Stratego: Fire & Ice Variant
My, my, how times have changed. I remember when Stratego used to be about Generals, Bombs, Admirals, Miners, and various other soldiers of military rank. I was surprised by how many variants that have been developed ever since I last played it back in the 80′s. There’s a Star Wars variant, a Narnia variant…even a Pirates of the Caribbean variant. *Shrug* If something is that successful…why not? Anyway, I wanted to briefly touch on this classic board game, using a variant recently released by Hasbro. I honestly didn’t know it was a variant when I bought it…all I knew is that my original was somewhere in a house long forgotten and that I wanted to expose my son to the game. I was in my local Wal-Mart and happened to come across a box with the word “Stratego” on it in the board game isle…I didn’t bother looking any harder. Boy was I surprised by what I found when I unboxed the game at home.
Dragons? Slayers? Mages? Dwarves? Traps? Elves? Okay…this is new. Apparently I picked up the Fire and Ice variant without realizing it. The first thing I noticed was that the numbering / ranks were backwards…that is…the best piece was not a “1″ but a “10″. Eh, why not? I can live with that. Then I happened to notice that each piece had a special ability…now THAT’S new, at least to me. Your weakest piece, the scout, still got to move as many spaces as it wanted and the second to weakest piece still was the only one that could defuse bombs / traps safely. The rest of them are able to use a wide variety of abilities that would no doubt shake up your usual gameplay quite a bit.
Perhaps I should take a step back and explain what Stratego is for those of you who have never played it.
Stratego is a two player game that gives players an army of equal size, which are setup any way they like before play begins. Pieces are blank on the side facing the enemy…this is so that players can’t see what their enemy is up to and how they are deploying their troops. The goal of Stratego is to capture the enemy flag. That’s it. No matter how badly you are losing, capturing the flag will still net you a win. Like the rest of your army, the flag is hidden from the enemy so that players will be forced to guess on where it is located.
Players are given units that are numbered between “1″ and “10″, depending on what variant of Stratego you are playing. Their rank determines a win or loss during a battle, in most cases. For the sake of this review and to keep things consistent, I’ll be using the Fire and Ice variant’s rank system. In this version, the highest rank is “10″ and the lowest rank is “2″. When two pieces of different colors meet, they are both revealed and the higher number wins. In the case of a tie, both pieces are removed. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule…namely the trap and slayer pieces.
The slayers (this variant’s version of spies) can capture the “10″ / Dragon piece but automatically loses against anyone else. The traps (this variant’s version of bombs) automatically kill anyone foolish enough to run into them with the exception of the “3″ / Dwarf pieces. They can remove traps without resulting in their demise. The flag is still the flag…like traps, it cannot be moved after it is first placed in your initial setup. The flag can be captured by any movable piece, even the slayer.
In regards to movement, players move one piece per turn. The flag and traps are unable to move and the “2″ / Scout pieces can move as many spaces as they want after revealing that they are scouts. The rest of the army is limited to moving one space. Pieces can’t share spaces nor can they jump over each other…so setting up your army well before play begins is ideal.
That’s all there is to it…at least…in regards to the classic rules that we all know and love. Fire and Ice adds special abilities to all of the ranked personnel rather than just giving extra movement to the “2″ pieces and trap busting to the “3″ pieces. It would take a while to get into them all…but they affect gameplay immensely. If you are new to Stratego, I honestly recommend playing with the classic rules a few times before you even sample this variant’s extra flavor.
Overall, Stratego is an excellent two player game that all board game enthusiasts ought to have in their collection. Vinnie Jr and I have played the classic rules variant about four times so far…one of these days we may tackle the new rule set, but I’m honestly in no hurry. The classic rules I remember from back in the day do well to scratch that strategy “itch” that I get every so often. Stratego isn’t a game we both come back to every week, but it’s a game that we play often. It’s both simple to learn and difficult to master, requiring players to remember enemy reveals from combat and to keep track of which enemy pieces has moved in an attempt to deduce where the enemy flag actually is.
Final Verdict: 7/10