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Subject: Father and son review of the Hammer of the Scots rss

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Phlebas Sosostris
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This is a review written by my son followed by a few comments by his dad.

Hammer of the Scots Review

Hammer of the Scots is a two-player game depicting the Scottish wars for independence from the late 1200s to the early 1300s. There are two scenarios in Hammer of the Scots. In the first scenario, William Wallace and Andrew Moray lead a revolt against Edward I, King of England. In the second scenario one player plays Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, whilst the other plays Edward II, King of England. The focus of the game is on controlling the different Scottish nobles; the player who controls the most at the end of the game wins.

Each scenario is divided into approximately 10 years. Each year players are dealt five cards. Each turn each player will choose a card and follow its instructions. The year ends when the players have used all of their cards. Most cards will feature a number on them whilst a few will have special actions. The cards with numbers on them state how many armies a player can move in that turn, an army being a group of units in one territory. The card system is efficient and stops turns taking forever due to limited options. However, a poor hand can be very annoying.

Hammer of the Scots uses the 'fog of war' system. The fog of war system represents each unit and leader with a block; blocks face away from the opposing player so he does not know the identity of the unit except in battle. Each block in the game has three features: a movement value; an endurance rating and a combat strength. The movement value states how many territories the block can move in a turn. This is generally two but some blocks can move three. The endurance of a block shows how many hits the block can take in battle before it is removed from play. Each side of the block has a number of dots on it; each time a hit is taken the block is turned to the next side which is always one dot lower than the previous. A block is removed when it takes a hit on its final side. The strength of the unit shows how well the unit performs in battle. The strength of a unit consists of a letter and a number. The letter is A,B or C. Units with A attack first followed by units with B followed by units with C. The number represents the ability of that block to hit. When a block attacks it rolls dice equal to its endurance and scores a hit on the enemy for each result equal or less than its attack number. English blocks consist of many infantry(C2), knights(B3), light cavalry(A2), Welsh and Ulster Infantry(C3), archers(B3) and King Edward(B4). Scottish blocks consist of the many clans (c2/c3), archers(b3), cavalry(B1), Wallace(A3), the Norse(A2) and the French Knights(B3). Overall the block system is simple without any ambiguities.

Nobles are the key focus of Hammer of the Scots. The game is won by controlling the majority of the 14 nobles at the end of the game. Each noble has a castle on the map. At the start of the game the Scottish player controls three nobles whilst the English control 11. It is important not to think the game as biased to English upon reading this as the Scottish player has other advantages. Nobles begin the game in their castle and return to it at the end of each year. Nobles can be converted by occupying their castles at the end of a year or by being defeated in battle. Nobles are all generic B2 blocks.

The board is a map of Scotland divided into different territories. Each territory has a number stating the unit capacity of that region over winter. Territories also feature any towns/settlements in that area along with flags marking different battles that took place in that region. This is for purely historical purposes and it has no effect on game. There are also two types of borders in the games, red borders and green borders. Green borders border lacks challenging terrain and are easy for units to cross. Red borders represent rough terrain and only a couple of units may cross each turn, and they also end a unit's movement for the turn. The map is pretty and the historic references increase the theme of the game.

Combat is initiated when a block enters a territory containing an enemy block. Battles can take up to ten minutes if they are major conflicts. Such conflicts can often decide the winner and loser of the game and players do not enter them lightly. Most battles though are small attempts to capture a noble with only two or three blocks.

One of the most important parts of the game is the wintering phase. In that phase all blocks which do not fit into their region's troop capacity are removed and all nobles return home. In this phase blocks can heal and the Scots can produce new blocks. For better or worse the final turn of a year is dominated by players trying to fit every unit in their territories.

In conclusion, Hammer of the Scots is a well-done, thematic representation of the Scottish wars for independence.

Comments by father

It is 1296. Edward I, Longshanks, has crushed the Scottish people and become known as the "Hammer of the Scots." His imperial ambitions have driven King John Balliol into exile and there are only glimmers of resistance. However, the Scottish people cannot be defeated. Enter Wallace and Moray. They will fight and fight until the Scottish people are free. Wallace's ability to attack swiftly and retreat even faster wins several victories. Can you lead the Scottish people to freedom?

Hammer of the Scots is a very thematic block game based on the two phases of the Scottish Wars of Independence. In the first phase, Wallace tried to restore Balliol to the thrown but he was eventually captured and then hung, drawn and quartered by the English. In the second phase, Robert the Bruce crowned himself king and principally had to fight Edward's son. Edward II did not have his father's military ability and the war ended with a massive victory for the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314. The games' two scenarios simulate these two phases.

The warfare is asymmetric. The Scots have Wallace or Bruce who can hit fast and retreat faster. The English have many strong units but they are slower and most of them go home for the winter, and have to be remustered each year. Whilst the game initially appears to be about winning battles, it is really an area control game. Every area controlled leads to more reinforcements in the winter and nobles defect to whichever side controls their home territory. The Scots therefore try to build up forces going down from the North whilst the English try to build from the South. The key territory is therefore Menteith in central Scotland which is rich and yields many reinforcements. Uncoincidentally, it contains Stirling Castle and the Battlefield of Bannockburn.

The game is tricky to play. Poor play will lead to a swift loss. Scots and English require different strategies but either can win. The English only get new blocks in England but they enter play at full strength whereas the Scots' units enter weak and have to be built up. The player with a better strategy will generally win. We have seen phases of thinking one side is better and then the other as our strategies evolve. The set-up time is small and a game typically takes about 60 minutes. However, it is often shorter as one player has been hammered to death and resigns.

Overall, this is one of the best games we own.

Now's the day, now's the hours,
See the front of battle lour!

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adam wilson

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See approach proud Edward's power,
Chains and slavery!

Nice review. How do you finish a game in an hour? Most games I have played go 2+.

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