Stratego is a classic board game. It's so common that you can probably find a decent copy at your local thrift store for the same price as one of the two iDevice versions available on the App Store. If you want a pocketable version instead, what will you get for your money? We've got a comparison review of both the official version of Stratego (iPhone/iPod touch only, available for US$1.99) and The General, a well-done clone (universal, also $1.99).
There is a third Stratego-like option on the App Store, something called Marshal, but that uses a hex-based board and has a bunch of bad user reviews, so I let it slide for this review. Keep reading to see which of the two versions of Stratego is most worth your money.
Both Stratego (Version 1.2 reviewed here) and The General (Version 1.50) offer the same basic two-player gameplay, which is probably ridiculously familiar to anyone who grew up in the US. The basic game involves 40 pieces per side and a 10x10 board. Each player sets up his pieces in a secret formation, and you cannot see which of your opponents pieces are where. The pieces have names like generals, marshals and colonels, but all that really matters is their number. When two pieces meet, the type is revealed to the other player, and the stronger piece wins. There are also spies, bombs and the all-important flag, which has special powers. The goal of the game is to find your opponent's flag.
Since you can't see where your opponent's specific pieces are, the game relies a lot on bluffing and memory. Is the flag surrounded by bombs, those powerful pieces that can defeat everyone except the special bomb-diffusing miner? Or are all of those bombs just a decoy, meant to distract your forces while the real target sits on the other side of the board. In person, this can be a lot of fun, and thankfully, it works well on your iPhone, too.
If you're looking for that basic Stratego gameplay, then either of these two apps will suit you just fine. I'd base your purchase on which set of graphics you like best (compare the two apps in our galleries below). If you'd like a bit more variety, Stratego offers three game modes -- Campaign, Battle and Duel. Campaign pits you against a series of increasingly harder AI opponents (from Charles IV to Napoleon Bonaparte, and more are promised in future updates), Battle is the standard game, and Duel offers a shorter game with just 10 pieces per side.
Neither app lets you play against another human, though, which is a disappointment. Stratego was updated recently and the main menu now offers a multiplayer option, but it is grayed out and nothing happens when I touch it. (update: To enable multiplayer on Stratego, you need to enable Open Feint, which I had not done.). Still, the game description says that you should be able to play the app against friends IRL or online, so I expect this functionality to be added soon.
In general, pieces in the iPhone version of The General are incredibly difficult to move around the board, requiring precise finger placement to pick up and drag a piece to its new location. Basically, I found that I needed to target an area a little lower (i.e., closer to the bottom of the screen) than I'd otherwise touch to trigger movement. On the iPad, I never had this problem.
Moving a piece in Stratego is a much, much easier affair. Tap a piece to highlight it, then tap the space you want to move it to. One really sweet feature is that the piece you moved on your last turn stays highlighted, so running a piece down the board is simple. Sadly, neither game has an undo button, so if you mis-tap, then sorry.
A few more notes:
- The General can be played horizontally.
- Both apps easily save your games in progress in iOS 4.
- At each startup, Stratego keeps offering to enable Open Feint, even if you tell it you don't want that feature.
- The General shows the pieces that have been captured on the screen with the board, which reduces the play area. Stratego offers a larger play field, which means you have to swipe the menu into place before looking at the graveyard.
- The General does not offer differing AI levels, but it does have a lot of different minor options that can be toggled on and off: if revealed pieces are hidden again, if ties destroy both pieces or just the defender, etc. (see the full list here).
So, in the end, both of these apps provide a solid Stratego experience. If you're looking to play against someone else, then the official Stratego app is the way to go. If you want to play on the iPad, then check out The General. Or for just $4, get 'em both.