Stratego (iOS) review

Stratego is a new iPad-only iOS release from Keesing Games. It’s not the first adaptation of the 1960s board game to hit the App Store — that honor goes to Lunagames’ version from 2011, which relies on the now-defunct OpenFeint service for its multiplayer facility — but it is the first to carry the official branding and endorsement from the original board game’s manufacturer Jumbo. It is a companion app to the game’s Facebook version, which is currently available in public beta form. The new version is a $6.99 download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases of in-game currency.

For the uninitiated, Stratego is a two-player strategic board game in which players use a variety of different pieces in an attempt to either capture the enemy player’s flag or force them to surrender. Each side’s pieces have a “rank” number that represents their power in relation to others on the board — higher rank pieces normally defeat lower-rank ones and equal-rank pieces obliterate each other, though there are certain exceptions to these rules. The Spy piece, for example, is the weakest on the board, but is also the only one which is capable of defeating the most powerful Marshal piece in the opposing force. Bomb pieces cannot move but also defeat any unit that attacks them, with the exception of Miners, who can defuse them. The game uses the European system of numbering the pieces, with a higher number denoting a higher rank — older American versions of the game reversed this system, which has caused some confusion among App Store reviewers.

The twist on what would otherwise be a somewhat Chess-like game is that each player cannot see the ranks of their opponent’s pieces — only their position. Pieces are temporarily revealed when attacked, but then flipped back over to hide their identity. It’s possible to make deductions as to which pieces are where based on the way they move or how they are positioned — Scout pieces are the only ones that can move more than one space at a time, for example, and a large cluster of pieces often indicates where the flag is. Skilled players will use misdirection to put off their opponent, however, luring them into a trap with careful movements.

The iPad incarnation of the game requires that players log in to start — a feature which has drawn some criticism from App Store reviewers hoping to play offline on long journeys. As it happens, it is possible to play the single-player mode offline, but the app must be logged into at least once before beginning to play, after which it can be accessed without a data connection. Signup may be accomplished using either Facebook or a proprietary account. The app froze up during sign-up during testing, but quitting and restarting resolved the issue and allowed a login without issue. The reason for the online connectivity is to allow for the game’s social features — real-time chat between players; live, synchronous multiplayer; and stat-tracking.

There are a variety of options to explore in the iPad version that expand the game well beyond its original board game incarnation. For starters, it’s possible to play either a full “40 vs. 40” game using all the pieces, or a quick “10 vs. 10” game using a limited selection of them. In both cases, players are able to completely customize their starting lineup and even save these setups for future use. The implementation of the setup screen seemed a little buggy, however — sometimes tapping on pieces to view their descriptions didn’t respond at all, and at times it even made an arrow-shaped mouse cursor appear on the screen.