A few years ago, the Card Conquest System made its debut in a game called Hitler’s Reich. The system uses cards and dice to decide the outcome of battles and really creates a light and engaging strategic exercise. The only problem with Hitler’s Reich was the rulebook and I think that we will not see that problem again. The next game in that series is called Hannibal’s Revenge and pits the forces of Carthage against the mighty Roman Empire in the Second Punic War. We reached out to the designer Mark McLaughlin to get his thoughts on the design and how this one approaches the Ancients.

*Please keep in mind that the materials used in this interview including components and cards are not yet finalized and are only for playtest purposes at this point. Also, as the game is still in development, details about the game may still change prior to publication.

Grant: What is your game Hannibal’s Revenge about?

Mark: The Second Punic War. According to Polybius and Livy, Hannibal’s father Hamilcar Barca made the 9-year-old Hannibal dip his hand in blood and swear an oath of hatred against Rome: “Never be a friend of Rome”. In 218 BC, Hannibal attacked Saguntum (modern day Sagunto, Spain), an ally of Rome, in Hispania, sparking the Second Punic War. This game covers the Second Punic War in a fun and interesting way while keeping the game system light and easy to learn.

Grant: This is the 2nd game in the Card Conquest System. What is this system designed to model about the history of the Roman and Carthaginian wars?

Mark: For the Romans, the consuls (leaders) they draw vary greatly in quality – and in temperament (some are weak, some MUST attack if they can, others have varying strengths in evading, defending, besieging, or attacking). They have more depth, in that they can survive losses and rebound easier, and are thus more forgiving for a new player.

The Carthaginians have Hannibal (need I say more).

The system is light and tries to paint a picture where players have to make tough choices about how to use their cards in battles to win, but more importantly to set up future victories in order to string wins together to gain territories and ultimately win the war. This is balanced fairly well in how the cards play out and how they mix with the various events

Grant: What sources did you consult for the history? What must read source would you recommend?

Mark: My shelves groan with the weight of all of the books on Hannibal and Rome. These include, obviously, THE classics (Polybius and Livy especially), as well as some signature histories: Hannibal, by Theodore Dodge and Hannibal, by Ernie Bradford,  and some more modern works, such as Hannibal Crosses the Alps, and Hannibal’s Oath, both by John Prevas, and Cannae by Adrian Goldsworthy, and many, many more.

Grant: What role does your developer Fred Schachter play in the design process?

Mark: If I am Captain James T. Kirk, then he’s my Spock. He is my partner through this whole design and development process. He keeps the playtesters organized and on task as things change and evolve in the design but also is involved in the actual playtest process as he is looking for needed changes to balance the game or tweak when improvement is necessary. We work very well together and have done many games together, as well as played many!

Grant: How does Hannibal’s Revenge use the Card Conquest System and how does it work in the design? 

Mark: Imagine the classic, simple card game “War.” We have all played it as kids and it is a simple way to decide a victor. Instead of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, however, you have Romans, Latin Allies, Carthaginians and Gauls as the suits. Hannibal gets a deck with the later two suits and the Romans with the former two suits.

You use your cards to move and to fight battles, and also to compete to win available cards from the Event Deck. That deck includes cards with historic events, tactics, intrigues and bonuses – a third of which are available only to Hannibal, a third of which are available only to the Romans, and a third that are open to either side. Unlike most games, you do not draw Event Cards but COMPETE for them. Oh, and then add dice.

Grant: How does the system differ from its predecessor Hitler’s Reich?

Mark: In Hitler’s Reich, you had Event Cards representing the generals who played key roles on the battlefield. In Hannibal’s Revenge, each side has two pawns, one for each active leader in play (one of whom, obviously, is the guy who’s name is in the title). These are the generals and the armies they lead.  They move about the map, so when you fight a battle, you know who you are up against. Each general, moreover, has certain unique characteristics (some bad, some worse, some excellent).

This is another example of designer Mark McLaughlin’s play test game map assembly by hand talents (Yes, you are indeed seeing scotch tape marks holding map pieces together!). We’ve had many hours of play test and game demonstration fun with it! The ‘At Start’ positions of the game’s “wooden bits” are depicted. Future InsideGMT articles will provide more information regarding the various tables gracing the bottom of the board.

Grant: What was your overarching design goal for the game? Do you believe you have succeeded? Why?

Mark: It is lighter, faster, and quicker to set up and play than most other games on the subject. It is also designed for solo, two player, or team play (3-4 players). There is NO down time, as both players are always involved. This was the main focus of my design goal. I believe I have succeeded because, like Hitler’s Reich, that is how the game plays and goes.

Grant: As you mention, the game was designed for two players but there are solitaire, 3 and 4 player variants. How do the other variants work? How does it create team play?

Mark: Two players can form a team. They share the same hand of cards. Whatever card in that hand has the highest value (1 to 13), that determines who decides the play. Thus if the highest Carthaginian card is an 8 and the highest Gallic card is a 10 – the Gallic player on the team decides what they do that turn.  That does not mean he has to play that 10 – on the contrary, he can play a different card, and hope that when he draws to refill the hand, that Gallic 10 is still the best.  

Same goes for Rome and the Latin Ally. In the event the best cards are of the same value, however, Rome and Carthage, respectively, “win” the tie to decide that side’s play.

Players win or lose as a team. This is also a good mechanism for two players who know the game to bring in and teach two new players, or for one player to play one side against a pair of players. It allows for three-player games, without the inevitable two ganging up on one (as the ‘two’ are a team and cannot turn against each other).

Grant: How is a player’s hand limit set using economic power? How does a player change their economic power?

Mark: It is based on gaining or losing cities, as well as controlling the majority of islands or tribes. The more cities, islands and tribes you control, the larger your hand size. This puts a high focus on conquering and then retaining territories that generate cards. It creates some real dog fights over specific areas and increases the tension and back and forth.

Grant: Is there a seeded hand start for either player? Does this give them an early advantage? When does it begin to change?

Mark: The Carthaginian initial draw is seeded to give them an initial advantage, whereas the Roman initial draw is just the opposite. This means the Carthaginian draw deck is weaker, and the Roman draw deck is stronger. The Carthaginians are guaranteed to start with three of their best six cards; the Romans set their best six cards aside, draw six cards from their remaining deck, then shuffle those six best cards back into their draw deck and shuffle; if lucky, they might get two of those six best cards, but the odds are literally stacked against them at start

Grant: What different type of cards are included in the game?

Mark: Everything from War Elephants, Numidian Cavalry, and Velites to traitors (and traders), seductresses, assassins, scouts, spies and storms. Lots of variety of cards that try to capture all aspects of the 2nd Punic War.

Grant: Can you show us a few examples and tell us how they are used?

Mark: In a battle, you simultaneously choose and play a card of either suit from your hand, (named and valued 1-13), to which you may add one or more Event Cards. Then you roll dice. Usually three, but sometimes four or five, depending on Event Cards. Higher total value of cards played and dice rolled wins.

Some of those cards add that fourth or even fifth die, or allow for re-rolls (or require the enemy to re-roll) or do something else that is special.

For example, Carthage plays a War Elephant. That adds a die (so now instead of the base of three dice Carthage has four) AND requires the Roman player to re-roll one of his dice of the Carthaginian’s choosing (such as a “6”).

The Carthaginian player, in their turn, may decide that instead of moving or attacking, they will try to win an Event. Events that are currently available are displayed face up. If the Carthaginian player wants that “Italian Allies” Event, he fights for it as above (play a card of either suit in his hand, roll dice). If he loses, his turn ends. If he wins, he gets the card and plays it. Italian Allies lets Carthage place a control marker on one of three named areas of the map (provided there is no Roman leader there).

Other cards can turn a tied battle into a win (Celtic Fury), upgrade a low die to a higher (Those Damned Gauls), limit the ability of the other player to play Events in a battle (Surprise Attack), or require the other player to reveal their card first – rather than simultaneously – and thus allow you to see it before having to choose your own card (Speculatores).

There are cards that increase or decrease the size of your hand (New Trade Route and Citizens Take Back Their City) and cards that make it easier to move by sea (Expert Navigator)

Grant: What is the reroll ability of higher valued cards? How does a player make sure to have enough high value cards or is it random which cards are drawn?

Mark: As noted in a previous answer, the initial draw is seeded. After that it is a random draw to refill your hand. The 11, 12 and 13 value cards allow you to reroll one, two or three of your dice, respectively. These can be very powerful when used at the right time to turn the tide of battle and players should use those carefully to make them matter the most.

Grant: What special cards are used similar to the Saboteur and Double Agents cards from Hitler’s Reich and how do they work?

Mark: Dolofonos (Carthage), Orgeth (Gaul), Sicarius (Rome) and Trucidator (Latin Ally) are the same as the Saboteur cards in Hitler’s Reich (the names each mean some variation of the word “murderer” in their respective languages). They only have a value of “1”, but they also reduce the card the enemy has played to a value of “1” (particularly nasty if your opponent has played a 12 or 13 value card).

Prodotis (Greek for “Traitor”) is the same as the Double Agent in Hitler’s Reich. There are two of them.  Each side has one in their deck (like a Joker in a regular deck of cards). It is worth 10, but if you use that in a contest the other player loses the reroll bonuses of an 11, 12 or 13 card. The Prodontis, however, always loses ties. If you lose, the card goes into your opponent’s discard deck – which means you will not have any chance of getting another until your opponent plays – and loses – with a Prodontis.

Grant: How do you model the strengths and weaknesses of the different countries involved in the card design?

Mark: Romans win ties; their Latin Allies lose ties. The Event Decks for each side are different, and include types of units, tactics, personalities and resources unique to their side. The Roman leaders vary greatly in what they can and cannot do – or do well, whereas the Carthaginians…well…you know…the guy whose name is on the box (and his brothers).

Grant: How much does bluffing play a role in the battle card system? Can you provide an example of how this works?

Mark: As mentioned earlier, bluffing is key. Unless you are fortunate to have a card that requires your opponent to play their card first, you are both choosing a card from your hand at the same time.  

Do I intentionally use a weak card from my hand when I make a play for an Event Card or initiate a combat, hoping to draw out one of my opponent’s better cards – which means they won’t have it to use when I try to gain an Event or fight a battle which is more important to me? Or do I go all in with a big card now. Knowing that your opponent’s best cards are in their discard deck while your best cards are still in your hand – or at least your draw deck – is a wonderfully comforting feeling.

Grant: How do the Alps effect the Carthaginians and how does Hannibal use cards to overcome this fact?

Mark: For a leader to Cross the Alps he has to be lucky. If he rolls a 1 on a 6-sided die the player’s hand size is decreased by one and their move ends.  

On a 2 or 3, the Passes are Blocked; the player’s move ends.

On a 4 or 5, it is an Ambush: Each side rolls a die; if Hannibal’s is higher, he crosses and can keep moving.  If not, the player’s move ends.

On a 6 he crosses and keeps on moving.

Hannibal has a better chance than any other leader of crossing, because if the player rolls a  “1” (Disaster) when trying it with Hannibal, they may (and why wouldn’t they!) reroll the die, hoping for a better result.

There are no cards to help him; on the other hand, there are two in the shared deck which, if the Romans get, can stop him in his tracks.

It’s the Alps; you roll your die and takes your chances.

Grant: How does the Mediterranean Sea present an obstacle? How are storms dealt with?

Mark: There are Storm cards and cards to help you get through them (Expert Navigator), and whenever a Leader moves into a non-coastal sea zone a die is rolled to see if they keep moving, return to port, or return to port with a penalty (hand size reduced by one).

Grant: What takes the place of Production Centers from Hitler’s Reich and how are they represented?

Mark: Cities, primarily. There are also tribal areas, and if one side controls the majority, their hand size increases. There are also islands, and if one side controls the majority, their hand size increases.

Grant: What are the Leader Cards? How many are there? How do they work?

Mark: Each side has two leaders in play at all times (three, for Carthage, if Philip of Macedon comes in on their side – which requires winning the Event if the card comes up).

The Romans have 12 Leader Cards, each named for an historic figure, and each with his strengths or weaknesses. The Romans set aside their four best leaders, and draw two from the remaining eight. During the course of the game, the better leaders get added to their leader deck. The Romans draw new leaders every turn (there are three turns in total, each representing 6 of the 18 years of the war), or when a Leader is wounded/killed/exiled, or when a card allows or requires them to do so.

Carthage begins with Hannibal and Hasdrubal (who is quite good). Hanno may come in as a replacement for either of the above if they are wounded/killed/exiled. Philip of Macedon may come in as a third leader for Carthage, as noted above.

As to what they do:

Hannibal, for example,  as I noted above in the “Crossing the Alps” question, gets to reroll a Disaster result when crossing the Alps or caught in a storm.  

Hannibal also adds 6 movement points to the value of the card he plays to move (the higher the card played, the more movement points). (Movement points, by the way, do not guarantee the leader moves anywhere, but the more they have, the more chances they have to make a successful move, and to keep on moving).

Finally, Hannibal is a “Master Tactician” – when the Roman plays an Event Card in a Land Battle against Hannibal, the Carthaginian player rolls a die: on a 5 or 6 the card has no effect and is returned, face-down (used) to the Roman side.

On the opposite end of the spectrum the Romans have such leaders as:

Aemillius Paulus, who “Leads from the Front.” Each time he fights a battle or siege, a die is rolled to see if he dies, is wounded, or inspires his troops (may reroll a battle die).  

Terrentius Varro, who is both “Impetuous” and “Inept.” The first characteristic requires that if he moves, it must always be toward the closest enemy Leader and attempt to bring him to battle. If he does so, however, the second characteristic kicks in – Inept – which means any 6’s he rolls he must reroll.

Grant: What are the Victory Conditions for each side? Which side has the simpler time reaching their Victory Conditions?

Mark: As with Hitler’s Reich, if one side’s hand size is reduced to zero, they lose. If one side’s hand size is 12 (the maximum) and the other’s is 3 (or less) the side with the lower total loses. These are both sudden death victory conditions, and the game ends IMMEDIATELY if either occur. If one side holds BOTH Rome AND Carthage, that side wins and wins IMMEDIATELY.

If none of the above occur, at the end of turns one and two the Romans must make a Roman Resolve Roll to see if they continue the war (that, however, only happens if Rome itself is besieged, and Rome does not control any of the Italian cites AND if the Roman hand size is smaller – and then it is still a die roll to see if they sue for peace (lose) or fight on.

Otherwise, if the game goes the full three turns, and none of the sudden death requirements are met,  it depends on hand size.

If the Carthaginian hand size is higher, Carthage wins (Rome is exhausted and makes peace).

Rome must have a hand size that is at least three higher than that of Carthage. If not, both sides are exhausted, peace breaks out and Carthage “wins” in the sense that it came out better than it did historically, and Hannibal can now demand of his son the same kind of oath that his father demanded:  Revenge.

Grant: What optional rules are included in the playbook?

Mark: There are only a few, and they are related to giving a handicap to one side or the other to balance play between a novice and someone well-versed in the game. There is also a “What If” option that makes it more likely for Philip of Macedon to enter the war, and one that makes it less likely.

Grant: What major changes has the game undergone since being initially play tested? Are there elements you are still working on?

Mark: I started this design in 2013, even before Hitler’s Reich was finished. Everything I learned from how the system worked and the rules were presented in Hitler’s Reich I put into Hannibal’s Revenge.    

We keep testing the solo rules – the heart of which is the one developed by Vez Arponen for Hitler’s Reich. This has been modified, of course, by the fact that this is a very different war, and I have also introduced some of what I used in designing the solo rules in the Ancient Civilization Series, the first of which (Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea) includes a Punic Wars Scenario.

Grant: What is next for you Mark? Any other designs in the works?

Mark: Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East has been done for two years; the map and cards were finished by the artist over a year ago; the rules were edited and proofed by Kai Jensen last October. We are waiting for the rulebook and playbook to be laid out by the artist. We can then proof it and get it moving forward on the GMT conveyor belt.

Ancient Civilizations of the Far East is in the prototype stage, but honestly I have set that on the back burner until Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East gets laid out and proofed.

Compass Games is redoing my East Wind Rain design from the ’80’s (strategic war in the Pacific, first done by 3W and then done much better by Task Force Games).

War and Peace (whose 6th edition came out last year with One Small Step) is being converted to a computer game by Avalon Digital in France (the guys who do a lot of the Paradox Games).

Ancient Civilizations at War (a card game) is in the playtest stage.

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea, which came out two years ago, is now on Vassal and is now being produced for Tabletop Simulator as well.

Most of my time, however, has been spent on my Throne of Darius novels – the fourth of which came out in January – and the fifth of which I am working on now and plan to bring out this summer.

In these novels, Alexander is “not so great.” Alexander, on the contrary, is the villain. The heroes are the Greeks who fought against him (and more Greeks fought against him than for him; and he killed more Greeks than he killed Persians).

If you are interested in checking out Mark’s Throne of Darius Series of novels, you can visit the following link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083S9X3TH?ref_=dbs_p_pwh_rwt_anx_a_lnk&storeType=ebooks

If you are interested in Hannibal’s Revenge you can pre-order a copy on the P500 game page from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-912-hannibals-revenge.aspx