Compact, easy to learn, and deceptively deep. Battle Line Medieval is a no-frills, highly replayable card game for two players. It's simple design allows for fast flowing, tactical back-and-forth gameplay, with (in my experience) wide appeal, even amongst 'non-gamers'. It is a game that has entertained players (in varying guises) for decades.
This edition is just one of the latest iterations of a game first published as The Fifth Column in 1995. Developed from a poker variant (East-West), the game was played with a standard deck of cards and was light on 'theme'. The designer (the prolific Reiner Knizia) reinvented the game in 1999 as Schotten Totten, giving the game a more distinct identity. Not satisfied there he re-themed the game again (with minor gameplay amendments) as Battle Line in 2000. From that, we arrive at Battle Line Medieval themed edition. Itself a straight a re-theme of Battle Line.
Theme aside, little has changed from iteration to iteration. Revised editions of both Schotten Totten and Battle Line remain in print (joined in 2020 by Schotten Totten 2). The fact that these games continue to be reprinted (and sell), speaks well for the enduring appeal of the core gameplay.
Form The Line
Like the versions that have come before it, Battle Line Medieval sets two players against one another over a 'battle line'. In this case, nine battlefield cards arrayed in line between the players. To be victorious, a player much successfully claim five of the nine, or three adjacent battlefields. To claim a battlefield, players need Troops - and Tactics.
Players share a 60 card Troop deck, depicting Medieval themed military units with values of 1-10, in six colours. From this they will draw an opening hand of seven cards and alternate turns playing one card to a battlefield. Each battlefield can hold a up to three cards on each players side. To claim a battlefield a player must establish a stronger formation of three cards than their opponent.
The formations, whilst given appropriately thematic names like Wedge, and Square, still retain the memory of the original poker inspired game. For example a Wedge Formation is three cards of the same colour with consecutive values, or a Straight Flush. A Square is three cards of the same value (Three of a Kind). I've found this particularly useful in tempting your unenlightened 'non-gamer' to give it a go, admittedly with mixed results.
In addition to the Troop cards, players have access to a 10 card Tactic deck. From which cards can be drawn and played in place of a Troop card. Some Tactic cards will be used as a wildcard Troop, others will have a one-time effect on a specific battlefield. A well played Tactic can completely turn the tables on your opponent.
When a player has a three card formation at a battlefield, they can claim it. So long as (using only cards in play) they can prove their formation is stronger and anything their opponent can create.
That, in essence, is the game. Each turn a player will play a card, claim one or more battlefields (if able), then draw a card. It's a simple structure, and one enables engaging, tactical, gameplay that draws players back time and again. With an average game lasting around 20 - 30 minutes, you'll often want to dive straight into a rematch... then a best of five.
What makes this game so engaging, and so replayable, is crazy number of options you need to consider. When you play Battle Line Medieval you are going to be faced with many decisions, mostly tough (sometimes frustratingly), every turn. Because, on each turn, you must play a card to your side of the battle line. In doing so you reduce the number of slots left available to you. Every card played has the potential to notably affect the relative strength of cards in both players hands.
Therein lay the challenge of Battle Line Medieval. "Where and when should I play this card?" "What the odds that I'll draw X card, or that my opponent already has it" "Is that card just played a bluff, or the start of a solid formation?" These are some of the questions you will likely be asking yourself constantly. At times it can be a bit of a brain burner, but none the less it is a rewarding experience.
Win or lose I strongly suspect you'll want to go again and see if you can do better.
Battle Line Medieval is a game I would recommend to anyone enjoys two-player games. It ticks many of the boxes for me in terms of 'a solid two-player game' Quick set up, an easy teach, highly replayable, with gameplay that throws up interesting decisions. It's also highly portable.
Whilst the game box is bigger than it needs to be, the game fits easily in a standard CCG deck box. Making it a great option with which to grab a partner to game on the go. E.g at the pub with a pint on a Sunday afternoon!
If the gameplay appeals, but the artwork doesn't, take a look at Schotten Totten. The game plays very similarly (newer versions also include Tactic cards). It's highland tribe themed artwork is more eye catching. Although I am a fan of Roland MacDonald's (Ruthless, Undaunted, Western Legends) work on this edition. It's Battle Line Medieval Edition for me all the way.