The Ancient World – Carthage, The First Punic War – A Boardgaming Way Analysis

Other December 27, 2014 0
The Ancient World – Carthage, The First Punic War – A Boardgaming Way Analysis

By Tom Thornsen

Carthage – The First Punic War – Sicily at Start


Open Book - Carthage the First Punic WarIt is 264 BC and you are a member of the Roman Senate. News comes from the south that the Syracusan Tyrant Hiero has allied with the Carthaginians and is preparing to make war on your allies, the Mamertines of Messana. The Carthaginian armies and navies in Western Sicily are prepared to move, but will they support the Syracusan forces, or exploit them? You know that the alliance is fragile, and a successful demonstration of Roman power could well convince Hiero to abandon his campaign and make peace with Rome. Consul Claudius Caudex and his Consular army of two legions in Rhegium have been given permission to cross the Fretum Siculi to assist in the defense of Messana, but Hiero is already on the march and likely to place the city under siege before the Roman army can act. Will the small fleet with Consul Claudius be sufficient  to escort the army to Sicily in the presence of the Carthaginian fleet? Will the Carthaginian army of mercenaries and levies known to be in Western Sicily come to assist Hiero? What are the real intentions of Carthage? How will history view your decisions in this matter?

Let’s find out!


This site is for the discussion of strategies and tactics for the GMT Games Carthage Volume #2 of The Ancient World Series games. This can be a very long game, as it spans 28 years of history with each turn being one year in duration. Each year the Roman Senate elected two new Consuls, so each yearly turn will begin with the Roman Elections, which include not only the election of Consuls and various Proconsuls, Praetors and other leaders of military forces, but decisions on army and navy recruitment. The Carthaginian leadership will have to make similar decisions, as they attempt to expand their trading empire and prevent Rome from interfering.


Carthage was designed by Richard Berg and developed by Alan Ray. It is published by GMT Games.

Victory Conditions

Always keep the victory conditions in mind. If you don’t know where you are going, then you won’t get there.

Automatic Victory – These are not effective until the Victory Determination phase of 260 BC

  • Carthaginian Land Victory: Carthage controls any one large city, or any two Medium cities in Roman Italy.
  • Roman Land Victory: Rome controls the city of Carthage.
  • Either Player: Control of the provinces of Corsica and Sardinia as well as the cities of Syracuse, Messana, Agrigentum, Panormus, Drepanum, Lilybaeum, Lipara and Melita.
  • Naval Power Victory: Control of and a squadron in the ports of Syracusa, Lilybaeum, Drepanum, Panormus, Messana, Hippo Diarryhtus, Hippo Regius, Utica and Caralis.

End of Game Victory – Determined by Victory points.  This is a combination of Land and Naval Objectives. This will be discussed later.

The At start situation.

At the start of the game Carthage already controls the ports of Lilybaeum, Drepanum, Hippo Diarryhtus, Hippo Regius, Utica and Caralis, with a small fleet in most of them.  It would take no more than one or two naval moves to put a small fleet into all of them.  The only two ports that Carthage does not control for this victory condition are Messana and Syracuse.  In fact, they don’t really need to put fleets into all the ports. If they can capture and hold Syracusae and Messana, they need only take control of the provinces of Corsica and Sardinia for a Carthaginian Land Victory. The straight forward path to accomplish this is to use the Syracusan army to siege and capture Messana, applying most of the losses during the siege to them. Having “used up” the Syracusans, the Carthaginians then march to Syracusa and attempt to take the city.

The initial decision that Carthage must make is where to send the army of Hanno Hannibal, which starts in Lilybaeum.  The Carthaginian Political Climate is usually Cautious, and unless the situation changes significantly during the first couple of turns it will remain so. This means that Carthage is willing to support only a single army outside of Africa. That being the case, Carthage must decide where their army is best employed. Sailing to Sardinia and Corsica to gain military control of those provinces, or remaining in Sicily to reduce the possibility of Rome winning a victory against Hiero.

The army could conduct a naval transport to take control of the provinces of Corsica and Sardinia. These provinces start the game allied to Carthage, so the cities there are friendly to Carthage, but only Caralis and Aleria have garrisons, so only they are controlled by Carthage. In order to control those two provinces, Carthage must send the army there to enter the small cities and take control of them. Rule 11.3 applies, so Carthage need only have an army end a move in two cities of Southern Sardinia, two cities of Northern Sardinia and two cities in Corsica.  There will be no competition from Rome in the early turns, as Rome cannot conduct naval transport missions for a few years. The army could then return to Sicily, where it will be in position to support the siege of Messana, then turn on Hiero and march on Syracusae.

The only real risk involved in that plan is the possibility that Rome will win a battle against Hiero, thus causing the Syracusan Tyrant to switch sides at the end of that year. The chances of any Roman army defeating Hiero are slim, which we will discuss later, but it is still worth keeping in mind. The conservative path for Carthage is to have Hanno Hannibal remain in Sicily to support Hiero and eventually turn on him to conduct a siege of Syracusae after “using up” the Syracusan army, then send fleets to occupy all the required ports for the naval victory.

The Roman early years are primarily an effort to prevent Carthage for achieving either of these goals. Their options are limited, since they may not use naval transport until the ports of Ostia and Neopolis have been built to their maximum. This requires 3 years, and no additional naval squadrons may be built in years where the ports are expanded. The Roman navy is all but non-existent at the start of the game, and even if squadrons are built they will require two or three years of training before they have any chance of surviving an encounter with a Carthaginian fleet, let alone winning a naval battle. It will be a long time before Rome can deploy a fleet with any chance of defeating a similar sized Carthaginian fleet.

The first four years of the war Rome must concentrate on getting armies across the Fretum Siculi to support Messana and convince the Syracusans to defect. A long siege of Messana will lead to the attrition of the Syracusan army, which will only make the eventual attempt by Carthage to take the city even easier.

The forces at the start of 264 BC

The Roman Consular Army I at Rhegium.
The Carthaginian Army I at Lilybaeum.
The Syracusan Army I at Syracusae.


First Punic War

Eastern Sicilia, the Fretum Siculi and the Southwest coast of Roman Italy


The Carthaginian player starts the game with any one LAM in hand, which will usually be the Hiero LAM.  Since the Romans cannot use aval Transport at this time, Hiero is free to march his entire force to Messana.  While Syracusan forces may never leave Eastern Sicilia, they do not suffer from march or inertia attrition in the scenario. They do suffer Siege Attrition. With a Campaign rating of 7, there is an 80% chance that Hiero will make a successful continuation roll, putting Messana under siege. The usual situation at Messana after this first activation is shown below.

The Mamertines are now under siege by Syracuse. Since Messana is in a flat hex and Hiero has supply from nearby cities, his Siege Attrition die roll modifier (drm) is -4.  With 34 adjusted SPs, he suffers no siege attrition losses 50% of the time, and more than 1SP is lost only on a die roll of 8 or 9.

There is a Carthaginian fleet consisting of a single quinquereme on blockade duty, which adds a +3 drm to the Mamertines Siege Attrition drm. They will always lose 1 SP, and an attrition die roll of 6 or more will eliminate the entire garrison. If the Roman can get his Fleet I, which consists of a single Trireme, into the hex it will negate the drm from the Carthaginian fleet and greatly improve the survival chances of the Mamertines. The relief will be temporary, as even if the Carthaginian fleet fails to intercept, a larger and better led fleet will arrive soon to either drive the Roman fleet away or sink it. Unless he has a significant numerical advantage, the Roman must avoid naval combat when possible, especially if the Carthaginian has a better leader. A Carthaginian fleet with the tactical advantage in naval combat will rarely lose a battle and often do significant damage to the Roman fleet.

Since Syracuse will switch their allegiance to Rome if Hiero can be defeated in battle, the Romans best hope is that the Consul LAM will be drawn before Hanno Hannibal can lead his army to Messana to assist Hiero.  Even so, crossing the Fretum Siculi is risky in the presence of the enemy fleet.

Crossing the Fretum Siculi

If Rome is going to have any influence in Sicilia, Roman legions will be required. Getting them there means crossing the strait. CR 6.38 is the rule to know. The item to note is that you can cross the strait into an enemy occupied hex, but you cannot exit an enemy occupied hex to do so. The consequences of this should be obvious. If you don’t drive away the besiegers, the Consular Army ends up under siege in Messana with the Mamertines. Massena can become one big POW camp, as you can not make the return trip to Rhegium, and it isn’t a healthy place.

Roman players will also need to keep CR 7.62 and CR 7.65 in mind, especially since there is a Carthaginian fleet outside Messana. This fleet may attempt to intercept any Roman force crossing the strait and force a naval battle. While Claudius can attach Roman Fleet I and its single Trireme for the crossing, there would still be a naval a battle. Any percentage loss in the naval combat is applied to the ground forces crossing as well. While the crossing is successful even if the Romans lose the naval battle, is it really worth losing 20%-25% or even more of the army?  If intercepted, Claudius has the option to cancel the crossing and end the move back in Rhegium. He can attempt continuation with a 70% chance of success, waiting to catch the Carthaginian fleet napping. With an initiative rating of ‘2’ he will have additional chances to slip past the enemy fleet and get his entire army across. Should a larger enemy fleet appear before the crossing, any attempt to cross that is intercepted would lead to disaster if not aborted.

Once he makes the move across, he has to decide if he wants to end the crossing inside Messana, or land outside the city.  If he opts to land outside of the city to avoid being under siege, then the besieging force may attempt to intercept and force a battle. (Normally an army may not intercept an enemy force moving into its hex, but rule 6.53 does allow it in this case.)  Intercepted or not, if there is a battle in this hex before the end of the turn there is a die roll modifier of 3 against the Romans. That is a steep price to pay. If he opts to land inside the city, then the landing is uncontested, but he will have to pass another continuation roll if he wants to move outside the city to attack the besiegers. In this situation there is no die roll modifier due to the strait crossing.

You are going to need every man and every favorable die roll modifier you can get when the battles start. With a campaign rating of 6 and an initiative rating of 2 (2 activates each year), Claudius does well to avoid rash actions and plan for a normal battle outside the gates of Messana.

After all this, Rome is in position to drive the Syracusan army away from Messana.  Or, is it?

Rome versus Syracusae

“Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” – Sun Tzu

If Claudius can bring Hiero and his army to battle before Hanno Hannibal brings his army to Messana and win the battle, the Syracusans will switch sides at the end of the turn and join Rome. To win the battle, a net die roll after all modifiers of ‘8’ or greater is usually required. The Battle Results Table (BRT) in this game can lead to wildly unpredictable results.  There are no tactics in this game. There are very few instances where one side or the other are assured victory in battle.  All you can do is to seek every advantage available to your side in the current situation, deploy for battle and hope for the best. Every range of die roll results will have one or two “X(#) unpredictable results, so anything is possible!

The most significant variable is the Leader Tactical Ability Adjustment. If Claudius (D) is attacking Hiero (C), the drm can vary from -7 (worst case) to +4 (best case). The average is -2. The Roman election process is quite unpredictable, and waiting for a better consul next year is wishful thinking. Like it or not, Claudius is going to have to be the man this year.

A full strength Roman Consular army has 36 infantry and 8 cavalry SPs. Hiero is likely to have close to 20 infantry and 7 elite cavalry with him. This is sufficient for 1.5 to 1 odds, or a +1 drm. This is immediately negated by the Syracusan elite cavalry, which provides a -1 drm. Rome does not have a sufficient cavalry advantage for cavalry superiority.

If both generals have an average day the -2 drm means that a Roman victory will be rare. In fact, it offers a reasonable chance for a Roman defeat and internment at POW camp Messana. That being the case, what options are available to the Roman general to gain additional die roll modifiers?  The one that comes to mind is a higher combat ratio adjustment, and that requires significant reinforcements.  There is only one significant reinforcement available, and that would be Fulvius with Consular Army II in Etruria.

Roman Consular Army II is identical to Army I, although Fulvius lacks the initiative and energy of Claudius.  His force would be a welcome addition to any general seeking to cross the Fretum Siculi into Eastern Sicily. If Rome uses his first Consul LAM to activate Fulvius, he will need to consult the Senate for permission to leave Etruria. There is a 60% chance that permission will be granted, allowing him to march his army to Rhegium with a single activation, although the attrition will cause the loss of an SP along the way. If the Senate denies him permission to leave, then there is little for him to do this year other than move to the port of Pisae on the coast and wait for next year. He now occupies the north end of the coastal road so the army is better positioned to move south the next year. With an initiative rating of one (1), Consul Fulvius is done for the year.

But the odds slightly favor the Senate granting permission for the move south. Moving to Rhegium accumulates 14/2 = 7 AAPs, reduced by 3 for ending in the medium city. This will reduce the army by a single SP. Rome has now almost doubled the size of the force at Rhegium, but it does so by using all four Legions currently on the board. Is it worth the risk?

When the next Consul LAM is drawn, Claudius now attempts crossing the strait into Messana, bringing 71 infantry and 16 cavalry into Sicily. With such a large force, a naval battle during the crossing would be a disaster. With the Roman fleet escorting, even a single Carthaginian squadron could reduce the army by 25%. Any larger enemy naval force could  utterly destroy the army. Any crossing that is intercepted should wait for Carthage to fail the intercept roll so it can proceed without a naval combat. The strait crossing is land movement, but even such a large force would not suffer any attrition if they ended the move in Messana as the city would negate the attrition of East Sicilia.

If Rome can pull this off, then the battle outside of Messana would now be 3:1, for a +3 drm. In addition the cavalry SP differential is now 16-7, which is just enough for another +1 drm.  Alas, the Roman Command Efficiency for ‘D’ rated leaders will add a -1drm for leading 4 legions into battle. The end result is a net die roll modifier of +2 before Leader Tactical Ability is rolled. With average rolls, the net die roll modifier would be “0” for the battle, rather than “-2.”  As a modified roll of 8 or more is required to break the siege these added troops make a victory against Hiero more probable, but not likely.

Any army involved in a battle is going to end up disrupted, even if they are victorious. If they lose the battle or 20% of their force, the army will be disorganized. A disrupted defending army suffers a small combat die roll modifier, while a disorganized army suffers a significant (+3 drm) if attacked, and also incurs a +1 drm in siege attrition. Any army is usually good for one battle each year, after which it loses a lot of offensive potential. If only disorganized, it can still defend itself well, but a -3 drm for any attack it attempts means it is usually finished as an offensive force for the year. A disrupted or useless army is at far greater risk on defense.

The Roman Consuls would be better advised to conduct separate operations with their Consular armies against the Syracusans, or any enemy for that matter. The first army attacks, and while it is unlikely to defeat the Syracusans, it will at least disorganize the enemy army. With some good fortune it might even disrupt them. Later that year, the unused and good order second army can attack the Syracusans again. This second attack will have a better chance of victory.

Rome also has the advantage of being able to retreat after battle into POW camp Messana. If the council has an initiative rating greater than 1, he will have subsequent activations that year. As he is inside a city, even one under siege, he can use the activation to improve the condition of his army. Should the Roman Army be disrupted in its attack, the Consul uses his subsequent activation to improve his army to disorganized. It will return to good order at the end of the turn. Being outside the city, the Syracusan army will have to wait for the end of the turn to improve its status. If disrupted, it will only be able to improve its condition to disorganized at the end of the turn, so it starts the next turn at a disadvantage.

Any battle that results in the Syracusan army becoming disrupted puts the army at risk. While the Syracusan army could abandon the siege and return to a friendly city to refit, this would result in Syracuse switching sides at the end of the year if Messana is not under siege and there are Roman legions in the city. Before this is allowed, Carthage will surely send Hanno Hannibal to take charge of the situation.

Such a one, two punch will not be possible in the first year of the war. Consul Fulvius, should he come south at all, is done for the year. Roman elections in the following years may produce military leaders better than these two, but don’t count it. If one really good military leader is elected in subsequent years, it may be best to send his army over the Fretum Siculi to deal with Hiero. There is plenty of work for the other consular army to do in Liguri and Gallia Massilia. The Senate may even vote to raise a third army, which would certainly bode well for an offensive in Sicily.

The initial situation for Rome does not look promising. In the absence of a good general to lead an army into Sicily, what Rome must do is ensure that they can quickly come to the aid of Syracuse when Carthage turns on them. To that end, an army in Rhegium ready to intervene is preferable to an army lost in Sicily doing battle with the Syracusans.

Rome versus Carthage

In spite of their alliance with the Mamertines, Rome usually does more harm than good if it attempts to battle the Syracusan forces that besiege Messana. Carthage is the real enemy, not Syracuse. Unless a significant military advantage presents itself, in the form of a surplus of Roman armies or an outstanding general being elected to command an army, Rome does well to leave the Syracusan army as strong as possible. Given enough time, Rome can raise and train many more naval squadrons and legions than Carthage. Time does not favor Carthage.

Sometime after 260 BC, Carthage will move an army and fleet to besiege Syracusae. Control of this city is required for either the Land or Naval victory. With an IDS of ‘7’, a significant garrison will take up the defense of the city and await the arrival of Hiero to break the siege. Exactly when the Syracusans switch sides is not clear in the rules, but a later clarification helps to clear that up. “If either player attempts to take control of any Syracusan controlled city, then Syracuse becomes permanently allied to the other player.” This can only be done by initiating an involuntary surrender or siege attempt, at which point Hiero will switch sides. In point of fact, Carthage will probably wait until after the Hiero LAM has been used to do this, so it is probably a moot point.

In a perfect storm, Carthage will find a situation where the Hiero LAM has been drawn early and Carthaginian fleets have moved to block the Fretum Siculi. Messana will be controlled by Carthage, not Syracuse. Ideally they will have a second army in Sicily. In fact, this is a risky venture unless they do have a second army available to deal with both the Syracusan army and the Romans. With multiple LAMs available for the Carthaginian army in Sicily they can move to Syracuse on one LAM to put the city under siege, then conduct siege operations.

Rome may find it difficult to get an army across the Fretum Siculi, especially if Messana is controlled by Carthage and a fleet is stationed there. The best way for Rome to deal with this is to build up the ports of Ostia and Neopolis early. This allows the Roman Armies to use Naval Transport. They don’t need any naval squadrons to escort them, but as long as they can avoid an intercept by an enemy fleet, they can make probably make it ashore in Sicily someplace. Their very presence in Eastern Sicily will make the Siege of Syracuse much more problematic for Carthage.

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