Featured Image from http://www.retroland.com/stratego/
Before I start:
- Not that I needed to, but I did my research on Stratego and its history because my father, wife, brother, and all those I know who grew up with this game know how it is supposed to operate
- The title of this is an homage to David Byrne and his lyrical awesomeness
- There will be a follow up to this as you can bet your bottom dollar I am using my 1950’s Remington Rand typewriter I refurbished to send the new game manufacturer a letter of discontent
Oh, I’m sorry: BOOM!
So, yeah. We had “snow” across northern Georgia this weekend as one of my previous posts indicated. Surrounded by a gorgeous unique color of light (with ice beneath it), I had a grand time being trapped inside with my mom and dad: knocking out work on Friday, inching through many drafts I have here to update, chatting up life with the parentals, and – being almost sans computers – I got the feedback I needed from my genius dad on many projects I have in the works. I was a spoiled little kid again, but unfortunately for my wife and boys, they awoke to a disappointing accumulation of wet false hopes. Albeit, they were able venture out in a safe manner to find some snow for the boys and friends to burn energy.
I know. It’s Georgia and we don’t have real snow (trust me, I know from Iowan and other northern life), but for our family it is a great time to just spend time in docile, fire hearth comfort. Divided as we were by 50+ miles, my weekend was sweet until dad and I decided to pull out a board game we had purchased in replacement for the original I have held on to that is missing a few pieces:
A classic. A staple of mine and my brother’s life. A game that brought together my brother, father, and I and a game that, despite its deceptive simplicity, also divided us through from both victory and defeat. A game that through its deceptive simplicity can ruin someone’s evening as it is a blatant one on one battle for supremacy. Admit defeat, walk off in denial, or rise as an annoying braggart.
With all these fond memories swarming around along with an opportunity to see if my dad could school me with his wits, well, we had no idea we were both in for a shocking defeat… to both of us. The kind of shock that removes words from mouths, replaces observations with obscenities, and defines the reason for things ranging from face palms to hate mail.
Don’t worry: I will explain it all and tomorrow, I will be typing a letter of epic proportions on my 1955 Remington Rand typewriter I refurbished. Addressed to the idiots in charge and their sacrilegious minions for a bastardization of something which was perfect for decades.
The Stratego That Should Be…
It was a thing of deceptive simplicity, wonderful design, and infinite fun from the moment the box was opened until the moment it was closed. The old, smirking General on the Milton Bradley box cover just fed my competitive side. I always felt an urge to smack the smirk of his face. Of course, the old man was a photograph and so my opponent would have to serve as a proxy!
Two players, mano y mano with 40 pieces each, organized as your own army of your own desired strategy, and in an effort to protect your flag whilst setting out to capture your opponents flag. Unfolded, the game board was large, but mainly because of its cleverly ornate decorations to remind each player as to what each piece – A Spy, Bomb, Flag, and army personnel (ranked 1 through 9) – could do on this imaginary battlefield of wits.
You felt like the leader of an Empire or on the opposite end of the spectrum, an incompetent leader who marched 40 pieces into their demise: battles that should have been incorporated into modern history books.
I can’t emphasize the distinct red and blue playing pieces. These were not some flimsy cardboard soldiers by proxy. No. They were made of highly durable plastic, stood easily upright, and were imprinted with shiny and easily readable indications as to what each piece was. This made for quick learning and faster game play as the battles raged on as there was no question about who your next attacking unit or thwarted victim would be:
At the start of each game, both players would setup their army as they saw fit. Positioning their flag, bombs, and highest ranking officers (1/Marshal down to their 9/Scouts). Through the turns and single movement of pieces, you would work to track down where your opponents flag was placed: using 8/Miners to defuse bombs, Spys to find and assassinate generals, and so forth.
Battling was simple the lower your rank number, such as 1/Marshal, meant the more superior it was. If a higher number attacked a lower number, the higher number lost the battle: dying off for a noble cause and placed back into the box for easy replay. However, if you crossed a bomb and you were not a rank 8/Miner, then BOOM! Your piece was virtually obliterated and made its way to the discard pile.
Woe to those losing ranks 1/2/3 and 4 as surely, your only hope was to wear down their offensive attacks with the bombs you had carefully placed, but even then – the sweating would start.
Lastly, Spys were my personal favorite addition to any army as each player only had one. It’s purpose? After surmising where your opponents 1/Marshall was at, the Spy was the only piece (aside from the opposing player’s 1/Marshall) which could kill off the leader of your army. The downside was that if you lost track and challenged another piece: death, like a Greek tragedy smelling of hubris. You then had to hope they ran into one of your bombs.
It really doesn’t get much more simpler than this, but your own strategy (offense and defense) is what made victory so sweet and loss so defeating. Now, in 2017, you can feel defeated as soon as you open your freshly purchased Stratego game here and I am about to tell you why…
The Stratego of Today…
WELL, as my father and I opened up the modern-day Stratego I had bought, our eagerness and anticipation quickly deflated into moments of rhetorical questions, quality assurance, and disbelief. I mean, sure, the box was much larger, but I had no idea it was designed that way to encapsulate the steaming piles of crap-tastic components shoved inside.
Images, game description, and depression can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Stratego-Original-Battlefield-Strategy-Variations/dp/B00LEOJAKM/ref=sr_1_3?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1483927849&sr=1-3&keywords=stratego
Our misery began in the fact that, per history, we were ready to go. Ready to PLAY! Nope, when you open the box, you feel like you just stepped on this memorable piece:
BOOM! Your Joy was just demolished.
We spent easily thirty minutes fumbling with 80-some-odd cheap, bulbous playing pieces that are all nice and primed for you to PEEL and PLACE STICKERS ON! Half the battle was finding the right angle to remove the stickers from the paper they are on. Four corners and 3/4th of the corners not only peel the sticker away, but also bring along the non-adhesive paper. So – be careful or you may find yourself further cheapening the pieces with scotch tape.
Misery turned introspective to our age as, and I quote, despite the “Life-like artwork mak[ing] your soldiers realistic”, the true reality is that once on the board you can’t easily read the rank (number) of your pieces! In fact, the pieces are actually reversed from the original Stratego. A “10” is now your most valuable soldier and a Spy is now a “1”.
I have to move on as that was just the start of what led to this ranting entry instead of something more productive such as, I don’t know, explaining two-factor authentication over the Internet Protocol encapsulated by the Transmission Control Protocol.
The biggest source of frustration was having to re-read instructions that should not exist. Why? Apparently the game can be played in different ways, which explains the pieces, but does not explain the biggest complaint I have yet: the game board. It is like unfolding a Rubik’s cube with more additional buzz kill in the fact that instead of the ornate decorations as was once on the traditional board, you have a watered down grid that looks more like a model train platform.
While my Dad won the traditional game fair and square, we both had to keep the instructions out as to remind each other – due to the change in the entire game, piece ranks, etc – that “Nope, Dad – you won because the 8 is higher than my 3” or “Son, you just moved your bomb.”
AUGH! WHY? SERIOUSLY? This is a traditional board game: not some Windows OS that a UI can be gambled on “just to shake things up”.
The game has been quite fine since 1944 and into American homes during the 1950s. I can understand changes in energy consumption, the need to improve transit systems, and so forth, but why? Why, I ask, does everyone feel the need to “make an alternative app with better options” out of everything?
And to that, I answer “I don’t know, but it was the time spent with my Dad ensuring we both weren’t crazy that I enjoyed the most!”
For the rest of you who are suffering like me, there is a silver lining in the clouds for us as my wife found one of those “super, deluxe, supreme, one year only, 3x the original price” releases of the game:
Sure, the Masters Edition may be expensive, but it is a cheap price to pay to re-establish the game our family, friends, and extended friends are so fond of. As for the producers of the Modern Stratego, my only regret is that the money I spent only skews economic numbers to give them a false sense of success.
Ebay, people. Ebay.
— JK Benedict | @xenfomation