Simpler than chess, quicker than a game of Risk, Milton Bradley's Stratego was the strategy board game that young generals-in-training were weaned on.
Even after graduating to the harder stuff, many gamers stuck with this classic of planning, probing and deceit, making Stratego one of the most popular wargames on the planet. Two armies faced each other on opposite sides of the board, trying to discover the location of the enemy's hidden flag.
But . . . not only was the flag itself hidden, but so was the identity of every piece on the board. Players set their armies up with the blank side facing the opposite player, forcing the enemy to make potentially deadly forays into hostile territory to search and capture.
Each 40-member army contained a complete chain of command circa the 19th century - from lowly Scouts to the commanding Marshal - each designated with a number from 2 to 10. Pieces moved across the gridded board one space at a time, and when two met up, the piece with the lower number was booted from the board (ties killed both men).
To keep things interesting, players also placed six bombs on their side of the map, exploding any piece that foolishly ran into it. The only exception was the Miner (#3 on the power scale), who could defuse these booby traps with ease.
The other variable came in the form of the Spy (identified by an "S" instead of a number). This sneaky devil trumped every other piece (even the Marshal), but only on attack. If even a Scout ran into the Spy first, that Spy would be no more.
That was all there was to Stratego. Once a flag was captured, the game was over (all combat should be so easy). The trick was in the setup, forcing young minds to weigh the risks and benefits of each configuration ("Do I give away the flag's position by surrounding it with bombs?" "Do I put my officers on the frontal attack, or do I explore with Scouts first?" Think, man, think!).
To further boggle those developing strategists, new and more complex versions of Stratego were added over the years. Ultimate Stratego allowed up to four players to confront each other on the field of battle, one on each side of the square map. From strategy game stalwarts Avalon Hill came Stratego Legends: The Shattered Lands, a Medieval take on the Stratego gameplay.
Like most board game classics, Stratego has moved into the world of the CD-ROM, allowing animated battles and network play. Even with all the fancy trappings, the essence of Stratego remains the same: would-be generals commanding 19th-century troops, learning the rules of engagement on the square-filled field of battle.