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Subject: a fantastic game, one of my few 10's rss

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Dan Poole
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Hammer of the Scots (HotS) is a fabulous game. HotS probably does not need another review. I don't care because I like reviewing games, especially such games that have made such a wonderful impact on my gaming life. This is my way of paying homage to such games as well as simply sharing my thoughts with others who may be intereseted in this game. By the way, this review is not meant to go over every rule detail; it is simply meant to point out highlights of the game concepts.

HotS is a wargame occuring around the late 13th - early 14th century recreating Scotland's fight for independence from Britain. Most of the game takes place in Scotland proper, though Northern England is also on the map.

HotS is also a "block" game meaning that each playing pice is represented by a block. Most block games use the "fog-of-war" concept meaning that opponents cannot see any info on the enemy blocks until they are revealed, which is usually during an engagement. Blocks have several pieces of Data:



Strength: The pips around the block represent the strength. This is how many dice the block rolls in combat. When a block is damaged, it is rotated 90 degrees per hit and is eliminated when the strength is reduced below 1. Looking at William Wallace above (the strongest Scot block actually), he has has a strength of 4 at full strength.

Combat Rating: This is a letter-number code. Wallace is an A3. The letter tells the order of which blocks go in combat. A before B before C blocks. This is important since combat is NOT simultaenous, thus blocks may take hits (and lose strength) before they get to act in combat. The number refers to the maximum die roll needed to achive a hit. In the case of Wallace, any die result of a "3" or lower will incur a hit, so at full strength, he rolls 4 dice, with any "3" or less incurring a hit.....a formidable block indeed!!

Movement Rating: This is the maximum number of areas a block may move per turn. Wallace may move up to 3 spaces.


Principles of the Game


The Army Blocks: Each player has a unique set army of blocks in his color (red for the brits, blue for the scots). These army blocks are mainly infantry, knights and archers, though there are a few unique army blocks, such as the french knights, vikings etc. There are a few single person blocks such as William Wallace (above) and the English King Edward etc.

The Nobles: This is where the game gets really interesting. There are 14 nobles who can be Scottish or English (exception: Moray is always Scottish). If English, the red block is used, If Scottish, the blue (and otherwise identical) block is used. So when these nobles are defeated, they switch sides. The main purposes of the game is capturing nobles.

The Cards: All actions in the game are executed by the use of cards. There are 2 card types:

1. Move Cards: These are numbered 1-3 and allow a player that many Group Moves per turn. A group move is defined as being able to move all blocks in 1 area. Note these blocks can all move independently of one another.

2. Event Cards: These incur a special action, such as pillaging, gaining health, special sea movement etcetera.

Game Turn
An entire game is played over a certain number of years (which may be shortened by a player meeting certain victory conditions). Each year a player is dealt 5 cards. There are 5 turns per year, and at the beginning of each turn, each player plays a card face-down then relveals it:

a) If both play a movement card, the player with the higher number card moves all his groups first. If equal value cards were played, the English player goes first. Note areas have a black or red border. These incur a block crossing limit of 6 and 2 blocks resectively per player per turn.

b) If one player plays a movement card and the other plays an Event card, the Event takes place first, then the other player execeutes his movements.

c) If both players play Event cards, the English then Scottish event takes place and then the year immediately ends (makes for a quick year sometimes).

Combat
After both players execeute their movement(s), combat occurs in regions containing both players' blocks. When this occurs, the blocks are revealed then combat ensues. Combat occurs over 3 rounds. During a round, combat occurs in the following order: [A] defenders, [A] attackers, defenders, [B] attackers, [C] defenders, [C] attackers. Hits are immediately applied, thus (as mentioned above) [A] blocks definitely have an advantage. Blocks may retreat in lieu of attacking when it is their turn to act. If the attackers destroy all defenders by the end of the third round, they may regroup survivors into any adjacent friendly or (neutral) territory. If the defenders survive, then the attackers must retreat.

[b]Wintering

At the end of the year, a few wintering steps occur in very specific order (some of which I will omit for simplicity):

- English then Scottish nobles go to their home area. This is very important because if their home area is enemy-occupied, that noble switches sides.


- English Blocks Disband - Aside from English nobles, all other English blocks are taken out of Scotland and disbanded into the feudal levy (see below) with 2 important exceptions:
1. Infantry blocks may stay in Scotland. Each area has a castle Limit. This is the number of blocks which may stay and winter in that area for the year.

This is very important to keep in mind during the year because it is very hard to get blocks higher and higher into scotland, since most English blocks go back south to England and have to essentially start all over. Thus if you can get some Infantry wintered in various areas in Scotland, you are essentially "planting seeds". Of course taking over nobles and their areas also helps.

2. If the English player is lucky enough to draw out Edward the King Block during the final wintering step (drawing a feudal levy; see below), then the next game turn Edward can Winter in Scotland with any number of troops (of any type) ignoring caslte limits. This is a really good way to get the British troops deep into Scotland. Note Edward cannot winter 2 turns in a row.

Scottish disband and rebuild- The scots may use the castle numbers to repair that many steps on blocks in that region and/or to draw new blocks (in their weakest state) to that region. They may disband blocks before doing so. The scots must also obey castle limits, though a few areas have a cathedral, which adds 1 to the castle limit to that region for the Scots (not English).

English Rebuild: In a similar fashion, the English may use Castle limit points to repair nobles and wintering English Infantry (or any other blocks with Edward).

English Feudal Levy: All blocks not in play are in a face-down pool. The English player draws half of these and places them in England.


Note: When blcks are eliminated, they go back to their respective draw pools face-down to be redrawn during the scottish rebuild step or the Enlish feudal levy step.However some blcoks, like William Wallace, are permanently eliminated from the game if destroyed. Note that if Edward is eliminated, he comes back as Edward II (who can never winter!). If Edward II is eliminated, the English player loses.

Game End and Victory
The game ends after a certain number of years. The player with the most nobles wins. The game ends early if:
1) Any player controls all the nobles
2) King Edward II is eliminated (Scottish player wins)
3) The Scottish king block is eliminated (English player wins)



My Overall Impressions:

Theme: 9 I like the theme; the gameplay fits the theme rather well

Mechanics: 10 I really like the concept of the nobles switching sides, how both sides play very differently, the fog war aspect and the block mechanics in general.

Strategy: 9 There is some luck depending on the dice and card draw, but there is a huge amount of strategy for such a simple game.

Rulebook: 7 Not too many examples but the rules are clear enough. There are some minor points that were not clear in the rules, though they were cleared up here in the rules forum.

Components/Asthetics: 7 The blocks are nice. I wish the board had a more antiquated look. The current board looks more topographical. Basically the components are typical of any Columbia block game.


Overall Fun Factor: 10

This is one of the few games I rate a 10. Though the components are not lavish and shiny (which is certainly fine by me), the game is simply fantastic. It is a fairly easy game to learn, though learning the strategy takes repreated plays. I have played this many times and though I have a good handle on the game, I certainly am no expert. I really like how both sides play very differently as well as the fact that both sides seem fairly balanced. I honestly don't think you have to be a wargame fan to enjoy this game. I urge folks who are not (and thus may be put off by the game outright) to at least see what it has to offer.

p.s. my 100th review



Edit:
1) stupid little mistakes (Thanks Executioner!!)
2) forgot to mention that during winter, English nobles also remain in Scotland and also may repair. (Thanks armadaman!!)
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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Ahhh....my misspent youth...
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A good review of one of my all time favorite games.
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Duck Farmer
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Congratulations on reaching 100 reviews!
 
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Stephen Sanders
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Henderson
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DNA results:Scottish, Dutch, English, Irish, German, French, Iberian Peninsula = 100% American!
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Nice,thorough review Dan.

Let me know after some more plays if you still feel it should be a 10.

I agree with the fog of war mechanic and the nobles switching sides being neat mechanics. But I became frustrated with the card play. One side can become nearly paralyzed for their entire turn if the five cards dealt are a couple of 1's and some events that are not useful. What this does is virtually immobolize your troops, especially bad for the English, since they are trying to get troops across the border and engage the Scots all over nearly every turn, unless Edward is able to Winter. And its worse if your opponent was dealt some nice 3's and 2's with maybe a more useful event.

And then there's that map....
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Dan Poole
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Quote:
Let me know after some more plays if you still feel it should be a 10.


I have had HotS for about 3 years now. This is one of the games that I have actually increased my ratings over the years.
 
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Wade Broadhead
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grimstuff wrote:
Can you believe this has sat unplayed on my shelf for about two years? I can't either. blush


You need an anti thumb as I am playing it tonight for the first time and I dont even own it
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Gene Baker
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Games with dragons, spaceships, and bears aren’t wargames. Call them conquest games or strategy games or crap but they aren’t wargames.
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This game might get my first 10 rating as well - not that I've rated a lot. How long do you find the scn's, not campaign, take to play.
 
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Derek Anderson
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Ennis
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There is nothing better than playing board games with my 4 sons!
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Man, I have been putting off getting this game for some time, I think this might have just pushed me over the edge... must... resist... temptation... to... pull... out... credit... card... :)

Anyone trading it away? :)

D.

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Jamie Pollock
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I also love this game. The theme is well integrated and the game as a whole is a very good representation of the turbulent period of time it's trying to cover. My only problem is I can't play it more.
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