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Punic Wars Scenario Update

August 7th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Ancients, HPS

HPS has released a free expansion to Paul Bruffel’s very good Ancient Warfare: Punic Wars. The expansion has a lot of new historical battles to round out the war against Carthage, including Zama – a monster of a battle that has all the hallmarks of the HPS insistence that it isn’t a real battle if you can see more than half of it on your screen at once – and Metaurus, the decisive battle of the Second Punic War.

One of the things about ancient battles worth remembering is how lopsided many of them turn out to be. One side has a few hundred causalities and the other one is nearly wiped out. Some of this is patriotic exaggeration, but a lot of it reflects the fact that many classical encounters resulted in one side’s morale breaking, turning tail and then getting chopped down as they tried to flee – just like in Rome: Total War. One big defeat generally meant you didn’t live to fight another day. Rome’s wars against Macedonia, Armenia and the Seleucids, for example, were pretty much done after Pydna, Cynocephelae, Tigranocerta and Magnesia.

The big exception is when you were fighting in the homeland of an enemy that could easily muster armies from its general population. The levies of Persia meant you could have Issus and Gaugamela. And the Roman citizen militias meant that Hannibal had to kick ass over and over again.

So it’s nice that the Punic Wars update includes Trasimene, one of the great ambushes in history. Hannibal gets a lot of deserved credit for Cannae, but that battle would have gone the other way if his Numidians had done what mercenary cavalry usually did instead of sticking to the plan. At Trasimene, Carthage lured a consular army onto a lakeside path, where, trapped in a column, the Romans were hit hard on their left and pinned against the lake.

This was a tactical triumph because it depended on Hannibal knowing how to make the most of unfamiliar terrain. It was a strategic masterstroke because it hardly cost him any men at all. Here’s a guy a thousand miles from home with no hope of reinforcement. So he needs to make his battles count. Cannae had to be fought, but it could have undone him entirely; after that victory, Hannibal is so obsessed with conserving what he has that he focuses on turning Italy against Rome, avoiding pitched battles altogether.

But at Trasimene, Hannibal destroys an entire Roman army at little cost to himself. Sure, Rome just raises another army or five, but this lopsided win lets him keep going and the Senate needs to come up with a plan.

Trasimene has been done before. Rome: Total War has a battle that they call Trasimene but bears zero resemblance to the actual event. iMagic’s Great Battles of Hannibal made it a really tough one for Hannibal to win by imposing strict conditions on how many casualties he could suffer. (This is the old “can you do better than Lee?” game design trope, where you are given impossible conditions to meet, ones that would have won the Civil War in a single day.)

But there’s an indescribable appeal to just obliterating your enemy. The lopsided ancient battles obviously didn’t look lopsided at the time, so seeing a plan come together and knocking out everything in your path. But sometimes you don’t have time for a plan and just want to steamroll your opponent. Or, alternately, hold out against the vast horde approaching you.

If anyone is up for being the Flaminius to my Hannibal, send me a note.


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