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Posted on Aug 29, 2005 in Boardgames

Hammer of the Scots – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

Combat Wrinkles
"As the Lord liveth, I will not desert you, in life or death!"-Edward I during his siege at Stirling Castle3

After movement, battles occur wherever opposing factions are located in the same area. As the unit takes damage, the block is turned so that a side with less triangles is placed on the top. In battle, players tip the blocks forward to expose their labels. One gets to roll as many dice per unit as the triangles showing. But players do not simply aggregate the blocks such that he with the most triangles (that is, dice) wins. There are additional wrinkles, besides.

For example, not all dice are rolled at the same time. Blocks with the letter A fire first. If both sides have A blocks, the defender’s A blocks fire first. Note that the letters A, B and C have numbers after them, as with the A2 (Hobelar) in the illustration. The number is the "to hit" number and the die must be equal to or less than the "to hit" number in order to reduce the enemy by one strength point (triangle). The letters represent the speed and efficiency of various units, so it reflects a very simplified idea of combined arms.

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KILT IN ACTION In this battle, Hobelar (the A2) unit fired first. With three triangles, the English player rolled three dice and got a 1, 4 and 5, respectively. The "1" reduced Bruce from four triangles to three before the unit could fire, BUT Bruce fires before the English B blocks because his unit is the defender. Normally, Bruce would fire at a B2, but he is in a home area. Nobles in their home areas fire at B3. This was fortunate in this case as the Scot rolled 2, 2 and 3 for three hits, lowering the English blocks by one triangle each (keeping losses even). This reduced the Welsh archers to two triangles when they fired at B3. With a 3 and a 6, suddenly Bruce was reduced to two triangles and Ulster fired two at C3. Another 3 and a 6, reduced Bruce to one triangle and the first of three possible combat rounds was over. Bruce needed to retreat in the second combat round, BUT had to wait until the A unit had fired (missing with both "5"s). Bruce retreated to his other home area and the English won the battle.

Another wrinkle is that whenever forces move into an area from two different borders, one group must be designated as the engaging group and the other as the reinforcing group. The engaging group fights the first round of combat and the reinforcing group cannot fire until the second round of combat. This duplicates the friction of trying to coordinate forces by messenger in extremely rough terrain. It also means that the defender can win the battle by defeating the engaging force in the first round. If the engaging force is defeated, the reserves (reinforcing group) must retreat, as well.

Note: If the optional rule called Schiltroms (my resources spell it schiltrons, as does Berg in Men of Iron, but note that spelling was never uniform in this period) is used, Scottish infantry become C3 if there are no archers present. They stay a slow C in speed because it is hard to move as a circle (or later, more of a square) and improve by one in efficiency to a 3 because the formation was very effective. At Falkirk, Edward did not gain the advantage until he fell back on the archers.4

Flavor in Game Play
"So long as there is a stick in the wood,
There will be no Comyn without falsehood."-Gaelic rhyme5

HOTS also introduces an element to game play that I had never seen before. It is delightfully true to the era and it really makes the game interesting. Except for Wallace (who was considered too base-born to be a real noble, anyway), Moray and Hobelars (who are eliminated when they die in battle), the nobles switch sides after their units are reduced to zero triangles in battle. This mechanic not only reflects the tendency of these historical peers to switch sides in order to avoid charges of treason and stick with a winner, but it adds an unsettling fluidity to the game, as well. In addition to switching after losing in battle, all but Moray can be recruited by a roll of 1-4 on the Herald card.

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WHUMMLED THE BANNOCK When Menteith turned the loaf of bread around ("whummled the bannock"6) to identify William Wallace and betray him, he epitomized the fluid nature of alliances and coalitions during the Scots Wars. The existence of blocks in each color for each potential turncoat reflects this reality. After nobles are defeated, they defect to the other side. In one game, Mentieth actually changed sides more than five times.

Another nice bit of historical flavor that is reflected in the game was Edward I’s ability to leverage England’s wealth as chief supplier of raw wool to the European market and parlay the taxes there gained into raising hosts of knights and archers from within the local communities of the realm. These non-landed knights and archers would then stay in the field for long periods "if the king could equip and pay them."7 HOTS presents this in two ways. First of all, every year, the English have to draw from their allotment of blocks (only 4 blocks in the first year of the Braveheart scenario, but half of the blocks in the rest of the years of that scenario and every year in the Bruce scenario). This means that one cannot necessarily deploy the exact units (including Edward in the first scenario) one wants. It is as haphazard as one would have expected the raising of troops to be in real life. [Note also that Edward I was fighting Philip on the continent when the Braveheart scenario begins in 1297.]

In the Braveheart scenario, there is another bit of flavor. Since William Wallace was essentially a guerrilla fighter who filled his forces with commoners, his unit can teleport to the Selkirk Forest during the wintering turn and immediately regain two steps (triangles) of strength. Unfortunately for the Scot player, Wallace cannot take any other pieces with him and it is easy for the English to outnumber and surround him before he can get out to prosecute any sort of campaign.

Battle Report
"They will find us ready to fight them to their beards."-William Wallace8

In summary, Hammer of the Scots is a "player," an elegant and excellently designed game that can be played in a couple of hours, played online via Cyberboard and played online via F2F Gaming Network in real-time (at the time of this review, both the service and the download of the client are free at http://www.f2fgaming.com). In my opinion, it offers both the satisfaction of a great block game and the bluff-counterbluff of a card-driven game. In that sense, it has done something that designs rarely accomplish with hybrid mechanics, it offers the best of both worlds.

Armchair General Score — 91%

39/40 — Gameplay
12/15 — Components
15/20 — Rules/Documentation
15/15 — Replay Value
10/10 — General’s Rating

Columbia Games’ Hammer of the Scots page.

Play Hammer of the Scots online at F2FGaming.

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Author’s Information

Johnny L. Wilson is the former editorial director of Computer Gaming World and publisher of Dragon, Dungeon, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Insider, TopDeck and Undefeated magazines. He is the author of The Sim City Planning Commission Handbook and co-author of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day. His most recent game-related book is High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, written with Rusel Demaria. Today, he balances his game playing with his work as a freelance novelist and author of multimedia study guides for the books of the Bible. His passion is any game that causes him to study more history. Not the strongest player, he is nonetheless an avid player. Johnny and his wife live on the shore of Castle Lake in Tyrone, Georgia.


1 Thomas B. Costain, A History of the Plantagenets: Volume III: The Three Edwards (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1958), p. 111.
2 Ibid, p. 79.
3 Peter John Stephens, Outlaw King: The Story of Robert the Bruce (New York: Atheneum Books, 1964), p. 17.
4 Costain, p. 81.
5 Stephens, p. 23.
6 Costain, p. 83.
7 Maurice Keen, A History of Medieval Europe (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), p. 169.
8 Costain, p. 67.

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