Don’t “Benatar” My Stratego

I’m 44 years old.  I figure I’ll get that out of the way right now, otherwise you’d never understand why I’d have become so attached to Stratego or so disappointed with what Hasbro has done to it.  Imagine all the excitement of taking your child to get a new board game that you knew by heart, only to get a game that was so unplayable that it was left on the counter as a memorial to a wasted ten spot.

For those of you following along at home, Stratego is a board game, introduced to the US in 1961 by Milton Bradley.  In the game you have a set of numbered pieces that move about the board, bombs that lie in wait and a flag.  The object of the game is simple, capture the enemy’s flag.  The rules are simple enough, (Low number takes high number, one type can remove a bomb while all others cannot, etc.,) that children in the 8 years and up range can play.  The simplicity of the rules make it a great addition to “Board Game” night.  Something many families do these days to keep everyone together and away from the television.

I hadn’t thought of Stratego in years,  (Most of the time as a child I had no one to play the game with so I simply used the red and blue pieces as cars and drove them around the board!) but the other day we happened upon a fancy high priced edition at a Barns & Noble in Madison.  I found myself explaining the game to my 8 year old and soon committing to getting a copy.  Ah, only not the expensive, fancy-pants version!

This is when the fun got started.  We decided we’d stop off at the local Wal-Mart on the way hope and see if they had a affordable copy.  I mean, Christmas just ended, how hard could it be?  This gave us a 45 minute drive back to Baraboo to build up expectations of a night of Stratego.  Parents always put in the pepperings of “IFs” as in “IF they have it”, but children of course are deaf to the word, “IF” until well after drinking age.   Needless to say a long chattering walk to the toy department revealed that they didn’t have it!  Oh, NO!

We thought we’d give the local toy store downtown a call.  “They’d have it.” We thought.  They always have the fun, interesting toys that big box stores won’t touch.  But alas, they were closed on Sunday.  We called the Wal-Mart in Wisconsin Dells. Nope.  Then we ran over to the Sears store, that used to be a K-Mart.. (another story, for another day) and walked through their empty hallways only to find…  they didn’t have it.  That was it, for one evening.. No Stratego today!

The following morning was again filled with an 8 year old voice asking about all the intricacies of Stratego.  How would this happen?  What happens when your Spy finds a Bomb?  Are you going to order it from Amazon today? Obviously Stratego was not going away. We’d talk about it again after school… (and work).

About the time we needed to pick our son up from school I did a quick surf over to Amazon and found a multitude of versions.  Still the $99 classic seemed a bit much, and we were not sure we wanted the “Lord of the Rings” magical edition.  In a last effort we ran over to Portage, a town 13 miles to the east of us.  We’ve found that the Portage K-Mart & Wal-mart stores often have things no one else does simply for lack of customers  it seems.  Once again our theory held true. The Portage Wal-Mart had Stragego!  Oh the joy of the heavens upon us! And only $10 to boot!  Soon we were driving home again deep into the mire of the 8 year old thought process; Are we going to play as soon as we get home? Is Dad going to play? How many flags are there? What happens when …” and on and on.

The new Hasbro Stratego is called the “Fire and Ice” edition and like most modern things is cheaply made, forcing parents to spend a half hour putting stickers on the plastic pieces instead of simply embossing them as they once did.  The number of pieces has been cut by 10, and the board shrunk.  The once easy rules have now been so complicated and muddled by the use of fantasy characters with new “special powers” that, by the time we had all the stickers on, we no longer had the patience for the rules.  The thought that I could save the evening by forgoing the dragons and Yetis, for the numbers was a big fail as well.  Even those had been re-arranged as not to function by the standard rules that had worked fine for almost 40 years.  In the end we left it to sit, unplayed.  A $10 donation to the needy Hasbro & Wal-Mart’s  executives.

stratego61The game we ended up buying on Ebay.

Now to be fair, change is often a good thing.  Being a techie, I love “new”.  I’ve even read a few reviews of the “fire & Ice” Stratego that call it a “Breath of Life” into an old game.  Maybe.  But if a game can no longer be easily explained or played right out of the box it’s on a road to mediocrity.  Forcing people to put stickers on 60 plastic pieces before they can even play the game is not going to do anything to keep the attention of today’s kids.  Board games are suffering already without the help of poor design and  confused instructions. For the moment there is still a small number of people and families who treasure these wonderful excuses to have a bit of fun, and think through a little friendly competition. Game makers need to recognize their audience.  If they are patient enough to play a board game, they are probably paying  close attention to product as well. It seems to me the cheaply made parts, and a “Velvet Elvis” fantasy theme  are only going to hasten this game’s demise.

In the end we went on Ebay and ordered a vintage 1961 version.  I mean, if we’re going to go through the trouble of ordering the classic, why not go all the way!?

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One Response to “Don’t “Benatar” My Stratego”

  • And… you could’vre played it exactly like the old stratego. Well, not exactly. Instead of winning with the lowest number and highest rank, you win with the highest number/Rank(easier, but pretty much the same). And, as you noticed, It shrunk so the game is faster.

    But the classic rules are there. Even on the board!(the new powers are on a different color, if you notice, the first three pieces: Slayer (the new Spy), Scout (the new soldier) and Dwarf (the new whoever defused bombs in your language) are there.

    Have fun with the classic, and then come back to the fire and ice with another eyes. Believe me, It will be worth it for your kids.

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