Stratego is one of the most famous board games ever created. Pitting two players against each other in a calculated game combining the tactical strategy of chess with the clever psychology of poker, the game continues to be a delight for players young and old.


Milton Bradley first patented Stratego (a made up word emanating from the word "strategy") in 1960, but didn't publish the game until one year later. It was first made with wooden pieces for each side, but these were soon replaced by plastic pieces to save costs.

For twenty years the game served as one of MB's bestsellers, and resulted in several offshoots, including the much-coveted Electronic Stratego version in 1982, the Stratego 4 variation from 1990, a widely panned Stratego: Legends game involving players with special powers (such as the ability to "see" an opponent's piece, and the ability to attack twice), and a number of much-maligned computer versions of the game. In 1995, Hasbro bought out Milton Bradley and all of its games, including Stratego. All in all, some 15 million copies of the game have been sold in its forty year history!

Rules of the Game

The game is played between two players on a 10x10 board (the Ls on the ASCII represent two small lakes on the board, which pieces cannot move on or through):

 __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Each player is given forty pieces to place on his side of the lake (facing away from the opponent):

  • 1 Marshal - The most powerful piece in the game.
  • 1 General
  • 2 Colonels
  • 3 Majors
  • 4 Captains
  • 4 Sergeants
  • 4 Lieutenants
  • 5 Miners - These are the only soldiers that can "defuse" a bomb.
  • 8 Scouts - These soldiers can move in a single direction as far as you choose - however, doing so will reveal that that piece is a Scout.
  • 1 Spy - The Spy has a very unique role in the game, which will be discussed later.
  • 6 Bombs - These pieces cannot be moved, but any soldier (except Miners) who attacks one is killed.
  • 1 Flag - The object of the game is to capture the opponent's flag.

Note that from the back, every piece looks the same, so your opponent can't tell what piece is what. Once initial setup is complete, play begins. On each turn, a player has the option to either move one of his pieces, or to attack an opponent's piece. A piece can only move or attack horizontally or vertically (not diagonally) and can only attack a piece that is one space away (except for the Scouts, who you may recall can move in any single direction as far as they want.)

On each soldier piece is a number representing that player's relative value. Thus, the Marshal has a "1" on it, because he is the top soldier. The General has a "2", the Colonel a "3", and so on and so forth. If a player attacks another player, both players reveal what the number of their piece is, and the lower number is removed from the board. In the event of a tie, both pieces are removed. Another exception are bombs, which kill any attacking soldier except for Miners, who can "defuse", and thus remove, bombs.

The Spy (who looks delightfully dastardly with his top hat and Snidely Whiplash mustachioed mug) also provides the lone intricacy to the business of attacking your opponent. The Spy is the lowest piece in the game, and is defeated by any attacking piece. However, if the Spy attacks the Marshal, then the Marshal is killed, and removed from the board. If the Marshal attacks the Spy, the Spy loses and is removed.

The game ends when one player either cannot move (i.e. he has no soldiers left) or a flag has been captured.

Basic Strategy

Of course, the game's name is not misleading, and a certain amount of strategy is required to play Stratego successfully. Although the real depth of game analysis is more or less limited, since initial setups vary so widely as to render closer looks impossible, like chess, games of Stratego are lost and won most often at their endgames, due to the "race to the flag" syndrome created when most of the pieces have been removed. Here now are a few tips to have you playing better Stratego:

  • First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All The Miners - Perhaps the most simple and time-tested tactic is to place your flag in a corner and two bombs to protect it on the horizontal and vertical axes. This means your opponent will have to have a Miner to win the game. Kill all of his Miners, and he can't win. Since you can assume your opponent is using a similar strategy, you must place your Miners near the rear of your army, bringing them out only when you have a clear and well-protected path to a known bomb.
  • Forget the Spy - The multidimensional subtlety of the Spy's singular ability aside, he is a worthless figure, since any attempts to maneuver a single piece towards the Marshal and within striking range will be quickly spotted by any decent opponent. Thus, save him in the back and use him as a de facto Scout in the middle of the game. Do not throw him away immediately, however, or your opponent will scorch you with his Marshal. An alternative strategy is to always keep him next to your General, thus preventing any attacks by the Marshal on him.
  • Band of Brothers - Never send one guy out into opposing territory unassisted. Always have backup, and never overattack - if you have a 5 and a 3 in the area, use the 5. That way, if you win, great, but if you lose, you only lost a 5 and not a 3, and you get information that way.
  • The Bomb Shelter - Much like the first tip, this is almost a surefire way not to lose a game of Stratego. First, place the flag in a corner. Then put two bombs on either side of it. THEN place three lieutenants in the next diagonal. Finally, place your remaining bombs in the fourth diagonal. To break this line, a player will need at least two miners (and probably three). Kill three miners, and the game is yours - or, at the very least, a draw.

So, now you've learned a little bit more about this addictively fun turn-based strategy game. Go pick yourself up a copy and treat yourself to a round with a friend today. Charge!