Herr Dr travels to Carthage

Herr Dr, was kind enough to allow me to repost he and his friends play of Carthage from GMT, another R.Berg title of unsung fame. To start lets look at their learning play then delve into a detailed set of session reports all crafted by the Dr.!!

If you have not listened to his excellent podcast – I highly recommend it for those that are interested in the inner workings of Wargaming’s cognoscenti to see what they are playing, how they design, develop and produce wargames and expose your self to insights regarding the history of wargaming. Hear it here.

Background & Opening

Roman and Carthaginian leaders prepare for a donnybrook 

Started at noon setting up. We had downloaded the latest living rules (May 6, 2013). Link here: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1dcf9f95/5501

We knew we were going to have to suffer thru the inevitable “jump into an ice cold pool” session: the Initial Fiddle About Play (IFAP) of the beast. It happens with every beast – not sure what you are supposed to do or how to do it. Best remedy is to man up, strip off the clothes and jump in the pool, in the absence of a “Here’s how you play the beast” youtube video (which should be mandatory these days). There is a detailed example of play in the rulebook: very helpful!

On prep, each of us had read the extensive rules a few times. The rules are not complicated. There are MANY (MANY!) sub systems/mechanics within the game, but, nothing really mind bending. While reading the nearly 100 pages of charts, game rules, scenario rules, etc, I thought, “How am I going to keep this all of this straight?”. Then, I quickly remembered, that’s not important prior to actually pushing counters with a beast; it sort of clicks after a session or two….or not. The trick is to push that first damm counter.

So, we looked at the scenarios, and, of course, decided to start with the campaign game. arrrh Took us only about 1/2 hour to set up – not bad. But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself…

What attracted us to this game? It’s a Berg, it’s beefy, it’s a strategic/op scale ancients, tons of politics baked in, fluid movement (draw chit, activate a leader, move as much as you want – but pay the attrition cost), integrated land/sea and lots of space with low counter density.

It’s also apart of that Class of 2005-2006 that I like to so much. I’m biased (Triumph of Chaos), but a burst of innovation and wargame fun that I totally dig: Twilight Struggle, Empire of the Sun, Carthage, Combat Commander, Pax Romana, 7 Ages. So, many reasons we wanted to get it on the table for the last few years. Back to the opening…

As indicated, there is a detailed example of play that contains the first few turns of the campaign game. We wimped out and simply decided to try to replicate it; assuming the random draw of activation chits (LAMs…) would cooperate. They (the LAMs) did initially play ball, which allowed us to concentrate on learning the mechanics without actually worrying about what the hell we were supposed to be doing. However, before drawing the 1st LAM (Leader Activation chit), we sprinted to the BBQ joint next store to stock up before the fighting actually would begin.

Back to The Source. http://www.sourcecomicsandgames.com/ We drew our 1st LAM. Hiero, leader of the Syracuse army, was ordered to begun his siege of Messana. With the draw of the 2nd LAM, Fulbvius (Rome) duplicated the move in the example of play (which requires getting permission from the Roman Senate – VERY cool). Off the bum sailed to Messana. Carthage missed the intercept (about the only die roll Carthage would flub all day) and the Romans landed. Since, the city was besieged, we thought that the Romans had to land outside the city (although a decent case was made for allowing them to sail into a besieged city – since we couldn’t figure out how to blockade a city – no blockade box or mechanic we could find…something to be clarified).

Another infamous Berg random events table

Dangerously close to a 69

The 3rd LAM generated was the Auguries chit. Yet another great feature of the game; the random events chit and siege attrition/resolution chits are tossed in with the LAMs. Consequently, you’re never sure when those mechanics will appear in a game turn. It would be fab to see other designs incorporate that – and toss in perhaps other game functions to the activation pool – sort of a Puerto Rico/euro mechanic.

So, time to roll on yet another infamous Berg random events table. We demanded a die roll of a 69 (two ten siders): “Young Caparronia, a Vestal Virgin, is accused of incest with her brother (Game of Thrones!) and hangs herself. Unfortunately, her brother is a magistrate. If there is a Proconsul in Italy, he is censured and removed from office. Replace him with another magistrate. If there is more than one Proconsul, the choice is up to the Carthaginian Player”.

The dice were thrown….for a brief moment we thought our request had been granted. On closer examination, we hit a devilish 66. The event (stormy weather) generated basically shut down all naval activity (essentially, whenever you move fleets, you’ve got to roll on a nasty table – storms make it truly hideous). Storms really seemed to help Rome, since, initial Carthaginian naval superiority could not be utilized.

The 4th LAM was a non-event: Carthage fleet leaders (all stuck in port due to the high risk of moving fleets during poor weather).

Debacle at Messana

Disgraced Roman general holding up the “useless” chit…that chit needs to be blown up and made into a teeshirt!

Rome received the 5th LAM and decided to go for glory. One of the many cool mechanics in Carthage is that die is rolled for each leader prior to combat; basically, to see who is having a good day and who should have stayed in bed with the camp girls. Rome rolled a goose egg and ended up with a -3 modifier for its attack. After applying other modifiers (yes, it’s a Berg game!), Rome ended up with a net -3.

Consulting the combat results table (a very funky table by-the-way), Rome then flub’d the combat roll, resulting in a net 0 result; incurring 20% losses, inflicting 10% losses and suffering a mandatory retreat. To put a nice big cherry on the top of the ugly mess, the morale/condition of the defeated mob became “useless” (a nice counter for that). Something unclear to us was whether or not Rome could retreat into a besieged city (Carthage still besieging Messana)? We took pity on Rome and allowed the rabble to flee into cat houses of Messana.

Carthage had won a Major Victory. We liked the combat system and combat table; both can produce the totally lopsided victory that typifies ancients warfare.

The 6th and 7th LAM were essentially non-events.

The 8th LAM brought more disaster for Rome: time for Siege attrition. Rome, stuck in Messana, suffered an additional 10 SP loss (vs zero for Carthage). At that point, Carthage attempted to take the city by treachery. Die roll made. Success! Carthage then proceeded to sack Messana (and managed to keep control of its army – yes, there is a die roll for that), causing the remnants of the Roman army to surrender in disgrace.

Two move uneventful LAMs and 264 B.C. drew to a close.

So, at the end of the first turn, the Carthaginians main army had suffered minor losses (3 SPs), while the Romans had an entire army destroyed. Obviously, this shifted the initiative heavily toward Carthage. Time to plan for a trip to Italy.

Just roll high

And yet another max die roll for Carthage on the suspected “loaded” blue die 

On the first recruitment rolls, Carthage, of course, rolled a 9 (with -2 modifier) and proceeded to generate 50 SPs (group B). These were placed next to Carthage…actually in the other Carthagian army (in Carthage) – until we determined there was no way you can get the forces out except to activate the leader and then drop them off. The issue with this is that due to political limitations (very cool), Carthage is likely restricted to one army in the home territory and one abroad. So, no way to shuffle forces from the home territory to reinforce our boys in Sicily (or, could have we simply used the IC to order them abroad?).

Conversely, Rome suffered another horrible roll and minimized its recruitment (1 legion). Similar results occurred in 262 B.C for Rome (2 legions), while Carthage suffered a rare adverse roll and only generated a few SPs (group D)..

Picking up the horde

Just back from the homeland with 50 additional SPs

The main activity in 263 B.C. was for Carthage’s army from Sicily to be sent back to the homeland to pick the bums up (Is there no other way to shuffle the troops to the front?). The army utilized naval transport and survived its roll to land in Carthage. With its second LAM, it moved back to Sicily. We were unclear how to calculate attrition loses when a moving force uses a combo of naval transport and land movement.

Carthage was also pulled off a successful raid (adding to the Roman tale of woe). Rome sat still for most the year, given its loss of over 50% of its forces in the first year.

And what of Syracuse?

Time to take out the allied trash in sicily: Goodbye Hiero 

Something that stumped us…. So, Carthage had cleared out the Romans from Sicily. We could see no reason for Carthage not to declare war on Syracuse (but before that, disperse the Syracuse army so that it could easily be beaten – hell, overrun its components) and conquer Sicily. Then, we could raise troops there (no other way to do it while Syracuse is allied to Carthage, since they control cities/ports in Sicily) and easily reinforce the army – avoiding running an army back to Carthage to suck up reinforcements.

Also, we thought it would be a good idea to raise Gauls and Ligurians up north, give them a command from the IC (since we could not figure out a way to get them a leader) and have them threaten Rome’s northern areas (forcing Rome to send a few legions to block).

Wrap up

Alberta Clipper holding Combat Commander court

Towards evening, The 1st Minnesota Historical Wargaming Society http://www.boardgamegeek.com/guild/875 began to show up in force, some Combat Commander was breaking out, the BBQ fuel tank was approaching empty, beloved Minnesota Twins game was getting underway, so we decided to wrap it up for the day after playing three turns and getting what needed from our first jump into the Carthage pool.

Currently, my favorite designers are Berg, Greenwood, Rowland, Herman, Dunnigan and Raicer. Berg (story & innovation) and Greenwood (execution & tight designs) are at different ends of the continuum. Actually, its a triangle – with Racier at the top of the triangle – game play. I toss Rowland, Herman and Dunnigan within the triangle at different combo’s of those three factors. And, from time to time I vary on where I think the optimum place within the triangle is regarding design. Anyways, back to Berg’s Carthage…

This game is brilliant in its innovation and ability to produce an epic story. I most liked:

1. The chit activation/movement system 

The chit activation chits+being able to move as far as your luck (capability) takes you (continuation) – with the attrition cost for movement (the player makes the tradeoff) – really captures the feel of a good strat/op game. Also, tossing in other play mechanics (siege & random events) into the activation “cup” is great; you’re not sure when things are going to happen in a turn.

I do think that besides an interception ability for the non-phasing player there should be some type of reaction system (get close to the enemy, they roll a die, and he or she may be able to steal the initiative and make some limited move). I still really like CDWs (card driven wargames), but that’s basically for corps/armies in a more modern context (For the People/Kingdom of Heaven, Amatuers to Arms being the few exceptions). If I had to choose between Berg’s Carthage with the classic Hannibal, I’d take Carthage in a heartbeat; why go for a snack when there is a epic seven course meal available? The chit activation just seems to work SO much better in a non modern context at capturing the unpredictable movement/pacing of non modern conflicts than simple I go/you go card plays.

2. Political limitations on force size and use: outstanding 

We’ve seen that in many games (Wilderness War – British Provincial Assemblies Track…and 1776 still probably gets it best – control/presence in area generates replacement levels). It can also take the form of political stability (Empires in Arms) and even Strategic Will limiting the ability to raise troops, but Berg goes a welcomed step further here. Not only do the political dynamics impact the amount of troops, but rather where you can use them. The whole political game mechanic contains many interesting details that exert strong dynamics on the military dimension of the game; as should be the case in ANY strategic/operational game.

3. A ton of flavor 

Some may call this flavor “chrome” (to me, that’s a compliment!), but it’s even more than that; it’s what helps build the story. The bazillion tables & mechanics produce story line in spades.

4. Resiliency 

Unlike many strat/op games, we felt that brutal early losses would not be game enders; that there is a lot of resiliency built into this design (very difficult to design). Meaning, even if a side suffers a crushing defeat, the game just enters the next part of the dance. That was is not the case with Pax Romana (another great Berg game – yeah, it has issues, but, it’s a blast) where if you suffer a big set back earlier, you’re toast.

This resiliency really got us in the mood to try to play through the whole beast – which we estimate would only take two long day sessions. It would be great to experience the ebb and flow of the fortunes of war and witness how the front changes (very limited forces relative to space and movement capabilities).

Of course, Berg’s Carthage does suffer from some “looseness” in the rules (ex: combining land and naval movement – and what the corresponding impact is on attrition – and continuation). Overall, the rules are an enjoyable read. And, of course, we will post a few Q&A’s regarding those rule concepts that we thought were unclear. Hell, it’s easy to get clarifications in the age of the internet and near instant response by designers and fanboys/fangirls.

Other drawbacks? Besides a few loose rules, no show stoppers that we encountered. None.

Components? Great map (although we’ll be taking to Kinko’s and blowing up by 50%). Counter art is ok; nothing special. No bits included in the game (a bummer). We did perform a minimal amount of pimping out with miniatures for leaders, wooden fleet pieces, bits to indicate cities, etc.

Bottom line: VERY much worth the effort to learn this beast. And, we can’t wait to play this gem again SOON!

Congrats and a big thank you to Mr.Berg for giving the hobby another great ancients beast. Now, let’s hope Mr.Berg kicks into high gear and gets us the 3rd game in the series (and, give us map of the rest of the western med and Spain).

I trust my mates will also post their impressions of this gem also. And, I’ll have to download the Vassal module and fire up the Skype; this game is well suited to such play

Hey!! At least say something! ;)