Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Embattled in Battle Line

Image courtesy of
GMT Games
In the last two weeks my lovely wife has beaten me twice in hard-fought games of Battle Line (designer Reiner Knizia, publisher GMT), one of my acquisitions at PrezCon last February.  In fact, since I brought Battle Line home, my wife has won every game we've played.  My buddy Grant Greffey had introduced me to Battle Line years ago, and I was intrigued at the time, though I didn't buy it right away.  More recently, trolling boardgamegeek for ideas for games suitable for spouses, the name Battle Line came up more than once.  So at PrezCon, I saw that GMT was selling it for $15 and snapped it up (along with another game that I'll post about later).

The main deck consists of six suits of ten ranks of "Troop" cards representing various troop types from the Hellenistic Greek period.  The eponymous "battle line" consists of nine "flags" against each of which the two players each commit up to three cards in an effort to construct a superior "formation" and win the flag; three adjacent flags or five total win the game.  The superiority of one formation (three-card set) over another depends on their pattern; a "wedge" formation (three-card "straight flush") beats a "phalanx" (three-of-a-kind) for example.  Grant describes Battle Line as "nine hands of three-card poker," but I think that description sells the game short.  The real genius of the game is that the deck is never re-shuffled.  As a card is committed to one position in the line (i.e., one of the nine "flags"), that card becomes unavailable for any other position.  The real skill in this game seems to come in knowing where to commit and where to keep one's options open.  If I can prove that you can not come up with a better formation ("hand") than mine for a certain flag (based on cards that have already been played elsewhere on the table), then I win that flag immediately.

The game also has a ten-card deck of unique "Tactics" cards that can modify a position in the line to one's advantage.  A player can choose to play a Tactics card in lieu of a Troop card, sometimes to devastating effect.  Some Tactics cards are wild or semi-wild cards.  Some allow shifting cards on one's own or one's opponent's side of the battle line.  Some change the heirarchy of formations or conditions for winning a specific flag.  The only limitation on playing Tactics cards is that you can't play one if you've already played more Tactics cards than your opponent has.

The fascinating thing is that Battle Line has a very martial theme, so I really didn't expect it to appeal to Kathy.  She really didn't expect to get the hang of it, either, but was willing to try since she's such a good sport about trying new games.  Well, apparently she got the hang of it just fine.  All three of our sessions have been close (more or less), but her timing with Tactics cards is downright uncanny.  More than a few times did I think that I had a flag won only to have her snatch it from me in the nick of time.

Next post:  Another game with a Hellenistic theme - and another loss to my lovely wife.  (What is up with that?)

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