Monday, August 24, 2009

I Own It and I Played It

yep, I own Stratego: Legends. I even own the expansions Celestial Vengeance and Qa'ans Resurgence. I actually even played this game the other day. So what is it? Stratego is a classic board game circa 1947. Two players have a set of pieces with numbers (representing an army), some bombs and a flag. The idea is to capture the flag of the other player. The trick being, you can't see the value of the other guy's pieces until you attack with one of yours. If your number is lower, you win and their piece comes off the board. Find their flag and win. Run into a bomb and lose your piece. There are pieces that can beat bombs, but they are weak. The weakest piece on the board can only beat the toughest piece. So each player would set up their board to try and get the other guy to run into bombs or good pieces while trying to sniff out the other side's flag. Lots of bluffing in the setup and movement. I learned this game as a child - my grandparents had this one in the closet and I got to play it a bunch whenever we visited, so it had fond memories for me. When I first got into board games as a hobby, I discovered that there were a lot of new games and re-makes of older games (we are not talking about re-themes of Monopoly here - stay with me people). I discovered that Hasbro/Avalon Hill had created a new version of Stratego called Stratego: Legends. This version had a board with terrain that affected the game and came as tiles so the layout could be different. The pieces were also new. Not only did it have a fantasy theme, there were unique powers to go with the raw numeric strengths of the unit. How cool. And, I found out that there were expansion sets of pieces. So here was a game I remember loving with a whole set of changes that sounded awesome. I got a copy and tracked down the expansions. And then it sat on my shelf. For close to five and a half years they have sat on my shelf. But, I now have a son who loves to play games. And while I'd love to teach him to play Combat Commander: Europe or something equally cool, I realize that there has to be a certain progression of learning games (think along the lines of JOSHUA from Wargames) - you start with the easier ones and learn basic tactics and strategies rather than being overwhelmed. At any rate, I didn't feel like playing another game of Pokemon or dragging out the Heroscape stuff (though I do love me some of the comic guys for Heroscape) so I offered to teach Ashton a new game. He always loves seeing new games come out and rarely isn't interested. Well, I pulled this out, which he recognized as Stratego (which he had apparently "played" at school), but also knew this was different than the one he played. I explained the rules (which he grasped pretty quickly - it isn't a hard rule set) and we started to play.
So the first thing of note - this is not your parent's Stratego (or my grandparent's). As I mentioned, each side is a unique set of pieces with unique powers that allow them to break rules or behave differently depending on the terrain or who is next to them and so on. The bombs are replaced with spells that both act like a bomb (destroy the piece attacking) as well as the potential to change the rules (ever so slightly) of the game. Some pieces can fly (jump across the board) or move on the diagonal. Others can sacrifice themselves to return a different piece that died to the board. Also of note, the numbering system reversed itself at some point (which I think happened to the original game somewhere in the 70s or 80s). Lastly, you don't setup the pieces. You randomly lay them out. So is this a better game? The purist in me says no. The gamer in me says yes. You see, the purist in me is upset at what this game does to my childhood memories and what it does to the classic cat and mouse game. There is no tension in this version. The gamer in me likes the flavor of this game and the fact that games last about 10 minutes - that's right 10 minutes. Tops. Now, I could certainly see where a couple of really serious players could get some AP and sit there trying to maximize their plays and pieces, but there is too much chaos for that. Your best piece (10) could die - so what? No big deal if you have another piece that can bring him back. Losing it isn't the big swing you thought it was. Also, pieces can move diagonally, so the old "surround your flag with bombs" play doesn't really work. In fact, the setup is random, so you couldn't if you wanted to. So, this is actually an ok game for what it is. Where it fails, is what it tried to be. Collectible. Apparently, they tried to make it so that people would buy booster armies with random pieces to try and get people to collect the whole set of pieces. Having played it, I can say, "Who cares?" It isn't like a CCG where you can really build your army/deck and customize it - yes, you could customize it, but it wouldn't really matter that much. I'm sure it'll get some more play - my son enjoys the surprise element that comes with attacking an unknown piece and the joy when I attack his magic pieces and lose a good piece. In the end, it is the quick version of a classic - maybe it is perfect for those of us in the video game era of quick plays with lots of flash. I have lots of other games waiting for him when he's ready for something meaty (CC:E anyone?)

1 comment:

sourwyrm said...

Have you played LOTR: Confrontation? I believe it to be the superior game.