Monday, 7 April 2008

Hannibal, Pandemic, and two Blue Moons

On Fri 4 Apr, Han came for an evening boardgame session, which is rare. We usually play on Saturday afternoons. We played Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Pandemic, and two games of Blue Moon.

This was my 2nd time playing Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, and Han's third time. The last time we played was about 5 months ago, in November. I had to read the rules all over again. Hannibal is a more complex game than what we usually play. Even after having done some revision, we still had to look up the rules many times when we played. There were still too many details that we were not familiar with. But we felt that at least we were starting to have some grasp on strategy. Well, at least we'd like to think of it that way.

This time we swapped sides, I played the Romans and Han played Carthage. As per history, Hannibal crossed the Alps and came to Italy to terrorise the peasants, and Rome tried to focus more on exerting political influence, since Rome didn't have a powerful general like Hannibal yet. I didn't completely shy away from Mr. Hannibal all the time, and did try to sieze the opportunities to attack the invading Carthaginians when the odds were not too bad for me. Didn't do me a lot good though. I lost one early battle, which was very drawn out (i.e. heavy casualties), and when I rolled the retreat table (both players suffer losses equally based on a die roll against the battle casualty table, but the loser suffers additional losses based on a die roll against the retreat table), my whole army was wiped out! Not good.

Syracuse betrayed the Romans due to an event card played by Han. This was expected, just that I wished it were later rather than sooner. A Carthaginian general (I forgot which one) took a ship to Sicily to try to "persuade" the population to follow Syracuse's lead.

One very surprising thing happened on Turn 2 (out of 9 Turns in the game). Hannibal attacked Rome, with slightly better than average odds. It was yet another drawn out battle. Hannibal lost the battle, by a thread. Then when the retreat table was rolled, he lost all troops! Following the rules, that meant Hannibal was killed in battle. Oops. Not good for Carthage. When the guy whose name appears on the game box dies, that can't be good.

Rome breathed a sigh of relief. Carthage quickly switched emphasis to the political influence aspect of the game, and did well, with Sicily converted, that eastern Spanish province converted (I had spent some effort claiming it earlier), and also the northern Italian province claimed. Rome struggled a little to catch up, spending some effort to raise, move and consolidate troops.

Then on Turn 4, Hasdrubal, the other better Carthaginian general (also Hannibal's brother?), who had built up a size 10 army in Spain, took a ship to Sicily to attack the Roman army which had just dispersed itself a bit in preparation to convert political markers back to the Roman side. Due to Roman naval supremacy, all Carthaginian sea moves need to roll a die. Han rolled a 5 (if I remember correctly), and the ships carrying his army were sunk. Poof! The 10 units accumulated over a few turns gone to the bottom of the Mediterranean. That was when Han conceded defeat.

A photo of Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage from our previous game.

This was our 2nd play, and I think we played a bit better, and were able to strategise better. It was an exciting game, with shocking twists of fate. Perhaps we should have been a bit more risk-averse than we were. We were rather impetuous, keen to fight even when the odds were just roughly equal. A better general would probably have waited for a better opportunity. Also we let some battles drag on longer than we should have allowed them to. The longer a battle is, the more casualties there will be. So sometimes it is better to concede defeat and to try to withdraw earlier, rather than gambling on. I feel our aggressive play had put more into the hands of fate than a good player would have. But we had fun anyway. Since we were both at about the same skill level (i.e. beginner), slightly sub-optimal play wasn't a fun spoiler for us.

Having played both sides now, I am able to appreciate their differences better. Carthage will usually have 5 generals all the time, and Rome usually 3 (and 4 when Scipio Africanus comes into the story). Roman generals are usually changed every year. Carthage gets at most 4 new units every year, with more restrictions on their placement, and Rome always gets 5 new units with less restrictions. I enjoy how history and historical flavour is brought out by the event cards. I admire the balance and the interrelationship between the warfare part of the game and the political influence aspect. Warfare should be a means to an end. One should not fight for the sake of fighting. Don't fight for fun. And I know fighting is fun because I have been fighting for fun in our game.

Our game took more than two hours, and we only played to Turn 4. I can't imagine how long it would take for us to complete a 9 turn game. I wonder whether people need to play to Turn 9 often, or victory is usually decided before that. I am still keen to play Hannibal again. Poor Scipio Africanus, the star general for the Romans, still hasn't had a chance to come into play. He's the only Roman general who is a match for Hannibal, and he only appears on Turn 6.

The next game we played was Pandemic, this being the 2nd time for me. Last time we lost (this is a cooperative game), and it was a 3 player game. Some say the game is easier with fewer players, so this time although we had only 2 players, we decided to play 4 characters, effectively making it a 4 player game. We played with 5 epidemic cards, i.e. medium difficulty.

A photo of Pandemic from our previous game.

This time we watched the "good cards" deck more carefully, because last time we lost due to running out of cards. Unfortunately this time we were a bit unlucky (or maybe un-careful...) with the outbreaks. We had quite a few of them. At one point when we were 2 more outbreaks away from losing the game, we used the Forecast card to look at the top six cards of the infection deck (now I know the "bad card" deck is called the infection deck). Two of the cards were for cities at Level 3 infection (i.e. will have outbreaks when infected again), and because their neighbouring cities were also at Level 3, there would be chain reactions. We realised that no matter what we did, we couldn't kill the viruses quickly enough to prevent 2 outbreaks from happening. Our only hope was the Silent Night (?) special action card, which would allow us to not draw infection cards for one turn, i.e. it would give us that crucial one more turn. And what "good card" did we draw at the end of that turn? We drew an epidemic card! (cue silly comedy sound effect - Gua Gua...)

The Operations Expert character card, the Forecast special action card, and four good cards.

But wait! That epidemic card was going to save us! The epidemic card meant the infection cards discard deck would be reshuffled back onto the top of the draw deck, on top of those two dreaded infection cards that we just saw! It was hilarious how happy we were to see an epidemic card. We were almost shouting with joy.

Unfortunately our joy didn't last long. Among the infection cards drawn, there were two other cities which hit us with outbreaks anyway. Game over. Too many outbreaks. We only cured two diseases, but were not too far from curing all. One character already had enough cards to cure the 3rd disease, and another almost had enough for the 4th, and we still had quite some cards in the "good" deck. Well, maybe next time!

Han and I started a Blue Moon tournament. Well, probably I shouldn't call it a tournament since there are only two contestants. We plan to play all combinations of match-ups using my 6 Blue Moon decks, and then total up all scores from all 30 games to determine the overall winner. Sometimes as a closer for our game sessions we'd pick two decks randomly and play two games, switching sides for the second game. This time we played the Khind and the Aqua. We both won one game, both when using the Khind, and both games ended when a player ran out of cards. We have only played 6 out of 30 games, still a long way to go.

My 6 Blue Moon expansion decks, plus the Buka Invasion expansion deck, which is more complex and which I have not learned to play yet.

The Aqua deck of Blue Moon

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