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Subject: Battle Line - A Review rss

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Craig Hargraves
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Battle Line

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: GMT Games
Year: 2000
Players: 2
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 30 minutes

The Idea

Battle Line is a two player card game, in which players represent generals from ancient history as they set up formations on opposite sides of the battlefield. During the game players are trying to make poker style sets of cards (which represent troops) in an attempt to capture either 3 adjacent flags (a “Breakthrough”) or 5 flags anywhere (an Envelopment) to win the battle (and the game).

In the Box
While not overly large, the box that Battle Line comes in a bit big for the contents. If you were travelling with Battle Line you could easily fit another one or two card games inside the box. The art on the box is quite representative of that on the cards and is quite appropriate for the historical setting and theme of the game.

As a card game the bulk of the games contents are, unsurprisingly, cards. There are two types of cards in the game. The majority of cards are “Troop” cards. These cards are numbered 1 through 10 and come in 6 different colours. The 10 remaining cards are “Tactics” cards and have special text on them which allow players to surprise their opponent by twisting rules to their advantage. As with the box, the art on the cards, while very simple by modern standards, is totally appropriate for the setting the game tries to evoke. In addition to rules text, the Tactics cards use some simple icon-like illustrations to convey their function quite well. The cards are made of quite a thick card stock and have clearly been designed to last for a long time. If anything though, the quality of the cards can make shuffling a bit more difficult than a typical card stock.

The final game component of Battle Line is a set of 9 wooden pawns which are the “Flags” the players are competing for. The pawns are simple but perform the function they are required to perfectly well. In fact, if you wanted to travel with Battle Line it would be very easy to leave these pawns behind and just take the cards and substitute some other small objects (such as coins) to perform their job.

The rules sheet is a simple black and white 4 page production. The rules are explained very well and simple illustrations and examples make everything perfectly clear. Perhaps the only addition I would have liked to have seen would have been a small reference card detailing the relative strengths of the different formations so you didn’t have to keep referring to the rules book.

Basic Game Play Summary
To set up the game, the 9 pawns are placed in a line between both players and 7 Troop cards dealt to each player. The remaining Troop cards are placed in a draw pile at one end of the line whilst the Tactics cards (if you are using them) form another draw pile at the other end.

On their turn, players will play either a Troop or Tactics card to the table and then draw a card from either of the two draw pile. Players are trying to form particular “Formations” made from sets of 3 cards on their side of the various pawns. Similar to poker these different groups have various strengths. From strongest to weakest these formations are:

1. Wedge – 3 cards of the same colour with sequential values (like a poker straight flush).
2. Phalanx – 3 cards of the same value (three-of-a-kind in poker).
3. Battalion Order – 3 cards of the same colour (a flush in poker).
4. Skirmish Line – 3 cards with sequential values (a straight in poker).
5. Host – Any other combination.

An interesting feature of Battle Line is for a player to be able to claim a flag through logic. After playing the third card to their formation, a player can claim the flag by proving through logic (based on the cards on the table) that it is impossible for their opponent to make a formation capable of beating theirs.

Tactics cards offer a chance to mess with the rules a bit. Some Tactics will allow you to steal and opponent’s card while others can act as wild cards. These cards can throw in a large degree of chaos into the game and can cause your well laid plans to come undone. Some players will appreciate this while others won’t. Fortunately for those who don’t want to add this element of chaos and conflict into the game it is very easy to leave these cards out.

To win the game you will need to capture either 3 adjacent flags or 5 flags from anywhere.

Who Would Like It
Fans of traditional card games like “Rummy” could very well enjoy the play of this game (even if the theme didn’t grab them). Battle Line also has a feel similar to some other Euro-style card games, notably “Lost Cities” (also by Reiner Knizia and published by Rio Grande Games). If you enjoy Lost Cities then you’ll probably enjoy Battle Line as a nice next step up in complexity and depth of play.

Ultimately, Battle Line stands up as a very enjoyable two-player card game so if you and your significant other are always looking for games to play together than Battle Line is well worth a look!

Where to From Here?
As mentioned above, Battle Line has a bit of a similar feel to Lost Cities (both games being designed by Reiner Knizia). If you haven’t played Lost Cities then you may like to try it as it’s a modern day classic in the two-player card game category. Just be aware that the game play and decision making is a bit easier in Lost Cities. Other two player card games you may enjoy include “Balloon Cup”, “Caesar & Cleopatra”, “Hera & Zeus” and “Odin’s Ravens” (all published by Rio Grande Games).

If you are looking for more card games with a war theme, albeit more complex than Battle Line, then you could try “Blue vs. Gray: The Civil War Card Game” which is themed around the American Civil War (and is also published by GMT Games). For a World War II theme you could try “The Battle for Hill 218” (published by Your Move Games).

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Craig Blumer
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Oshkosh
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Nice review, you cover all the main areas well.

Having played this game a lot, I didn't learn anything new, but I still appreciate reading a concise review and to hear others' opinions of the game.

Thanks again,

Craig
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Rick Kimmel
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Waconia
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Nice little review. This is a great game if you're short on time. I play this quite a bit with my kids (9 and 10) since we rarely have time during the week for beefier Euros.

Personally, I don't see the comparisons with Lost Cities. Yeah, they're both Knizia card games where you match colors and deal with numbers but other than that I don't see a lot in common. I think that if you play Lost Cities and are looking for something that's similar but a bit more complex then Battle Line would be a great choice.
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j b Goodwin

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I'm giving you a thumbs-up simply because you didn't say "I really felt like I was in command of an ancient army." (I read a review lately that actually said something like that) It's a fun little game, but it's a card-game!
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Craig Hargraves
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Morayfield
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ekimmel wrote:
Personally, I don't see the comparisons with Lost Cities. Yeah, they're both Knizia card games where you match colors and deal with numbers but other than that I don't see a lot in common. I think that if you play Lost Cities and are looking for something that's similar but a bit more complex then Battle Line would be a great choice.


Yeah, it's hard to really nail down why Lost Cities came to mind for me when I play Battle Line. I think it's something in the feel of how it plays or the gaming whole that it fills. That is, when my wife and I just want a quick filler to play, where we would usually opt for Lost Cities, we're now going to Battle Line.

Thanks for all the feedback from everyone. It's much appreciated!

Craig
 
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Craig Hargraves
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swandive78 wrote:
I'm giving you a thumbs-up simply because you didn't say "I really felt like I was in command of an ancient army." (I read a review lately that actually said something like that) It's a fun little game, but it's a card-game!


While Battle Line is one of the better attempts at theme pasting a Knizia game it certainly isn't that good! Thanks for reading.
 
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Usta Playalot
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And if you want a brighter, sillier version of Battle line, you can download Morkopeli:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo/36296

It's got funny, simple artwork, and it's free! I printed mine out on cheap photo paper, sleeved the cards and it works great!
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Pasta Batman
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ekimmel wrote:
Personally, I don't see the comparisons with Lost Cities. Yeah, they're both Knizia card games where you match colors and deal with numbers but other than that I don't see a lot in common.

For me, the commonality is that both games induce a similar anxiety by forcing you to choose between laying down cards on formations/expeditions earlier than you might like versus stalling and hoping for a certain kind of card first before committing.

I agree that, overall, they feel very different. BL has a much more 'analytical' feel, since you have a lot more information to process, and there are few restrictions on where you can put cards (compared to LC's color/order restrictions). LC involves a big element of risk/reward evaluation, due to the expedition costs and investment cards. BL has nothing like that. Another big difference is that LC's discard mechanism creates a more indirect (but interesting) player interaction, compared to BL's more direct form of conflict.

I like both LC and BL a lot, and think if you like one you should definitely try the other. I think BL takes a little longer to warm to, but in the long run it has more depth and replayability.
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Tomasz Stefaniuk
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Thanks a lot for a review
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