Friday, July 22, 2011

Strategy and Stratego

I've recently been addicted to an updated version of Stratego, the classic board game of capture the flag warfare that combines elements of chess and concentration in one tidy package. Similar to Battleship, each player has their forces hidden to the other player, with each piece having a designated power number attached to it. The higher the number, the stronger the piece. Unlike chess, attacking a piece does not insure it will be removed from the field.

For the uninitiated the main challenge of Stratego has always been the unknown factor of figuring out what your opponent's game pieces are while memorizing their location on the game board so you can position to eliminate them with a higher numbered piece of your own. Simultaneously, you must craft a strategy to protect your side of the map from an invasion.

Stratego teaches basic strategy on a grid-like map that is no stranger to HeroClix players. In fact, I suspect Stratego may be a great "gateway drug" to HeroClix, as the two share many similarities beyond the map. Positioning, pawn sacrifice, and a battle plan are the three major components to reaching a victory in both games.

I was delighted to find an updated version of Stratego on shelves now by Spin Master, makers of the widely popular Bakugan collectible element game and the party game Stomple. Packaged and presented to the Halo generation of gamers this new edition comes with a few changes that streamlines game play and speeds up play time.

For starters, the new set removes 10 pieces from each side, effectively tightening up the board which automatically makes games faster by placing the flags a row closer to the opponents. Additionally there are a few new pieces that have a move and attack ability.

The Scout for instance, can move full speed vertically or horizontally to "check" a piece, or capture a flag. With a power level of 2, Scouts are not very strong though they do trump a few figures like the Spy (whose sole job is to assassinate the opposing #10 piece) and the other move and attack piece - the Spotter.

The Spotter is an entirely new figure to the game, and has an ability to "guess" what an opposing piece is before he checks it. If the guess is correct that piece is removed from the game no matter what it is. All pieces from 10's to Bombs fear the Spotter who does not have to give up ground when he attacks (as in chess a Stratego piece normally occupies the square of a piece they removed from the board).

The game keeps staple mechanics like the unmoving Flags and Bombs, and bombs still have the ability to eliminate any figure that "checks" them - except Miners (and Spotters). The nice thing about the new game is speed - average game time, from set up to finish is probably around 30 minutes or less, depending on the experience you have with the board. The more you play the faster it goes. I highly recommend the new "Halo" Stratego to anyone who likes board games that have simple rules and are also capable of complex strategies.

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