(2016 – IELLO Games)
In 1999, designer Reiner Knizia released both Ra and Lost Cities, two of his more popular games to date. In the same year, he released a third, lesser known (at the time) card game entitled Schotten-Totten. The following year, publisher GMT would reimpelment the game with a new ancient war-era theme and an additional set of tactic cards, renaming it Battle Line. For the last 16 years, Battle Line has been ranked amongst the top-tier crop of card games, never seeming to lose its popularity as each year goes by. Its immense attraction is generated by its merging of simplicity and strategy. Much like a game of chess, the rules are clear and accessible, however the methods of success are dependent upon the opponent, and the player’s ability to plan ahead.
While Battle Line has seemed to have sustained a level of success within the board game community (GMT’s 6th edition of the game released in 2014), much can’t be said for its 16-year old graphical design. For year’s gamers have been calling for updated artwork, with some in the community coming up with amazing looking print-and-play editions. This year, publisher IELLO has reverted the game back to the Scottish clan-driven Schotten Totten title (but still keeping Battle Line’s inclusion of tactic cards), and includes brand new, beautiful artwork and caricatures .
In Schotten Totten, players control an army of Scottish clans, currently in dispute over territories with their nearby neighboring clans. A row of 9 territory tiles are placed in a row, in the center of the table. Players can take control of a territory if, after both them and their opponent have laid down 3 cards at the territory, their 3 card set (battle formation) is superior to their opponent’s. There’s a hierarchy of sets that trump other sets. For instance, a set of 3 cards, all with the same color will trump a run of cards (cards in numerical order) that aren’t all the same color. Players will also have a set of Tactic cards at their disposal, each with a different special ability that can break the normal rules in the game. The first player to either take control of 5 territories, or to control 3 adjacent territories is the winner.
– Clan cards (6 colored sets, each set numbered 1-9)
– Tactic cards
– Stone markers
– Summary cards
At the beginning of the game, players will set out the 9 Stone markers, lined side by side to created a connected row. This is considered the dividing line between the player’s controlled land and his opponent’s. During the game, players will try to play sets of cards (known in the game as battle formations) on their side of each of these markers in order to take control of that marker’s territory.
All 54 Clan cards are then shuffled together to create a Clan card draw deck. Each card contains a number 1-9 and one of six colors. The 10 Tactic cards are then shuffled together to create a Tactic card draw deck. Each of these cards contains some sort of special ability that the player can perform when played. Note that Tactic cards are a variant and are not included with the basic rules of the game.
Finally, each player draws 7 cards (if using Tactic cards, 6 if using the basic rules) from the Clan deck. Players will have the opportunity to draw from the Tactic deck when refilling their hand at the end of a turn. After setup is complete, the play area should looks something like this:
On a player‘s turn, he’ll play one of the cards from his hand in front of one of the various Stone makers on his side of the dividing line. No more than 3 cards can be played on either side of a particular Stone marker. Players will attempt to make the best set of 3 cards at a Stone marker, thus taking control of its territory. After playing a card from his hand, the player can claim any number of Stone marker territories, if able. Once a player’s turn is complete, he’ll then choose to draw a new card from either the Clan card draw deck or the Tactic card draw deck, then it’s the next player’s turn.
There are two ways that a player can claim a territory. The main way is by having the strongest battle formation (better set) at a Stone marker after both players have played their 3 cards there. However, if there’s a point in which a player’s able to prove to his opponent that he can claim a particular Stone marker at the end of his turn no matter what the opposing player plays there for the rest of the game, he can go ahead and claim that territory. Here are a list of battle formations from strongest to weakest:
– 3 cards of the same color, in a numerical run (highest numerical run wins if both players have an run of the same color)
– 3 cards of the same strength (3-of-a-kind), whether they contain the same color or not
– 3 cards of the same color
– A numerical run of 3 cards, though not the same color
– The sum of all 3 cards
For instance, the Player A has completed a set of Clan cards which includes three 4’s, while the Player B has completed a set that includes a run of 5, 6, and 7, not all the same color. Player A therefore has the stronger of the two battle formations and would claim the territory by placing the Stone marker below his side of his cards.
Taking a look at another example, the Player A has completed a set consisting of three cards with the same color. Player B has only played two cards, one a 4 green and the other a blue 5. Depending on the type of Tactic cards already played (if players are even playing with the variant cards) it may be possible for Player A to prove it impossible for Player B to play any card here that would create a stronger battle formation than his own same-colored set. If this is the case, he could go ahead and claim the Stone marker without needing to wait for Player B to play a 3rd card here.
Tactic cards throw a bit of a wrinkle into the regular straight-forward strategy found in the basic game. Some people will find their chaotic nature more entertaining, while others may prefer the less random, card-counting gameplay more. Either way, they’re a nice addition to the game. Players can play a Tactic card instead of a regular Clan card on their turn, however he can only play a Tactic card if it would not exceed one more than his opponent had played thus far in the game. For instance, if Player A had played 2 Tactic cards so far and Player B had only played 1, then Player B could play a 2nd and a 3rd if Player A did not play any more. Player A could not play a 3rd Tactic card until Player B played his 2nd. Let’s take a look at what these 10 Tactic cards can do:
Each of these Tactic cards are played as if they were regular Clan cards. There are two Jokers (leftmost) in the Tactics deck, and these cards are treated as any combination of color and number the owning player chooses. Each player can only play one Joker per game. The Shield-Bearer (center) is a bit weaker than the Joker. Its treated as a Clan card of 1, 2, or 3 strength, which the player will choose when claiming a Stone marker , along with choosing its color. The Spy (rightmost) has a strength of 7, which is the highest value in the game, as all other Clan cards are numbered 1-6. As with the Joker and Shield-Bearer, players will choose the Spy’s color when claiming the Stone marker.
Both of these Tactic cards are placed on a particular Stone marker itself, when played from a player’s hand. Once placed, it will determine the new rules for claiming that territory. When the Blind-Man’s Bluff (leftmost) card is placed on a Stone marker, players will only count the total strength of Clan cards there when determining the winner, not based on any card combinations. When the Mud Fight tactic (rightmost) is placed on a Stone marker, 4 cards are needed to complete a battle formation instead of the normal 3.
When playing one of these four Tactic cards, the corresponding action is immediately taken and the card is placed into a discard pile. When playing the Banshee (far left), the player can choose one of his opponent’s Clan or Tactic cards located at an unclaimed Stone marker and discard it. Alternatively, with the Strategist (mid-left), the player can choose one of his own Clan or Tactic cards located at an unclaimed Stone marker and move it to a different unclaimed Stone marker or simply discard it.
When playing the Traitor (mid-right), the player will choose one of his opponent’s Clan cards at an unclaimed Stone marker and places it on his side of any unclaimed Stone marker. Finally, when playing the Recruiter (far-right) the player can draw three cards from either the Clan draw deck or the Tactic draw deck (or a combination of both), then chooses two cards from their hand to discard to either the discard pile, or placed them on the bottom of their corresponding draw deck.
Players will continue to draw and play cards from their hand, claiming Stone marker territories until one of the players has claimed any 5 of the total 9 territories. A player can also win if he’s been able to claim 3 adjacent territories. Whichever of these occurs first, the game ends and that player is the winner.
There’s a reason that Battle Line has maintained a level of ongoing success, somewhat rare in our “cult of the new” board gaming hobby. It delivers everything that a head to head two-player game should. The rules couldn’t be any simpler. Play a card from your hand in front of a territory marker. Attempt to make a set of 3 cards that are higher than your opponent’s. However, players are forced to monitor the strategies and decisions of their opponent. Is the other player bluffing a battle formation at a particular territory, just to urge certain types of cards out of my hand? Does he have a hidden tactic card that will ruin my best laid plains? There’s so many layers to this game that aren’t noticeable at first glance. One of the best combinations of hand management and set collection gameplay out there.
For years, players could choose between the original Schotten Totten (which included 6 sets of cards numbered 1-9), or the tactic deck included Battle Line (which included 6 sets of cards numbered 1-10 and the set of tactic cards). While both games were similar, the small differences in hand size, the #10 cards, and set of tactic cards changed the game a bit. What’s nice about this new IELLO version is that while the #10 cards have been removed, the tactic cards remain included as a variant. This way players can experience both the original version of the game and Battle Line, to some extent. The most impressive upgrade however is the art design. IELLO has always produced games with fascinating visuals and illustrations, and this new edition of Schotten Totten is gorgeous. Each clan has a unique look and feel, and the zany caricatures match the Scottish quarreling theme. I know some will hold on to Battle Line for the nostalgia of having played their version constantly for the last 15+ years, and I’m sure there’s some gamers who prefer the aged-worn historical graphics to this new cartoon-style, but for me, this is the version of the game you’ll see me bringing to the table.