I saw it buried under a pile of shoddy games at this year’s Frosty’s Fair, an event which features crafted tchotchkes and junk from your basement, all on sale to benefit the local church’s community. Between toddler penguin-balancing games, old Milton Bradley contrivances, and past fads like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and various “DVD-interactive” games. STRATEGO. I bought it for a dollar as my wife rolled her eyes for the 27,953rd time in our marriage.
But I had high hopes for Stratego.
Newsflash — I love gaming in all form factors. Video games, board games, card games, dice games, gambling, sports, puzzles, and all their combinations (fantasy football! video gambling! etc.) While, for better or for worse, I had successfully instilled a love of video games into Jack and Peter — as evidenced by having to forcibly turn off the Wii to get them to school on time — we have only just been able to come into our own on the board game and card game front, because of the whole following-the-rules and taking-turns thing. He can play Uno and a great game called Sleeping Queens, but there’s not much actual strategy in those games. Our most successful board game has been Dungeon! which pretty much devolves into Jack playing with the figures and the monster and treasure cards, devoid of any structure. We had no luck with Battleship or Trouble, really. We had just had luck with chess, since Jack knows how to set up the pieces and how they move, and can even play a decent game of it — but his patience does wear a little thin. And besides, Jack needs a narrative to keep a game interesting. Why is the knight attacking the queen? Is she an evil queen? Will the king get mad? Strategy is there, but not really. Recently we’ve had good success with Cartegena (nicknamed “Pirate Candyland”) and Carcassonne, which Jack understands well and likes because there are castles. But he doesn’t go out of his way to want to play those. You know, because there’s no WEAPONS and FIGHTING.
With a game called Stratego… surprise! There’s strategy. Also fighting and weapons. And bombs. And spies. It’s no Settlers of Catan, and there are no resources to manage (“Oh thank God,” I hear my wife muttering, because she knows she’ll be asked to play this one too). But there are rules. There are turns. And there is strategy. This piece beats that piece. These miners (“are they like the bomb squad?”) do something different, and these scouts do something different. These bombs will beat anyone. The first one to find the other person’s flag wins.
We played this morning. Jack digested all the rules as I explained them to him from the other room while I entertained Peter. (Peter is in a new phase where he constantly whines that no one wants to play with him, then yells at you that you’re doing it wrong when you try to play with him.) Jack heard the rules once, then set up all his pieces on his own. I set up my pieces with Peter on my lap, and we played.
We played through the whole game. I gave him no advice at all on setup or gameplay. Jack took turns. He knew when it made sense to advance and when to retreat. He successfully surrounded his flag with bombs to protect it and stuck it in a corner of the board without me suggesting that it might be a good idea. He sent a miner in to defuse the bomb protecting my flag and it was just my moving over a marshall to intercept him that stopped him from winning the game. And, I won in the end — but he didn’t freak out. We put the game away afterwards so we wouldn’t lose any pieces instead of playing with them on the table and then leaving the game out. He wants to play again sometime.
I cannot tell you how freakin’ awesome that last paragraph is.