I’ve only recently started playing this game, so I’m still learning when it comes to the best Stratego strategies. I’ve lost a fair few games. But from defeat comes learning, and from learning comes victory at the next attempt. Maybe. I’ll let you know.
I enjoy Stratego. I view it as a mix of chess and Poker, making my mind whirr and strain. Not only do you have to be good at anticipation (like in chess), but you also have to gamble over every move you make (Poker). As such, the best Stratego strategies involve a mix of foresight and chance. Intelligence and luck, you might say.
Here are a few of the most important tactics you need to know. Certain of these will collectively form a potentially winning Stratego strategy. Pick and choose from them for the best results.
With that said, let’s get into it!
Bottom Line Principles that Underpin all Strategies
All Stratego strategies can, in my mind, be sorted into three categories: offensive, defensive, and counterattack. You might win the game with any of these, provided you’re cautious to some extent. In this way, the setup is key. Get that wrong, and you’ll immediately set yourself up for failure.
Then, stick to your guns! Sometimes, you can switch strategies halfway through, but it usually doesn’t work. For example, if you set your troops up defensively, you’ll need to do a lot of rearranging before you can move them into offensive positions. During this time, your opponent will walk through your troops and make it all worthless. Stratego games can be won and lost in holding your nerve and keeping your wits about you. Stick to how you want to play, and keep trying to influence the enemy pieces to move where you want them.
Getting into the Stratego Mindset
Before beginning, I found getting into the mindset absolutely crucial. Who are you playing against? Which way do they like to play? When it comes down to it, Stratego is a game of prediction, anticipation, bluff, and, to some extent, luck. Knowing the person on the other side of the table and how they like to play is a big part of it. In reality, no strategy’s guaranteed to give you the win – but there are many small steps to take that can edge the odds in your favor.
With Stratego, you should broadly stick to the set of individual tactics you decide on at the start. For example, let’s say you place Scouts around your Flag and stockpile the Bombs elsewhere. As a bluff, this works really well. Don’t panic, impulsively moving the Scouts out of the way as the enemy’s Colonel steamrolls through! If you’re playing a bluff, you must continue playing the remainder of the game in that way. Abandon the plan, and lose the war.
On occasion, it might be necessary to switch things up. Not often, though. You’ll have to keep a wary eye on the battlefield and realize what’s happening far in advance.
Here are the best Stratego Strategies and Tactics
“You can observe a lot just by watching”
The above is a quote from Yogi Berra, the legendary American MLB catcher. It applies to all walks of life, but in the context of this article, specifically Stratego.
Think of it this way. There’s a set amount of information you need to collect to win. Quite simply, that’s your pieces and their positions (of course, you know this!) and the same for your opponent’s. The more you know about what’s happening on the other side of the board, the more likely you will win.
At the game’s start, you know 50% of the available facts, which translates into a 50% win probability. But watching the other player’s moves – what’s moving where and what’s not – gives you unparalleled insight. The more you learn about which troops are moving and which aren’t, the more information you have. Therefore, your “facts percentage” increases, slowly tipping the balance in your favor.
Again, they could, of course, be bluffing. But they can’t bluff all the time.
Remember which pieces moved and which didn’t. Actually, this is probably the most crucial component of the game, so if you want to win, it’s critical to learn. Depending on how set you are on improving your Stratego strategies, try memory games. Your brain will – genuinely – develop this technique, and it’ll help enormously in both board games and real-life applications.
Bluffs: If your (or your opponent’s) pieces don’t move, are they bombs?
This is always bluffable to a limited capacity. However, the Bombs themselves cannot move. This means that every stationary piece has the potential, at least, to be a mine.
You’ll have your six Bombs dotted somewhere around. That’s a given. But where? You could surround your Flag with them, meaning you’re almost guaranteed a victory if you kill all the Miners first. But, if you don’t, you’ll have given away your Flag’s position.
In contrast, you could sacrifice a few less valuable units and resolve to never move them. This might trick your adversary into concentrating all their forces in that area, while the Flag might be somewhere else, unguarded but safe.
Lastly, you could mix Bombs and units to form a perimeter around your Flag. Again, so long as you don’t move the troops, your opponent will be cautious before risking their pieces in an attack. This time might give you the precious extra moments needed to maneuver into position.
The best way to protect your Flag
The best Stratego strategy to protect your Flag is the most basic: Bombs. Put it somewhere along the back row and surround it with them. Then focus on killing the opposition Miners.
You could try the old bluffing game, clustering Bombs around a Scout or another Bomb. But, in my experience, this opens you up to fail. As more and more pieces are expended and the board becomes less cluttered, it’ll be obvious which units haven’t moved. The other player has little risk in sending a Scout out to the little, secluded corner where the piece hasn’t moved all game. It’s often surprisingly easy to spot.
Stick with the most obvious way to protect your Flag: Bombs and perhaps the Field Marshal. I’m not a fan of the bluff strategy.
Kill the miners
Surrounding your Flag with Bombs and then setting yourself out to kill all the Miners is probably the easiest way to win. Miners are only ranked at 3, so they’re easy prey once you’ve identified them.
There are a few ways you could draw in the Miners. Most simply fall into the trap of defusing every Bomb they encounter. Whenever each Miner reveals itself, take it down with a Sergeant (4) or higher. Place them near the Bombs to take advantage.
You could also wait for the Miners to make their moves using a bluff: clustering four of your Bombs in a random location. You’d need to protect your Flag with two Bombs (and maybe the Marshal) in a corner or at the back. However, you’re unlikely to get them all with this red herring. Your opponent could regroup and come back at you with a vengeance, but now they have a better idea of where your Flag actually is.
The Miners are the pivot point
In most cases, the Miners win or lose the game. They’ll save your high-value (and low-value) pieces from decimation by the opponent’s Bombs, and, in most strategies, they’ll defuse the traps set around the Flag.
If all your Miners jump immediately into the fray, they’ll almost certainly immediately die. Hold them back slightly, although always ensure there’s some way to move them to the front when your forward pieces inevitably strike something a bit explodey.
Getting the Miners right means the odds will become stacked in your favor. Getting them wrong? Well, you’ll need a complete strategy swap and to suddenly play entirely differently.
Once you’ve found a Bomb…
Is it worth defusing? This principle took me a while to grasp, but it’s crucial and will significantly up your game.
The only Bombs worth defusing are those blockading something (or if they’re barring your way)!
Why? If you lose Miners in skirmishes outside of bomb removal – again, extremely likely – you’ll run out! You most likely need Miners to win, for defusing the Bombs surrounding the Flag at the end. Don’t waste them unnecessarily! Just remember where the Bomb is and don’t touch it. It’ll impede your opponent as much as you.
I’d only defuse a Bomb if there were two blocking a path across the board’s centerline (use the same Miner to get both, if possible, and don’t worry about removing the other one if your unit gets killed after the first). Otherwise, Miners should be reserved for defusing Bombs that look like they’re surrounding the Flag.
Don’t (completely) waste the scouts
Scouts have their uses, but one of their most valuable uses is as bluffs. By moving them one square at a time, thus not revealing their identities, you can pretend a Scout is a much more powerful piece. Of course, it’ll go wrong eventually, but it’ll buy you time to rearrange your other units into a more meaningful defense/counterattack.
Finally, save a couple for the endgame! If you think you’ve found your opponent’s Flag and it’s surrounded by Bombs (as you’d usually expect), sacrifice your Miners to clear the path. Then, use the Scouts’ distance-traveling capability to launch a surprise and instantaneous attack. If you happen to hit the Flag, you win.
Don’t waste the Spy!
The Spy defeats the Marshal and wins the game. As a last-ditch wildcard, this is so worthwhile and never worth wasting! Besides a bluff, the Spy is useless in all other positions. At the start of the game, you have virtually a 1 in 40 chance of hitting the opponent’s Marshal, so don’t just jump in all guns blazing.
In almost every strategy, the Spy should be protected. It doesn’t have to take all your focus and energy, but to waste her is sheer stupidity. Keep the Spy piece away from the front row, preferably in the back two. If your opponent’s Marshal comes blasting through your ranks, make sure the Spy can subtly head in his direction by not surrounding her with bombs or immovable (stuck) pieces.
Watch out for the sneaky Spy
Hands up, who’s been caught out by the seemingly useless Spy? Just me? Okay. Whoops.
Here’s the main piece of advice I’ve learned after many mistakes. Clear the path in front of the Marshal using other troops. You shouldn’t ever move the Marshal adjacent to anything you don’t know the identity of. If an opposition piece comes at you, let it come. Then just attack it with your Marshal.
It’s likely to be either a bluff or the Spy. It might also be the other Marshal, of course. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter: attack it. The Marshal will probably win the exchange. If you happen to kill the Spy, even better. It’s not worth the risk! Think about it – if you attack and destroy the other troop, hurray. If it turns out to be the Marshal – the only situation in which you’d lose your own piece – you’ll both have to discard your troop. In the balance of the game, you both yield the same thing, and therefore it has no derogatory effect on the overall match.
I can think of one situation where it might be better to withdraw your Marshal. If you’re badly losing and your last hope of winning the match is to eliminate all your opponent’s troops or use your Spy to kill the opposition Marshal, it might not be worth it. In fact, keeping the other player’s strongest unit alive might benefit you if you can trap it into landing next to your Spy. If that’s the case, it’s time to commit. Call the bluff or withdraw. It’s a 50/50, I’m afraid.
Don’t lead with the Marshal, General, or (maybe) Colonels
These troops are too valuable to lead the lines. Using the Marshal to punch a big hole in the enemy ranks will mean he either dies after hitting a bomb or lands next to the Spy. And that’s the end of that. Going too attacking is a bad idea.
Save the Marshal and General for attacking pieces you know are lower ranks. Have some lower classes in an advance party, so you know what’s what. The Colonels (8s) are also quite powerful, although you might be more prepared to risk sending them out to do some damage. They’re strong but, depending on the circumstance, more expendable than the other two big guns.
It’s also important to spread these stronger pieces out. That way, you won’t have a big hole in your fortifications.
I prefer to use the Marshal for defense only. Don’t get drawn in!
Allowing your troops to die isn’t seen as very kosher. If you’re anything like me, you want to win as decisively as possible, saving as many of your men as possible before the “battle” draws to a close.
Let’s nip that in the bud right there. These aren’t real people, and it’s not a real battle scenario. To win most games, you’ll need to sacrifice certain troops. There are many reasons for this: creating gaps in the enemy’s defense, finding out what certain pieces are, and expendable bluffs.
If you want to win, you must be merciless towards your troops, too. The phrase “winning the battle but losing the war” springs to my mind.
Don’t attack in restricted waves
It’s tempting to line up all your Scouts (2), Miners (3), and so on in broadly straight lines across the board. It’s also enticing to do it the other way round, with your most powerful units at the front, paving the way for the Miners and Scouts to take up the rear and diffuse the bombs.
You’ll generally find that attacking in an overly structured wave like this leaves little room for flexibility. Since you’ll have no idea what your opponent’s pieces are until you or they make an attack, adapting is key.
If the other player breaks through first, they’ll sweep through your front soldiers, with none of them able to do a thing about it. Counter it by spreading stronger pieces amongst your ranks to eliminate significant threats and prevent a catastrophe.
If you play the same opponent several times, mix things up!
Using the same setup twice in a row will mean you lose. Well, unless your opponent somehow doesn’t realize. Assuming they do, they’ll know the identity of almost every piece on your side. This allows them to attack in a particular pattern and virtually ensure victory.
This isn’t a bluff worth risking. “They’ll never think I’d use the same setup twice in a row,” you might believe. But it’s more obvious than you might think. For instance, once they hit a couple of Bombs in the same place as the previous game, they’ll think, “Surely not… I’ll just see.” And then proceed to wipe you out.
Mix things up.
Compiling these tactics into winning Stratego strategies
I’ve compiled some tactics we’ve quickly glanced over into overall battle plans in this section. Since the variables are as good as infinite, I’ll pick one for each of attack, defense, and counterattack. There are thousands of different ways to approach each strategy. These are just suggestions. Perhaps you can develop your own improved versions.
An all-out attack doesn’t usually work. Leading with your highest units means they’re likely to hit a Bomb two or three turns in. And that’s just irritating. Instead, send lower pieces out in front. These are essentially sacrificial lambs, probing at the enemy to work out what all their units are.
With an attacking strategy, you could aim to capture the Flag, kill all the enemy pieces, or induce a situation where none of their troops can move anywhere due to your swamping presence on the other side of the board.
- Set the pieces up with mid- to low-ranking troops (Scouts (2), Sergeants (4), and Lieutenants (5) at the front. Intermix the frontline with the General and Colonels. Put the Marshal behind one of the Colonels to keep things balanced. Keep the Miners protected, behind the front line. Place all your Bombs around the Flag – it’ll be its only protection here. Put the Spy behind one of the General or the other Colonel.
- Probe the frontline with your low-ranking troops. If you’re lucky, you’ll break straight through. If not, use your more robust piece to create a hole. Then, withdraw the high rank and allow the peasant folk to become cannon fodder once again.
- Do this across all three sections of the front. It might go wrong if, for example, your General attacks and defeats a Sergeant before your opponent kills it with their Marshal. That’s okay. You’re going for a wipeout here, and losing one or two stronger troops is to be expected. As long as you get at least one in-road, you can throw all your forces in, wiping the board clean.
- When you come across Bombs, leave them. Bring more Scouts and Sergeants to the front, and carry on. You’ll deal with them once you’ve cleared most of the troops.
- Bring the Miners through towards the end of your attack, when the opponent’s pieces are severely diminished. Clear out some of the bombs you’ve found and use more low ranks to check out what’s behind them.
- Keep the Spy in the middle of the advance. You have the perfect counter if the Marshal comes out in a last stand.
- Aim to decimate everyone.
This might work. You might equally find that your opponent does the same thing to you. In this case, it’s whoever happens to do the most damage first.
In a defensive strategy, you will win by identifying the Marshal and killing him with your Spy. The beauty of having this as your aim is that it can look like you’re losing – badly – and then suddenly, WHAM. The Marshal is dead. Long live the Spy.
The risk, of course, is that the enemy Marshal doesn’t come into the battle. Stick to your guns and do everything you can to identify him.
- Keep your Marshal right at the back, and protect him with a couple of other strong units (and maybe some Bombs). It doesn’t matter much where he is in relation to the Flag, but it might be best to place him around it (or where it appears to be) so your opponent feels more inclined to defeat him. The Spy should be in position (guarded) nearby.
- Allow the enemy ranks to penetrate your lines, and then reveal the Marshal to take out all the pieces you know aren’t the opponent’s Marshal. You, ironically, need to keep that one alive. After each kill, move back to the safe position.
- This should entice either the enemy Spy or the Marshal to join the fray. If you cut off all other angles of approach to your piece, the only way to get to your Marshal will be to move next to him. Following this setup, the enemy can only defeat your Marshal by sacrificing their own. Always ensure you know what you’re about to attack, too – you might need to allow a few low-value targets to die in the process.
- Once you’ve identified the Marshal – which could happen at any point, hopefully before they reach your own one – use the Spy.
Counterattack involves a robust defense, sucking your opponent into your space and then launching a quick and decisive attack while their Flag is left unprotected.
It could work, although you must watch out for the other player anticipating your move. If it doesn’t work out, switch to a defensive strategy, such as that listed above.
- Place your stronger troops and some Bombs on the frontline. Have your counterattack prepared from the start, with a pocket of Miners and Scouts protected behind a strong piece – ideally, the General. You want to repel the first wave, inciting your opponent to send more, stronger troops your way. This clears out some of the enemy board. Keep the Marshal back, as usual, and use him as Flag protection in this case. In essence, ensure your defenders kill as many as possible.
- As a result, your opponent will send more of their rear troops into the fray. Once this happens, offload your counterattack. Use the Scouts’ ability to launch into what’s left of the enemy defenses, identifying all the pieces you don’t yet know. Then, send two or three Miners along with a higher-ranked unit (Colonel or General) to get to the Flag. Their exact shape should depend on the other player’s current formation. Lead with the strong one if you need to punch a hole. If not, send the Miners in and hope for the best.
Will my Stratego strategy mean I win?
Maybe. Stratego is, as the name suggests, a strategic game. It involves adapting your game plan as things change. However, by sticking to your guns and hoping for a bit of luck, you’ll do well.
I think I’ll sum up Stratego strategies with this: it’s as important – if not more important – to influence what your opponent does as to plan what you do. As I said at the start, you know everything you need to know about your own pieces. Learning what’s what in the other player’s ranks? Ah, that’s the ticket to success.
I hope you can take these tactics and strategies into your next game, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find some that work well for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Where is the best place to put your Flag in Stratego?
Answer: Most people choose to put their Flag in the back row, and often in the corner. They’ll then protect it with two, three or four Bombs. I like this traditional approach, although you have to watch out for a “back row sweep” – when the opponent drills straight through your ranks and wipes your back row out. If you’re playing against a more experienced player, consider setting up a couple of decoy (bluff) positions. However, in most circumstances, a well-protected back row will put off most of the danger.
Question: What does the 3 do in Stratego?
Answer: In Stratego, the Miner has the “3” rank. In 1v1 battles, it’ll defeat Scouts (2) and the Spy (1). It’ll also destroy other Miners (3), but be removed from the game itself in the process.
Miners are vital because they defuse enemy Bombs. They’re the only pieces that do this, so if you lose all of yours before reaching the opponent’s Flag, you’ll probably be in trouble. Protect them (in whatever way you choose) and never lead an attack with them unless it’s your only remaining option.
Question: Who beats the Spy in Stratego?
Answer: Everyone. Literally. All the pieces beat the Spy in Stratego. The Spy is ranked “1”, and so is defeated by every other unit. Even the other Spy, also ranked “1”, will cause both troops to be removed from the game.
The Spy’s only purpose is to hunt down the Marshal (10). If the Spy attacks the Marshal, the game’s over – the Spy has won it! You could also use it as a bluff piece to buy yourself some time, although that’s rarely a good use of resources.