Age of Hannibal is a set of rules from the Little Wars Tv crew. I have been trying out various multi-player rules sets for ancients games every so often (with the same Dark Age figures) as an experiment. This was a rules set which was recommended by several of the local group members. So, I put my money down and got the PDF, then printed off the cards etc required for the game.
As an intro the game is based on Chipco rules, which are in turn somewhat based on the WRG/DBM line. The system has very little drastically new or radical in it but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I fact overall they seem to be decent package and has some interesting aspects to it. Let me go through briefly a few key points about the system. There are other ‘better’ reviews out there on the details of the rules so I’ll just give a summary.
Each a base is a unit, and units lined up edge and corner to corner can be groups and move together. Base sizes are not important as long as they consistent. It uses inches for movement. I think it likely works better for square bases but sort of work ok for the DBA rectangles we used. It’s a firm I-go-U-go system where a player moves and fights with his units and then the opponent does. The inactive player is involved though, rolling die in combat etc. A commander has a certain number of command points which you can command a unit or a group of units. Commander bases (you typically have a 1 to 3 for a force) give a free move to units/groups they are part of. There u no in command range though which saves a lot of measuring.
Different types of troops have combat factors, move distances and some special abilities which differentiates them from others. They can have some special abilities as well – like being elite or having javelins as examples. In this case it’s D10’s not D6’s for all rolls in the game. Range combat is an unopposed die roll, but is pretty weak and hard to kill things outright generally with ranged fire alone. Close Combat is done with opposed rolls, with the players adding/taking away some modifiers, such as uphill, support etc. In close combat, doubling the opposing result kills an opponents unit. Otherwise, the loser takes ‘a demoralization’, with 2 of these and the unit retreats and dies if it can’t fully complete the retreat. When it reaches 3 the unit is dead.
The rules do have some differentiating factors though and those are important. The first and most obvious is the interesting table setup system using cards, which does give a cool starting point for the game. I really like this and it gives an simple mechanism for creating a table which has some terrain but is not overpowering. Ancient battles did have terrain but it often is downplayed in games – other than the tournament level ones such as ADLG. I say though that this shows a weakness in the rules as well. Although fairly well created the rules show they are ‘fan authored’ a little in this area and without watching the video they put up for the terrain layout you’ll get it wrong from the written rules alone. Not a big item but I’ll mention that again in my summary below.
We used the system I’m the book and hat generated the table below for us. That’s not bad for a basic and quick table setup using our poor club terrain.
This game was using the Romano-British vs local Scottish/PICT tribes and as you can see we used an awful lot of bases figs in this 4 player game. The forces were balanced in the points system in the rules, Another difference between this set and many games is that this one has a command clock. Which means that rather than rolling a die you start with 9 command pips for moving units and then that drops during the game. That is done by determining the loser of each half turn (a players move. The losing sides counter drops one point. You also loose points for generals being killed. So, at the end of each players turn you work out which player lost that turn and they lose one of these command pips. Once down to 4 commands bad things start to happen to a forces morale and units take additional hits as they continue to lose morale. Note you determine who loses by keeping track of losses in combat, and units destroyed each turn. It sounds intrusive but is not too much bookkeeping really if done with counters etc.during a turn.
This is an interesting mechanism which means that the game will start to end quick quickly when a force really starts to lose. It also means the commander will have less options and control of the army as things start to go wrong. This ‘feels right’ after reading various ancient battles so is a nice effect.
In our game the first few turns were filled with both forces moving towards each other. The move rates are such as that even on a 4 x 6 table it won’t take more than a couple of turns before combat starts – as was the case with us. Heavy infantry are a little slower but still can move at a decent pace.
Movement is also pretty standard with forward, wheels and obliques up to 45 degrees easy to do and fast. Some units such as skirmishers and light horse being able to move anywhere they want as you might expect with such troops. Reverse moves and sideways are very slow though – no detailed British army drill here for complex moves which again to me makes sense. If troops don’t have command pips spent on them they can turn on the spot for free though.
In our game the Scottish tribal light cavalry skirted the rough hill around the forest to help their force using their easy movement, while the remaining forces continued to move forward at a steady pace. As there was no combat no commands had been impacted at the command pip level so far..
At this point in the game we had our first strategy come up – that was a flank attack by the Picts. These strategies are part of the deployment and terrain layout. We did this a little wrong (having too many per side), but we sorted things out. Anyway, they came in on their left flank, which caused some major issues for the Romano-British. The Romano-British screen of medium and light cavalry and spear line were now awfully exposed – and flanked, while facing the chariots and supporting infantry!
Unperturbed though by such trifling matters, those Romano-British cavalry charged into combat. The medium cavalry hitting the chariots while the lights fought lights. This is where the another aspect of the game comes in. The turn sequence is rally, range shooting, movement, close combat and then check morale for the turn loser etc. So before you do anything in a turn turn you do is try to rally all your units. This is a single roll of a D10 against a target number for the unit. Usually the target is between 5 to 8. The target depends on the style of unit, with negative modifiers for the number of hits (1 or 2) and if they are accompanied by a general/commander. But unlike many games every units tries to rally if they have a disruption/hit on them. Also, if the roll succeeds then all the hits for the unit are removed. A failure has no effect. So units which looked to be quite worse for wear can suddenly be ok at the start of your turn. It’s not always the case but we found it an important factor in combats at times.
After a couple a turns of combat, one of the Romano-British light horse was destroyed and the other had a hit, while the medium cavalry although they were flanked kept in the fight for quite a while. Eventually though numbers mattered and the Picts would win here but it did give the Romano-British some hope they may yet hold this flank..
Below is a shot of the full table at this stage. By this time the Romano-British have moved up between the steep hills – where their archers were now placed. Their main strength of their spearmen were focused on the multiple ranks of tribesmen in front of them. At the top you can see the Pict tribes working to get around the flank of the Roman lines. At the bottom of the picture you can see the Romano-British cavalry starting forward, with support from a group of spearmen on the hill. Those spearmen were put on the table after deployment as they were started in a hidden position at the start of the game.
The two sides skirmish screen had engaged and the Scots/Picts had come out on top. The skirmishers don’t impact winning/losing a turn but they can inflict an annoying hit or two on the main units before they engage which happened in this game.
The Pict flank charge had a massive effect the plans on Roman-British on that flank. The Romano-British used a strategy for adding some difficult ground in front of them, to help reduce the effect and impact of the Pict attack. We used a village base for that as it worked well. The small set of building which would seriously affect any frontal attacks from the tribal warband. But this did not stop one of the units moving around to the rear of the Romano-British line in a couple of turns. The lack of spare command pip’s, and no second line, meant that this flank of spearmen where a holding action at best. The hope that more units come up to help where they could. However, they were getting flanked and wrapped around which was not good. Any combat advantage they had vs the warband was lost when flanked or attacked in the rear…
The first lines of both sides infantry hit and quickly started taking hits. However, the exposed flank meant that on average the Romano-British started to loose the turns even though they were fighting hard and winning (slightly) in the center. In this rule set the difference between warband to Spear armed foot is not that dramatic – a +1 difference on A d10. It’s worse though as the warband get an extra +1 if they charge. So like ADLG (compared to say Hail Caesar or DBA) positioning and support matters as much in combat than the types of unit. The the center was a mess with various units fighting each other to a standstill. The impetuous nature of the warbands split up their forces more though, so that even when they made a breakthrough that unit usually was destroyed by the second line of Romano-British spearmen. Several rules in this game encourage the use of multiple lines – with a decent gap between them.
Romano-British had a strategy of their own though to try to make the difference in the game. They had nominated the rough hill on the other side for the steep hill (the bottom hill on the picture below) to contain an ambush of their cavalry. The strung this and charged out into the Picts and Scot tribesman. However, although this may be a great concept, the hill by this point was nearly swarmed by the Northmen. This meant that the cavalry from the rough hill could not get clear of the terrain in their surprise attack. Not having the space and movement to get clear and hit the Scots/Picts at full power really blunted that attack.
Their only real success was one of the lance armed units which did break through the Scottish lines and started charging down the flank of a line of units. However, eventually even it came a little unstuck as it did not kill one unit and ended up being flanked itself and stuck in a slog of a fight.
The other Romano-British cavalry had also got through the rough fields by the side of the hill the ambush had been sprung from. Cavalry going through the rough going was an interesting tactic but one which did not pay off in the end it seemed. They had taken too long to get through. Also, the Scottish cavalry on this flank that had spent the whole game kind of locked in behind the infantry. Now finally they had a target and they turned to face the Romano-British horse coming out of the terrain. So the Scots had some units to contain this move out of terrain anyway.
On the other side the Picts had pushed up their flank attack and their chariots had wiped out the Romano-British horse. This was bad news for the Romano-British spearmen on that side and they were now losing the quite comprehensively. Even the archers on the steep hill were pushed off with some aggressive attacks up the hill by the Scots warbands.
That turn mean that the battle clocks for command and morale scores were now 4 to 7 in favour of the Picts/Scots. That means the Romano-British force get an extra number of demoralization/hits – 25% of the units in the force to put on the remaining units. Luckily, it was the end of the Scots turn so at the start of the Romano-British turn they could rally off some of these. It was clear though that the Romano-British needed some victorious turns now or there was no coming back for them. That turn had limited fights but in the key one the lance armed Romano-British cavalry which had been rolling up the Scots died. So again the Romano-British lost the turn. With them now 3 to 7 they had to put add an extra demoralization/hits to 50% of their units. They started to have units just melt away and it was clear there was little chance of them coming back. So the Scots/Picts were the winners so we called the game at this point.
We had a fun game and got to a conclusion in approx 3 hours of play with 40+ units on each side and 4 players – with us all learning the rules. That has to be said to be a success. We did a few things wrong but nothing that serious. The successful Pict flank march vs. the failed Romano-British cavalry ambush from the hills and rough ground made the difference. I suspect in future games people will be more wary of flanks for sure…
So, overall what were the thoughts on this set?
Well they play fast and for those used and like to the ADLG/DBA style games they are a fast play, not as formal version which give a decent game without too much fuss, especially for multi-player games. There is not a lot of differentiation between troop compared to some rules sets and that may be an issue for some. I also don’t think they would play as well for smaller games or competitive players – they are designed for big games and loads of toys on the table. The shared and reducing command points means that players on a side have to co-operate for what to move. You may see that as an issue, personally I don’t but it means things can slow down as they discuss moves and priorities etc. It could lead to issues though if people on a side are not of a similar mindset.
For other points I do like the terrain setup and I may even steal that for other games in time. The extra demoralization’s as the force starts to lose is a nice touch and works well to reflect the army collapsing without having to have a formal break point or some such item.
That said there are some minor negative points with these rules. I have to say the production is definitely fan based. That goes to the rules writing style as well which is quite openly written. We had quite a few questions on aspects of the rules and some discussion on what they meant. Their video’s help but there really does not seem much support for this rule set. I asked questions on their website and got no answers. There also is no forum etc for discussions, so I suspect your on your own with them if you have issues. I actually got some answers to my questions when I bought the chipco rules which they are based upon, which adds to my comments above. So, I’d not recommend the rules for beginners rules lawyers . That’s ok as that’s not their target market and as long as you realize you are buying someones house customization of an old rule set then that’s fine – it’s just an item to be aware of.
Another thing to be aware of is that the rules work for any basing but you can tell they really work better and are designed for square bases. Using DBX bases kind of works but left some oddness at times, especially when moving from line to column etc. Note, as a final point the rules do have a siege aspect which we did not explore at all so I can’t really comment on them. They could be fun as well though…
So as a final verdict, will host more games with these rules? Maybe yes, and that’s much more likely than the Sword and Spear rules which we tried previously. I will say from memory these rules are sort of level with Hail Caesar in style and play, but we will play those next to give another comparison for the big multi-player games.