marker. When one of these is drawn, either siege attrition takes place or a roll is made on the augury table. The augury table has 26 different results (revolts, bad weather, etc) and adds some spice and uncertainty to each turn. After all actions are finished as a result of that draw, another is made until all markers have been drawn, but the order is always different. As the Romans have so many leaders, named LAMs are not used but rather LAMs equal to the initiative ratings of the leaders in that office that year are placed in the cup. (Ex. The Roman consuls for the year have initiative ratings of 1 and 2, so three Consul LAMs are placed in the cup. The Roman could move either Consul when a Consul LAM is drawn, but cannot move a leader more times than his initiative rating.) This does give the Roman a bit more strategic and game options. While essentially a two player game, the use of LAMs will allow for multiple commanders who each may have their own ideas as to the path to victory. (Nah! Roman Consuls always cooperated fully with each other with a view toward the greater good).

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Agothocles, 311 B.C., the second scenario of Carthage; initial positions in Sicily. Naval rules, Carthaginian manpower and political rules are used, again an excellent learning situation on a limited scale. The African map is also used, so both sides have some interesting strategic choices.

Phase D; The player who controls the leader for the LAM drawn may conduct movement and combat for that leader’s force. Have you played a game where the movement factors for each unit have been 15 or 20 or even higher? Most of the game is spent quietly listening to you or your opponent count number sequences under their breath (3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 etc) as each unit is moved through hexes with various terrain or ZOCs. Does it drive you to distraction? Guess what? There are no movement allowances in Carthage! In addition, although the map has a hex grid, it used only to note the path of a moving land force, not count distance. Instead a leader moves his force of strength points and accumulates attrition points for moving through provinces, across rivers or in rough terrain only. When the move is finished, depending on the distance moved and the size of the force, a loss may be incurred. Of even more importance, after the move is done and attrition taken (if any), the leader may roll for continuation; success is a roll less than the leader’s campaign rating, and gives the option to move again under the same provisions. If constantly successful with continuation rolls the leader’s force may move many times, and intersperse that movement with overrunning small enemy forces, capturing towns and even fighting one or more major battles. While continuous movement techniques have been used in other games, it was mainly tactical and for the most part did not work well. In this system, Mr. Berg has created the ability to plan a campaign for a leader and then try to carry it out. A small force which makes several short moves, if successful with continuation, can move a long distance with no loss; conversely a large force moving even a short distance will lose some strength points. As opposed to other games, the best part is that players may not retrace a movement after committing to an action, so it forces a little preliminary thinking. It is so annoying when a player counts out a movement, doesn’t like the position, recounts his move in a different way etc. The enemy forces along your path may attempt to avoid combat, intercept or even ambush your force and/or combine forces against you. If you attain a sufficient victory in a battle, you may attempt to continue; but if you fail, you must halt.

Combat is by a single roll of a ten sided die, but with a plethora of modifiers such as odds ratio, leadership differential, cavalry superiority, elite units, elephants, and the guile of your leader. The result will note a percentage loss for each force, but battles can also result in an "unpredictable result" which means that the die is rolled again, with a much wider variation possible; a small force may inflict a harsh result on a much larger force. An odd circumstance is that cavalry efficiency is affected by rough terrain, but elephants are not; I suppose they are not bothered by stomping through the bushes. All in all, for a strategic game the combat system works well; however, with such detail, a short tactical battle would have been great, maybe as an add-on. If you lost a battle, your force may be spent for this year, even if your leader has LAMs remaining to be drawn.

This phase will definitely use the majority of actual time in a yearly turn.

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The initial positions of the Mamertines, a Carthaginian fleet and the Consular Army of A. Claudius Caudex which is prepared to cross from Rhegium to Messina. Thus begins the First Punic War. Only a small part of the scenario which will take several game sessions. Try this only after you have confidently mastered the first two situations, as the addition of the Roman Political System and Manpower Rules can be daunting.

The Naval Rules come in two flavors, the sea superiority system of the basic rules and the advanced naval rules of the Carthage scenario booklet. The advanced rules are really better at presenting the maritime struggle which was such a large part of the First Punic War. Each player may raise fleets, train crews, raid the enemy coast and of course fight naval battles. The Roman player may equip his squadrons with the unique innovation of the "corvus" which improves combat efficiency at the cost of making the fleet more susceptible to loss in storms. Another nice innovation is that there are no transport ships; rather each port has a transport capacity always on hand for use by land forces. Depending on the distance moved, naval squadrons and land forces moving by sea can be subject to storm and scatter as well as interception by the enemy naval units. As with land forces, movement and attrition is done one group at a time although other forces may be picked up depending on rank of the leader.

Phase E; Augury Phase, roll on augury table when this is drawn.

F. Devastation Phase and G. End Turn Phase; These phases cover devastation recovery, attempts to devastate a province, attrition for forces which remained in a province the entire year, training of legions and fleets, recovery from battle, and return all fleets to port. All of these can be done quickly by each player.

Opinion:

The official GMT statement on Carthage ends with "Detailed and demanding, it provides players with a highly playable level of insight, decision-making and just pure Fun." Carthage is certainly well researched, and definitely detailed, but is only highly playable at a base level and "just pure fun" could be a stretch. Perhaps "challenging" would have been a more apt description, as "demanding" is not what the average gamer wants to hear and, as such, Carthage is not for the casual gamer. Rather, Carthage should be considered in the greater context of The Ancient World system. The amount of time needed to master the game will hopefully be rewarded as more volumes are added; perhaps The Peloponnesian War, Alexander the Great, Caesar’s Conquests, Marius vs Sulla, Spartacus and all the Roman Civil Wars. So if your night time reading includes Polybius, Livy, Plutarch and Thucydides, this is definitely for you.

Armchair General Score- 76%

28/40 — Gameplay
15/15 — Components
17/20 — Rules/Documentation
10/15 — Replay Value
06/10 — General’s Rating

GMT’s Carthage web page.

Author’s Information;

Chris A. Cornaghie is a practicing attorney in Memphis, Tennessee. His introduction to wargaming began with U-Boat by Avalon Hill in 1960, which he still plays from time to time. He has played all the classic AH, SPI, GDW, Battleline, Yaquinto, GMT, Columbia and many other wargame titles. Luckily he found a hardcore group of wargamers in college who have continued to meet through graduation, law school, marriages, birth of children and divorces (not necessarily due to gaming). Throughout it all the one constant has not been baseball, but wargaming. The group has playtested for many game companies over the years (and still does) and he has co-authored articles for the AH General and Fire and Movement. A history major, he is always interested in any game on ancient or Roman periods.

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