Random Musings: Some favorite strategy games

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    Stratego 50th anniversary

         I’ve always enjoyed games of strategy; and a few weeks ago, I bought the 50th anniversary edition of Stratego from Spin Master. In part because it offers a variation allowing players to use two Cannon pieces in lieu of two Scouts.

         This edition of Stratego also restores the “proper” numbering of the pieces, with the Marshal as #1. For some reason, editions of Stratego published since the late 90s have reversed the order and made the Marshal #10. Seems an odd decision. Did they think people no longer associate #1 with being the best? Or maybe they were hoping to start a new trend, with people at sporting events chanting “we’re number 10!”

         A man named Ed Collins (who also prefers the Marshal as #1) used to have a comprehensive website called Ed’s Stratego Site. On the message board, someone wrote that the European version of Stratego puts the Marshal at #10 and that the U.S. version was just playing catch-up. Perhaps, but in the Stratego game I got from England, the Marshal is #1.

    Stratego 50th back cover

         The 50th anniversary version isn’t the only recent edition to use the original numbering. So did Stratego Onyx Edition by Hasbro. Likewise both the “Milton Bradley Nostalgia Game Series” version and a bookshelf “Vintage Game Collection” offered as a Target exclusive. That these editions were made suggests many people prefer the original numbering.

         I haven’t yet played a game with the Cannons, but a former co-worker and I used to play strategy games during lunch, including Stratego. And sometimes we’d invent our own variations.

         One variation combined two boards, giving us twice the number of pieces. We called it (obviously) Double Board Stratego.

         You win in Stratego by either capturing your opponent’s Flag or all of his or her moveable pieces (Flags and Bombs don’t move). In Double Board Stratego, you had to capture both of your opponent’s Flags. Or we’d decide that one Flag on each side could move, with the winner being the one who either captured both Flags or captured one and got one of his own to his opponent’s back row.

         In Stratego, the pieces move one space at a time. Except for the Scouts, who can move any number of open spaces.

         The pieces also can’t move and attack in the same turn. Except for the Scouts.

         Sometimes.

         For unknown reasons, the rules in some editions state the Scout can’t move and strike in the same turn; other editions allow it.

         I favor allowing Scouts to move and strike. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Think about it. You suspect a certain piece is your opponent’s Marshal. One of your Scouts zips across the board (revealing his identity), only to come to a stop in front of that piece. Your turn ends.

         Your opponent can then take your Scout with a piece to either side. You’ve lost your Scout and you still don’t know whether the suspect piece was the Marshal. Your Scout might as well have just moved one space at a time.

         Ultimate Stratego by Winning Moves is a variation offering both two-player and four-player games. The former includes a “barrage” version of just 20 pieces per player (the regular game has 40 pieces each). It also allows you to use Bombs as Cannons in some situations.

         The downside is that Ultimate Stratego has the Marshal as #10.

         As I said, my former co-worker and I didn’t just play Stratego. Other games included The Generals, Abalone, Shogi, Chess, All The King’s Men, Ultimate Backgammon, Othello, Go, Cirondo and Whodunit. To name just a few.

         The Generals, by Ideal, is similar to Stratego in concept. However, the 21 pieces per player have U.S. military ranks. Also, you have two “Agent” pieces who act in the same way as the Spy in Stratego. However, the Agents can take any piece except the six Privates.

         You win by either capturing your opponent’s Flag or getting your Flag to your opponent’s back row.

         Unlike Stratego, however, players don’t reveal their pieces’ identities when one attacks the other. Instead, an “electronic arbiter” determines the winner.

         I have two Generals games, so we’d also sometimes play Double Board Generals.

         In Abalone from University Games, players have 14 marbles each on a hexagonal board. The winner is the first to eject six of his or her opponent’s marbles.

         Shogi is a Japanese variant of Chess. However, you play on a 9 X 9 board and have some additional pieces.

         And you can add captured pieces to your own ranks.

         As to Chess itself, an interesting variation is to play it according to the old rules, where the Queen could only move one space at a time; the Bishop two spaces; and the King couldn’t castle. It makes for a very different game.

         In All the King’s Men by Parker Bros, players have a King, Archers and Knights, who each have specific movements. However, those movements are also determined by directional arrows on the squares of the board.

         In Ultimate Backgammon by Winning Moves, you try to be the first to bear off your Captain. Also, under certain circumstances you can opt to move your opponent’s Captain back X number of spaces.

         In Othello by Gabriel, players try to outflank each other, turning outflanked black/white discs over to show their own color. The winner is the one with the most discs in his or her color.

         Sounds easy enough; but as it’s possible to outflank discs in eight directions at once, it helps to be aware of the whole board.

         In Go, invented in China from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, each player tries to control more of the board with his or her stones.

         In Cirondo by Cirondo Games Company, LTD, players compete to eliminate each other from the circular board, using three different types of pieces.

         In Whodunit by Selchow & Richter, players compete to determine which suspect committed the murder; where; why; and with what weapon.

         There are 10 each suspects, weapons, crime scenes and motives; and each of those has three unique descriptors. This allows for thousands of possible combinations of killers, motives, weapons and crime scenes.

         The various descriptions are inscribed on discs. Mixed and placed face-down, some go on the board as clues, others go into players’ hands as alibis. Thus, the disc labeled “vicious” may be a clue in one game and an alibi in another.

         No, we never played Clue. But there’s only one acceptable killer in that game: Col. Mustard. Who committed the crime with relish.

    Copyright 2013 Patrick Keating

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