Monday, June 23, 2008


I'm assuming you've played "Stratego" as I write this.

I finally got a copy of the board game "Stratego". Not for myself, even though it's staying at my house. I'd been looking for one in toy stores for a year or so. I couldn't find it. Even the people that work in the toy stores were blown away that they didn't have one. It's one of those basic games that everyone has. It's like "Monopoly", "Battleship", "Life", etc. So finally I just bought a copy online.

Because I live in Washington, DC.
Maybe I should explain that. I grew up several miles from everything. I was surrounded on three sides by cows. I killed time by wandering around in the wild, poking at a primitive computer, reading, and playing some board games.
Now I live in Washington, DC. There are no ditches to fish for tadpoles in. No crawdads, no (nearby) woods to explore, the locals can't read, they can't afford a computer even if they could write well enough to do a Google search. There is a playground or two but not anywhere close to me. Popular activities among DC teens involve joining gangs and playing video games.
Since I'm about the only adult who spends time outdoors I wind up with the kids and have to find ways to entertain them. I loan them video games, we watch Dr. Who, and we play games. I have UNO to play with the really young ones. I bought "Battleship" because I knew the schools weren't going to cover graphing. I got "Stratego" because It's a great game.

I wasn't sure how well the twins (just finished 10th grade) would do with "Stratego". After 3 summers they're still struggling with "Battleship". They seemed a little befuddled as I explained the rules. They asked questions like "how many pieces do we start with?" I'll just name them "red" and "blue" since they always use the same colors and I can't tell them apart any other way. Red started putting out his pieces with a plan. He understood enough to be able to work on fortifying his defenses and keeping his flag hidden way in the back. Blue seemed to just start in the back left corner and start putting out pieces almost at random and placing them from left to right in four rows. No real plan. He placed all of his bombs along the back row. The flag was in the front row hidden behind a pond.

The battle was started. A few pieces were exchanged. Red sent out his 10 and attacked the opposing spy. The spy is useless for everything except taking out 10s. There's only one of each. He then marched his spy out so both spies went up in a blaze of mutual destruction. So now he had no defense against the opposing 10. As the game progressed Red chewed his way through the middle of Blue's forces and started attacking the back row where he knew Red must have placed his flag. Suddenly Red's strategy seemed brilliant. Blue sends wave after wave rushing right past the flag to poke at the back row and blow themselves up. Red has been watching what Blue moves and what Blue moves around. He's sending in 3s to take out what can only be Blue's bombs. Red has lost everything numbered higher than a 5. Blue is gently poking around Red's army with an 8, a 9, and a 10.

Since about halfway through the game they'd agreed that the winner took me on. Near the end I'm laughing and telling Red that he's gonna kick himself when the game is over. So once Blue finally reaches Red's completely undefended flag I reach out and turn Blue's flag around. Red flips. "REMATCH! You and me! We're going again! Rematch!" Blue and I laugh our asses off. Red demands a rematch but their dad is calling them home.

They got their rematch the next day. I could tell from their new layouts that some thought had gone into the game over the night. Still, I reached behind their boards and moved a few pieces around. I didn't explain why until after the game. It's amazing how two guys who still think that they should fill every single hole in "Battleship" are able to plan so well in "Stratego".

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