Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, Feb 21, 2009 - Hammer of the Scots

Nevin called me on Thursday evening and asked if I had 3 hours to spare on Saturday for a quick game. After confirming with Dana that I did, 8^) , we agreed to meet at his house, at noon, for a game of Hammer of the Scots. I had not played the game in about 2 years but the rules are short so I gave them a quick read through Friday evening. When I arrived we rolled for sides and I drew the English against Nevin's Scots. For those unfamiliar with the game, Hammer of the Scots falls into the block wargame category made popular by Colombia Games. Block wargames use blocks, surprise surprise, to add an element of the fog of war to the game. During the game the blocks are faced such that only the owner of the unit can see the units current stats. The block's current stats are revealed, in the case of Hammer, only when a battle is resolved. Hammer of the Scots is a game about the Scottish rebellion, think Mel Gibson and Braveheart, against the English in the 13th century. The game has two scenarios, "Braveheart" and "The Bruce", and a campaign game,  where both scenarios are played back to back. The "Braveheart" scenario is the first, chronologically, of the two and occurs while William Wallace is still alive while "The Bruce" takes place after Wallace's execution when Robert the Bruce takes up the mantle for Scottish independence.

Braveheart - FREEDOM!
Nevin and I decided to play the first scenario and setup according to the rules. We made our first mistake when both of us left off one of our starting nobles from the map. Nevin forgot the Bruce noble and I forgot to place Dunbar I believe. After setup, Nevin dealt out the first hand of 5 cards each and we were off. Each turn of Hammer represents the passing of 1 year which is divided up into 5 game turns that consists of the play of one card face down from each players hand, in the Card Phase, and then revealed simultaneously. Each card in the deck will either be a number card, numbered from 1 to 3, or an event. The person who plays the higher valued number card or event card goes first with the English player winning ties; although, I don't know if "winning" is the correct term as oftentimes it is a disadvantage having to move first. The revealed cards are then resolved in the Movement Phase. If an event card was played, read the event and resolve it as instructed on the card. If a number card was played then you may move some or none of your units on the map possibly initiating battles. Before explaining movement I will have to talk about the map for a bit.

From On Board Wargaming

The Map and Movement - the Scottish Highlands are a B*$!#h to Take!
The map is a representation of Scotland and the Northern part of England that borders Scotland. Scotland itself is divided up into areas with either a red or black border. Most of the areas are marked with a heraldic shield indicating which noble controlled this area; this is the Noble's home area that they will return to during the Winter phase. All areas have a stacking limit indicated by a number in a black castle icon withing the area. The stacking limit is the number of blocks that may remain in an area during the Winter phase. Lastly, some areas also contain a major Scottish Cathedral indicated by a white cross in a blue circle; these areas increase Scottish stacking limits by one. Areas sharing a common border are adjacent for movement purposes. All blocks within an area's boundary, within Scotland, are considered one "group". On a numbered move card, the number indicates how many "groups" of units a player may move in that game turn. For example, If I played a "2" card I could move units from two separate areas during my game turn. All units, except the Norse unit, have a movement rating printed on their block either a 2 or 3. This is the maximum number of areas a unit may move when activated to move. Moving into enemy occupied areas and crossing red borders causes a unit to immediately end its movement. Units starting in England have special movement rules in that they are treated as "groups" individually so a "1" movement card would allow only one unit to move across the border into Scotland. Black and Red borders also regulate the number of units that can cross that border in a game turn. Six units may cross a black border in a game turn while only two units may cross a red border. The red borders represent the more difficult mountainous terrain limiting the number of units that may cross it and how far they can move. If your units are moved into an area containing enemy units a battle will be initiated. The battle is resolved after both players have resolved their cards for the Movement Phase of the game turn.

Battles - How William Got His Groove Back
Eventually hostilities will occur between the players; these battles are resolved in the Battle Phase of the game turn. It is one of the ways to get Nobles to switch to your side. If multiple Battles need to be resolved the first player designates the order. Battles last for three rounds. If the attacker has not eliminated the defender after three rounds the attacker must retreat and the battle ends. All units have a combat rating and a current strength. Combat ratings are a letter number combination such as A3 or C2. The number is the number that must be rolled less than or equal to on a six-sided die (d6) to "hit" the opponent and the letter is when it fires. "A" blocks fire before "B" which fire before "C" rated blocks. Withing the same letter rating the defender fires before the attacker. So a typical round would go as follows, Defender "A" blocks fire first, the attacker assigns hits, Attacker "A" blocks fire, the defender assigns hits and it continues with the "B" and "C" rated blocks; that completes one round of combat. When it is a block's turn to fire it may instead chose to retreat. Blocks must retreat to friendly or empty areas obeying border crossing limits in a combat round and they may not retreat across a border last used by the enemy to enter the battle area. A block's strength can range from 1 to 4 "pips". As a unit takes damage it is rotated so the number of "pips" uppermost represents its present strength. A one pip unit taking one more hit is eliminated and removed from the map. If the unit is a Noble it switches sides at strength "1" and comes back into the battle as a reserve unit. If the unit is not a Noble block it will either be permanently eliminated or be returned to the players draw pool depending on the rule for that unit, i.e. if the William Wallace block is eliminated it is gone for the rest of the game. If multiple groups of blocks on a player side enter an area across different borders one of those groups will be designated the main force and the rest will be reserves which enter the battle in the next round. After a battle has been resolved, the victor may "regroup" his surviving units. Regrouping allows the player to move any number of his surviving units to any adjacent friendly or empty areas within the border crossing limits. Regrouping is optional. After all battles have been resolved in the Battle Phase a special Winter Turn occurs.

From On Board Wargaming

Winter Turn - All Good Things Must Come to an End
In the Winter Turn, all nobles return to their home areas on the map, armies are checked for over stacking in all areas in Scotland, players may then receive replacements, and a new hand of five cards are dealt out for the next year turn if no one has won and the game has not ended. At the beginning of the Winter Turn, all English controlled nobles are returned to their home areas. If a home area is enemy occupied the noble switches over to the Scottish side, at current strength. All Scottish nobles are then returned to their home areas and likewise if their home area is enemy occupied the noble switches sides. If there is a Scottish King on the map he may withdraw to any friendly or neutral (empty) area on the map with a Cathedral, disband, or remain where he is. The English player may then disband some of his units (except nobles). English Archers, Knights, and Hobelars must disband; English Infantry have the option of disbanding or remaining in Scotland within an area's castle limits. If Edward I is in Scotland he may "winter" there; if he does all red blocks stacked with him, except nobles, may remain in Scotland regardless of the castle limit of the area. Edward I may not winter in Scotland in back to back turns. If Edward does not winter in Scotland he must disband. The Scots player now winters his remaining units. If Wallace is on the map he may remain where he is or move to Selkirk forest where he may gain up to 2 replacement points. The Scottish player now disbands all of his units that exceed an area's castle limits. Both sides may now use replacement points on existing units (both sides) or to bring on new units (Scottish only). After replacements, the English player conducts his feudal levy of troops in England, provided Edward I is not wintering in Scotland. Finally a new hand of cards for next turn are dealt out to both players.

Highlights and Mistakes - William Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Unfortunately, we did not get to finish the scenario; we had one more year turn to play through but we ran out of time and I had to leave. When we stopped, we both controlled 7 nobles apiece. William Wallace had been eliminated but Nevin had crowned John Balliol King so it was still a close game and could have gone either way. For some reason Galloway just did not want to switch over to the English. He always managed to survive the battles and finally switched sides after a successful play of the Herald Event. Edward wintered twice in Scotland with a good size force but in both instances the year ended on the first game turn due to event cards being played by both sides. The army must have thought they were on holiday. There was only one big, at least 6 blocks on a side, battle, initiated by the English. It occurred in Fife on the next to last year turn; I was hoping to kill some nobles so they would defect to my side but it ended in a stalemate with both sides units badly injured and the English retreating back to Mentieth.

As usual with games we haven't played in a while, or in new games we play for the first time, we missed some rules. Here are the ones I, as the English player, played incorrectly and some that may have been played wrong.

1. Units can not winter in England. They must disband at the end of the turn.

2. The English King must disband at the end of the turn if he does not winter in Scotland.

3. If Edward I winters in Scotland the English player does not get a levy in England for the next turn.

4. Losses due to the Pillage Event Card are distributed exactly like combat losses, i.e. they must be applied to the strongest units.

5. English levy units entering Scotland from England do not have to stop when crossing the black border lines. They only have to stop moving when they cross the Red Dotted border line. I played this wrong the whole game and it slowed down my levies moving into Scotland.

Thoughts for the English - What John Would Do Next Time
I think the only thing I did right as the English in this game was maintaining control of Mentieth. Mentieth is the gateway to the North or South of Scotland depending which way you are going. Of course Fife is another nice area to control. 

1. I would try to convert Bruce and Galloway quicker next time as the English. They were a constant thorn in the English side. Once they are converted, I would move them out of their home areas and combine them with other English blocks. I think Nevin drew the Herald Event at least three times in our game and Galloway or Bruce seem to be his favorite target; fortunately for me he failed all his rolls but if he was successful and they were stacked with other English at least there would be a chance to convert them back in the ensuing combat.

2. I did not bring infantry out of England quick enough early in the game. Of course I was playing the movement rule for crossing the Scot/English Border incorrectly but I was still too slow. You need these guys to occupy enemy noble areas so the Scottish nobles will convert during the winter turn. I never really got a chance to use them in this capacity. Most of the time they moved into Dunbar and then moved into Mentieth.

3. I would put up more of a fight when the Scots go after the English nobles starting in Argyll and Atholl. Once they are converted it is tough to get back in there with sufficient strength to battle them do to the red borders. 

It was a fun game and I hope to pull it out more often than every 2 years.


Nevin said...

Great write-up! I wish we could have finished with how close the game was. How do you think you got the cross border movement wrong?

John said...

From the rulebook:
The Anglo-Scottish Border is a heavy red or black broken line. Blocks entering England must stop. Blocks entering Scotland must stop only if they cross the red broken border into Teviot.

The very last sentence. I was stopping when entering Scotland even when I crossed a black dotted border; I didn't have to.

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