This year the Hannibal tournament drew 32 veteran players and 5 tournament rookies, including 9 former WBC/WAM champs to play five rounds of swiss play for five plaques. Once again, the quality of competitors was exceptional, with an average AREA rating of 5347. Even the tournament rookies played strong games. Players tended to play more rounds this year instead of drifting off to other events, such that our total number of games played went up from 43 last year to 58 this year. Perhaps that will earn us back the Sand Plaque for 2020.
Early resignations were up this year, dropping average game length to three and a half hours. Fortunately, players played quick enough to avoid adjudication. In fact, the GM would like to applaud the courtesy of players regarding their rules questions and disputes. It was a relatively calm year—perhaps aiding the GM in his own quest for the Wood. Bidding for sides paralleled recent years with an average of 1.8 for Carthage, with the highest bid at 4 for Carthage (occurring only once, in the final). Carthage won most of the games in Round 1, but Rome evened the score in Rounds 2 and 3, then Carthage pulled ahead again in Round 4, finishing with a total of 33 victories, to Rome’s 25. In only two games was Carthage was sacked. While Rome was besieged in a couple of games, but never fell. In games lasting a full 9 turns, victories were split evenly, with five of the games ending in a 9-9 tie for a Carthaginian victory. Messenger Intercepts were fairly divided, as were late Messengers (turn 8 or 9). The Syracuse Alliance was played in 26 of the 58 games, being sacked by Rome five times. Turn 9 plays of Syracuse occurred five times, leading to Carthaginian victories three of those times. Philip joined the war 24 times, defecting six times. Hannibal died 13 times, but in two cases Carthage still won. Scipio Africanus died in eight games, with Rome losing each time.
The Valley Games version was the preferred rule set in slightly less than half the games (the Second Edition with the original game set still favored). The Phalanx version appears to have been difficult to acquire; nobody played in the tournament with one.
The 32 entrants arriving for Round 1 made for a nice bracket. Unfortunately, staggered arrival times left the GM bungling his attempt to keep rookie entrants away from seeded players while randomizing the bracket for the rest of the veterans. The odd-man awaiting a veteran entrant was No. 2 Seed, two-time champion George Young. Alas, rookie tournament entrant Randy Buehler “drew the short stick” and experienced a true baptism in fire. As we shall discover, Randy was more than capable of rising to the challenge. Buehler bid 2 to play as Carthage and proceeded to seize four Roman provinces (plus Capua) on favorable dice rolls wherein George rolled 6 when need 1 and vice versa. Hannibal’s double envelopment destruction of Marcellus army prompted a turn 3 resignation by Young, our first seeded player to fall. No. 1 Seed, James Pei’s Carthage benefitted from an early Syracuse and Messenger to gain an insurmountable lead and Michael Ussery’s resignation on turn 6. No. 9 Seed Lyman Moquin pressed an early Carthaginian advantage against Tim Miller then benefitted from a Philip + Messenger combo for four final plays in turn 5, leading to Miller’s resignation. Nels Thompson played as Rome for a Bid of 0 against No. 5 Seed Chris Byrd, and was defeated in his efforts to sack Carthage, resigning on turn 7. No. 11 Seed Randy Pippus resigned on turn 5 when Nick Pei played Syracuse to go up 13-5 in the province count. Tournament rookie, Mike Barnes’s Carthaginians forced Kurt Mericli to sue for peace due to lack of PCs on turn 7. The third rookie to win in Round 1 was Alan Richbourg, whose Carthaginians defeated No. 10 Seed Larry Luongo by killing Scipio on turn 6 in Italy and then gaining the Syracuse Alliance and a Messenger in turn 8. Former champ Aaron Fuegi drew No. 8 Seed Michael Sosa, fighting a tough contest that pivoted on Carthage’s Messenger Intercept on turn 9 grabbing the Syracuse card in time to secure the 9-9 victory for Fuegi. No. 3 Seed Stuart Tucker’s island strategy ran into a few bumps against Gary Dickson, with Hasdrubal being run down in the hills of Sardinia, and Hannibal dying on turn 7 in Sicily, but managed to win a 10-7 victory with a timely Syracuse alliance. Peter Suwak, the only rookie to loose in Round 1, took Nathan Wagner to turn 8 before resigning after Scipio’s death and the Syracuse alliance gave Wagner the advantage. No. 4 Seed Keith Wixson’s Carthage was sorely tested by John Boisvert, but prevailed when Hannibal took Etruria on turn 9 to gain the 9-9 win. Thus, Round 1 witnessed Seeded players going only 6-4 (and 2 no-shows). Veterans and Rookies alike came well prepared.
Round 2: Defending Champ James Pei forced Greg Ottoman to bid 3 to play as Carthage, then drove Hannibal out of Italy on turn 5 while also recovering Syracuse, eventually winning 10-8, surviving a turn 9 Messenger Intercept by Greg. Mike Barnes’ Carthaginians lost Hannibal on turn 6, lost Philip’s alliance on turn 7, and suffered a turn 8 Messenger Intercepted to lose by 10-8 to Mike Mitchell. Wixson’s Romans drove Hasdrubal out of Bruttium, Hannibal out of Gaul, and killed Mago in Sicily to secure a 10-8 victory over Moquin. Sean McCulloch’s Rome recaptured Syracuse on turn 6 and killed Hannibal in Gaul on turn 8, leading to Richbourg’s resignation. Bob Woodson’s Rome pressed an early advantage with two Messengers and a turn 7 sacking of Syracuse, but on turn 8 Tucker killed Scipio and used Messenger to gain the 10-8 victory. Fuegi’s Rome forced Buehler’s turn 7 resignation. Wagner’s Rome killed Hannibal on turn 6, leading to Nick Pei’s resignation. Reese’s Carthage lost Philip’s aid on turn 8 and resigned to Byrd. Thus, the first day of the event ended with eight undefeated players, of whom five were former champions.
With four matches of undefeated players, plus eight matches in the loser brackets, the field remained strong, despite nearby events tempting players to defect. It is a tribute to the replayability of this game that players keep returning to play in later rounds even with narrow chances for prizes. Mitchell’s Africanus twice failed to defeat Hannibal in even combat against James Pei, and found himself short of CUs late in the game when he suffered a disastrous turn 7 deal of Philip, Syracuse, and Messenger to Carthage. Wixson’s Hannibal crossed the Alps twice into Cisalpinia, being defeated and forced to flee for good on turn 7, eventually losing 10-8 to McCulloch. Tucker’s Carthage used Philip’s aid to slip into Sardinia and build up 15 CUs under Hasdrubal by the start of turn 6, then received Syracuse in turn 7, killed Africanus in turn 9, to survive with a 9-9 victory over Fuegi. Chris Byrd’s Carthage gained Syracuse in turn 5, killed Africanus in turn 6, and gained Wagner’s resignation in turn 7. In the two shortest games of the tournament, two Round 3 games in the loser bracket witnessed Hannibal dying in Etruria on turn 2 with no retreat, leading to resignation. Perhaps, these players now see why Diplomacy can be valuable in Etruria! At this point in the tournament, Rome had won 21 games to Carthage’s 20.
The four remaining undefeated players included the three top finishers from last year. Eight players with 2-1 records, and eight other players also returned to play, including a next generation Byrd (Chris’ son Aaron). Sean McCulloch continued his bid to upset the favorites, playing as Rome against James Pei. In what turned out to be the pivotal battle of the game, Marcellus had a 15-11 BC advantage against Hannibal, but lost, leading to a cascade of PC consequences that led to McCulloch’s resignation on turn 5 while down by 6 provinces. Chris Byrd forced Stuart Tucker to bid 3 for Carthage, then patiently tried to counter the island strategy. The lack of retreat locations in tight island arenas led Byrd to instead invade Numidia late in the game, where he still found no retreats for Africanus in Tupusucto on turn 7, and Marcellus (+10 CUs) in Saldae on turn 8, then resigning. Given the size of the field, it would take a final record of 4-1 to win the secondary plaques. Eight 2-1 players fought to get their third win and remain eligible. Buehler’s Carthage ground down Nels Thompson to 0 PCs at the start of turn 9. Wixson’s Hannibal ran rampant over Italy by turn 4, and Randy MacInnis resigned (having never beaten Wixson in this game). Wagner survived a miserable turn 6 deal with a 5 province advantage, leading Ussery to resign. Richbourg managed to kill Hannibal on turn 8, but Mitchell intercepted a messenger to swing the tide to a 10-8 Carthaginian victory.
With only five plaques available this year, we saw some players heading for other events (let’s call them Sandbaggers). Three games affected who won consolation plaques, three games were played by those out of the running, and one game matched the remaining two undefeated players. Wixson’s Romans moved on Africa quickly against Chris Byrd, with Flaminius destroying Hanno’s army, leading Byrd to send Hasdrubal to Africa to drive off Nero, but in turn 4 Marcellus sacked Carthage, securing Wixson second place (having faced the toughest combined competition among those ending with 4-1 records). This drove Byrd to seventh place in his bid for points for the Team Tournament Wixson and Tucker relished their tag team victory over the highly-rated Nest of Spies! Buehler earned fourth place and Rookie of the Year acclaim by beating Richbourg with a sack of Carthage on turn 4. Wagner secured fifth place by killing Africanus and defeating Pippus’ Romans.
For the Wood:
The two undefeated players, Pei and Tucker met for a rematch of last year’s battle for the Wood. The loser would drop to third place by virtue of strength of schedules. Pei knew Tucker’s bidding tendency, and drove him to bid 4 for Carthage. Tucker managed to slip Hasdrubal into Sardinia and build it to a strength Pei did not want to tackle. Pei set up an early invasion of Iberia such that upon the arrival of Scipio, the Romans began turn 6 with 29 CUs in the north. Hannibal repeatedly fought Marcellus and Scipio, managing to get just enough initiative to win several double envelopment victories. Unfortunately, the retreat rolls were always low, leading to an extended campaign. Finally, after losing 19 CUs, Pei abandoned the effort and refocused on Numidia in the endgame. Hannibal sailed to Africa to counter Scipio and Nero on turn 9. With Rome holding a 10-8 province advantage, but the Roman army quickly dwindling, Hannibal needed to slip past Nero’s flank force to recover Western Numidia. If Nero stopped him, Tucker’s final hope was slipping past Africanus. Pei had to succeed with both sacrificial interceptions to win (a 22% chance). Just as Tucker’s own interception rolls failed him in the final last year, this year Tucker lost again when the odds favored him. Burial of Nero and Africanus was no consolation to the defeated Carthaginians. Tucker’s wall now contains every color of Hannibal plaque, but Pei reigns as the top player with his sixth world championship.