Yeah, it's true. I almost didn't buy the game that turned out to be Columbia's single biggest hit.
When I first heard about Hammer of the Scots I was very dubious. Up until that point I had purchased every single Columbia Games title to that point, without disappointment. I was an early enthusiast for block games, ever since I got the Avalon Hill edition of Napoleon about 1978 or so.
But I really had my doubts about Hammer of the Scots because of the theme. Medieval border warfare between the Scots and the English? Yeah, I had seen Braveheart and enjoyed it (even though I knew most of the "history" in it was suspect, except for the parts that were wholly made up). But I had a hard time seeing how that would be a good game.
And thematically it was pretty far off my beaten paths. Of all the eras of war I don't find medieval times all that interesting. Everything else Columbia had done up to that point was much more up my line: World War II, Napoleonic wars, wars in North America.
Finally I decided to go ahead and get it, mostly out of a desire to keep my Columbia set complete. I'd bought everything else up to that point.
As it turns out, of course, Hammer of the Scots turns out to have been a great game, and is probably the most successful Columbia game ever, at least in popularity with players. (I'm not sure about sales).
I usually make the point that theme is of pre-eminent importance for a wargame. For most euros the game comes first and the theme is added to provide color, context and market entry. Wargames usually (not always) start with the theme and are grown around that theme. This often causes design problems because real life isn't tidy and war is among the least tidy of human activities. It's hard to have simple and elegant game designs that also show fidelity to history.
But Hammer of the Scots does show that theme, as important as it is, doesn't need to overwhelm a good solid game design. We don't have enough knowledge of the situation in Scotland at the turn of the Fourteenth Century to create a detailed simulation in any event, so any wargame set in that era will necessarily have to be impressionistic to some extent. Hammer of the Scots succeeds beyond the usual because of its clever game design choices. There are a number of good ones, but I think the one that stands out is the way nobles are treated, especially their ability to switch sides.
Crusader Rex is very similar to Hammer of the Scots and a good game in its own right, but I think it's just a tad less fun and interesting to play, despite being very similar to Hammer of the Scots, because it doesn't have this rule. I'm not implying it should have that rule, the historical situation in the Holy Land during the Crusades was different.
No, it's just that the duplicity of Scottish noble politics creates an opening for the game mechanic and Hammer of the Scots runs with it in a particularly successful way. I'm glad I gave it a chance.
From my game blog at http://pawnderings.blogspot.com
I think you made an excellent choice but then I'm partial to the game!
I have been playing it online with a knowledgeable opponent who has taught me the ropes and the strategy! We're in our 15th game!
This game had been on my radar for months (maybe even years). I made it a point to play a game somewhere during Origins 2008 to settle the issue. On Saturday morning at Origins, I woke up bright and early and headed hoping to get a pickup game going. Happily, David C. saw me within minutes --- GAME ON!
My intitial flush of success with English infantry in some of the Northern sections of Scotland ebbed away. Year after year, Edward must have been really bogged down in France because he never showed up in my Levy until 1301. Almost caught Wallace once, but he escaped. Ugh.
By the time Edward was a force, Wallace had rampaged through Scotland and had turned nearly every Noble to the Scots cause. In the end, the Braveheart scenario was a rout - with the English having just 1 noble left at the scenario end.
Despite the lopsided loss, I absolutely loved the game. David was a good teacher and the game was a really rousing one. A few hours later, I found the Columbia vendor and I inquired about buying a copy. Dumbfound and happy, I just kind of froze with excitement. He looked at me with a weird expression and asked, "Well, do you want to take a picture or something?!?" Without further delay, I brought out my money and purchased the game.
Now I'm a very happy owner of HOTS, and after applying the stickers last night, I played a game this evening - an English rout this time. This one is going to hit the table frequently. Oh yeah.