... or maybe not...
Hammer of the Scots is a low complexity block wargame and is a good introduction game for players new to block games or wargames. I have always liked it, but it had been ages since I last played. So it's on my list of games to play under my one-hard-to-arrange-game-per-month program. I taught Allen the game. He's new, so I suggested he played the English. We played the Braveheart scenario, so I think the English is slightly easier to play, with Edward I still in play. Edward I can winter in Scotland, which is important for the English to maintain the momentum to crush the Scottish rebellion.
Round 1 of the Braveheart scenario, 1297. At the start of this scenario, most of the 14 Scottish nobles are obedient to the English, so the red block version of them are in play. Only a few are rebellious, and the blue block version of these are in play. Some of the blue blocks on the board are just Scottish infantry - the blue ovals with white X's. And that bearded guy is of course William Wallace, the protagonist in the award-winning Mel Gibson movie Braveheart.
The board was mostly red at the start of the game, so as the Scots I had to quickly attack some red nobles to convince them to support the rebellion. Most nobles in this game don't die. If you "kill" them in battle, they leave the board, and then come back as the other coloured block, i.e. they join your side instead. There weren't that many English soldiers yet in Scotland. Most of the red blocks were Scottish nobles submitting to the English throne. I must quickly bring them to my side before the English built up a significant force.
Allen was sitting on the south side of the map. I was looking at the map from the north.
Previously there were two nobles supporting the rebellion in the south, but Allen played a traitor card to convert one of them, and then beat the other into submission, so now there were no more blue blocks in the south (the far end in this photo). Thankfully my early battles went well, and I managed to, aah... "persuade" a number of nobles to turn blue.
Allen now bunched together a few red nobles in the north into a fist to face my blue army. However this was a dangerous move, because winter was just around the corner. Instead of fighting him head-on, I dispersed my army to capture the home territories of his nobles. When winter comes, all nobles must go home. If their home territories are in enemy hands, they surrender and switch sides. So wintering is something to watch out for. I probably should have emphasised this more when I went through the rules. Now I felt a little bad for pulling this squatting-at-your-homes move on him. His lightbulb flicked on and he said, "So that's how this works". After winter, the board situation became...
... this. Round 2, 1298. A sudden splash of blue in the north. Wallace sneaked south to Selkirk Forest. This is a special rule for the Wallace block. He can choose to teleport to Selkirk Forest, spend winter there, and heal two steps. The area was not yet heavily guarded by English blocks, so I was confident Wallace could break through and escape back towards the north. I decided to make use of this Selkirk Forest rule.
When Heng heard that Allen and I had planned to do Hammer of the Scots, he was interested to watch and came to be our spectator. He took this photo. Now the centre and the north were all blue, but Allen was amassing English troops in the south to strike north.
Round 4, 1300. In 1299, Edward I led a powerful army and smashed through the Scottish lines. He spent one winter in Scotland, and towards the end of 1300, he had reached the northern part of Scotland, but had taken some losses too. The Scots had larger numbers, but actually many of the blocks were badly injured. Edward I had two knight blocks with him, and together formed a formidable army. Having spent one winter in Scotland, Edward I would have to leave Scotland at the end of 1300. That would be a relief for me. Right before winter Allen used Edward I and the two knight blocks to capture three of my nobles' home territories, which forced my nobles to switch sides during the Christmas holidays.
The blocks with family crests on shields are the nobles. Their home territories are marked with the same family crests. The strength (which is also life points) of a block is indicated by the number of tiny triangles pointing upwards. When blocks take damage or gain health, you rotate them accordingly.
Round 5, 1301. After Edward I left, I quickly "convinced" the nobles in the north that rebelling was the right path. By now, only one last noble held out (in the far south) against the movement. I just needed to defeat that last guy to win an instant victory.
It was rather impossible by now for Allen to turn the tide, so he set his sights on trying to survive till the end of the scenario, i.e. denying me a sudden death victory. In Round 6 (1302), both our first cards played were event cards (players select cards and then reveal them simultaneously). This meant the year would end early, going straight to the wintering phase. Remaining cards on hand were discarded. Allen lasted another year. Then in 1303, both our first cards were event cards again! Another short year! From a board situation perspective this was bad for Allen, because during winter the Scots can train new troops in Scotland, but not the English. After two peaceful years, almost all my blocks were brought onto the map. The Scots were bloody strong!
These are event cards. I had hoped to play the Herald card (at the top) to make that last noble switch sides, which would give me an instant victory. However Allen played the Sea Move card to send two blocks to protect that last noble. The English event was resolved first, so by the time that noble switched to the Scottish side, he was forced to attack the two English blocks stationed in the same territory. Needless to say he was taught a stern lesson and changed his mind to stay loyal to the English throne. My devious plan did not work out.
In the end I mobilised a large army to defeat that last noble, who was then protected by Edward I and two other strong English blocks which had rushed to the scene. At this stage the Scots simply had overwhelming numbers and the English had little chance of putting down the rebellion. The English ended up being the ones getting hammered.
The pivotal point of this game was probably the first wintering phase in 1297, when the English lost most of the north to the Scots. Edward I later managed to orchestrate a strong offense, but unfortunately didn't use it to establish a lasting foundation. The English gains were soon reversed. By then the momentum was too much on the Scottish side.