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Posted on Dec 23, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Battle Line – Game Review

By Brandon Neff


The key to victory in ancient battles was a strong line and organized formations. The military tactics of that age involved driving a wedge through the center of an opposing force, crushing their positions or flanking and enveloping an enemy. As the leader of an ancient army, can you outwit your opponent and lead your men to victory?


Battle Line, designed by Reiner Knizia and produced by GMT games is a two-player card game. The box includes a one page rule sheet, 60 Troop cards, 10 Tactic cards and 9 plastic flags. The box contains a plastic liner designed to secure the contents, something I appreciate in a game. There is nothing more frustrating than having a deck of cards or otherwise fragile components destroyed by poor box design. Interestingly, the box is twice the size needed to hold the components, leaving a great deal of empty space. Perhaps a larger box was seen as a selling point, but it may have resulted in added expense for GMT games and it means the box will take up more room on your shelf than needed. Fortunately, this incredible game will spend more time on your table than on your shelf so this is not an issue.


Both the troop and tactic cards are full-color and visually appealing. The backs of the cards are clearly marked to distinguish the two decks, since they will be used together in play. Additionally, the troop deck has a black border whereas the tactic deck has a brown border. The troop deck contains 6 groups of 10 cards. The groups are separated by color: yellow, green, blue, purple, orange and red. Each value corresponds to a certain combat unit, for example, 1 is a skirmisher and 9 is a chariot. These are purely flavor elements and have no effect on the game. The tactic deck contains four Morale tactics (the leaders Alexander and Darius, Companion Cavalry and Shield Bearers), two Environment tactics (Fog and Mud) and four Guile tactics (Scout, Redeploy, Deserter and Traitor).

The 9 red flags resemble chess pawns and are used to track victory conditions. At the start of the game, the flags are placed in a row between the two players and cards are played on your side of the flag. Players attempt to claim flags by laying cards on their side of the flag and besting their opponent’s hand. Once a sufficient number of flags are obtained, the game ends.

Rules, Mechanics and Game Play

The rules are brief and very easy to grasp. Indeed, a novice should be able to sit down, read the rules and be ready to play within a few minutes. The crux of the game involves playing a formation of three cards which trump your opponents’ formation, earning a flag. The first player to earn five flags, or three adjacent flags, wins.

The key to the game, therefore, is the formation played on each flag. Players alternate turns playing a single troop card on a flag and then drawing a new card to refresh their hand. Once three cards are played on a flag, a formation is complete. Whichever player has formed the highest formation wins the flag. There are five possible formations in order from highest to lowest: Wedge, Phalanx, Battalion Order, Skirmish Line and Host. The wedge is formed by three cards of the same color with consecutive values, independent of order (red 4-3-5 cards). The phalanx is formed by three cards of the same value (8-8-8 of different colors). The battalion order is three cards of the same color (blue 2-7-4). The skirmish line is three cards with consecutive values (4-6-5 of different colors). The host is any other formation (7-2-1 of different colors). If both players form identical formations, the formation with the higher sum of all three card values wins. If the sums are equal, the formations are tied. In that case, the player who played the last card on the formation loses the flag.

Claiming flags is not as straightforward as you might expect. After you have played a card and before drawing a new card to end your turn, you may claim one or more flags. You must either have a completed formation or you must be able to prove that your opponent cannot beat your formation. For example, you might have a wedge and your opponent has two cards played which are of two different colors. In this case, the highest formation the opponent could create would be a phalanx, assuming the two cards are of the same value. Regardless, it would be impossible for them to create a formation capable of defeating your wedge. In this case, the opponent would have to concede the flag. When proving that you have won the flag, you may refer to any cards in play but not to cards in your hand.

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