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Subject: Pure Concentrated Gaming Goodness rss

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Kyle Smith
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Herndon
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If I had to pick one word to describe Battle Line it would be "tension". Because this game is all about it. I place it in the same class as Lost Cities or Dragonheart. However, I think it is the best of those because of it's clear and concise win conditions.

Simple Rules, Great Depth: This is a wonderfully simple game. So much in fact that I'm going to do something I rarely do here. I'm going to summarize the rules.

You have a hand of 7 cards. There are 9 flags. Each turn you play a card. You are trying to construct a poker hand of 3 cards at each flag. Whoever has the best hand wins the flag. Win 5 flags, or 3 adjascent flags and you win.

And that is it! It could almost be played with a standard deck of cards. And the concepts of the formations are familiar to most people who've even heard of poker. So much so I don't think I've ever used the actual names of the formations playing the game, instead opting for their poker equivilants. But despite the fact that the game is basically just constructing 9 different 3 card hands of poker, it never feels obvious. Because even though you are trying to accomplish a very simple task, the list of considerations is great.

You don't want to tip off the formation you are going for too early. Odds are good that your opponent will just dedicate themselves to making a better one, and then it's just luck to see who gets the right cards. Location matters as well since the game is won by winning 5 out of 9 flags, or winning 3 adjascent flags for an early victory. So certain locations may be more hotly contested than others. At the same time, you may feel compelled to throw away a flag simply to dump awful cards from your hand, fishing for that one perfect card you need. And you will always want to try to throw a worthless card at a flag you know you are going to lose before your opponent captures it, since you cannot play cards to flags that have already been captured.

Deduction: Another thing I love about this game is that you can use deduction to prove the opponent doesn't have a chance. If you can do this, you just take the flag. This is fantastic because it denies them the ability to play to any remaining spots they had. However, with 9 different match ups going on at once, you won't have a constant awareness of the remaining possibilities on the board at all times. If someone tries to do this, kick them under the table until they take their damn turn! However assessing the critical flags, and deducing what formations are still possible for those can give you a vital leg up on your opponent. Usually it will encourage you play a lesser formation, since their superior formation is no longer possible to complete. In short, the game has ample oppurtunities for you to peer beyond the veil, and feel smart about it. Which is great.

The tactics mix this formula up even more. When you play a straight troop card game of Battle Line, you mostly use deduction to bludgeon your opponent. But with tactics you may find yourself using deduction to drag things out. Since your opponent can only play one more tactic card than the total of tactics cards you've played, every time you play one yourself, you risk your opponent playing one also. Tactics can be an incredibly disruptive force, ruining all the deduction you've done. Tactics also introduce some wild card troop types, which you will want to hold back until the very last moment, in hopes of still drawing the correct troop card, preserving your wild card for a more worthy battle elsewhere.

Clear Win Conditions: This is my favorite part of this game. It doesn't mess around with any of that Eurogame "Lets adds up our scores at the end and see who wins" nonsense. It's obnoxious to spend that much time figuring out who won at the end of the game, when the game itself only took 10 or 15 minutes. I actively detest figuring out the final score in Lost Cities. It ruins a perfectly good game. So thankfully there is none of that nonsense here. It is immediately obvious who won. You get 5 out of 9 flags, or 3 adjascent flags. A quick glance at the board is all you need.

Quickstart, Quickfinish: Shuffle the cards and go! Done? Now put the cards away. It truly doesn't get quicker or easier than this. As a person who finds excess setup and tear down overhead one of the biggest factors in a game languishing on a shelf, it doesn't get better than this. 95% of your time is spent playing the game! Not setting it up, puzzling out who won, or putting it away.

Conclusion: I literally cannot think of a single negative thing to say about Battle Line. It's just that good. I can't nitpick anything. Maybe the box is slightly large than it needs to be? I guess there is that. Battle Line is just one of the most amazing doses of pure concentrating board gaming greatness that I've seen. And everyone who loves board games should have an oppurtunity to play it.
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Steve Norton
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Couldn't have said it better myself. Great review of an outstanding game.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Falmouth
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Nice review. I may have to get this game for quick 2 player gaming fix and travelling.

Off topic, but I can't help but wonder when Sirlin will take this game and add his Fantasy Strike asymmetric treatment to it.
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Nick Bentley
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Battle Line is one of my all time favorites. WAY deeper than appears on the surface. I was trying to think of a negative comment to make, and here it is:

I suspect the second player has an advantage.
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Kyle Smith
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I am unsure about the second player having an advantage. It depends how you start off. If both players just play the best formations they can, with the cards immediately available, in a straight forward manner, I'd agree. However after many plays, you rarely do this. You probe with some weaker formations at the edge of the line to see how the enemy responds. You keep your options open, hoping for a royal flush to accumulate in your hand. After a few turns it has ceased to matter who went first. I've rarely seen a game of Battle Line accumulate endless unchecked momentum for one player from the first few moves.

Plus, I think that whatever the second player gains in information, the first player gains in timing, since all ties go to whoever finished the formation first.

Although I would be interested in seeing the statistics of who went first, and who won, from experienced players. I could easily see it being the case for beginner players to experience a turn order advantage.
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Nick Bentley
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Namrok wrote:
I am unsure about the second player having an advantage. It depends how you start off. If both players just play the best formations they can, with the cards immediately available, in a straight forward manner, I'd agree. However after many plays, you rarely do this. You probe with some weaker formations at the edge of the line to see how the enemy responds. You keep your options open, hoping for a royal flush to accumulate in your hand. After a few turns it has ceased to matter who went first. I've rarely seen a game of Battle Line accumulate endless unchecked momentum for one player from the first few moves.

Plus, I think that whatever the second player gains in information, the first player gains in timing, since all ties go to whoever finished the formation first.

Although I would be interested in seeing the statistics of who went first, and who won, from experienced players. I could easily see it being the case for beginner players to experience a turn order advantage.


I agree with all this. It's not at all clear.
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