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Subject: Hamilcar, Not Hannibal (a Space-Biff! review) rss

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Daniel Thurot
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Hamilcar, Not Hannibal

At its height, the Carthaginian Empire was enormous. Encompassing much of northern Africa, swaths of modern-day Spain, Corsica and Sardinia, even a toehold on the jewel of the Mediterranean that was Sicily, they were one of the world’s great maritime powers — a true thalassocracy, their navy indomitable at sea — until the scrappy Roman Republic’s unification of the Italian Peninsula put them in a position to challenge Carthage’s authority. The ensuing wars spanned more than a century, and only concluded when the grand city of Carthage was burnt to the ground.

Not only is Hands in the Sea set during the first of these wars — that’s the war of Hamilcar Barca, father of the Hannibal Barca who would brashly march elephants across the Alps in the Second Punic War — it also contains some history of its own. Riffing on Martin Wallace’s innovative A Few Acres of Snow, this is Daniel Berger’s attempt at taking the system to the next level without resorting to the same fantastical measures that Wallace undertook in Mythotopia. Which is to say, this is a serious game, full of serious people undertaking serious endeavors — and it’s every bit as good as it is serious.

Picture this. There are two great powers, staring at each other over a narrow — yet still dangerous — span of too-blue, too-deep sea. Between them sits the myriad towns and independent city-states of Corsica, Sardinia, and most importantly Sicily. The simple act of getting from place to place is difficult, and neither side has the strength to beat the other outright, or at least they probably don’t. Instead, this will be a war of pillaging, of towns changing hands, of navies skirting around one another. A duel of lions fought like weasels.

If I only told you one thing about Hands in the Sea — and trust me, there’s so much to tell that it’s a tempting thought — it would be that this is a very different sort of deck-building game. Where most of these sorts of games are simple to learn and can be played almost on autopilot, Hands in the Sea wants to be taken seriously as a wargame. It wants to give you a hand of cards and watch you squirm over them, trying to figure out how you’ll wring the best possible turn out of their mismatched faces.

Which is why nothing operates quite as you may have come to expect from this genre. Sure, the game is about putting together a solid deck of cool cards, then using it to propel yourself towards victory. But where it stands out, as A Few Acres of Snow stood out before it, is by tying every single card to the ongoing struggle on the map. Rome, for instance, is a card, as is every town or city you might come into contact with. Whenever you conquer a location, you gain its card and slip it into your deck, even if it happened to be in your opponent’s hand. Similarly, a particular legion, band of mercenaries, fickle war elephants, a particular general, or even the merchant who can help you sell a bunch of cards into your discard pile for a huge windfall, are also cards. And all of them have a tangible impact on the way you move, attack, disrupt your opponent’s plans, administrate your empire, or earn money.

Here’s an example. In one recent game as Carthage, I was totally wrecking it. Rome had gotten off to a slow start, letting me blockade Sicily and spread rapidly from my starting cities, gobbling up two-thirds of the island without even a whiff of resistance. The cards I was picking up, the grape-rich hills of Hippana, Enna, and Camarina, were fueling my economy. My coffers were stuffed, my navy was steadily draining Rome’s treasury, and whenever a scoring round came around I was scooting steadily towards victory.

Unfortunately, my deck was also an administrative nightmare. Unlike most deck-building games, drawing a card in Hands in the Sea can be as much a burden as a boon. As your empire or republic grows, more and more towns falling under your influence, administrating all of them inevitably becomes unwieldy, transforming your deck from sleek trireme to garbage barge. This is made even tougher by the fact that you don’t discard your whole hand at the end of the turn — instead, stinkers will sit around until you use them in some way. In this case, every new hand I drew was likely to be crammed with worthless cities, little spots back in Africa that provided little in return for all the attention I paid them. Sure, I could have spent actions to get rid of them, whether by pawning them off to lesser administrators or “reserving” them off to the side in case I needed their services again. But I was on a roll; surely I didn’t need to waste my limited turns on bookkeeping.

Rome, on the other hand, may have gotten off to a slower start, but they were shrewder. While I’d been bulging outwards like a consul during Vinalia, they’d been expanding their cities, growing their navy, and hiring soldiery. When they invaded, I may have owned all the gold in the world — enough to pay double for some of my troops, adding them to the top of my deck rather than squirreling them away in the discard pile — but such desperate measures quickly depleted my stockpile and still didn’t let me retaliate. It wasn’t long before my border provinces started crumbling, their cards moving from my side of the table to join Rome.

The point is, this is a game that rewards careful planning over brash maneuvers, though of course there’s a place for the latter. The commonest of acts, the launching of an invasion, requires at least a trio of cards: the destination from which your army is attacking, connected via roads or sea lanes, a card to provide the proper mode of transportation (wagons or ships), and the card that will do the actual invading. Even then, a battle is a protracted affair, lasting multiple turns as both sides gradually deploy new troops to the fray in a game of one-upmanship, both generals sweating and hoping the other guy will crumble first. You’ll send a legion, they’ll counter with war elephants; you’ll hit them with specialized elephant-poking velites, they’ll return with cavalry; you’ll have your senator bribe that powerful mercenaries card out of their hand, now here come more of those dang elephants.

Meanwhile, each new combination of cards provides new opportunities and strategies, and while changing the course of the war can be slow going, it’s as simple as dipping into your empire deck and purchasing something new. Strategies have a way of trumping those that previously seemed unbeatable. Early on, for instance, Carthage sports an unmatched navy, making the sea their fight to lose. They can sail and pillage with wild abandon, draining Rome’s coffers and earning points. Rome, then, might recruit cavalry to raid on land, or launch overwhelming assaults on unprotected locations. Then both sides might begin building forts or investing in light infantry to block raids. Then someone blockades Sardinia, or invades elsewhere, or enlists powerful leaders to streamline their deck. One maneuver is countered with another, forcing both sides to choose between furthering their own plans or countering those of their enemy.

This is a tight game, is what I mean. For everything intimidating about it — and it can be intimidating, with a whole menu of actions to remember and a lot to be desired by way of reference cards or streamlined visual design — there’s some smart maneuver you can undertake, or a way to nettle at your opponent, or a way to whittle down the administration of your empire until you’re drawing from a lean deck every turn. This is the first game to fully realize the promise of A Few Acres of Snow.

For those who can handle a two-hour wargame for only two players, one that gleefully bogs you down while you’re trying to conduct a military campaign, Hands in the Sea is as polished and as razor-sharp as a centurion’s gladius. Its conflict may feel limited in scope, but it allows just enough room to gasp for air while never giving you enough space to breathe easy. Just as it should be.



This review was originally published at Space-Biff!, so if you like what you see, please head over there for more. https://spacebiff.com/2016/09/29/hands-in-the-sea/

Also, I suppose I ought to plug my Geeklist of reviews: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/169963/space-biff-histori...
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Roger Hobden
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Nice review.

Makes me want to try that game.
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Awesome Review! "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant"
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Judd Vance
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The Innocent wrote:
This is a tight game, is what I mean. For everything intimidating about it — and it can be intimidating, with a whole menu of actions to remember and a lot to be desired by way of reference cards or streamlined visual design — there’s some smart maneuver you can undertake, or a way to nettle at your opponent, or a way to whittle down the administration of your empire until you’re drawing from a lean deck every turn. This is the first game to fully realize the promise of A Few Acres of Snow.


Excellent review. I think this paragraph nails it. It can be intimidating, but I tell people, "just experiment." Quit trying to find the optimal move. I doubt it's there. Just try stuff. If for instance, you are curious to find out what happens when you stuff your Roman hand with 4 legions and go pick a fight, draft 4 legions and go pick a fight. Hint: it ends badly if Carthage knows what he is doing. And if you are Carthage and you don't see this, experiment. There is no unbeatable strategy. Try the various strategy cards out. Take them out for a test drive.

The original Administration card was never drafted in playtesting. It costs too much and did too little. Then Dan changed it to the one in the game. I thought, "That's a weird card. Oh well, I don't think it's that useful." Then he took it in our next game and beat me over the head with it. The same things happened with the Seamanship card. All of the strategy cards are excellent. Play around with them and you'll find yourself unlocking new strategies with them.

I have often been guilty of pulling out a wargame and playing it once and putting it on the shelf indefinitely. With some hex and counter games, I felt like I experienced 80% of the game with the one play and playing it more may unlock something, but I'm too anxious to move on to the next thing. But with this game, if you play it once or twice, you are missing out a whole world of possibilities. And the playtime is short enough that it is easier to pull out and try out stuff and you can even solo it and try out strategies.

I've been playing it 3 years and I still can't get enough of it. I'm in 2 online games right now. It amuses me when I see comments that Carthage or Rome has a tougher time winning. Au contraire. You just have to know your strengths and weaknesses and you have to know how to manage your deck.
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Mark Herman
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airjudden wrote:
The Innocent wrote:
This is a tight game, is what I mean. For everything intimidating about it — and it can be intimidating, with a whole menu of actions to remember and a lot to be desired by way of reference cards or streamlined visual design — there’s some smart maneuver you can undertake, or a way to nettle at your opponent, or a way to whittle down the administration of your empire until you’re drawing from a lean deck every turn. This is the first game to fully realize the promise of A Few Acres of Snow.


Excellent review. I think this paragraph nails it. It can be intimidating, but I tell people, "just experiment." Quit trying to find the optimal move. I doubt it's there. Just try stuff. If for instance, you are curious to find out what happens when you stuff your Roman hand with 4 legions and go pick a fight, draft 4 legions and go pick a fight. Hint: it ends badly if Carthage knows what he is doing. And if you are Carthage and you don't see this, experiment. There is no unbeatable strategy. Try the various strategy cards out. Take them out for a test drive.

The original Administration card was never drafted in playtesting. It costs too much and did too little. Then Dan changed it to the one in the game. I thought, "That's a weird card. Oh well, I don't think it's that useful." Then he took it in our next game and beat me over the head with it. The same things happened with the Seamanship card. All of the strategy cards are excellent. Play around with them and you'll find yourself unlocking new strategies with them.

I have often been guilty of pulling out a wargame and playing it once and putting it on the shelf indefinitely. With some hex and counter games, I felt like I experienced 80% of the game with the one play and playing it more may unlock something, but I'm too anxious to move on to the next thing. But with this game, if you play it once or twice, you are missing out a whole world of possibilities. And the playtime is short enough that it is easier to pull out and try out stuff and you can even solo it and try out strategies.

I've been playing it 3 years and I still can't get enough of it. I'm in 2 online games right now. It amuses me when I see comments that Carthage or Rome has a tougher time winning. Au contraire. You just have to know your strengths and weaknesses and you have to know how to manage your deck.


I got this one based on your recommendation and I am glad I did. Very cool game. I enjoyed stopping the Roman attack on Syracuse by cutting their supply with the Carthaginian fleet. Lots of interesting twists and turns so far.

Mark
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Brad Miller
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Cutting supply to the siege on Syracuse? I can't envision what rules are in play there, and what effect it would have...?
 
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A very well written and entertaining review! And spot on... Just finished my second game with a friend that I am introducing to war gaming... and he loved it... even though he lost all of the battles. His only complaint concerned the multiple ways to end the game (he is of the "nothing but total annihilation" temperament)... but I like the multiple paths. This second game took 4 hours to play and did bog down a little bit around Turn 6 as we both tried to cycle the cards we needed into our hands. In the end, my friend was ahead on VPs when I ended the game in the middle of Turn 7 by developing my final city... in the hopes that I would gain enough end game VPs for the win. Final score... Rome (me): 61, Carthage: 60... generating hoots of laughter and amazement from both sides of the table. There are so many alternate paths to explore in this game... it will be a long time before it gets stale. [Edited to add...] One action that I used to my advantage... but strikes me as being too powerful... is the Cavalry Raid. I can't quite wrap my head the ease with which a cavalry raid can dismantle a city... compared to the slug fest that can occur during a "normal" battle. With only 5 cards in a hand, it is hard to hold on to the cards necessary to block raids.
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derekrledr wrote:
A very well written and entertaining review! And spot on... Just finished my second game with a friend that I am introducing to war gaming... and he loved it... even though he lost all of the battles. His only complaint concerned the multiple ways to end the game (he is of the "nothing but total annihilation" temperament)... but I like the multiple paths. This second game took 4 hours to play and did bog down a little bit around Turn 6 as we both tried to cycle the cards we needed into our hands. In the end, my friend was ahead on VPs when I ended the game in the middle of Turn 7 by developing my final city... in the hopes that I would gain enough end game VPs for the win. Final score... Rome (me): 61, Carthage: 60... generating hoots of laughter and amazement from both sides of the table. There are so many alternate paths to explore in this game... it will be a long time before it gets stale. [Edited to add...] One action that I used to my advantage... but strikes me as being too powerful... is the Cavalry Raid. I can't quite wrap my head the ease with which a cavalry raid can dismantle a city... compared to the slug fest that can occur during a "normal" battle. With only 5 cards in a hand, it is hard to hold on to the cards necessary to block raids.


This is from memory, but I think fortifications block cavalry raids. Could be wrong here.
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Mark Herman
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Windopaene wrote:
Cutting supply to the siege on Syracuse? I can't envision what rules are in play there, and what effect it would have...?


I am under the impression that if the Sicily naval zone is enemy controlled the opponent is out of supply and cannot attack and such. So, if the Carthaginians with their opening strength of 2 ships moves into the Sicily naval zone then the Romans cannot attack Syracuse because they are out of supply. I could be wrong here as I have only played a couple of games so far.
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Daniel Berger
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MarkHerman wrote:
This is from memory, but I think fortifications block cavalry raids. Could be wrong here.

That is correct.
 
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Daniel Berger
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MarkHerman wrote:
Windopaene wrote:
Cutting supply to the siege on Syracuse? I can't envision what rules are in play there, and what effect it would have...?


I am under the impression that if the Sicily naval zone is enemy controlled the opponent is out of supply and cannot attack and such. So, if the Carthaginians with their opening strength of 2 ships moves into the Sicily naval zone then the Romans cannot attack Syracuse because they are out of supply.

This is incorrect. See the clarification at the end of 4.4. The target location that you're attacking or settling does not need to be in supply, only where you're attacking or settling from.
 
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djberg96 wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
Windopaene wrote:
Cutting supply to the siege on Syracuse? I can't envision what rules are in play there, and what effect it would have...?


I am under the impression that if the Sicily naval zone is enemy controlled the opponent is out of supply and cannot attack and such. So, if the Carthaginians with their opening strength of 2 ships moves into the Sicily naval zone then the Romans cannot attack Syracuse because they are out of supply.

This is incorrect. See the clarification at the end of 4.4. The target location that you're attacking or settling does not need to be in supply, only where you're attacking or settling from.


We may be saying the same thing, but perhaps not. A Roman town on Sicily cannot be used as the location from which to attack Syracuse.

Right or wrong?
 
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MarkHerman wrote:
We may be saying the same thing, but perhaps not. A Roman town on Sicily cannot be used as the location from which to attack Syracuse.

Right or wrong?

You have a two space supply across the straits by land, so the Roman player can attack or settle from Messana or Catana (or Tyndaris, if owned) even if Carthage controls the Sicily sea zone.
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djberg96 wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
We may be saying the same thing, but perhaps not. A Roman town on Sicily cannot be used as the location from which to attack Syracuse.

Right or wrong?

You have a two space supply across the straits by land, so the Roman player can attack or settle from Messana or Catana (or Tyndaris, if owned) even if Carthage controls the Sicily sea zone.


Is that what that strait rule is saying? If that is the case then I would agree that you can attack Syracuse from Catana.
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MarkHerman wrote:
djberg96 wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
We may be saying the same thing, but perhaps not. A Roman town on Sicily cannot be used as the location from which to attack Syracuse.

Right or wrong?

You have a two space supply across the straits by land, so the Roman player can attack or settle from Messana or Catana (or Tyndaris, if owned) even if Carthage controls the Sicily sea zone.


Is that what that strait rule is saying? If that is the case then I would agree that you can attack Syracuse from Catana.


Right, regardless of enemy fleet presence you can always operate (as the Roman) from Messana/Catana/Tyndaris (assuming you have the Location cards) which includes operations against Syracuse. Once Syracuse falls then of course you have an on-island source of supply.
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jrtracy wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
djberg96 wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
We may be saying the same thing, but perhaps not. A Roman town on Sicily cannot be used as the location from which to attack Syracuse.

Right or wrong?

You have a two space supply across the straits by land, so the Roman player can attack or settle from Messana or Catana (or Tyndaris, if owned) even if Carthage controls the Sicily sea zone.


Is that what that strait rule is saying? If that is the case then I would agree that you can attack Syracuse from Catana.


Right, regardless of enemy fleet presence you can always operate (as the Roman) from Messana/Catana/Tyndaris (assuming you have the Location cards) which includes operations against Syracuse. Once Syracuse falls then of course you have an on-island source of supply.


I would love to play this with you sooner than later JR. I am quite taken with this incarnation of the FAoS design.
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Mark wrote:

I would love to play this with you sooner than later JR. I am quite taken with this incarnation of the FAoS design.


Agreed - had a lot of fun with this in a learning game, and watched another last night. My only frustration: there is so much to do but not enough time or actions to do it!
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MarkHerman wrote:


This is from memory, but I think fortifications block cavalry raids. Could be wrong here.


My opponent and I were both aware that fortifications blocked raids, but haven't figured out "where and when" yet. For example... I had been keeping the Fortifications card in my hand for that purpose, but had to use it to successfully defend Agrigentum in a battle... sending it to an empty Discard Pile... so I didn't see it again for a long time after. In our two "learning" games, neither one of us have built a fortification or used the Bribe Mercenary action. I can see that both actions are important and valuable... but we are both so busy trying other things that we haven't got to them yet.
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jrtracy wrote:
Mark wrote:

I would love to play this with you sooner than later JR. I am quite taken with this incarnation of the FAoS design.


Agreed - had a lot of fun with this in a learning game, and watched another last night. My only frustration: there is so much to do but not enough time or actions to do it!


Mark, JR, I am very happy to play this again, too. My game last week against Renaud left me hungering for more, not less. It was remarkable game in that we cycled through strategy cards very quickly at first, and actually went through the deck completely. Then he drafted the Administration card after the reshuffle and used it in a way I found very intimidating. If he hadn't overlooked that Lilibaeum was vulnerable to a calvary raid, he would have crushed the Romans slowly but surely.
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MarkHerman wrote:
airjudden wrote:
The Innocent wrote:
This is a tight game, is what I mean. For everything intimidating about it — and it can be intimidating, with a whole menu of actions to remember and a lot to be desired by way of reference cards or streamlined visual design — there’s some smart maneuver you can undertake, or a way to nettle at your opponent, or a way to whittle down the administration of your empire until you’re drawing from a lean deck every turn. This is the first game to fully realize the promise of A Few Acres of Snow.


Excellent review. I think this paragraph nails it. It can be intimidating, but I tell people, "just experiment." Quit trying to find the optimal move. I doubt it's there. Just try stuff. If for instance, you are curious to find out what happens when you stuff your Roman hand with 4 legions and go pick a fight, draft 4 legions and go pick a fight. Hint: it ends badly if Carthage knows what he is doing. And if you are Carthage and you don't see this, experiment. There is no unbeatable strategy. Try the various strategy cards out. Take them out for a test drive.

The original Administration card was never drafted in playtesting. It costs too much and did too little. Then Dan changed it to the one in the game. I thought, "That's a weird card. Oh well, I don't think it's that useful." Then he took it in our next game and beat me over the head with it. The same things happened with the Seamanship card. All of the strategy cards are excellent. Play around with them and you'll find yourself unlocking new strategies with them.

I have often been guilty of pulling out a wargame and playing it once and putting it on the shelf indefinitely. With some hex and counter games, I felt like I experienced 80% of the game with the one play and playing it more may unlock something, but I'm too anxious to move on to the next thing. But with this game, if you play it once or twice, you are missing out a whole world of possibilities. And the playtime is short enough that it is easier to pull out and try out stuff and you can even solo it and try out strategies.

I've been playing it 3 years and I still can't get enough of it. I'm in 2 online games right now. It amuses me when I see comments that Carthage or Rome has a tougher time winning. Au contraire. You just have to know your strengths and weaknesses and you have to know how to manage your deck.


I got this one based on your recommendation and I am glad I did. Very cool game. I enjoyed stopping the Roman attack on Syracuse by cutting their supply with the Carthaginian fleet. Lots of interesting twists and turns so far.

Mark


Cool! In all likelihood, it was just following a game recommendation, but just on the million-to-one chance that I have developed mutant powers of persuasion...

You, Mark Herman, will move to Wichita, Kansas. You will move next door (I will convince my neighbor to move). We will game every day, playing this game, Washington's War, For the People, Gulf Strike, Empire of the Sun, Ribbit, Churchill (Greg can be our 3rd player), Peloponnesian War, and France 1944.


So... did it work?

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Mark, not to dis Wichita...

I have been to Wichita. Seattle is a much better choice.
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airjudden wrote:
MarkHerman wrote:
airjudden wrote:
The Innocent wrote:
This is a tight game, is what I mean. For everything intimidating about it — and it can be intimidating, with a whole menu of actions to remember and a lot to be desired by way of reference cards or streamlined visual design — there’s some smart maneuver you can undertake, or a way to nettle at your opponent, or a way to whittle down the administration of your empire until you’re drawing from a lean deck every turn. This is the first game to fully realize the promise of A Few Acres of Snow.


Excellent review. I think this paragraph nails it. It can be intimidating, but I tell people, "just experiment." Quit trying to find the optimal move. I doubt it's there. Just try stuff. If for instance, you are curious to find out what happens when you stuff your Roman hand with 4 legions and go pick a fight, draft 4 legions and go pick a fight. Hint: it ends badly if Carthage knows what he is doing. And if you are Carthage and you don't see this, experiment. There is no unbeatable strategy. Try the various strategy cards out. Take them out for a test drive.

The original Administration card was never drafted in playtesting. It costs too much and did too little. Then Dan changed it to the one in the game. I thought, "That's a weird card. Oh well, I don't think it's that useful." Then he took it in our next game and beat me over the head with it. The same things happened with the Seamanship card. All of the strategy cards are excellent. Play around with them and you'll find yourself unlocking new strategies with them.

I have often been guilty of pulling out a wargame and playing it once and putting it on the shelf indefinitely. With some hex and counter games, I felt like I experienced 80% of the game with the one play and playing it more may unlock something, but I'm too anxious to move on to the next thing. But with this game, if you play it once or twice, you are missing out a whole world of possibilities. And the playtime is short enough that it is easier to pull out and try out stuff and you can even solo it and try out strategies.

I've been playing it 3 years and I still can't get enough of it. I'm in 2 online games right now. It amuses me when I see comments that Carthage or Rome has a tougher time winning. Au contraire. You just have to know your strengths and weaknesses and you have to know how to manage your deck.


I got this one based on your recommendation and I am glad I did. Very cool game. I enjoyed stopping the Roman attack on Syracuse by cutting their supply with the Carthaginian fleet. Lots of interesting twists and turns so far.

Mark


Cool! In all likelihood, it was just following a game recommendation, but just on the million-to-one chance that I have developed mutant powers of persuasion...

You, Mark Herman, will move to Wichita, Kansas. You will move next door (I will convince my neighbor to move). We will game every day, playing this game, Washington's War, For the People, Gulf Strike, Empire of the Sun, Ribbit, Churchill (Greg can be our 3rd player), Peloponnesian War, and France 1944.


So... did it work?



While I am sure Wichita is an amazing place to live, I'm from NYC and it's also an awesome place. Come visit!
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Judd Vance
United States
WICHITA
Kansas
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Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
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"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Windopaene wrote:
Mark, not to dis Wichita...

I have been to Wichita. Seattle is a much better choice.


It rains too much in Seattle, whereas in Wichita, the stalkers are always in season! whistle
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David Janik-Jones
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
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Up Front and Combat Commander rule! The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!
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Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
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Every time I hear the name Wichita I think "Cessna" and "Pat Metheny".

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Judd Vance
United States
WICHITA
Kansas
flag msg tools
Every Man a (K-State) Wildcat!
badge
"Just get that sucka to the designated place at the designated time and I will gladly designate his ass...for dismemberment!" - Sho Nuff.
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Interesting: Methaney's from down the road (Kansas City).

Most people associate Wichita musically with this old Glen Campbell classic:

 
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