05 March 2016

Board Game Review: Stratego

Most people who read this blog probably already know Stratego. But it's one of the games I most enjoy, so I'm going to review it anyway. That's right! It's board game review time, and this week, we're reviewing that old classic, Stratego! First, the numbers:

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 1
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Varies by version. The 'Nostalgia Series' version, which I have, I'd rank as Pretty.
Average Length of Game Play: 30 Minutes

In Stratego, two players arrange their pieces in the first four rows of a 10×10 grid (there are two 2×2 sections in the middle, represented by small lakes, that cannot be entered by either player). The pieces are uniform in construction, so that when viewed from behind, you cannot know which piece it is. Players arrange their pieces in secret, so that your opponent doesn't know what rank occupies each space. Pieces are ranked in power (older versions, and the 'Nostalgia Series' version, rank the highest piece at 1 and the lowest at 9, whereas newer versions reverse the order). More powerful pieces always capture the less powerful ones (with a few exceptions; see below).

Game play is simple; each player moves a single piece one space orthogonally (excepting a few special pieces described below). If the space into which you are moving is occupied by an enemy piece, players reveal and compare the ranks of those pieces. The less powerful piece is captured, and is removed from play. If pieces are of equal power, both are captured.

There are a couple of special pieces in this game:
  • The Spy (rank S in the classic game, rank 1 in newer versions): If the Spy attacks the Marshall (rank 1 classic/10 newer), the Marshall is captured. If the Marshall attacks the Spy, or the Spy is involved in combat with any other rank, the Spy is captured.
  • The Scout (rank 9 classic/2 newer): can move any distance, like a rook in chess. This can have strategic benefit, but moving a Scout more than one space always reveals its rank to the other player.
  • Bombs: Each player has six Bombs. Bombs cannot move; wherever you place them during setup is where they remain for the entire game. Bombs can only be defused by The Miner (Rank 3 classic/8 newer); any other piece that attacks a bomb is captured.
  • Flags: Each player has one Flag. This is the objective of the game; whichever player captures the other's Flag is the winner.
That's pretty much the whole game. It's not a very deep game, but it is a very thinky-thinky game. Players must arrange their pieces in a beneficial manner, attempt to assess the arrangement of the opponent's pieces, and move his own pieces in a tactically sound manner.

There's some psychology involved, as players attempt to deduce one another's motivations and guess what sort of strategy he is using so that they can counter with an appropriate strategy. The only randomness involved is not knowing how the enemy forces are arrayed, so that at least for the first few rounds, attacks are done almost as if they were at random (I wonder which piece this is that I'm attacking here?).

I'll admit that some of the appeal of this game is nostalgic for me; I have fond memories of playing this game as a young boy. But even so, for a relatively simple game that's been around since 1910 (originally marketed in Europe as 'L'Attaque,' then later renamed 'Stratego' along with being manufactured with Napoleonic imagery, before being introduced into the United States in 1961), it certainly has managed to hold a strong following. In fact, there are world championships held every year in Europe.

So that's a brief look at Stratego. I'll see you back here next week. Until then,

Game on!

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