Sunday, 18 August 2013

Battle Line - Game Review

Battle Line Game Review Rules Cards

Me and the lads meet up once a week for a spot of gamin' in the garage. We chew the fat, eat and drink til' we're merry and try to cram in as much gaming as we can before the inevitable return to our loved ones and the realities of the 9 - 5...

With game time at a premium, the last year has seen a notable change in the types of games we've played, switching focus from tabletop mini war-games, to board games and CCC's.

This is nothing new - Recent years have seen the traditional and recognised stereotypes within the hobby world begin to blur, with gamers of all ages and experience becoming more open to the possibilities on offer. Our club day bears testament to this, with over twenty different game systems being played at any one time, seeing 40k, Bolt Action and Magic the Gathering players all vying for table space...

Battle Line Game Review Rules Cards
'Magic The Twatting Gathering?!!
Get out you soppy great wizard's sleeve!!!'

I love MTG by the way. Anyway, back to the post in hand...

I stumbled upon this game in a local charity shop and knew very little about it at the time. But it bore the legendary Reiner Knizia's name so I knew it must have some pedigree...

In Battle Line the object of the game is to play cards to create formations that are used to capture flags for victory. These 9 flags or 'strategic objectives' are laid out in a row across the middle of the table, with the two opposing generals attempting to win by capturing either 3 adjacent flags or 5 flags in any order.

Battle Line Game Review Rules Cards

From a starting 'Troop Deck' of 60 cards, each player is dealt 7 cards with which to start building their formations. These cards are in 6 'suits' or colours and are numbered from 1 - 10. If you've ever played any Texas Hold'em Poker you'll be right at home with the differing types of unit formations you can muster...

Having randomly determined who'll go first, the players alternate the following turn sequence: 

1.) Play a troop card next to one of the 9 flags
2.) Check to see if a player can successfully claim a flag  
3.) Draw a card from either the Troop deck or the tactics deck (more on that in a minute), to ensure your hand maintains 7 cards
4.) When both decks run out, no further cards can be drawn, but play continues
5.) Flags are won by formations of Troop cards played adjacent to the flags

Troop formations start to take hold...

...And flags are seized...

With the battle at tipping point, I counter Olly's all conquering wedge (three in, top right)
by playing the 'Mud' tactics card... Mwahahaha!

The Tactics cards. These can be real game changers and lead to victory where once all was lost and throw a real spanner in the works for your opponent. There are 10 Tactics cards and players are free to pick up from this deck instead of picking up from the Troops deck. There are however some conditions to follow:

1.) A player can hold any number of Tactics cards in his hand upto his maximum of seven
2.) A player may never play more than one Tactics card more than his opponent has played
3.) There are three types of Tactics cards: Morale Tactics (Leader, Companion Calvary, Shield Bearers) which are played in formations in place of Troop cards. Environment Tactics (Fog, Mud) which affect a single, unclaimed flag. Guile Tactics (Scout, Redeploy, Deserter, Traitor) which are placed face up on the player’s own side next to the Tactics deck...

The rule whereby you can only play one more tactics card than your opponent is what lifts this game into strategy heaven. With Tactics cards having potential to be so disruptive, you will often find yourself holding these cards back just to prevent your opponent from wrecking your carefully laid plans. Players will meticulously plan exactly what formations and tactics to play because you may never get the chance to play another one if your opponent refuses to let you…

Battle Line is one of the most engrossing, tactical games I've ever played. At it's heart, it's simple core mechanics make it very easy to teach to new players. But as they get the grasp of the game and how and then best to co-ordinate their use of tactics cards, both new and old players alike will be battling each other with a depth of strategic thinking the game initially belies.

If you get the opportunity to play this game or can grab a copy from eBay (or a charity shop!), I strongly urge you to do so. If needs be, park any minor hobby pre-conceptions to one side for a bit – Sure, it may lack the slick cutting edge design of more recent board and card game productions, but when a game is this elegant, accessible and engrossing, who cares?

Cheers ;)

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