Back in the dim and distant past that they're calling the early 1980s, strategy board-games abounded. Most of them involved two players commanding armies which waged war on each other; the winning army was the one whose commander had the greater tactical ability. Now Accolade has ported one of those games - Stratego - across to the Amiga.
The actual concept behind the game is quite simple - which is a good job, since the manual isn't exactly overly detailed on gameplay, while the on-screen help is displayed in such a dreadful font that reading it is a real pain. You could, of course, select the 'demo game' option to see how things work.
You play by moving your pieces around the board, trying to find and capture the other army's flag. If you land on a square occupied by your opponent then the highest-ranking piece wins, and the other is removed. If both pieces are of the same rank then they are both removed. The twist is that you can't see the rank of your opponent's piece until you actually land on the square.
Playing well takes time, real time. At first attacks take the form of a shot in the dark, well lets see what happens if... soon after a few quick defeats it becomes apparent that there's a little more to successful strategy than guesswork. Stratego stresses good memory work, but by you, not the machine. Because each piece only reveals itself when attacking you have to remember what's where. This is particularly important as the more specialised units (your flag and mines) can't move and guessing their location obviously makes life easier.
The game's graphics leave a little to be desired: there is a choice of two different piece designs, but only one of them is really usable - the other has images on the pieces which are totally indecipherable. In the centre of the board is a picture of a lake, with pretty running water. Pretty that is, until you have played the game for ten minutes or so, at which time it stops being pretty and becomes dull. This traditional setup can be traded though for two more modern boards that simplify the layout. The pieces too can be changed to from the twee little pics of soldiers to numbers, if minimalism is your thing.
Irritatingly a spinning disk replaces the cursor while the computer is considering its move, but it's frozen in one place - regardless of how hard you bash the mouse about. When you've accessed a menu the cursor becomes extremely jerky and it becomes rather tricky to select the first item in any menu. Not everything is bad news though, the game offers five levels of computer 'intelligence' and the higher ones even manage to give you a very challenging game.
Cardboard rules, OK
There are a number of standard setups available within the game so that you don't have to place all your pieces individually at the start of each game. These setups are also worth studying for strategy tips - how best to protect flag with mines and so on. And if you get confused halfway through a game you can save it to disk and carry on at some later date.
Overall, Stratego is one for the strategic board games nut. It can't hope to be better than the original, simply because it's better to whip a human army than a computer one. It is though a game of risk, daring and very solid planning. The graphics aren't particularly inspired and the menus can prove tricky to use. The core of the game remains the same and some of the strategic twists it throws are sweet, if costly to your side.