There are three things that you can count on: death, taxes, and Hasbro developing another board game into a computer game. The good thing about this is that the overall computer skills of kids are bound to increase if parents purchase the computer game versions of the traditional board games. The hard part is making sure that the CD-ROM version of the game distinguishes itself enough from the original to make the computer game a valuable purchase. This is precisely the move made by Hasbro with the PC version of Stratego.
If you're unfamiliar with Stratego, it's a unique blend of simple strategy, memorization, and unit management. In the standard game, each side of the battlefield (composed of ten squares by ten squares) is populated by an army consisting of quasi-European military units circa 1820. The pieces on the battlefield give the impression of toy soldiers marching off to war. Before the game begins, each player secretly places his units so that when combat is initiated, the outcome becomes apparent only after the pieces in conflict are revealed. As for the details of combat, they have been vigorously toned down so that determining which units succeed in battle comes down to a simple comparison of their values (example: generals are worth 9 and defeat any unit worth less than 9). Likewise, movement is simplified to a "one unit, one space per turn" limit. This may all seem outrageously simple, and just goes to show why Stratego has largely remained a game interesting only to preteens.
To its credit, Hasbro has mixed up the gameplay significantly by providing four new modifications to game setup and play. The new game styles are ultimate campaign, alliance campaign, ultimate lightning, and alliance lightning. The "ultimate" styles of gameplay emphasize the standard one-on-one setup of the classic game, while the "alliance" modes offer options for four players. The "lightning" and "campaign" nomenclature refers to the style of gameplay within each setup. Lightning games play faster, while campaign games offer a bit more in the way of in-depth strategy.
As much as these new modes provide some very refreshing twists on gameplay, you'll still find that in essence, the game itself doesn't deviate much from its simple origins. The overall design is such that it should appeal mostly to younger kids learning the basics of strategy, problem solving, and decision making. Unit animations are cute and friendly, while the interface is simple and minimal. Part of the lure of more mature strategy games like Axis & Allies and Risk is that the re-creation of grand-scale classic warfare is not lost on a realistic map with real-life territories. The banal layout and gameplay of Stratego isn't enough to raise it beyond an "advanced checkers" feeling. And although the game provided is well executed and smartly presented, older gamers will find there's more nostalgic ardor for this title than captivating game design.
To its credit, Stratego does occupy a gray area that's more flavorful than backgammon and checkers, but it doesn't have the lasting appeal of those games in terms of simplistic game design that overlays a deeper level of strategy. It's a delightful game to teach kids the basics of combat tactics, but you'll quickly find little to keep you engaged for more than a couple of games.