When the legendary space captain and pompous buffoon Zapp Brannigan said, “In the game of chess, you can never let your opponent see your pieces,” maybe he was actually thinking of Stratego. I remember getting this game as a present when I was a kid, but I can really only recall playing it a few times.
The second one is the box I have, but the first, from the late seventies, is more amusing.
It was essentially a war game, but it didn’t function like any war I’ve ever heard of. Actually, it was quite a bit like the card game War, in that the higher rank always won out in a challenge. All of the pieces are initially hidden, and only by offering a challenge can a player find out what pieces the other might have. The ultimate goal is to capture the opponent’s flag, as in the popular children’s outdoor game, Freeze Tag. In addition to the ranked pieces and the flag, each player also has bombs, which can’t move but mean instant death to any challenging piece other than a miner.
Milton Bradley first started producing the game in 1961, but I’m sure it will surprise nobody that there were some much earlier antecedents. When chess first started catching on in China, the Chinese made their own variant of the game, in which capturing the opponent’s king was not enough. Instead, you had to actively conquer the other player’s fortress. This was probably influential in the creation of another game, Dou Shou Qi, the “Game of Fighting Animals,” better known as Jungle.
The pieces are all animals, ranked from an elephant down to a rat. Usually, a higher-ranking animal will kill one of a lower rank, but a rat can kill an elephant, much as a spy can beat a marshal in Stratego. The goal is to either capture all of your opponent’s pieces or invade their den. The pieces are visible the whole time and each player only has one of each animal, so it isn’t quite like Stratego, but it has some definite similarities. I haven’t been able to find any information on when this game originated, however. Even closer to Stratego is Luzhanqi, which roughly translates to “Land Battle Chess,” and is often just called “Army Game.” The Chinese are apparently quite direct when coming up with names for games.
In Luzhanqi, the goal is to capture the opponent’s flag, there are land mines and an engineer who can defuse them, and movement differs depending on the kind of terrain a piece is crossing. The game was played in early twentieth century Europe as “L’Attaque,” and eventually made it here to the United States. And now you know the rest of the story, or at least part of it.