Like Capture The Flag With Bombs: A Stratego Retrospective


I like to imagine world leaders looking like this man while they play Stretego.

So chess is a classic game of strategy and checkers is a classic game of “I Wish I Were Chess.” I was always good at chess (checkers, not so much), but there was another game I was addicted to beyond those two: Stratego. Have you played Stratego? You really should. Don’t believe me? Oh ye of little faith. Follow me then. It’s time for a history lesson.

A Cultured Past

Stratego as we know it was first a game called “Game of the Fighting Animals (“Dou Shou Qi!”), “Animal Chess,” or simply “Jungle,” and it came from China. The main difference between “Jungle” and “Stratego” was the in “Jungle” the identities of the pieces were known and the initial starting locations of everything were always the same. I haven’t gotten a chance to play “Jungle” for myself, but it sounds like a heck of a game, what with the pieces being animals rather than army personnel (“My Tiger attacks your Hippo for MAXIMUM DAMAGE!”).

Eventually a one Mademoiselle Hermance Edan decides to make the version of Stratego that we all know and love (unless you’re one of “those guys”). She patented her version at the end of the year 1908 with the year 1909 becoming the official first year of Stratego and 1910 being the first year it was sold all around under the name “L’Attaque,” which means, to my knowledge, probably “The Attack.” I don’t know, it’s French. I dropped French after a week and a half of feeling stupid. Oh right, we’re talking about Stratego. Well, that’s the short history. You can probably guess the rest.

Rules Shall Be Rules

Pretty basic yet so much fun.

Now that we’ve got the origins out of the way, let’s discuss the rules, shall we? You know the rules by now, but let’s go over them again in case you just don’t know yet. Stratego is all about deception and clever strategy. The game is played with two players as they set up their inconspicuous board of pieces. Each player gets 40 pieces to set up as they want (just don’t do it wrong) on their side of the 10-by-10 board. There are two lakes placed in the middle of the board, causing a funneling of pieces to make the game more dramatic. One of the pieces each player gets is a flag, the most important piece in the game. If it gets captured then the game is over.

The whole concept of the game revolves around the rank of the individual pieces. The pieces have a rank between 1 and 9, plus a Spy, the flag, and six bombs. The lower the number on the piece (number 1 is called the Marshall), the stronger it is. So if a 9 runs into a 5, the 5 wins and the 9 is removed from the game (he goes to “Number Heaven”). The Spy is a very special piece though as it’s the only one that can kill the Marshall, but only if the Spy is the one that attacks. Also important are the 8’s, called the Miners. They are the only pieces that can defuse bombs. And 9’s, called Scouts, are the only pieces that can move in as many spaces in one direction as they’d like (oh those crazy 9’s).

That’s basically the game there. Players take turns moving pieces, discovering what their opponent’s pieces are, and trying to find the all-important enemy flag. But you’ve got to use strategy. If you don’t, then what’s the point of playing a game called Stratego? Here’s a simply strategy I always use: Place your flag in the corner and surround it by bombs. Then all you’ve got to do is find your enemy’s Miners and it becomes impossible for them to win. Can’t get through bombs if all the Miners are in “Number Heaven.”

Ain't nobody getting to that flag.

Also, don’t give away the location of your Spy. You’ll need that sneaky little bugger for when your opponent is trouncing your troops with their Marshall. Keep your Spy hidden, but in a place that it can quickly rush out and assassinate Mr. Number One. After enough times playing against someone while using my “Flag in the Corner” strategy, I barricade a Scout in the corner and let my opponent kill themselves just to let him out. The classic look on their face when that happens makes it all worth it.

Yeah, you can find some variations of Stratego with all the usual brands, such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, and Marvel Comics (no Twilight version yet, but give it time). For me, it was all about the classic version though. You don’t even need to buy the game if you don’t want to as long as you have the time to make some cardboard pieces yourself. Just remember though that when you finally do get the flag, it’s important that you scream, “That’s Numberwang!” as loud as you can muster. You won’t understand why, but that’s probably because you just don’t appreciate Stratego like I do.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

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