A New Variant for GMT’s “Battle Line” Card Game


Battle Line – Ancient Battles

By Christopher Salander

Originally published on http://www.grognard.com – Republished here with permission of Chris Salander

Battle Line Card Game - Title Graphic


Overview

I was attracted to the Battle Line card game from GMT Games by the attractive box art and pictures of ancient warriors from the Greek-Persian-Macedonian era illustrated on the cards. However, I was very disappointed to discover that the game mechanics rely almost exclusively on the color and number of the cards and essentially ignore the history that I thought they represented.

Rather than give up on the game, I have devised a new set of rules for this deck of cards that makes use of the troop types on the cards to refight ancient battles. I hope you enjoy it.

This Battle Line variant does not require a map, but we thought one would be cool, so we created it. It’s a variation of the custom map that we created for the standard game. Please feel free to download a 4.7MB PDF file containing the custom Battle Line “Ancient Battles” Variant Map.

Setup

Table Layout

This game is for two players. Prepare a playing area that is nine cards wide and four cards deep between the two players. Use the nine flag markers to help set up this arrangement as shown below:
Basic Map Graphic
The row of cards closest to each player is called that player’s Back Row, and the row of cards closest to the center of the playing area is called that player’s Front Row.

Army Creation

Each army will be composed of a specific set of cards. Either you will play a scenario that will specify which cards each player receives, or you can use the points system. For scenarios, see the “Scenarios” section, below.

Points System

Each Troop card is worth the number of points printed on it. The one exception to this rule is that Javalineers and Light Cavalry with Bows cost one point more. Each player has a budget of 100 points. Each player takes three of the six Troop card color sets. You can buy as many Troop cards as you can afford of each type, within the following limits:

  • You cannot buy more than three of each Troop type.
  • You cannot buy more than 18 cards total.

Editor’s Note: I think the correct spelling for a Javelin-thrower is “Javelinier”, but the game’s cards display it as “Javalineer” so I retained that spelling for consistency.

Deployment

When you have assembled your Army Deck, you must place nine Troop cards on the table. Place the cards face-down, in your own Back Row. You can pick any nine cards you want and you do not have to tell your opponent what the cards are. You cannot stack cards; place only one card per position.

After both players have placed nine cards each, flip them over to reveal their identities. Now remove all the flag markers and begin the battle! Each player rolls one six-sided die. The player with the higher roll moves first. Re-roll ties. The first player moves, fires, and fights according to the following rules. Then the second player moves, fires, and fights. Then the turn ends. Check for victory after each player’s turn. At the start of the next turn, roll the dice again to see who will go first.


Movement

Normal Movement

During your turn you can move up to six cards. Each card can only be moved once. To move a card, slide it one or two card positions forward, left, or right, or any combination of those directions.

The following cards can move two positions: Light Cavalry, Heavy Cavalry, Chariots. All other cards can only move one position per turn.

The following cards can only move forward: Javalineers, Hoplites, Phalangists. All other cards can move left, right, or forward.

When you move a card, slide it into position, maintaining the same orientation. Do not rotate the cards.

Movement Limitations

You cannot move a card into, through, or over a position occupied by another card, friendly or enemy. You can move a card into the other player’s half of the playing area.

Reinforcements

Instead of moving a card already on the table, you can take a Troop card from your Army Deck and place it on an empty position in the Back Row. This counts as one of the six card moves and that card cannot be moved again during the same turn. After you have moved or deployed six cards, you may attack. You can move or deploy fewer than six cards if you want to.


Combat

Disruption

During combat a card may become “disrupted”. This means that the troops represented by the card have become disordered and suffered some losses and will not fight as well. To show that a card is disrupted, place one of the flag markers on the card. If you run out of flag markers, use anything convenient, such as coins.

A card that has been disrupted cannot move or attack. It will defend itself at half strength, rounded down, but never less than 1. A disrupted card cannot issue missile fire. If a card is disrupted twice, it is eliminated.

Missile Combat

Before conducting melee combat, you can conduct a missile attack from any card armed with missile weapons. These cards and weapons include:

  • Skirmisher – Bow
  • Peltasts – Javelin
  • Javalineer – Javelin or Bow
  • Light Cavalry – Bow

Ranges:

  • Bow: 2 positions
  • Javelin: 1 position

Cards with javelins can only attack enemy cards 1 position away. Cards with bows may not fire over other cards. There must be a clear path of card positions to the target card. Firing diagonally counts as 2: one forward and one left or right. Missile fire can be forward or forward diagonally, but not to the left or right.

Javalineers and Light Cavalry normally do not carry bows. In a point-based game you can arm those troops with bows if you pay the extra point per card. A scenario will specify if any of these troops have bows. You must notify your opponent which of your Javalineer and Light Cavalry cards have bows.

Each card may make a missile attack only once per turn. To make the attack, indicate which card is firing and which is the target card. Then roll a die. On a roll of 6 the target card is disrupted. Chariots and Elephants are disrupted on a roll of 5 or 6. Missile fire can only disrupt a card. Cards that are already disrupted are not affected by missile fire.

Melee Combat

When you have finished your missile fire, conduct Melee Combat. To conduct an attack, select a Troop card that has an enemy card in front of it. Each card may only attack once per turn. There is no limit on how many of your cards can launch a melee attack each turn. Compare the numerical value of the attacking card to the defending card. Remember to use half strength for disrupted cards. Each player rolls one d6. Add the number you roll to the number of each card. Subtract the defender’s total from the attacker’s total and look up the difference in this table:

Difference Result
0 or Less No Effect
1 – 5 Defender is Disrupted
6 or More Defender is Eliminated

If the defender is disrupted, mark the defending card. If the defender is already disrupted, remove the card. If the defender is eliminated, remove the card.

Except in the Advanced Rules, cards cannot attack cards to their sides, or behind.

Combat continues until every card adjacent to an enemy card has had one chance to attack.

Combat Restrictions

Javalineers, Hoplites, Phalangists, and Elephants cannot be meleed by Cavalry. Cards fighting on a bad terrain card position subtract 2 from their melee total. Heavy infantry card stacks in bad terrain positions fight at half strength.

Example: A Javalineer card throws its javelins at an adjacent enemy Light Cavalry card. The attack roll is 6, therefore the Light Cavalry card is disrupted. In the subsequent Melee combat the Javalineer card attacks the disrupted Light Cavalry card: 3 versus 7/2 rounded down = 3. You roll a 4, your opponent rolls a 2. The Javalineer combat strength of 3 plus the 4 die roll is 7 total. The Light Cavalry reduced strength of 3 plus the 2 die roll = 5 total. Therefore the attacker total (7) minus the defender total (5) = 2. Checking the The Melee Combat Results chart, we see that the Light Cavalry card is disrupted again, so it is eliminated.


Special Events

Playing the Tactics Cards

Shuffle the Tactics cards and place them face down next to the playing area. Starting on the first turn after you have placed all your Troop cards (reinforcements) on the playing area, you may give up three of your card moves to instead draw one Tactics card. You can only draw one Tactics card per turn. Tactics cards do not have to be revealed when drawn and can be saved for use on any turn. There is no limit on how many Tactics cards you can use in one turn.

You must play Tactics cards at the beginning of your turn, before you move.

Effect of Playing the Cards

  • Leaders (Darius, Alexander): If you play a Leader card, you can remove the disruption marker from any three of your cards. (Rally) Discard the Tactics card after one use.
  • Environment (Fog, Mud): If you play an Environment card, place it in an empty card position in either your Front Row or your opponent’s Front Row. You may not place a terrain card in either player’s Back Row. For the rest of the game, no cavalry or chariot card may move into or through that position. Cards fighting in that position are at a disadvantage. (Bad terrain)
  • Loyalty (Traitor, Defection): When you play one of these cards your opponent must chose one Skirmisher, Peltast, Javalineer, or Light Cavalry card and remove it from play. (Unreliable allies.) Discard the Tactics card after one use.
  • Troop Quality (Shield Bearers, Companions): Place the card on one of your cards (Shield Bearers on infantry only, Companions on cavalry only; may not place on Chariots or Elephants). For the rest of the game this card adds 2 to its die roll, on attack or defense.
  • Redeploy: Take any one of your one cards that does not have an enemy card to its front, side, or rear, and put it back in any empty position in your Back Row. Discard the Tactics card after one use.
  • Scout: Play when deciding who goes first. The die roll is cancelled and the player who plays this card can decide to go first or second for one turn. Discard the Tactics card after one use.

Victory

There are two ways you can win:

  • Terrain: Place one of your cards in five of the nine positions in your opponent’s Back Row. These cards cannot be Peltasts, Skirmishers, or Light Cavalry. These cards must be un-disrupted in order to declare victory.
  • Casualties: Eliminate more than half of the point value of the enemy army.

If it is physically impossible for either player to win, the game is a Draw.


Advanced/Optional Rules

If both players agree, you can add any or all of these rules to your play, to add more historical flavor to the game.

Light Troop Withdrawals

Any undisrupted Skirmisher or Peltast card that is attacked by any infantry or Elephant card can retreat before combat into the card position straight behind it, if that position is empty. Cavalry can retreat before combat with any infantry. Chariots, Elephants, and heavy infantry cannot withdraw.

Heavy Infantry Phalanxes

Javalineer, Hoplite, and Phalangists cards may be stacked two per position. This stack of two cards is treated as one card with a strength of the sum of the two cards (6, 8, 10). Disruption, elimination, and rallying affects both cards at the same time. An infantry stack can only be created in your Back Row, by using two moves to place two cards in the same position in the same turn. No more than 9 cards may be placed before the game starts, so the use of stacks may create gaps in your Battle Line at first. Once created, a stack may never be taken apart. A stack must be composed of two cards of the same Troop type.

Elephant Rampages

If an Elephant card is disrupted, it will go on a rampage and attack the only card next to it (forward, left, right, or back, not diagonally). If there is more than one card next to the Elephant card, choose the victim randomly. The Elephant card has an equal chance of attacking friendly and enemy cards. After the victim card has been chosen, roll one d6. If the number rolled is higher than the number of the victim card, the victim card is disrupted. If the card is already disrupted, it is eliminated. Use the disrupted card strength, not the original card strength, when checking for disruption from rampage. Light troops cannot retreat from a rampage attack. At the end of the rampage the Elephant card is removed.

Example: An Elephant card is disrupted by javelin fire from an enemy Javalineer card in front of it. There is a friendly Skirmisher card to the left of the Elephant, and a friendly disrupted Light Cavalry card to its right. Roll a d6: 1,2 – the elephant attacks the Skirmishers; 3,4 – the Elephant attacks the Javalineers; 5,6 – the Elephant attacks the Light Cavalry. You roll a 5. Roll a d6 again. You roll a 4. A disrupted Light Cavalry card is worth 7/2 rounded down = 3. The rampage attack roll of 4 is greater than 3. The friendly Light Cavalry is eliminated.

Flank Attacks

Any card which starts a turn with an enemy card on its left, right, or rear, and no enemy card to its front, may conduct a flank attack against that card. If the flanking card is attacking alone, use the normal Melee Combat procedure. If there is a friendly card that can attack any other side of the enemy card, all friendly attacking card values are added together for one attack number (plus one die roll). Stacks of two infantry cards cannot perform flank attacks. Use of this rule allows cavalry and chariots to attack any infantry card, but only if they are attacking from the flank or rear and the enemy card is also being attacked by a friendly infantry card. Cavalry attacking infantry in the flank or rear use their disrupted strength.

Example: A Heavy Cavalry card is on the right side of an enemy Phalangists card. A friendly Skirmisher is on its left, and a Javalineer card is in front of the Phalangist card. They attack together, with a combined number of 1 + 8/2 + 3 = 8 against the Phalangists 5. If the Javalineer card had not been in front of the enemy card, the attack could not have taken place.

Continuous Rallying

At the end of a turn, each player can removed the disruption marker from any one of his cards.

Notes On Play

Success in this game depends heavily on the careful deployment of reinforcements from your Army Deck. By maintaining a reserve of cards, you can wait to see where your enemy is weakest and put your reserves into that column. However, holding on to your reserves for too long will allow your opponent to overwhelm your cards on the table and seize positions in your Back Row.

Standard practice is to commit your light troops first, to give them a clear field of fire and to scout the enemy positions.

Tactics cards introduce some uncertainty into the game. You may think you have your opponent in a bad position, then he plays a leader card to rally his troops and uses a Redeploy card to reinforce a weak section.

You may find situations where both sides cannot attack each other because one side has just heavy infantry left and the other side has just horse troops left. This can be a historical result (Cunaxa). This problem can usually be eliminated by the use of the Flank Attack rules, but if both sides are still over 50%, the side with the infantry can advance to the opponent’s Back Row and win.

Question: How do I stop Elephants?

Answer: If you use the advanced rules, you can use flank attacks, stacks of heavy infantry, and the elephant rampage rule to limit the impact of elephants. In the basic version of the game, elephants are still a big problem. There are three approaches you can take:
1) Buy many cards with bows and try to distrupt the elephants.
2) Evacuate the column with the elephant in it and let it pass.
3) Wait to see which columns your opponent puts elephants into and place your own elephants there.


Designer’s Notes

There is no penalty for making a bad attack, so players are encouraged to attack. At first I thought that disrupted cards should be flipped over, but since all the cards have the same backs, players had to keep flipping the cards over to see what they were. You may be frustrated by the fact that the heavy infantry can only go straight ahead, but ancient Persian, Greek, Indian, and Macedonian infantry were not flexible. These are not Roman cohorts.

Each of the more powerful cards has been given an “Achilles’ Heel” to prevent the higher valued cards from becoming super weapons that sweep away all others. Chariots and Elephants are particularly vulnerable to missle fire. Cavalry cannot attack heavy infantry or go into bad terrain. I have put extra limits on cavalry to compensate for their ahistorically high combat values.

The behavior and capabilities of the Chariots are based on Heavy Chariots. Players may want to create their own lighter chariots (for the Persian conquest of Egypt), with Bow fire.

I also wrestled with the decision on whether Cavalry could attack Javalineers . Essentially they are spearmen, irregular or poorly armed. My thinking was that in this era of no stirrups, cavalry not charge into them. In fact, I have read that except for some rare cases of spear-armed Heavy Cavalry (Lydians, Companions, Cataphracts) that most ancient cavalry attacked infantry by riding up and throwing javelins at them.

Unit Capability Summary

Unit Missile Move Direction Special Rules
Skirmishers Bow (2) 1 F-L-R Flee before combat (Advanced)
Peltasts Javelin (1) 1 F-L-R Flee before combat (Advanced)
Javalineers Javelin (1) 1 F No attacks by Cavalry (Adv: Stack)
Hoplites - 1 F No attacks by Cavalry (Adv: Stack)
Phalangists - 1 F No attacks by Cavalry (Adv: Stack)
Hypaspists - 1 F-L-R None
Light Cavalry - 2 F-L-R Cannot enter Bad Terrain
Heavy Cavalry - 2 F-L-R Cannot enter Bad Terrain
Chariots - 2 F-L-R Cannot enter Bad Terrain
Missile hits on 5, 6
Elephants - 1 F Cannot enter Bad Terrain
Missile hits on 5, 6
No Cavalry attacks

Scenarios

Scenario 1: Cunaxa (Persian civil war)

Rebel Army, Cyrus the Younger (Artaxerxes’ brother)

  • 2 x Hoplites (Xenophon)
  • 2 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Javalineers
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

Royal Army, King Artaxerxes

  • 2 x Javalineers
  • 2 x Javalineers with Bow
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 3 x Heavy Cavalry

Special Rules: The rebel player receives the Shield Bearer and Companion Cavalry cards at the start. Alexander (Cyrus) and Darius (Artaxerxes) must be placed with a Troop card before all Troop cards are deployed. They can only rally just that card once. Otherwise the Leader cards have no effect, except that an army will automatically lose the battle if the card with the leader is eliminated. The Leader must stay with the same card for the whole battle, even if it is disrupted. (If you hold the Troop card with Darius off the table, you will not be able to draw any Tactics cards.)

Senario 2: Issus

Macedonian Army, King Alexander

  • 6 x Phalangists
  • 2 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Hypaspists
  • 4 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

Special Rules: The Macedonian Player receives the Companion Cavalry and Alexander cards at the beginning of the battle. Loyalty cards can be applied to Hoplites in the Persian army.

Persian Army, King Darius III

  • 4 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Javalineers with Bow
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry
  • 2 x Light Cavalry with Bow
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry with Bow

Special Rules: The Persian player must place the Darius card with one of his Troop cards. If that card is disrupted, Darius may rally just that card once. Otherwise the card has no effect, except that the Persian army automatically loses the battle if the card with Darius is eliminated. Darius must stay with the same card for the whole battle, even if it is disrupted. (If you hold the Troop card with Darius off the table, you will not be able to draw any Tactics cards.)

Scenario 3: Gaugamela

Macedonian Army, King Alexander

  • 6 x Phalangists
  • 2 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Hypaspists
  • 4 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

Same Special Rules as Issus.

Persian Army, Darius III

  • 6 x Javalineers with Bow
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Chariots
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry
  • 2 x Light Cavalry with Bow
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry with Bow

Same Special Rules as Issus.

Scenario 4: Indus

Macedonian Army, King Alexander

  • 6 x Phalangists
  • 2 x Hypaspists
  • 4 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Light Cavalry with Bow
  • 3 x Heavy Cavalry

Indian Army, King Porus

  • 4 x Elephants
  • 4 x Chariots
  • 4 x Javalineers with Bow
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry

Scenario 5: Marathon

Greek Army

  • 6 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry

Persian Army

  • 2 x Javalineers with Bow
  • 2 x Javalineers
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 1 x Heavy Cavalry
  • 1 x Heavy Cavalry with Bow

Special Rules: Reduce the width of the battlefield to 7 card positions.

Scenario 6: Sicily

Epriot Army, King Pyrrhus

  • 2 x Elephants
  • 6 xPhalangists
  • 2 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

Early Carthaginian Army, General Hanno

  • 4 x Chariots
  • 4 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Javalineers
  • 4 x Skirmishers
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

Scenario 7: Raphia

Army of Egypt, General/King Ptolemy

  • 3 x Elephants
  • 2 x Phalangists
  • 4 x Hoplites
  • 2 x Hypaspists
  • 4 x Javalineers
  • 4 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 3 x Heavy Cavalry

Army of Syria, General/King Seleucus

  • 3 x Elephants
  • 4 x Phalangists
  • 2 x Hoplites
  • 4 x Hypaspists
  • 2 x Javalineers
  • 2 x Peltasts
  • 2 x Light Cavalry
  • 2 x Heavy Cavalry

The Egyptian hoplites represent the Egyptian Phalangists. Increase the width of the playing area to 11. Heavy infantry stacking must be allowed. The Egyptian elephants are smaller than the Syrian (Indian) elephants, so in elephant versus elephant battles, subtract 2 from the Egyptian melee total.

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