Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

On the Table: Stratego… and those Boffer Games

I got to see a newer Stratego set the other day. There was a new rule in that game: Spotters have strength-1, but can kill another unit if they know what it is. That seems entirely backwards to me, but the rules say that they’re calling down fire from the orbital lasers or whatever. I thought the rule really took away from the spy– now all kinds of units could kill the “10.” And the guys that used to be used just for recon or taking out the spy could suddenly kill everything…. even bombs. (This can’t be right. Surely we were playing someone’s house rule.)

The way the game played out was that I shuffled around my units while my 12-year-old opponent sent several waves of attacks out at me. I figured, if he was going to send just two or three units at a time, I might as well hang back. I would have my whole army at my disposal and after losing some worthless units I could then try to eliminate the threat by using as little force as required. So yeah, I turtled up… and then… after the dust settled, I was ahead enough that I could easily mop up whatever was left.

The whole feel of the conflict was exactly like a swordfighting demo I participated in at a renaissance fair last weekend. Given that guys like Steve Jackson, Richard Garriott, and Denis Loubet all went to events like this, you’d think I’d have tried something like this sooner. Finally… a chance to say, “I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro, don’t you?”

I stood there in the ring facing an experienced knight. He explained to me that I should turn sideways, lean back on my left foot and then only have my toes touching with my right foot. This not only made me feel like Errol Flynn, but I could really pivot around quickly from that position. My opponent held the butt of his sword to me. No matter how I lunged at him, his sword seemed to instantly arrive in a position to block my attack. It did not take long before I was winded enough that my speed and reaction time began to slow noticeably. I might have gotten lucky once, but usually he would parry… and then go right into an attack from there.

So for GURPS players out there: the parry does not seem to me to take away from your ability to attack. Steve Jackson’s original design seems to get this right. And Douglas Cole‘s efforts to get the fatigue system just right also seem to be on track. Oh, and in the game… I was basically all-out attacking every time while my opponent made defense rolls and effortlessly cut me down after I had tired myself out.

What I understood from fighting with boffer swords and then talking about it with the guys there, was that you could not make an attack without creating an opening for your foe. Some of this might happen so fast that you get paper-rock-scissors effects emerging. But the real swordmasters almost have a chess-like interaction. Each attack and parry gradually moves you further off balance or out of position until you create an opening that your opponent can then leverage to destroy you. That aspect of the conflict is not really modeled at all in role playing games except for maybe the feint and deceptive attack maneuver in GURPS. But even that doesn’t quite capture what these guys were talking about doing.

But there’s nothing quite like fighting man-to-man, even just in pretend. It just doesn’t feel like “rolling the dice” to me. You’re sizing him up and thinking how you’re going to kill him… and he’s doing the same thing… and the sun is blazing down on you…. And then someone makes a move and there’s a flurry of action and counter-action until someone’s dead or else the two opponents fall back and reassess each other again. It doesn’t feel like the sort of game where you can afford to play the odds.


3 responses to “On the Table: Stratego… and those Boffer Games

  1. Jake P. June 26, 2013 at 10:52 am

    As a historical western martial arts interpreter, I have to agree. Actual bouts are a unique experience that open your mind up in so many ways, it’s akin to having an asteroid for a can opener.

  2. Douglas Cole June 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    If you get a chance to read my article “Deceptive Gratification” on the new Feint-replacer I call Setup Attack, the “gradually out of position” thing is what I was going for there!

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