Pocket Tactics Presents: A Guide to Stratego

By Dick Page 06 Sep 2017 2

Stratego is not nearly as old as the other games we have covered in this series, but you might be surprised to learn that it still dates back to the turn of the century. Hermance Edan designed the game in 1880 and patented it in 1908, publishing in 1910 as L'Attaque. It was published as Stratego in 1942 in the Netherlands and brought to the US by Milton Bradley in 1961.

What's a bit unique about Stratego among abstract strategy games is the hidden pieces - only the player knows where each piece is placed until their opponent endangers their own piece in an attack. Where the most popular abstract strategy games feature perfect knowledge of the enemy, Stratego involves an element of risk in its fog of war. While there's no pure luck in Stratego, you will have to guess what pieces your opponent has hidden where, and and remember which was which.

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If you didn't have a Stratego box sandwiched between Risk and Monopoly in your games cabinet as a kid, here's how it works. Each player has 40 pieces ranked 1 - 10 (or 10 - 1, depending on your version) as well as Bombs, Spies, Miners, Scouts, and one Flag. The objective is to find and take your opponents Flag, which is immobile. Higher-ranked pieces take lower-ranked pieces, except the Spy is able to take out the highest-ranked Marshal if it attacks first. Bombs are also immovable but destroy any piece that attacks them. Miners can defuse bombs and Scouts can move long distance like rooks in chess.

This results in an opening game that can be somewhat frustrating for its seeming randomness, as each player probes the other's defences, attempting to uncover or deduce the positions of the other pieces. In the mid-game, the player who played most judiciously and lost the least strong pieces will have a significant advantage. The end game becomes more tactical, as the pieces are largely known and players attempt to outmanoeuvre each other. We've researched some of the best apps with which to experience this classic strategy game.

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Stratego [Singleplayer iOS and Multiplayer iOS / Android]

The officially licensed Stratego apps are pretty and polished, but leave a lot to be desired in the gameplay department. For one, they've been divided into separate apps for single and multi-player. The single-player app offers a (very short) campaign mode that twists the formula by giving you a limited number of pieces against an unknown enemy on oddly-shaped maps.

While a fun diversion, it ultimately serves as little more than a lengthy tutorial. Skirmishes can be played on full-size maps with various obstacles as an alternative to the board game's lakes. The visuals look nice, but you have to watch a little animation each time you capture, which gets tedious. The AI is not that bright either. The multiplayer app is significantly more expensive, but also allows you to save setups to speed up gameplay.

Galaxy Wars [iOS]

Galaxy Wars pastes a space theme over Stratego. and allows for asynchronous multiplayer. This is your best option for free Stratego on iOS, as long as you aren't nostalgic for the soldiers in their historically-accurate Napoleonic uniforms (some people are).

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Strategy [Android Free, Pro]

For a clean and simple option on Android, this is better than the official app. The pieces are clearly marked with numbers and symbols rather than wacky cartoons. You can play against three levels of AI or pass-and-play on three different-sized boards. The ads are not intrusive, and the Pro version is a bargain.

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Heroic Battle [Android]

This ad-supported free single-player version of the classic game is faithful to the original rules and Napoleonic marker style, but also includes the ability to select from pre-made setups for the beginning of the game, or save your own for later - behind an in-app purchase.

Capture the Flag [Android]

This is a slight simplification of Stratego that makes it ideal for (single-player) mobile play. The game reduces the number of pieces to 21 a side and only four ranks of soldiers plus traps. Like Heroic Battle it also eliminates the setup from the beginning of the game, instead allowing you to roll random starting positions until you find one you are happy with. Games only take a few minutes to play.

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Jungle - Animal Chess [iOS] / Safari Chess [Android]

Animal Chess is a 20th century Chinese variant of Stratego that is simplified for children, and is often played before introducing children to Xiangqi. The game shares the ranked pieces of Stratego, but does away with the hidden information. Instead, you have to use the terrain and clever sacrifices to lure and trap your opponent's pieces.

Reiner Knizia's The Confrontation [iOS]

Reiner Knizia's The Confrontation is  more refined version of Stratego that does away with the wide number of ranked soldiers in exchange for more characters with special abilities on a more limited field. The game is played with only nine characters per side, plus nine special battle cards, and far less math than your average Knizia game. Kelsey reviewed this game for Pocket Tactics back in January 2016.

Land Battle Chess [Android]

Going in the other direction, the Chinese Luzhanqi "Land Battle Chess" (sometimes Junqi) expands Stratego to a frankly ridiculous degree. It adds terrain, including roads, rail, and mountains, and Landmines and Engineers. It also can be played with four people in two teams (ED: Wasn't there a Stratego 4 boardgame?). If you are bold, you can give it a try on Android.

That's it for this latest entry into our series looking into classic strategy games and their mobile counter-parts. Got a suggestion for the next game we look at? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!

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