Schotten Totten: A Battle For Stones

Schotten Totten box art, chicken in a Scottish hat sitting on a runed stone.

I fell in love for the first time in my life when I met my wife, the second time I fell in love was when I found out about IELLO’s mini games collection. Within this treasure trove resides Schotten Totten, a two-player card game designed by the renown Reiner Knizia. However, you might know it by another name, as this game is a very similar to the board game Battle Line.

Before we begin, included in Schotten Totten is deck of 10 tactic cards. These cards provide temporary powers that change the rules of the game. We preferred the game without these additional cards and I have reviewed the game as such.

How to Play

To setup Schotten Totten, place the nine stone markers in a line between the two players. Shuffle the Clan deck before dealing out six cards to each player, this deck holds the numbers 1-9 in six colours. Next, decide the first player by finding out who was last in Scotland, if neither player has ever gone to Scotland just keep staring at each other until someone gives up and buys a direct flight to Edinburgh.

On a player’s turn they must add one card from their hand to the stones in front of them, and then draw a new card. These stones can hold a maximum of three cards per player. After both players have placed their three cards, the powers of the two sets are compared, with the most powerful set winning the stone.

In terms of power, from strongest to weakest:

  • A colour run: three cards of one colour, in numerical order.
  • Three of a kind: three cards of the same number.
  • Colour: three cards of the same colour.
  • Run: three in numerical order of any colour.
  • Sum: any three cards that do not match a combination above.

When the two sets are tied on power, the total sum of the cards breaks the tie. In the case of these sets still being tied, then the first player to complete their set on that stone claims it. If you can prove with the cards in play – not in hand – that your opponent can no longer win a stone, then you may prematurely claim it.

The first player to win three stones in a row, or five stones total wins the game, and more importantly, would do very well during penguin mating season.

Schotten Totten in play, a row of rocks in the middle numbered cards played to either side of the stones.
Mid game, things are starting to get hectic

The Good

Schotten Totten hits that sweet spot between luck and skill. It’s involved enough that you’re constantly making interesting decisions, but at the same time you’re counting on luck – or more accurately, probability, to make your best move. This allows the loser to blame their luck for a loss, and saves them from manifesting an inferiority complex.

However, probability is a very real factor, and something that you will need to rely on. A lot of this game is setting up your stones to be in the best theoretical position, if not the best possible position. With only two players in the game if you don’t have a card, and it hasn’t been played, you’ve got roughly a 50-50 chance of getting it in the future. The more you can tip this ratio into your favour, the better off you’re going to be. For example: when going for a colour run its better odds to place a 5-6, rather than 8-9, as the 5-6, while weaker, offers two opportunities for completion to the one offered by the 8-9. In addition to this, you then want to play the 6 first, as that gives you more options again (5-6-7 or 6-7-8).

This brings about she loves me, she loves me not moments within the game, where instead of picking petals from a flower, you’re drawing cards from the deck. However, there’s similar elation and disappointment involved depending on draws.

Each game changes with how the players react to situations, within the game you’re going to get good cards, and bad cards. Making the most of what you get, determines the winner from the loser. For instance: if you get a 7-8-9 colour run, it’s more valuable if you take out the opponents 6-7-8 colour run, than if they only have Sum.

This leads to playing around these combinations and getting so good that you can begin to bluff or attempt to fake out the other player. A good example is if you have a colour run in hand, you might play the lowest card in this run to see what the opponent will use to tackle it – if it looks like they have something that can beat it, it might be better to save your resources. Alternatively, you can bluff a colour run, and make your opponent think that they shouldn’t spend any more resources.

Another interesting part of the game is making connections to take stones early. The sooner you win stones, the better. As a part of the overall strategy of Schotten Totten, which we haven’t touched on yet, is where to put your dud cards. For every stone you take out, that’s one less hiding place for your opponent. The process of getting these stones is supremely satisfying as well, as it adds a light layer of deduction to the game.

On top of everything else, it has a quick play time and is easy to setup and explain. However, the best thing about this game is that it lets you get better, and lets you know that you’re getting better. There are gated thought patterns which are unlocked the more you play and working your way through these patterns is an exciting journey, and makes you feel kind of smart.

The components of Schotten Totten, a deck of cards, stone tokens.
This is the works!

The Bad

There’s not much to say here, it’s either a board game you’re going to really love, or you not going like because you consider it too random, and then don’t want to engage in that next level of decision making. There is fair criticism in this statement as there will be times when you are just crushed by your opponent drawing royal flush after royal flush. If that is a big concern, the game offers a points variation to be played over multiple rounds, theoretically this should be enough to even out that luck factor.

However, if I were to knit pick, and I’m a reviewer so that’s kind of what I should be doing. It’s that the terminology of runs, and colours isn’t that intuitive. Since Schotten Totten is mainly dealing with poker hands – straights and flushes – it would have been easier to pick up with that terminology instead. Also, I personally, would have loved an example of a tie in the rulebook.

Up close shot of the Schotten Totten box with corgi looking on in the background.
Corgi approved!

The Verdict

IELLO are the masters of production, and they did yet another fantastic job of reimagining Schotten Totten, and giving it a fun and vibrant theme. The game itself is great and while I wouldn’t say it’s the deepest or best game I own, it’s one that I’ve played a lot of and will certainly continue to play over and over again. It’s a board game that doesn’t require a second playing, but it’s near impossible to play one game and call it a day. It’s also a game that rewards you the more you play, which is why there’s no doubt in my verdict: Schotten Totten is a Critical Hit.

For some reason this game often gets played in bed with my wife. I’m not sure of another game that I’ve done that with. What unique places have you found yourself playing games?

David Norris

Lover of dogs, books, comics, movies, anime, television, video games and most importantly board games. My site is all about the latter, and my journey through the glorious hobby.

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