Thank you for checking out my nineteenth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**A copy of this game was provided by GMT Games in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Battle Line
Battle Line is a game designed by Reiner Knizia and is published by GMT Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 30 minute play time on the box.
In Battle Line, two opponents face off across a ‘battle line’ and attempt to win the battle by taking 5 of 9 flags or 3 adjacent flags. Flags are decided by placing cards into 3-card poker-type hands on either side of the flag (similar to straight flush, 3 of a kind, straight, flush, etc). The side with the highest ‘formation’ of cards wins the flag.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
This is a 2-player only game, so nothing varies at this player count. You shuffle both decks, deal 7 troop cards to each player, and set the 9 pawns in a line in the center of the table.
Players take turn playing one card from their hand and then drawing a card from one of the two decks. A flag can be claimed if both players have three cards out, or if a person can prove the other player cannot win that flag via the cards left in the deck. For instance, if they need a Yellow 8 to get a higher total, then you can win the flag by showing the Yellow 8 is already in play elsewhere. Even if there is a Tactics card that could break this rule, the battle can be resolved and therefore prevent any more cards from being added or removed from that battle.
This game rewards both long-term and short-term strategy. It can feel overwhelming at the start, because you don’t know what cards you’ll draw or where you opponent will place their cards. There is value in rushing to get to claim a spot early, and equal value at times to play segments slowly. The more options you leave open, the longer you’ll be able to continue drawing and playing cards. You’ll want to try and steal a fast win by claiming three adjacent flags, but you’ll also need to keep your opponent from doing the same. There is a lot of thinking and planning that can go into such a fast and simple game. Which makes this a wonderful quality of Battle Line.
The tactics cards are a fantastic addition, and they can change the entire dynamic of the game. There is nothing more satisfying than throwing down a card that claims a flag for you or delays one for your opponent. However, the balance comes in knowing these cards aren’t a factor in a player proving a flag cannot be claimed. Just because there is a card in the tactics deck that could allow you to get that Green 9 you need isn’t enough if the Green 9 is already out elsewhere. So while these cards are powerful, they only matter if you’ve already played them.
There is a tough decision on when to draw a tactics card and when to draw a troop card. The tactics can be powerful, yet taking those can allow the card you really need to go to your opponent’s hand instead. Or will allow the card they needed to go to their hand. There is a balance to find here, and it can be a tough thing to navigate. A hand full of tactics cards can end up being worth little if there aren’t the right troops to pair them with.
The 30 minute play time is an exaggeration. For a single play, including setup and teardown, we clock in around 15-20 minutes. Which makes this a perfect game. I’ve mentioned other games that play in a filler time but have gameplay beyond the typical filler game. This is one of those games. This is perfect for us, because we still have a young one in the house. Sometimes 15-20 minutes is all we can spare, which makes this a game we can pull out to play any time.
I like the battle system for determining the victor at each flag. It can seem overwhelming at first to remember what defeats what, but after a few plays it begins to click. As your opponent plays down cards, it allows you to narrow down your options to what cards you can play there in order to take the victory.
A player who likes to calculate their odds will enjoy this game; however, it can also be paralyzing. Later in the game it becomes tempting to look at what is out there and start trying to figure out what cards are in the deck and/or your opponent’s hand. This can lead to long turns for some players. It isn’t an issue either of us has, but definitely something that could be encountered.
At the end of the game, you may reach a point where you cannot play a card. Or, worse, where you have to play a card on a flag’s battlefield because you have only a few choices and no cards that go with your intended strategy. This is frustrating, because there are still cards in the deck but you’re forced into those plays. Because you have to play a card from your hand if possible. Should you pass, your opponent keeps playing until they cannot play any more cards on their side. I really found myself wishing I could simply discard to draw the next card.
I really enjoy the small touches placed in here, having each of the ten numbers be a different unit type from the Ancient world. There are two leaders in the tactics deck and they are powerful, but not if you end up drawing them both (because an army doesn’t need a second leader). My next point is on the theme, and while it isn’t a rich theme, they did put consideration in what goes on the cards. You’d expect Elephants to trample over any troop type, thus they are the 10.
This game could be rethemed in a thousand ways, as can be seen by the images on the BGG page. It isn’t supposed to be strong in theme, and it certainly makes sense to deploy these troops to win along the line of battle. If you are the player who needs a rich, immersive theme then you will be disappointed.
This game is a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure how well she’d like this game because of the poker hand values and the potential math the game can require. Thankfully, my fears were all for naught as we’ve both quite enjoyed this game. It plays fairly quickly, and we are apt to play this several times in a row. This takes a few simple aspects and really makes them work well to deliver a perfect 2-player game.
This is one I’m very thankful to have in our collection. It is similar in some ways to Hanamikoji, a game we played before Battle Line, but they are different enough that we could definitely have both games in our collection and enjoy them both. If you’re looking for a game for two that requires short-term tactical thinking while rewarding long-term strategic planning, this one will fit that requirement. And it plays in a short span of time, allowing it to be squeezed into moments where you can’t play longer games or enabling it to be a game you play multiple times in a row.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.