revised version of Schotten-Totten
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Battle Line is a card game of "capture the flags" using an ancient battle formation theme. It plays like rummy or poker, is easy to learn, and has strategy and the ability to provide surprises to your opponent. The leaders of both sides direct forces along the battle line to gain tactical advantages. The first player to win three adjacent Flags or any five Flags is the winner. Based on Reiner Knizia's original design published in Germany as Schotten-Totten, Battle Line enhances and expands the game with more options and fun.
- 60 Troop cards
- 10 Tactics cards
- 9 red wooden pawns
Average Rating: 4.4 in 40 reviews
I reviewed this game as Schotten-Totten and Battleline years ago. The edition of Scotten totten was the basic game, which was simple, straightforward Battleline added some cards which, at first may be seen as simply window dressing, but once remembered and understood, they become part of the planning and strategy of the game. They actually add a depth and color to the game. It also has an excellent replay value.
We have played hundreds of games. We're usually more into board games than card games, but this has the strategic thinking and "feel" of a good board game for two. I'd say this is one of the best two-player games for those with a competitive nature and affinity for games beyond the typical Monopoly and Clue. Yet, even those who prefer the classics will love this one once they read through the rules and play it a time or two. It is addictive and has a completely new scenario each time, so very replayable.
Battleline is a clever little card game for two players by Reiner Knizia (Tigris and Euphrates, Amun Re, Dragonland, Ra, Lord of the Rings and many, many more). Battleline is a redesign of the original game by Knizia called Schotten Totten, and even though this second version is very different it is this one, of the two, that feels more natural.
In Battleline players compete to seize ‘flags’, of which there are nine, through the building of powerful regiments – the placing of Troop cards with different values. Like in poker different sets of cards are more powerful than others, the object is to build a set behind a flag that will beat the set, or formation, that your opponent is building.
Battleline is a quick game that is extremely simple but surprisingly deep. The addition of the Tactics cards, which give the person playing them a special bonus or advantage, means the game has a re-playability that is rare for a game so small. The theme of Battleline is warfare in antiquity, particularly focussing on the regimented, formation-based combats of Alexander the Great and Darius III. You will not be replaying the battle of Issus, the siege of Tyre of any of the great battles of the period through this game, but the theme of formation based phalanx warfare sits amazingly well with the mechanics of the game. If a player manages to seize three adjacent flags that player’s army has achieved a Breakthrough, and wins the game. If, on the other hand, they manage to seize five flags (without getting three adjacent), the battle has been particularly long and gruelling, and the player’s army has achieved, finally, an Envelopment, which will also result in a victory.
It is not the victory mechanics that make this game so interesting, although they certainly form a large part of the game, it is the play mechanic itself - play a card behind one of the nine flags and pick up a card, it doesn’t sound like it could hide too much complexity, but it does. There may be nine flags, but it is easy to put yourself into a corner by filling up too many too swiftly, it is easy to play your formations too soon and give your opponent more time to counter them, it is hard to decide sometimes how to play a hand – to wait on one of a particular couple of cards, or to go with a weaker formation but one you have already. In fact it is in balancing the need to get rid of cards, to play cards and to draw cards that the game derives its tactical depth and in-game tension. Battleline is a game filled with tension, there is always more that you want to be able to do than you can do, you want to be playing cards, you need to be drawing cards, you are hoping against hope that the next card you do pick up will help out the formation you played earlier, you want Tactics cards, but if you take them you won’t be able to draw a Troop card. So many agonizing choices spiced with a touch of risk taking and a dash of luck all rolled up into a 20 to 30 minute card game; that is the beauty of Battleline.
Battleline manages to unite simplicity, depth and variation of play in a way that is rare and surprising for a game of its size and length. It is a real pleasure to play, and for a game that has had its theme changed significantly from its original incarnation, it is remarkably thematic and feels quite natural.
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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:
- Straight Flush
- Three of a Kind
- Everything Else
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.