Every once and a while, you come across a game that just gets better every time you play it. That’s been my experience with Battle Line, a card based set collection game for two players, designed by Reiner Knizia and published by GMT Games.
Battle Line is actually a re-themed version of the game, Schotten-Totten, which was published in 1999. You can play a game of Battle Line in about 30 minutes and while the publisher recommends the game for ages 12 and older, I think you could go younger than that, especially if the younger player is somewhat familiar with the idea of ranked sets of cards, like you find in poker style games.
In Battle Line, players attempt to gain control of a series of nine red wooden flags, which are actually just red wooden pawns. I guess calling them flags makes it fit the ancient military theme a bit more. Whatever blows your hair back, I suppose. Anyway, you line up these nine red flags between you and your opponent, and through the course of the game, you attempt to gain control of the flags by playing a higher ranking set of cards on your side of the flag. If you can gain control of three adjacent flags, then you can claim victory, because you have punched a hole through the battle line. You can also win by gaining control of five total flags. In this case, you have won by just overwhelming your opponent.
The cards are made up of six colors or suits of troop cards numbered from one to ten. Players start the game with a hand of seven cards and on your turn, you must first play a card to one of your available zones and then draw a card from either the troop deck or the tactics deck. I’ll talk more about the tactics cards in a bit. An available zone is an unclaimed flag that contains two cards or less. Once you have played a third card in a particular zone, you may at the start of your next turn, claim that particular flag, if you can show that your ranked set cannot be beaten.
The sets of cards are ranked in the following manner, from highest to lowest rank:
- Wedge – Three cards of the same color with consecutive values.
- Phalanx – Three cards of the same value.
- Battalion Order – Three cards of the same color.
- Skirmish Line – Three cards with consecutive values.
- Host – Any other three cards.
Both sides of a flag need not have a complete set of three cards before it can be claimed. For example, if I have a set of three nines on my side of the flag and my opponent has a red seven and a red two on his side, then I can claim that flag. There is no card that my opponent can play that will outrank my set. This is one of my favorite aspects of Battle Line, because as the game develops, the cards that you don’t play are as important as the cards you do play. I may play a particular card into a zone that I know I will not win, just because by having that card on the table, I can later claim victory in another zone. I may also not play a certain card that I know will allow my opponent to claim victory in a zone I know I will eventually lose.
The tactic cards add another level of interest to the game. The tactic cards are special cards that can act as wild cards, move or remove cards from a particular zone, or can even modify the requirements for victory in a certain zone. The first couple of times I played Battle Line, I missed an essential rule involving the tactic cards. A player may never play more than one tactics card above his opponent. If my opponent has played two tactics cards and I’ve played only one, then I can essentially prevent him from playing any other tactics cards simply by not playing any myself. This is great if you find that your opponent has a couple of tactic cards in his hand and you do not. By not playing any tactic cards yourself, you effectively reduce his hand size and limit his options.
I’ve never played Schotten-Totten, so I’m not going to compare the two games, but the tactics cards are not present in Schotten-Totten. I have a feeling that the folks who have played Schotten-Totten for years will prefer it to Battle Line, just because that’s what they are used to playing, and the same can be said for the folks who started with Battle Line.
The more I play this game, the more I enjoy it. It’s great game to play during your lunchtime. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of table space and can fit in your coat pocket if you take it out of the box. I say coat pocket because you’re going to look like a dork if you’ve got a big deck of cards in the pocket of your pants. The game retails for around $20, but you can find it for less online. I think it’s worth $20, so if you see it, buy it.
You used to be able to play the game online, but Knizia seems to have pulled most of his games from the free sites in order to develop them into mobile apps. That’s fine with me. I would rather play Battle Line in person.
Go play a game with someone you like. I promise you will feel better.
Disclaimer: I have recieved no review copies of this game. I have included links to funagain.com, an online retailer that I support by including affiliate links to games. If you purchase something from Funagain, and include my affiliate code, P2RX, then I get a few pennies of store credit so I can buy more games.