fredag 26 september 2014

Board Game Analysis: Stratego

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.

Core Mechanics
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.

Target Group
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

fredag 12 september 2014

Board game Analysis, Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a well known board game released in the year 2000. Set in the medieval age, the players try to occupy as much of the land as possible. Roads, farms, cities and cloisters are all fought over in an attempt to come out with the most points in the end.


The main objects in Carcassonne are the terrain tiles, which are used to build the board, and the followers, which are used to gain points. Each player starts with a set amount of followers while the terrain tiles are placed face down in a common pile. Terrain tiles have one or more kinds of terrain on them which changes how the tile interacts with other objects, both followers and other tiles. The four types of terrain in the main game are cities, roads, fields and cloisters. We also played with the river expansion. The difference from the main game is that instead of starting from a predetermined tile, the players instead start by placing a river on the board, other than that nothing differs from the main game.

Your followers change depending on which of these terrains they are placed. If your follower is placed in a city it becomes a knight, if it is placed on a road it becomes a thief, if placed on a field it becomes a farmer and if it is placed in a cloister it becomes a monk.


In Carcassonne everything is related to the tiles. When you place a tile it has to be connected to another tile. It also has to fit into that tile. I can't for example place a field so that it is attached to a city. I have to place a field so that it connects to another field. This is true for all types of terrain. Carcassonne is designed in way that it almost always is somewhere where are allowed to place a tile. The only exceptions to this that I can think of is if there are no incomplete cities, but that is very rare and there is only one card in the game that would cause it.

Tiles also relate to the followers because depending on where they are placed they become different followers, which in turn affects how they relate with the terrain they are placed on. A knight for example has no relationship with a thief. The relationship between the tiles and the followers is also what determines the points you get. If you have a knight in a city and the city gets completed you get points depending how big the city is. Thieves and roads, as well as monks and cloisters follow the same relationship. When the road or cloister is completed the player with a thief or monk in it gets points. Farmers are a bit different because they get points depending on how many completed cities are touching the field they occupy at the end of the game.

Followers and tiles are heavily related, but followers don't have much to do with each other as mentioned. No matter how a farmer is placed, it cannot affect what a thief can do or how many points it gets. Two followers of the same type however do have a relationship with each other. You can't place a knight in a city that already has a knight in it, or place a farmer in a field in which there already is a farmer. The only way to have multiple knights or farmers in the same city/field is by merging two or more separate cities/fields. If that happens the player with the most of the relevant follower get all the points. If all players involved control the same number of followers in the city/field, the points are split evenly between them.

The only follower that doesn't have any sort of relationship with another follower is the monk. Monks score points by counting the number of tiles adjacent to the cloister it resides in, including the tile the cloister sits on. Because the cloister only sits on one tile, and because you can only place followers on a tile you just placed, there is no way a monk can influence another monk. The closest two monks can get each other is by sitting in two separate cloisters adjacent to each other, but the monks still have no effect on each other.

Main mechanics

What really makes Carcassonne, Carcassonne to me is the way you draw tiles to construct the map. As stated earlier the tiles is what influences everything in Carcassonne. If you were to give Carcassonne a static map, everything that makes Carcassonne interesting disappears. Because the player are drawing random cards there is no certainty that the player will be able to complete to the city they have been building the whole game. This, combined with the finite followers the player is given, makes it an investment to place down a follower. Farmers have the potential to give the player a big amount of points if there are many complete cities around the farmer. This makes it tempting to place a farmer in a field as soon as possible, but since the player can't control what cards he or she will be given there is no certainty that there will be cities around that farmer at the end of the game. If that happens the player have effectively played with one less follower than the other players have. On the other side of the coin however, the other players may have built a bunch of cities in that field that turns into the farmer into a worthwhile investment. I think that this kind of risk and reward style is what makes Carcassonne interesting to play, especially if you want to play it multiple times, and what makes it happen is that the players draw random terrain tiles.

Although I keep talking about unpredictable Carcassonne is, there is still an element of strategy and planning involved. If the player draws a cloister and knows that another player is trying to expand a city of his, the player can place the cloister in the vicinity of the city and as the other player expands the city, the player accumulates points from his cloister next to it. There is also an element of sabotage involved. If you are able to finish another player's road, you deny them from expanding it and denying the other player points that way. Placing odd city tiles next to an incomplete city can make hard or even impossible to finish it. What all this results in is a game in which you can never be certain that you are going to win. Although you can gain a advantage by planning ahead, you are never the surefire winner of every game of Carcassonne you play. This makes it so that novices have a shot of keeping up with more experienced players, making suitable to play with less experienced friends if you are just looking to have fun. However, sometimes players go into a game of Carcassonne with different expectations which can make the game less enjoyable for some. The biggest example is if one player thinks through every move he makes, while the rest of the players just want to play for fun. This makes the game slow for most players, and the thinking player might be annoyed that he is the only one playing the game seriously.

Target group

Carcassonne is marketed at people eight years or older. That they are aiming at a younger audience can be seen in both how the game looks and how it is played. Both the box art and the tiles are used to depict a colorful variant of the medieval age. The medieval age is often portrayed as violent and bloody, but this depiction focuses on building the land that the medieval age was set in. There are no wars or battles in this game that could make parents find it unsuitable for kids. Combining this with the easy to understand rules and the random elements involved makes it a game that is easy for kids to learn and play, that also interests them with its setting. The random elements makes it so that everyone has a shot at doing well while playing, even if they're not thinking hard on the decisions they make.

The very same reasons described above is also why Carcassonne is sometimes described as a “gateway drug” into board games for people that have never played them. Because most persons are able to grasp the rules of Carcassonne by playing one or two rounds of it it is perfect for people trying to get their friends into playing board games. By playing Carcassonne for an hour or two, inexperienced board game players can experience playing and understanding a board game and in turn decide if it is something that they enjoy or not.


Carcassonne is a game built around a random draw mechanic mangages to not get overly frustrating as some games relying on random draw mechanics can get. Its lighthearted style as well as its easy to understand rules makes it easy to pick up and play for anyone. Although it isn't very complex Carcassonne still manages to make experienced players interested by challenging  them to make smart investments and manage the risks of their decisions.


  • Easy to pick up, learn and understand
  • Random elements keeps the game fresh and interesting, even if you've already played it before
  • You can never really be sure who the winner is until you've counted all the points


  • If people play the game differently the experience can be diminished
  • Random is still random. You may play the odds, but you''re never really in control