The release of HAN: ToR by AGEOD is the long-awaited moment for many players who were anxiously waiting for this moment since it was announced that AGEOD was going to release an ancient Rome game (AJE) a couple of years ago. The HAN: ToR is a standalone game that covers the epic 2nd Punic War, one of the most impressive ancient times wars which took place during the Roman Republic in the late third century B.C.
This time AGEOD bet on a winning horse releasing a game whose central theme is the titanic struggle between Carthage and Rome, or if you prefer, between Hannibal and Rome. Talking of the 2nd Punic War is talking about a war of epic events that lasted about 18 years, who had moments of great suspense and that led to some of the most impressive military prowess and tactical demonstrations of military history. A war in which the children of the fallen in the first battles were the architects of the later victory, a fight that involved several generations of men and left an everlasting impression on Roman society and its power structures. It was a major war in which both sides had victory in hand.
Amazing assault results against fortified cities, dramatic sieges, betrayals, traps and ingenious ambushes, troop movements and revolutionary tactics, combats never seen before by the number of troops involved... all this is the 2nd Punic War and much more. A war that left Rome as the dominant force in the Mediterranean, with a number of new provinces acquired as a result of its victory that make Rome more like an Empire than a Republic. Indeed victory over Carthage also marked the beginning of the end of the Republic because Rome did not know how to adapt their political structure to its new role as "peacemaker" of the known world and will die bleeding slowly in civil wars until the arrival of the Empire.
Besides the great campaign (219-200 BC) the game includes several additional scenarios more limited in frame time, such as the scenario of 211 BC when Rome has captured the initiative; Cannae (216-200 BC) that lets you play the campaign just after the great Roman defeat at Cannae in a dramatic situation for the Roman player. The game also offers a scenario that begins in 218 B.C. bypassing the "casus belli" of Sagunto and the siege of the city by Hannibal.
In addition to these scenarios that cover exclusively the 2nd Punic War we can also found a couple of scenarios smaller in scope and theme, as the war between Rome and the Cisalpine Gaul tribes (225-222 BC) and the 1st Illyrian War where Rome fights against pirates who are plundering the Adriatic to pleasure (230-228 BC), just while the Carthaginians are conquering southern Hispania.
Definitely the most relevant scenario is the main campaing covering all the 2nd Punic War (219-200 B.C.) that lasts 226 turns - monthly turns. This is by far the most extensive scenario that AGEOD has released so far based on the Ancient World and trying to recreate this scenario must have been a Herculean task. "Teaching" how AI has to play as Roman player (and needless to say, do it as the Carthaginian) cannot have been an easy task. Definitely playing against another human player via PBEM is a better experience to fully enjoy the gameplay, but the AGEOD AI surprises the player again by doing it quiet well and fulfills what is expected of it, although obviously there are always things that can be improved and no doubt the futures patches will, as usual AGEOD does. For example conquering Rome is very complicated as Carthaginian and we should not be surprised to see that the AI crosses the Pyrenees and the Alps with Hannibal, so if you like to play against the AI you will find here a very good game with high replay value, thus the duration and extent of the main campaign as the wide variety of events and decisions available to the players will demand the best of them to get the victory.
The problem I see right now is that the IA needs to improve its behavior when facing some challenges in the great campaign, for example the crossing of Alps by Hannibal. Sometimes the AI crosses and arrives to Cisalpine Gaul in poor condition or with few troops, making it difficult to march against Rome and defeat the consular armies at the same time. This is something that AGEOD is improving as I’m writing this and they’re encouraging the IA to build depots in the first roman cities conquered and helping the IA with getting some events that allow them to be built automatically.
Another problem is that Carthage is facing naval inferiority during all the campaign and when the IA plays as Carthaginian it needs to learn that cannot move fleets recklessly and especially not for disembarking troops in territories of dubious value, problem that is already being solved when I’m writing this. AGEOD, for sure, will certainly improve and balance the IA as the feedback in the forums and the exchange of deeper player impressions allow them to have more relevant data.
This is a complex scenario and the IA must face multiple decisions so that while a human player may be able to take risks and assume the consequences of them, the IA may not. The IA needs to learn to be more ruthless sometimes but as you know, “IA can never beat an unpredictable human player”. But the fun is guaranteed and the futures patches will definitely help the AI to be much more competitive and responsive to the challenges - something that I had already been able to see in the betatesting phase in which AGEOD has introduced very significant improvements in AI behavior.
The gameplay is the same we have already known from the others AGEOD Ancient World games, with recruitment options depending on the selected province and territory, regional decisions (road building, enslavement, further urban improvements, merchants, factories, etc.), replacements pool - in addition to those obtained from special places or events - as well as the well-known system of events and politic decisions that the player can select - paying denarii, engagement points and/or Victory Points.
The economy is based on the sum of annual regional income and extra income from areas of maritime trade, markets - "special" places - plus the income from additional events (some automatic as extraordinary income by trade or selectable from the politics window).
One of the most appealing aspects of HAN: ToR is that the 2nd Punic War involved a large number of territories and with several fronts involved, which adds a strategic component more pronounced than in other scenarios narrower in territory. In this sense this war offers the benefits similar to those already experienced in previous Ancient games as the great scenario of the civil war between Gaius Marius and Sulla, the always fascinating scenario of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey or some of the scenarios of the Imperial age that encompassed a lot of Roman provinces (all these scenarios are in AJE). In such large scenarios if where becomes imperative to have a complete overview and know when and where is necessary to prioritize the war effort.
Being a war that involved much of the Mediterranean, the Hispanic and Italic provinces are the most important ones, with Sicily and North Africa taking greater role in the later stages of the game, all this without forgetting Cisalpine Gaul and the Narbonensis (and some other surprises). The strategic component can be fully felt when you have to make decisions about what front needs to be reinforced. For example, is it better to stop Hannibal in Italy or reinforce Scipio in Hispania? Is it worth trying to break the siege of Syracuse by the Romans or is better sending Carthaginian forces to reinforce Hannibal army? Or perhaps it is better to reinforce Hasdrubal in Hispania to support him at Hispania and maybe encouraging him to cross the Alps to join forces with Hannibal? When is the best time to jump to North Africa as Roman player? The number of choices is extensive but these examples show how the various fronts produce a strategic situation that requires careful analysis. The complexity and variety of strategic situations are certainly one of the highlighted strengths of this game and demand to the player to make important decisions that cannot be put aside, resulting in a great gameplay and replayability.
For those who have studied or read something about the 2nd Punic War know the many extraordinary events, betrayals and " plot twists" that took place during the war and all they have been treated with care and in detail by AGEOD. The possibility of appointing a Roman "Dictator" during the most critical phase of the war, the complexity of the dual Roman consulate that brought many problems during the first years of war against Hannibal, the revolts of some Roman allies when Hannibal reached Italy, the betrayals and revolts that affect both contenders throughout the war, etc, all these events are covered in the game in the form of political events that normally are activated via payment of Engagement Points or through automatic events, following the same system of previous AGEOD games in which player decides in most cases when is the right time to take them out. As a result, players will not be lacking of a wide and varied range of events and policy decisions to select that will add up to an exciting military strategic situation.
The scenario campaign begins in 219 B.C., when Hannibal was appointed as leader of the Carthaginian army in Spain, before hostilities began. It is an important year because it is the beginning of the long siege of Saguntum, which would be the "casus belli" for the subsequent declaration of war by the Roman Senate.
It is a nice detail that AGEOD allows the player to experience the crucial year prior to the official declaration of war since it would have been easier to start the scenario with Hannibal already placed in Cisalpine Gaul but, on the contrary, AGEOD allows give the player the freedom to decide when and how to cross the Pyrenees and the Alps and gives freedom to the player on what year want to start the invasion campaign by offering several alternatives.
More than ever, logistics becomes a key role as the crossing of the Pyrenees and the Alps by Hannibal's army implies moving through a complicated and hostile territory that will require from players to choose the right timing very well if they don’t want to meet serious problems to feed the troops and reach Cisalpine Gaul in good shape. Historically Hannibal didn’t conquer the territories along the road to Italy and his intentions were acting friendly in order to put in arms the tribes of these territories against Rome, exploiting the old hatreds rooted in earlier clashes. The crossing to Italy is a real pain and the player will need to invest in some impedimenta and assume that he will suffer many casualties. Once you reach Cisalpine Gaul things change for better but the logistics will play a key role during all the campaign, something that will always hang over the head of Hannibal as a Damocles’ Sword, as he must always fight in enemy territory. That is why Hannibal has been granted with the ability of Master in Logistics during the betatesting process, which reduces by 50% the supply consumption of his army.
Another logistically complicated place is Hispania where there are few cities that generate sufficient supplies and every movement should be studied carefully. The player will have to play very cautiously and not to send more troops than needed, investing time in building supply depots and buying a lot of "impedimenta". Surely the war in Hispania is where AGEOD has hit the nail on the head as Hispania campaign is a really hard, funny and very intense one. Continuous revolts of the Iberian tribes, Carthaginians/Roman attacks & counterattacks, many logistical difficulties, etc. Actually one has the feeling of living in first person and with the same intensity the exciting events that took place historically in a secondary front that became a very important one.
No doubt that one of the biggest attractions of this campaign is that both sides have famous and highly competent leaders (Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, Hasdrubal, Mago, Marcelo, Key Fabio "Max" Maharbal, Massinissa, etc). For above all highlights Hannibal and Scipio, two impressive overall - the best ever - on opposite sides, allowing a balance of theoretical forces.
It’s very difficult to find two such gifted generals coming face to face in a war of such a great proportions and the game allows you to live this great moment. Another thing to mention regarding leaders is that some were very young when they took charge of their first command and they acquired combat experience as the war goes on, which has been represented in the game by a "learning" process of new skills and improving their stats by gaining experience in combat. This system encourages the player to go into battle to get that "extra" experience that opens the individual stats improvements.
This happens for example with Scipio Africanus, who began very young to learn the art of war under his father command, suffering painfully the tactical superiority of Hannibal at Cannae, to finally becoming one of the architects of the final Roman victory. So in some scenarios Scipio begins with different stats depending on what the designer has provided for him, while in the campaign he may improve his skills and stats that may also experience other leaders. Hannibal for example has a chance each turn starting from 211 BC of losing some of their combat stats and suffering a % reduction of his bonus skills to reflect that he is getting "old" and tired of so many years of war in a hostile country.
As always AGEOD shows a great love for detail in the graphics and historical realism department that is seen for example in the military structure of the units like the Roman legion itself. The Roman legions follow the pattern pre-Gaius Marius and therefore cavalry units are integrated into the composition of the legions, which are also divided into three types of legionaries: hastati, triarii and princeps. The Carthaginian player is who will certainly enjoy more the variety of units - a mix of African, Hispanic, Gauls and Numidians units, among others.
Most Carthaginian leaders have an important skill - Barcidas - that allow them to lead mixed multicultural armies, allowing them to mix Gauls, Hispanic, African and Numidian troops without penalty costs.
Another aspect linked to realism that we already lived in previous AGEOD ancient games is the system of the double Roman consulate, by which Rome chooses two consuls to command its troops and was the source of the so many problems they suffered in opposition of the unified command under Hannibal. The Roman solution appointing a "Dictator" (Caius Fabius) was an event that reveals the critical and dramatic situation that Rome lived. All this can be experienced from first hand, a very rich detail that speaks about the level of detail of this game. The limited duration of the consulates (for one year) prevents the Romans from having the best commanders leading the war and forces the Roman player to have to deal with an assortment of senators who are in some cases more of a hindrance for its high level of incompetence that a positive factor.
The greatness of the scenario lies not only in its epic and surprising plot twists that took place during the 18 years of war, but also in the presence of leaders who are great references in military history and whose achievements are still admired and studied today. Playing HAN:ToR is like revisiting one of the great moments of ancient military history, a time when Rome was about to cease to exist but instead came out of this confrontation as the first undisputed military power in the Mediterranean and whose shadow still would last over several centuries. No doubt this is a “must have” game and mandatory for all those who are lovers of the History of Rome and this war, in particular. There is no game in the market at present that recreates so faithfully and with such love for detail the exciting events of the 2nd Punic War.
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