A house rule for Stratego.

When a player has their turn, they have 3 seconds to move, otherwise the turn goes to the next player.

Games contain systems of rules which, in many instances, are complex systems. Those rules give structure to the game while maintaining the balance, in order for the game to create its intended player experience. Rules are used in order to define objects and concepts of the game, others are used in order to restrict the actions that are allowed to be performed, and others serve the purpose of determining effects that arise from the game state and player actions. Even though the combination of rules is what generates the complex system, not all of them have the same impact on the intended player experience. House rules are a good example, since they change the gameplay but at the same time most of them maintain the player experience that the game is trying to achieve. Classic board games – e.g. Ludo, Monopoly, Stratego – have been the target of house rules, due to their simple set of rules, and their popularity, along with the fact that they serve as family games, and are taught from parents to children. Due to those properties we decided to attempt and altering the rules of Stratego in order to observe how it would affect the player experience.

Stratego is considered a strategy board game, where players initially set up their pieces on the board according to the strategy they have in mind, and proceed alternating on moving their pieces in order to capture the opponent’s flag. In both stages of the game – the set up, and the battle – there is no time limit,  therefore the players are able to use as much time as they require to strategize during their turn, while the opponent is waiting, and possibly also strategizing. Stratego, as a board game, aims on recreating a battle between to armies in a
simplistic, abstract way. Based on that, we attempted to pose the 3-second rounds rule, in order to generate a more real-time environment – closer to that of a real battlefield. While in the battle phase of the game a player has  3-seconds to make a move, and in case they are not able to, they lose their turn. In order to achieve that, we used a third person who would monitor and keep track of time, however it could be implemented using some sort of watch that produces a sound every time the 3 seconds pass.

After playtesting Stratego using this rule we observed that the matches becomes faster, more dynamic, and less strategic. Players tend to value making a random move, rather than wasting a round. At the same time, both sides felt engaged during the battle, while before the waiting side will lose interest until their turn comes. The play was hectic and players made risky moves that they wouldn’t do in the traditional Stratego. That altered the play experience from a slow-paced strategic game to hectic, thrilling quick-battles.

The game’s rule system was already ready for such a change, since that didn’t seem to bring any heavy imbalance in the game. That is something we expected, since time is not an important aspect of the Stratego rules, therefore changing it doesn’t affect the internal balance of the ruleset. On the contrary, if we had changed something more integral – e.g. the map layout, how the bombs operate – that would have altered the core gameplay much more, since those parts are integral to how Stratego is being played.