Hammer of the Scots

For some reason, I’ve never quite engaged on Hammer, and I’m not precisely sure why. It’s a game I certainly think is good, but somehow it’s just not my game. Part of it is probably that the English get most of their useful units wiped out at the end of the turn and reallocated at random, so it’s hard to bring much strategy to the table. Part of it is probably the extreme bottlenecking of the narrow front and constrictive terrain. It also seems a little more subject to the whims of fate than many Columbia games. And almost certainly another factor is that I’ve never been very good at it. So despite the fact that the card play works nicely, it gets good mileage out of the blocks, it’s a nice period piece, the complexity is refreshingly low for an involving game, and the overall system balance is good, I find it’s a game I personally just can’t get that excited about, unlike so many Columbia games.

My sense is that a lot of folks feel the game is pro-English, but to be honest, we’ve never felt this was a problem. The game can certainly be upset by good or bad luck early (an English Sea Move on turn one, for example, is fundamentally game-altering), and both sides take a bit to really get a feel for, but once you get past the learning games I’ve felt this is pretty well-balanced. We use the Schiltroms optional by default, which is a minor but significant boost for the Scots – possibly too much actually, but it also adds some interesting tactics – but we’ve never felt any particular need for the other pro-Scottish optionals:

  • Muster: This is a particularly bad rule that doesn’t seem very well thought out and has a couple nasty loopholes. It’s also extremely pro-Scottish unless you allow the English to muster across the English/Scottish border (something not covered – logically it should be prohibited, but by the letter of the rule it’s legal). This one is not recommended.
  • Hit Allocation: This is an interesting rule that should be balance-neutral-ish, but I’m not sure that the game needs more chaos. The possibility of a stunning elimination of Wallace, the King, or Edward on a lucky 4-hit roll hardly seems worth it.
  • Moray: Wow. Only use this one if you’re playing an opponent who needs a huge handicap.
  • Norse: I actually kinda like this one. It both tones down the Irish a little bit so that the English don’t have to commit such large forces to garrisons, but on the other hand makes them more useful by not counting against stacking. I’ll use this one in future, as it seems mildly pro-English and so might balance out the Schiltroms.

At any rate, I enjoyed our game and this was one of the closest games I’ve seen – the Scots won by one noble on the very last turn, after

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