original German edition of Battle Line
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This card game might be likened to a simultaneous 9-handed version of the children's game war, combined with poker. The result makes for a tense battle, both tactical and strategic.
Players take turns playing the cards they draw to form 3-card poker hands in front of each of the 9 "stones" in the game, trying to be the first to win 5 total or 3 adjacent stones by beating the opponent's corresponding poker hand. Clever bluffing and careful reasoning will carry the player with the greatest mettle to victory!
Don't be fooled by the goofy drawings of enraged Scotsmen: Schotten-Totten is a great game.
When first reading about S-T, I was initially turned off by a misconception that it was some kind of retread of poker, as well as by the silly theme (why I would be eager to go bean farming but would balk at fighting Scotsmen is something I don't really have an answer for). However, I picked the game up anyway, and boy, am I glad I did.
As a card game, Schotten-Totten is quite unique, because in most other card games--gin, poker, hearts, spades, cribbage, bridge--your initial hand is the basis that to a greater or lesser extent dictates the rest of game play. S-T is different. Your initial hand is just a starting point, because you will eventually go through the whole deck and play almost every card you get. WHERE you play those cards is the question, and it is often an agonizing one.
If the game sounds chaotic or arbitrary, it's not (despite the drawing on the cover of the box). It's true that some early choices may have to be made on faith, but soon a distinct situation develops. A game of Schotten-Totten has a peculiar 'emerging' quality; there is a tentativeness in the beginning that slowly crystallizes into a pattern of clarity and inevitability.
There is lots to think about: the odds of getting the cards you need (and so richly deserve), how to keep your opponent from knowing where you're going to beat him, and where to play a card that could easily have a home in several different groups. Even after the game is over, we often find ourselves dissecting what happened, unraveling the decisions and saying 'If I had had that six earlier, I would have put the eight over here and...'. Schotten-Totten is also fascinating in that once the game is really underway, a card played by your opponent can force you to reevaluate your current situation and completely change your plans. On the flip side, there is a particular thrill in nonchalantly placing a card down that you know your opponent desperately wanted--and you know that he knows that you know that he wanted it.
Despite its simplicity, S-T is engrossing, and underneath its cartoon characters, it is elegant. For what it is--a twenty-minute card game--it surely deserves five stars.
On a side note, I have seen elsewhere that the game has been expanded with action cards a la Caesar and Cleopatra (a great game as well, of course) to create 'Battle Line'. I can't comment on a game I haven't played but it seems that action cards would only disrupt a brilliantly balanced game--a bit like playing chess on a greased board.
I am always on the lookout for a good 2 player game. This game is great fun even when you lose, because if you had only gotten that red three...
I highly recommend this game for anyone who wants to play a strategic, quick two-player game.
The illustrations on the cards are loads of fun too. Ever notice the Scotsmen are bigger and brawnier the higher number is on the card?
This is a game which utilizes probability, logic, and placement. (Fighting for the middle stones decrease the chance of three consecutive wins.) It is a game which is simple, yet with incredible depth. This game puts Lost Cities and Caesar and Cleopatra to complete shame. Battle Line, which is Schotten-Totten in serious garb, is a bit more luck dependent, but I must admit it's exciting. A friend of mine related that if you win the fourth and sixth stones, you are much more likely to win the game. I personally see the game as one of changing tactics and keeping your options open in as many places as possible. No doubt through, this is a game that will be played for quite some time.
In this compact game, fiery Scotsmen are fighting over nine "boundary stones" to control a field. You win by capturing five stones, or any three adjacent ones. The deck has 54 cards, numbered 1 to 9 in six colors. You place one card per turn from your hand on your side of any stone. When both players have played three cards to a stone, the higher pokerlike set controls it. A clever twist allows you to take control of a stone earlier if you can prove that your cards cannot be beaten; this denies your opponent the chance to discard bad cards to a "lost" stone. This wee masterpiece from Dr. Knizia, full of tough decisions, bluff, and tight calculation, is a fighting winner, laddie!
Well, it looks as though all the good game themes have been taken. In case you should doubt this, let me tell you that the theme of this card game involves Scottish clans quarreling over a bunch of stones in a pasture. Perfectly bizarre, and we can't even blame the Y2K bug for it. Fortunately, this veneer is easily ignored, and what is left is yet another interesting game creation from the ever prolific Reiner Knizia.
Schotten-Totten is played with a 54 card deck consisting of six suits composed of cards numbered 1 through 9. There are also nine boundary-stone cards, which are the objectives of the contest. I'll refer to these henceforth as stones. At the beginning of the game, the nine stones are laid out in a horizontal row between the players. Each player receives six cards to make up his beginning hand.
Players alternate turns. During his turn, a player selects one of his cards and places it face up on his side of one of the stones. He then ends his turn by drawing a card from the deck. When the deck is depleted, players continue taking their turns without drawing any cards. Most likely, the game will end before this occurs.
No more than three cards can be placed on each side of a stone. The object is to win the stones by having the higher three-card hand there. If I may be allowed to use Poker terminology, the ranking of the hands is as follows:
Before playing a card, a player can claim a stone if he has the higher hand there, or if he can show, using only the cards on the table, that it is impossible for his opponent to beat his hand. Once a stone is claimed, no further cards can be played there. The object of the game is to be the first player to claim three consecutive stones or five of the nine stones.
Schotten-Totten is a pleasant mix of the studious and the chaotic. With only a six card hand and a new card drawn each turn, it's impossible to plan very far ahead. The key is to keep your options open as much as possible and to maintain as much flexibility as you can.
The rules state this is a tactical card game, and that is indeed the main focus of the contest. Much of the strategy revolves around the fact that the first player who commits to a stone is at a considerable disadvantage. If the card is a low one, you've limited how high that hand can be and your opponent can plan accordingly; if the card is a high one, your opponent might give up on the stone and you will have wasted a good card. Committing one card is bad; committing two cards, which basically locks in the type of hand it can be, is worse. Whoever has to commit first on the key stones before he has the cards to ensure victory will probably lose, unless he has overwhelmingly better cards.
But while tactics are important, a player who ignores the strategic aspect of this game cannot win. The problem is that you'll eventually have to commit to a stone sooner or later; knowing where and how to commit is therefore crucial. The center stones give the greatest opportunity for three-in-a-row wins, so they have offensive and defensive importance. Thus if you commit there, you'd better have a very good hand to place there or one which has an excellent chance of being one. (Most stones are won with Straight Flushes or Three of a Kinds; don't count on a mere Flush winning a center stone.) Early plays are often on stones near the ends, both because you may not have sufficiently good cards to play on the center stones and because you don't wish to commit (there's that word again!) yet on the important battleground. Although they usually seem innocuous, the initial plays of a hand set the tone for the contest and are often crucial.
One of the clever design touches is the fact that claiming a stone prevents your opponent from playing any further cards there. At almost all times, your hand will consist of cards you are desperately trying to avoid playing (don't want to commit, trying to maintain flexibility, all that good stuff), as well as cards that you've concluded are worthless, primarily based on which cards have already been played. Thus, you'd like to play the latter cards and hang on to the former. The problem is, where to play them? Whatever stone they are played on will likely be lost. Play such cards on the same stone and your opponent can gain a cheap win (probably by using some of his lousy cards). Spread them around and you risk giving up too many stones. The proper tactic is to play them on a stone that your opponent has won anyway. If your opponent can claim this stone, he will deprive you of one or two "waste" plays, plays which let you delay playing the cards you don't want to play. If you can conclude where the lost battles are, you can dump at least one of your waste cards on each of them, which might force your opponent to play a card he'd rather not. Such struggles can often decide the game.
The game is full of such nice touches, which gradually emerge after repeated plays, in the manner for which Knizia games are renowned. The basic feel of the game is similar to Reibach & Co.; each play is important and demands consideration, but not brainbusting analysis. Luck clearly plays a role and, on rare occasions, dominates play; but on most hands, it seems that the player who best takes advantage of the cards he draws will win. The gameplay itself is quite unique; although there's nothing particularly revolutionary about the design, I don't think I've ever played a game quite like it. The end result is quite satisfying, particularly for those who want a game to be involving without being consuming. Knizia scores yet again; now if he can only manage to stay away from those spare rib and sauerkraut meals before retiring at night to dream of new game themes. Recommended.
SWD: Quite so: the theme is artificial and more than a little patronising. The name goes further and makes it into the realms of the offensive. My dictionary gives the phrase "Sie benehmen sich wie die Hottentotten.", translated as "They behave like savages." and exactly the same insulting usage of the word "Hottentots" exists in English, and has done for two centuries. You would have thought that a company with a name like ASS would have suffered enough on their own account to make them more careful.