In the fog of war, one cannot rely on a clear vision of the enemy. It takes careful planning of both a brave offense and a deceptive defense of misinformation and cunning strategy to keep the enemy off balance and ensure victory. But one needn’t go to West Point to learn the necessary skills for capturing an enemy flag. For kids of all ages, the preferred training was always a simple board game called Stratego.
The game has many ancestors, including the Chinese, who long ago played a similar game called “Tiger”. Prior to WWI, it was known as L’attaque and sold in France just after the turn of the century. The modern version of Stratego was introduced in 1960 by Jumbo games in the Netherlands (who still distributes the game in Europe) and licensed to Milton Bradley for American distribution the following year.
Stratego is, in essence, a more sophisticated game of “Capture the Flag.” Each opposing army makes alternating moves on a grid. There are 40 troops on each side, of varying ranks from scouts to Marshals and each is assigned a number value based on rank. When two soldiers meet on the battlefield, the higher rank wins and the other is killed. If both pieces are the same rank, they both die. To complicate matters, there are also six bombs placed throughout the battlefield. Run into one of them and the results are as one would expect. The only piece invincible to the destructive power of the bombs is a miner. Finally, there are the elusive spies, who can take out any opponent (even a mighty Marshal) that they encounter. Of course, they can also be discovered and killed by anyone, including a scout.
The game might not seem so difficult were it not for one hitch. The identity of each game piece – the flags, the bombs, the spies – are all kept hidden from the opposing side who must make blind decisions and try to outsmart their enemy. Head off into the wrong territory and one could easily be a sitting duck, a General Custer in the making. Optimal planning, a bit of mind reading and a healthy dose of luck were all necessary to capture the hidden flag and emerge victorious over the enemy.
Over the years, other versions of Stratego have emerged, offering bigger challenges to even the most seasoned veteran. If one opponent wasn’t enough, Ultimate Stratego allowed players to match wits against three opponents, one on each side of the board. For those with a fondness for all things medieval, Stratego Legends: The Shattered Legends was released, as well as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings versions. And in recent years, computer versions have been created, complete with animated battles scenes and the ability to play over a computer network.
But, for all of the various options available, the charm still lies in the original – red and blue soldiers immersed in the fog of battle, trying to outwit and outlast the devious enemy and emerge victorious, flag in hand. If you spent many an hour on this virtual battlefield in your youth, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this classic board game.