Stratego is a board game featuring a 10 × 10 square board and two players with 40 pieces each. Pieces represent individual officers and soldiers in an army. The objective of the game is to either find and capture the opponent’s Flag, or capture so many of the opponent’s pieces that the he/she cannot make any further moves. Players cannot see the ranks of each others’ pieces, so disinformation and discovery are important parts of the game.
Typically, one player uses red pieces, and the other uses blue pieces. Pieces are colored on both sides, so players can easily distinguish between their own and their opponent’s. Ranks are printed on one side only and placed so that players cannot identify specific opponent’s pieces. Each player moves one piece per turn. If a piece is moved onto a square occupied by an opposing piece, their identities are revealed, the weaker piece is removed from the board, and the stronger piece is moved into the place formerly occupied by the weaker piece. If the engaging pieces are of equal rank, they are both removed. Pieces may not move onto a square already occupied by another piece without attacking. Two zones in the middle of the board, each 2 × 2, cannot be entered by either player’s pieces at any time. They are shown as lakes on the battlefield and serve as choke points to make frontal assaults less direct.
Players may arrange their 40 pieces in any configuration on a designated 4 ×10 section of the playing board. Such pre-play distinguishes the fundamental strategy of particular players, and influences the outcome of the game.
For most pieces, rank alone determines the outcome, but there are special pieces. The most numerous special piece is the bomb, which only Miners can defuse and which immediately eliminates any other piece that strikes it, but which cannot move. Each team also has one Spy which wins when it attacks the highest-ranked piece (the Marshal). The Spy loses if it is attacked by any piece, including the Marshal and also when it attacks any other piece, except for the opposing spy, in which case both are removed. From highest rank to lowest the movable pieces are:
- 10 or 1 : one Marshal
- 9 or 2 : one General
- 8 or 3 : two Colonels
- 7 or 4 : three Majors
- 6 or 5 : four Captains
- 5 or 6 : four Lieutenants
- 4 or 7 : four Sergeants
- 3 or 8 : five Miners (the only piece that can defuse Bombs)
- 2 or 9 : eight Scouts (the only piece capable of moving more than one space in a turn)
- S : one Spy
There is one Flag piece and six Bombs. The Flag and Bombs are the only pieces which cannot attack another piece due to being unable to move. The Bombs remain on the board even when hit unless by a Miner. The only exception to this rule, is in the game of “Ultimate Lightning Stratego” where the Bombs are “one time bombs” and are removed from the board when hit. All movable pieces, with the exception of the scout, may move only one step to any adjacent tile vertically or horizontally. The scout may move any number of steps vertically or horizontally in a straight line (such as the rook in chess). In older versions of the game the Scout could only attack pieces if it began its turn adjacent to them. In more recent versions of the game the Scout can move several squares, ending with attacking an enemy piece. No piece can move diagonally, or back and forth between the same two tiles for more than three consecutive turns. Some versions (primarily newer versions released since 2000) have higher ranks with higher numbers, while others (versions prior to 2000, as well as the Nostalgia version released in 2002) have higher ranks with lower numbers.
In contrast to chess, Stratego is a game with incomplete information. In this respect it resembles somewhat such chess variants as Kriegspiel or dark chess. Collecting the information, planning, and strategic thinking play an important role in Stratego. Psychological aspects are very important too.
Overall strategy in Stratego involves:
- placing one’s pieces initially so as to protect the Flag, while possibly misleading the opponent as to where it is
- making strong pieces available for attack
- identifying patterns in the enemy’s movement during game play that give clues as to the distribution of his or her forces
Placing the Spy too far forward, for example, makes it more likely to be captured early on, but placing it too far back may make it inaccessible when the enemy Marshal is identified. Likewise, Miners are weak, but their ability to defuse bombs may be needed early (although some players prefer to leave Bombs “unexploded” as long as possible, particularly if they hamper an opponent’s movements). The placement of “reserve troops” in the rearmost row and deployment of Scouts, which can move in an unimpeded straight line, is also a strategic point. During game play, players must identify Bombs without sacrificing too many troops, determine the probable location of the enemy Flag, and form an attack plan that takes into account the likely ranks of the troops and exact location of the Bombs that usually surround the Flag.
Since one of the win criteria is to capture the flag, its placement is vital. It is commonly placed on the back row surrounded by two or three bombs for protection. Some players will use this generalisation to their advantage and place the flag somewhere unprotected, for example the Shoreline Bluff (also called “the Lakeside Bluff”), i.e. placing the flag directly adjacent to one of the lakes where the opponent may not think to look for it.Inexperienced players may accidentally alert an opponent to the location of their flag by calling too much attention to it when they initially position their pieces on the board. This is often done by simply placing their flag down first and then constructing their defenses around it. One counter measure for this is to place all the pieces on the board randomly and then rearrange them into the desired setup. This tactic became obsolete when some newer versions came supplied with a cardboard privacy screen.