How To Play — And Win! — Stratego, The Original 'Capture The Flag' Board Game
Let’s face it: Everyone loves a good challenge. And nothing beats breaking up the monotony of a rainy day (or quarantine) — and getting those brain cells churning — like a good old-fashioned strategic board game. Enter: Stratego. Stratego is typically a two-person strategic game appropriate for players over eight years old, making it a terrific game for the whole family. Based loosely on an early twentieth-century French game called L’Attaque, Stratego has been played in Europe since World War II and in the U.S. since 1961. There are now four-handed versions available to play with different modifications and online versions, too (if you don’t have the board game at home). Stratego rules can be a bit tricky to learn at first, but once you get the hang of them, they are simple enough for young children to grasp while also having a depth of strategy satisfying to adults. In other words, tons of fun for everyone!
If you like games that help you refine your wits while also living out your dream as a military captain, then Stratego is definitely the game for you. Below, we break down the rules and some winning strategies that will bring you to victory on game night.
How to Play Stratego
Using a 10-by-10 board of squares, two players each control 40 pieces representing different officer and soldier ranks in an army. The objective of the game? To find and capture your opponent’s flag while protecting yours, or to capture enough enemy pieces that your opponent can’t make any more moves. In addition to your team of soldiers, you can use bombs to protect your flag.
Stratego uses the following pieces (ranked from low to high):
- Flag (1x)
- Bomb (6x)
- Spy (1x)
- Scout (8x)
- Miner (5x)
- Sergeant (4x)
- Lieutenant (4x)
- Captain (4x)
- Major (3x)
- Colonel (2x)
- General (1x)
- Marshall (1x)
Every piece is moveable except for your flag and the bombs. They must remain where they are from the initial setup of the game.
Place your pieces on the game board. Remember the printed side faces you so your opponent cannot see the rank of your pieces. Your opponent does the same. Only one piece can occupy a square. Place them anywhere in the last four rows on your half of the board game. The two middle rows are left unoccupied at the start of the game.
The Rules of Stratego
Once you’ve set up your board game, you are ready to play! Keep the following in mind when it comes to the rules of Stratego:
- The Stratego board consists of 10 by 10 squares. Within the board, there are two obstacles of two by two squares each. Pieces are not allowed to move there.
- You and your opponent alternate taking turns. The red player moves first.
- On your turn, you can either move or attack. Move one of your playing pieces to an open-adjacent space or attack one of your opponent’s playing pieces.
- Pieces move one square at a time, forward, backward, or sideways, but can’t move diagonally, jump over another piece, or move onto a square already occupied (unless attacking).
- To attack on your turn, take your attacking piece and lightly tap your opponent’s piece. Then, reveal the rank of your attacking piece. In turn, your opponent will reveal the rank of his/her defending piece.
- The weaker piece gets removed from the board, and the stronger piece gets moved into the place formerly occupied by the weaker piece. If the engaging pieces are of equal rank, they are both removed.
- A scout can move any number of open squares forward, backward, or sideways. However, this movement will let your opponent know the value of that piece.
- When the spy attacks the marshal, the spy defeats the higher-ranked marshal. However, when the marshal attacks the spy, the spy loses. Bombs lose when they get defused by a miner. The general is supposed to protect the spy. If your opponent’s marshal ever destroys the spy, this leaves their marshall open for defeat.
- Unfortunately, bombs do not go away. They can only be taken off the board if a miner attacks or removes them from the game. But overall, they are considered pieces that do not move.
- When you capture the flag of your opponent, you win the game.
Strategies of Stratego
Below, brush up on some quick strategies to help you win the game:
- Choose different setups. Switch it up when you’re playing against the same opponent by alternating your flag location as well as the bomb setups.
- Use bombs to protect your flag. When you surround your flag with bombs and can capture all of your opponent’s miners, you cut in half the number of ways your opponent can win. If your flag is surrounded by bombs without miners, your opponent simply will not be able to capture your flag. They must now capture all of your remaining men to win.
- Mix different ranks. Avoid placing similar ranked pieces close to each other.
- Hide your spy. Like in any game of war, keep the identity of your spy a mystery for as long as possible. If your spy is found or dies, your opponent’s marshal becomes stronger, putting you at risk of losing the game.
- Check your opponent. Pay attention to your opponent’s reactions to your moves. They will often use the strongest pieces to defend the area where the flag is located.
- Place your flag on the back row. This will allow you to build a wall and defend your pieces.
- Lay some bombs away from your flag. Your opponents will be tricked into moving their pieces in the wrong direction.
- Place scouts on the front and back line. This will help you find your opponent’s weak spots and capture their flag.
- Keep some miners in the back rows. They will come in handy later in the game.
- Spread your marshal and general across the board. To keep your borders strong and protected, place your marshal and general on each side of the board. This will help you divide your resources and allows your spy to help your general in case of an attack.
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