Friday, January 29, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Stratego

Venturing once again into Eastern gaming, I expected this one to be pretty straightforward, even in Japanese -- after all, the strategy board game Stratego originated in Europe and arrived in the U.S. of A. as a very popular Milton Bradley product.

The game's Western roots run deep -- this edition was produced in Japan under license from its German creator, Hausemann en Hoffe, and Accolade, the American game publisher controlling the computer rights at the time.  It was produced for the PC Engine in 1990, interestingly enough by another company with American origins:

I had always suspected that Japanese game publisher Victor Musical Industries was related to the old American Victor company, but this was the first time I'd actually seen the little dog famously listening to "his master's voice" on a PC Engine screen.  The company produced several decent games for NEC's little white box, including popular TurboGrafx-16 title The Legendary Axe.

The HuCard-based Stratego provides player-vs.-computer action only; there's no two-player mode, as in the offline era there was no way to reveal the opposing player's pieces without both players seeing them.  But it's otherwise pretty solid, with a lot of features and options.  In fact, my biggest challenge after placing my pieces on the board was finding my way through the Japanese menus and actually getting the game started -- I ended up resetting the game to the pre-setup state more times than I'd like to admit (okay, four times.  Maybe six.)  Here, I discover the game's background music track list:

I finally figured out that making a move on the gameboard after I had placed all of my pieces was the way to get the contest underway.  Being a novice at the game (I think I played it once in grade school back in the 1970's) it took me a while to get the hang of it -- I was soon down by 30 units to the computer's 19, anticipating imminent defeat:

But it's always darkest before the dawn -- the computer foolishly left his most critical position open, allowing me to make a lucky guess, march straight in and capture the blue army's flag:

I think Stratego successfully makes the transition to videogame form, but the game itself may be a bit simplistic for modern players.  The rigid, ranking-based rules of engagement and single-square movement make it very easy for one powerful unit to plow through the opposing forces, or for a relatively weak unit to march on an undefended position, and it lacks the strategic depth of chess or hex-based games like Military Madness.

It might have been more fun if the computer AI were able to put up more of a fight -- perhaps there's an option for difficulty settings that I missed.  But the rules of the game are pretty cut-and-dried, with a considerable element of luck involved, so I don't think there's a lot of room for variation. 

I enjoyed my brief time with Stratego on the PC Engine, but I'm not surprised that this version never made it to North America.  Looking back at it from a 2010 perspective, it's a pleasant enough diversion, but more of a retro curiosity than a classic.

If you're in the mood for strategy on the PC Engine, there are several better options out there. But if you're a dedicated Stratego fan who absolutely must own this rareish variation, you may be able to buy the PC Engine version at this affiliate link.


  1. Actually the setup of pieces is very important early on. And there are nice things like a spy can take out a marshall if he attacks first, or that anyone moving into a bomb dies. So you have to remember which men your opponent moved as well as watch for fakeouts. Ie a spy waiting for a marshall to come along!

    I played a lot of stratego when I was younger and throughly enjoyed the challenge.

  2. Sounds like I need to give REAL Stratego a try sometime! I did run into the bombs, but I wasn't aware of the spy/marshall rule. The computer opponent just didn't do anything interesting here, but that could be poor coding or my blind selection of the easiest possible difficulty. Thanks for the insight!

  3. Dear,

    In some way mathematical Stratego is the most difficult game there is even more difficult than Chess, Checkers or even Go. See this link: ^ A.F.C. Arts (2010). Competitive Play in Stratego (Thesis).
    At home if have even an even more difficult game than Stratego that is a variant of it and is called Judo Board Game. I contacted A.F.C. Arts and he confirmed this. Except for him and the inventors I am the only person who has the full corrected set of rules. Worldwide only 300 games sold of it till now. If you want to buy it just search the internet and you will find it.
    Feel free to contact me at:
    Yours sincerely,

    Peter Meijlaers

  4. The best Chess computer can beat the best Chess player but the best Stratego computer acts only very moderate against the better mediocre Stratego player because it is almost impossible to programme some feature of Stratego into a computer. The best Stratego engine at this moment is I guess still Probe and this can be beaten easy by (national level) good players. So the best opponent is a human one at this moment.
    Yours sincerely,

    Peter Meijlaers