Stratego is two player competitive board game. The goal of Stratego is to capture the other player's flag or eliminate the other player's army. On the surface Stratego looks and plays somewhat familiar to other strategic board games such as chess, but some mechanics makes Stratego stand out.
Stratego has existed for a long time, the version that is played today can be tracked to have existed before the first world war, and the rules of that game can be traced to classical Chinese games. We played the classic version of Stratego that is played with 40 army units and on a 10x10 square board. There are however other variants of Stratego. Some are set in a science fiction universe and others are themed around pop culture brands such as The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
Stratego starts with both players deploying their armies on their side of the board. A screen is placed in the middle of the board in order to hide where the other player is placing his or her units. Each unit has a front side and a backside. On the front you are able to see what unit it is and which rank it has. The backside looks the same as every other unit. The armies are placed so that the backside of the units are facing the other player. When both players have deployed their armies the screen is removed. Because the players can only see the backside of the opposing army they are unable to tell which unit is which.
The players then alternate playing their turns. Each turn the player moves one of his or her units and then passes the turn to the other player. The players can remove units of the opposing player by defeating them in combat. Combat is triggered when one player moves one of their units into a square occupied by a unit owned by the other player. Both players then reveal what unit that is battling, and combat is then resolved based on the ranks of the units involved.
Both players keep playing until one of two things happen. The first is if one player manages to capture the other player's flag. The other way is if one player eliminates all of the other player's units that are able to move.
Objects and properties:
Stratego has two main objects, the map and the army pieces.
The map, as stated earlier, is a 10x10 square grid. The map has no special properties except limiting where the player is able to move his army pieces. The player is limited to move within the 10x10 board. The player is also limited by the two lakes that are placed in between the two armies. The lakes split the map so that both armies has to approach from one of three “bridges” that are 2 squares wide.
The army pieces are what the players move and control in order to play the game. Every army piece , except two, have a number assigned to them between one and ten. This number determines what rank the army piece has, and in turn, what special properties that army piece has. The army pieces that don't have a number assigned to them are the flag and the bombs. Both have special properties that makes them different to the other army pieces, which is why I will go over them later.
The higher the rank of a army piece, the fewer the number of them are in each army. For example, rank 10 units are called field marshals and there are only one in each army. Scouts are rank 2 and there are 8 of them in each army.
Every army piece, except the bomb and the flag, is able to move one square every turn. Combat is triggered when one piece moves into a square that is occupied by an enemy army piece. The combat winner is determined by which army piece has the higher rank, that piece is the winner and removes the other piece from the game. If both army pieces have the same rank, both are removed. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are tied to the special properties of some pieces which I will cover now.
Bombs and flags are unable to move and can therefore not attack enemy pieces. They can however be attacked. If your flag is attacked, then that means that the enemy has captured your flag and therefore won. The flag doesn't have a rank, which means that any unit that attacks it will be victorious. The bomb however, explodes when attacked and removes the attacking piece from the game, no matter what rank the attacking piece had. The bomb itself doesn't get removed if this happens, and can blow up another unit if it steps on the bomb again.
There are also some army pieces with special properties. The army piece that is assigned the rank of 10 is the field marshal. The field marshal doesn't have any special properties of his own but because he has the highest rank on the battlefield he is able to defeat any unit he faces. The only way for him to get removed is he attacks a bomb or the other player's field marshal, except there is one more unit that can remove the field marshal.
The spy has the rank of 1. The spy would be defeated by any other unit in the game if he were to battle with it. However, the spies special property is that if they attack the enemy field marshal, the field marshal is the one that gets removed from the game, despite having the higher ranking.
The scout has the rank of 2 and is able to move a bit different from the rest of the units. As long as the path ahead of the scout is clear, the player can make the scout move as many squares as he or she likes.
If a army piece is assigned rank 3 it is a miner. Miners have the special property of being able to remove bombs. If a miner attacks a bomb the miner is able to remove the bomb without it blowing up.
Units of any rank not specified here doesn't have any special properties except their rank which decides what units they can defeat in combat.
I've already covered the important relationships between the different objects when talking about their special properties, but I will make a short recap.
- Combat is determined by which unit has the higher rank, except for some special cases. The unit with the lower rank is defeated and removed from the game.
- The flag is always defeated and captured when attacked which causes the game to end.
- Bombs defeat every unit that attacks them except for miners which are able to remove them.
- Spies are defeated by every other unit but can remove the other player's field marshal if the spy is the one attacking.
One relationship that hasn't been mentioned is that you can not move a unit into a square occupied by another of your units.
Most interesting mechanic:
To me the most interesting mechanic is that you are hiding what units you have from your opponent. The reason why I think that is because I think that is what separates Stratego from games such as chess, which at first glance looks similar to Stratego. In chess you know where your opponents pieces are and can plan accordingly. In Stratego you can never be to sure what your opponent is hiding. If you are pushing into your opponents side of the board you are fearful of bombs that might be scattered around there. Attacking with your field marshal should allow you to win most fights, but what if the enemy spy is lurking around and is able to take down your field marshal. It makes you question every move and adds a lot of tension to a otherwise very simple game.
Not knowing what the opponent is doing also opens up a lot of potential mind games between the players that also keeps the game interesting. Bluffing is an effective and common tactic when playing. If you have revealed your field marshal by attacking with it and the opponent starts to move a unit towards it, you immediately fear that it is a spy heading to kill your field marshal. It might however only be a scout that is acting as a spy in order to scare away your field marshal, whilst the real spy is safe.
Another example of a effective mind game is to not move a certain unit for the whole game. This gives the impression of it being a bomb and makes your opponent avoid that unit until he or she decides that it is worth attacking, either with a miner or with another unit he or she is willing to lose.
Stratego's box says that the game is aimed at children eight years or older, which I can agree with. The rules of Stratego are easy to learn and understand, which makes it easy for a child to learn them. Stratego looks colorful and it is clear what everything is supposed to represent, which helps it appeal even more to that particular age group.
An eight year old might not think the game is fun for the same reason I think that it is fun however. I enjoy Stratego because it provides easy access to highly strategic game play. Without having to spend a lot of time learning the rules, or worry about complex mechanics, I am able to play a highly strategic game that relies on me bluffing and/or outsmarting my opponent. Someone that is eight years old might not enjoy Stratego because of its strategic depth, but rather because it allows you to battle two armies against each other. That doesn't mean that I think they wont play without a strategy in mind, but rather that they are more interested in having two armies battling than trying to outsmart their opponent.
Because of its simple to understand rules Stratego is easy to pick up and play with anyone, even someone without much game experience. If you feel like throwing an army against a friend it allows you to do just that. Stratego also allows you to face of against someone in a battle of wits and strategy.
- Simple rules and mechanics makes Stratego easy to learn
- Allows for intense strategic game play
- Doesn't force you to play it super seriously, if you want to throw two armies against each other, go ahead
- The strategic elements might not be appealing, or even understood by everyone