A majority of the original reviews were submitted by Charles Bahl and Robert Waters...Thanks!!!
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Game: Stratego: Legends (Jumbo International)
Submitted By: Charles Bahl (The Quake Coast Game Club, San Jose, CA)
First, let me say that I've never been much of a fan of Stratego. I know I'm bucking a trend here, because the game's been around since at least the 60's, is a consistently good seller, and is even enthroned in the Games Magazine hall of fame. So I guess somewhere, somehow, to someone, it's got some kind of lasting appeal. But not for me. If any game epitomizes the fine art of skulking, then Stratego, certainly takes the cake. (Some may call it "jockeying for the advantage"; I call it skulking.) At any rate, over the years, there have been some improvements made in its various reincarnations in an attempt reduce some of its more obvious deficiencies. The best of these is probably Winning Moves' Ultimate Stratego published in 1997. In this version you play with only 20 pieces (the battlefield is much more open for maneuvering), miners have been eliminated in favor of bomb destroying scouts (which can really help alleviate some very boring end-game situations), and, probably most importantly, captains have been given a two-square move. (Ultimate
Stratego also contains a four-player version, and other variants.) Yet even given all the above changes, I still wasn't satisfied. So when I heard that Hasbro (under their Avalon Hill label) was coming out with a new, "collectable" version of the game containing pieces with various new movement capabilities, terrain effects, and special powers, I looked forward to the release with a mixture of anticipation and skepticism.
In many ways Legends is quite different from "Classic Stratego." Instead of a pseudo-Napoleonic theme, we now have a fantasy world of vampires, skeletons, elves, etc. The board is an 8x8 square grid (as opposed to 10x10 in Classic) and is constructed randomly from four tiles, each of which is a 4x4 grid of squares. Each square contains any of seven types of terrain (plains, marsh, forest, mountains, desert, water, town). Although the terrain artwork is functional, it is quite "busy" and far from attractive. Each player's army consists of 30 pieces, and since two squares on each side of the board are water (i.e., cannot be occupied) the board is completely filled up with pieces at the beginning of the game. This means there is no two-square buffer zone between the opposing armies as in Classic Stratego.
The armies themselves operate analogously to those in Classic in that each piece possesses a numeric "strength value" to determine who captures whom during an attack. It's also a "wrap-around" system so that the lowest piece can capture the highest piece (a spy versus marshal kind of deal). Flags have been replaced by castles, and bombs have been replaced by stationary "magic" pieces. In addition to these basic characteristics, each piece also possesses a special power or two. For example, a piece may be stronger on certain terrain; it may be able move from a particular kind of terrain to the same terrain anywhere on the board; it may have extra strength against a particular kind of opposing piece; it may be able to move two squares and attack; it may be able to jump over opposing piece, etc., etc. You get the basic idea. The artwork on the pieces is of a higher caliber than the board art but because it is printed on reflective foil you can sometimes see the color of your opponent's pieces reflected on ones standing nearby. (If you are sitting with your back to a sunny window, beware!) Because of all these special pieces, there is a pretty big learning curve attached to Legends. The reference cards that come with the game help some, but be prepared to spent most of your time during your first few games perusing the cards and not the game board.
Even at that, however, it all sounded pretty good to me when I first read the rules. Unfortunately in actual play, all these special rules only served to make the game a chaotic mess. It turns out that there is really no way to coordinate the pieces into any kind of coherent strategy. And.