Modern warfare: How Keesing Games is building a connected version of Stratego

I won the first game of Stratego I played in probably 15 years.

I'd like to report that it all came back to me, that some long dormant part of my brain where I kept the skills from my one of my favorite childhood board games sprung to life on the battlefield. The truth is a bit more complicated. As I arranged my troops on the grid, I had a bit of help from the Stratego developers at Keesing Games who reminded me, among other things, that my Spy was the only player who could take down the high-ranking Marshall.

Okay, fine. The truth is that we were screen sharing, and I could see my opponent's board. I knew exactly where his flags and bombs were. I knew what piece was charging toward me one square at a time and whether I could defeat it. I had total battlefield awareness when developers of the just-launched multiplatform version of Stratego challenged me to a match.

"We really have aims to make a transition from the original board game to a digital board game," said Michel Op 't Landt, who's been in charge of the product and monetization, told me in a recent interview. "But for us this is is not the endpoint. This just the start."

The Dutch developer has spent the last nine months or so translating Royal Jumbo's board game to the digital sphere. It's not the first time that Stratego players have waged electronic war - Hasbro Interactive developed a now out of print CD-ROM version - but Keesing is expanding the offerings in the digital realm with the kind of connected multiplayer universe that more modern technology offers.

Its version of Stratego launched today in a shared ecosystem. You can play it on Stratego.com, Facebook and on your iPad (with iPhone support to follow). The web versions of the game are free to play, with optional paid upgrades to your pieces, boards and avatars. The iOS version is $6.99.

There are other changes, too. I claimed my first glorious victory in the Quick Arena, a new game mode Keesing developed. It's a miniaturized version of the classic Stratego board, shrinking the standard 10 x 10 grid and swapping a player's standard 40 pieces for 10.

"The average, traditional game will take about 20, 25, 30 minutes," he said. "This will take you about five minutes, so it's much more suitable for ... when you have some spare time to play a quick game."

Despite the twist, it was the Stratego I remember. And I beat them unfair and square.

Just like the board game, the first order of business involves placing your pieces on the grid. Use a simple click-and-drag mechanic, tap the Ready button, and you're in the matchmaking lobby queued up for a match. Players take turns advancing toward their enemies, eliminating them one at a time based on their respective ranks as they march to capture their opponent's flag. Keesing's Stratego offers both an in-game and lobby chat, as well as the ability to save a setup so you can skip the clicking and dragging when you've found a layout that works for you.

The developer has been running a beta since last October. Most of the game's beta testers are Dutch, but the worldwide launch will add players from all nations to the ranked matches and leaderboards.

The idea, commercial manager Dennis Maas says, is to begin with time-honored gameplay, add depth and social connections through new technologies and, eventually, introduce new modes of play, which are easier to roll out in digital form than it would be to create a brand new board game.

"We know it's not the most social [game] yet, but we have some plans on improving this," Op 't Landt said. "We have ideas about a Planetary Conquest mode, where you can create factions with your friends, you can conquer the world together and that can make it way more social than the traditional board game.

"The future for this game [begins with] bringing it out there. The gameplay has been out for 70 years. It's really strong, and it'll be around for 70 more year, maybe longer."

Keesing Games wants to be a part of the strategy game's future. You can hop over to the iOS App Store, Facebook or Stratego.com to take part in it, too.

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