If nothing else, wargames double as an excellent educational vehicle, teaching the would-be player what it was like to tread on the fields of battle at various stages in mankind's history. Sometimes painted in singularly gruesome detail, historically based wargames are, for better or for worse, not only interactive but multidimensional learning tools. If nothing else, they can - perhaps better than films or books - help explain the implications and ramifications of combat from a fresh, seemingly firsthand perspective, raising the awareness of the player and the historian in one fateful blow.
Of course, this trite analysis neatly dovetails within the overall framework of Great Battles of Hannibal. Developed in cooperation with Erudite Software, Interactive Magic's rehash of the exploits of the Carthaginian conqueror is a direct descendant of GMT Games' epic, hex-based board game released several years ago. Although familiarity with the board game certainly aids in the understanding of the computer game, playing the cardboard equivalent isn't necessarily a prerequisite to comprehending the updated version.
If you're familiar with Interactive Magic's Great Battles of Alexander - the first game in the series - then you'll no doubt recognize Hannibal's same elegant interface, mechanics of play, and gorgeous artwork that epitomized Alexander. The same elaborate system of phased movement - largely tethered to each commander's initiative rating - is again in attendance, as are rules for momentum, missile and shock attacks, cohesion, routing, unit pivoting, and both individual or grouped unit movement. Even the supposed scale of the conflict remains unchanged, each infantry figurine representing anywhere from 70 to 100 men while cavalry icons equate to roughly 80 to 100 men. Even elephants - the all-important backbone of Hannibal's highly disciplined Carthaginian army - are graphically portrayed, with each pachyderm equaling five mounted African elephants.
So what's changed? At first glance, not all that much. Naturally, the Greeks have been pulled from the starting lineup, replaced by the indomitable Roman army. The Romans' equally redoubtable tactic of manipular line extension - whereby individual units closed ranks to form a more cohesive front line - is skillfully depicted, as are the four distinctly different ranks composing the early Roman army. Hannibal, of course, strides onto the scene as well, lending his expertise to his forces at every available opportunity. Several independent scenarios are included, as is a campaign game that links together each stand-alone scenario to relate the tale of Hannibal's march on Rome and inevitable retreat to Carthage. Scipio Africanus, the first really competent Roman general, is also depicted, matching wits at the battle of Zama with his illustrious counterpart. And, in addition to solitaire play, provisions for every conceivable method of multiplayer gaming is again covered. That, in a nutshell, describes the sequel.
Like Alexander, you will discover that Great Battles of Hannibal is a sophisticated, albeit complex, computer wargame - a handsomely designed gaming system that integrates a suite of thoughtfully crafted and eminently challenging features throughout every facet of play. Daunting even for veteran wargamers to readily assimilate, the game mechanics eventually and delightfully fall into place with repeated play. Dedicated gamers will ultimately come to appreciate and embrace Great Battles of Hannibal as one of the most entertaining yet historically accurate wargames ever devised. And, if nothing else, Great Battles of Hannibal provides a poignant look at warfare in the Age of Antiquity, teaching you - in frightfully appalling detail - the rigors of combat both man and beast were made to endure.