Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Off The Shelf - Hammer of the Scots

Every so often KoffeeKlub looks at a game that's gathered a little too much dust on the gaming shelf. Through it's components, rules and general play we'll decide if it should have stayed there.

#1 Hammer of the Scots

Designers: Jerry Taylor / Tom Dalgliesh

Publisher: Columbia Games (2002)

Players: 2

Playing Time: 2-4 hours

Type: Block / Wargame

Ranked: 26th in the wargames category on (BGG)


Hammer of the Scots, now in it's 3rd Edition, is a block-based wargame that brings the War of Scottish Independence (1297-1314) to life. As the English player you seek to subdue a rebellion led by the Braveheart, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce. As the Scottish player you must defeat the invading armies of Edward I and Edward II to win freedom.

In The Box

>A Full-color (22" x 25") map board of Scotland and Northern England with heraldry of the important noble families. This 3rd Edition features new artwork for the map and is shown below.
>58 wooden block counters including leaders, nobles, archers, knights, and infantrymen.
>Stickers for the wooden blocks.
>25 Event Cards.
>4 D6 dice
>An 8-page rulebook including two scenarios "Braveheart" and "The Bruce".

What's In The Box?
The Map
Generally the components are fine, especially the wooden block counters which have a nice feel to them. The stickers do need to be applied to the blocks before your first play, but this only takes ten or fifteen minutes.
Ol' Blue Face

The event cards are of average quality, so you may wish to consider sleeves to protect them during repeat plays.

My main gripe would be that the map board is not a mounted map and therefore requires some reverse bending to get it to sit properly on the table.

The Rules & Learning To Play

The 8-page rulebook is not too taxing and fairly straight-forward to follow. In fact I'm wondering why I haven't made the effort to tackle this one before now...

Beginning with "Braveheart" the first scenario, I was coming to terms with the fourteen nobles in the game. Each side has there own copy of each noble counter apart from the Moray counter, which comes only in blue (Scottish). These counters are switched in and out of the game as the nobles change allegiance, with only one version on the board at any given time.

I found a very useful example-of-play document on the geek to guide me through a staged opening to "Braveheart". I won't breakdown the rules here, but if you don't own the game already you can find a downloadable copy of the 3rd Edition rules at the Columbia Games site. (PDF Download of the rules)

Having now played a solo-game to walk-through the rules, I felt confident enough to set-up a game to teach a friend how to play. The best way to learn any game is to have someone who has played it before teach you. We didn't quite have that in this case, so I hoped that my preparation work would be enough to see us both through a full scenario successfully.

First Play AAR

Following a brief run-through on the rules, we dived right into the first scenario "Braveheart", with GaryB taking control of the Scottish vs. my English invaders.This particular scenario runs from 1297-1305 incl. a total of nine game years, but we only managed to get to 1300 in the time we had available.

"Braveheart" starting position (English Viewpoint)
Braveheart has a preset board position with little for either player to play around with in terms of set-up. A random element of this set-up was the four English unit selected randomly from the pool to begin the game in Northern England. The picture here shows my starting position in our game from the English viewpoint.

I had mostly Irish and Welsh units, which need to roll 1-4 when heading into battle or run off! 
(S) = Scottish Unit (E) = English Unit

1297 - The Scottish noble Moray (S) headed North for some easy pickings in Ross (E), but the local Lord sent him packing, nose bloodied and tail between his legs. The not-so-hardy Angus (E) switches to the Scots before our first major conflict in the game, "The Battle of the Scone". Wallace (S) & co manage to push the English back from Fife, but Angus (S) switches back to the English, demonstrating how fickle some of these Scottish Lords can be. Further south Galloway (S) is lost near Glasgow and towards the end of the year, having already engaged with the English once, chooses the easier target in Atholl. The Noble at Atholl (E) briefly rebels, but this is quashed quickly by Wallace (S).

1298 - Following a harsh Winter turn, the English attempt to take back some of the ground lost last year. Indeed, the now Scottish noble Atholl (S) is almost defeated, but instead finds shelter in the nearby Lochaber. A surprising "Truce" (event card) is played by the Scottish player, delaying the English advances. The year ends in quiet unease.

The English prepare for total war in 1299.
1299 - Frustrated by the Scottish political manoeuvres, the English amass a large force on the Anglo-Scots border. 

A large 5-unit (E) invasion of Annan, targeting "The Bruce" (S) is almost foiled by Wallace. Entering round three of battle it becomes clear that all will be lost for the Scottish due to some fine English dice rolling :). 
The Bruce is taken!

Wallace (S) preserves himself and flees to Carrick. The Bruce (S) is not so fortunate and the man who would be King switches over to English control. 

Elsewhere the Scots have more luck in Ross (E), taking control of the noble there and in late 1299, Wallace (S) recovers to take and unprotected Lanark (E) nobleman. 

Honours are close to being even for the year, but surely the loss of the Bruce will have an impact on the Scottish strategy!

1300 - A quieter year for both sides as they recuperate from the heavy fighting in 1299. Moray (S),  trying to cause trouble in the Grampians, is pushed back by some stern English resistance. Lanark is retaken by the English and Wallace sees a little action chasing the Dunbar noble out from his homestead. 

We retired this "learning game" at the end of the year 1300, the English perhaps slightly ahead having taken The Bruce.

Closing Impressions

Moka Pot
A tricky one for me as I really want to enjoy Hammer of the Scots. The game-play is quite straight-forward, but we needed to refer back and forth to the book to check on the numerous exceptions to various rules and this ultimately slowed us down a little. My main concern would be the timings. We tried to motor through the turns, but only got 4 from 9 turns completed in just under 3-hours.

I do like the battle system and the fog of war elements, but I feel that we need to get to grips with some English/Scottish strategy options in order to get the most out of the game. I just hope that the play-time doesn't prevent this from getting to our table on a fairly regular basis.


I need a couple more plays to iron out my concerns.

Online Play?

Instructions for Online Play via VASSAL. Be warned though, this is only for the really committed as the interface takes a more than a little set-up work.

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