Published on April 9th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen3
James O’Reilly of 6th Gear Games recently sent us a production copy of his soon-to-be-Kickstarted game. We took the copy to our local International Tabletop Day event and played with some great gamers at the Raygun Lounge in Seattle. Stratagem is an abstract game of dice-rolling and area control that can play up to six people at a time. The game has a simple set up, easy to learn rules and it plays pretty quickly: features that make it a great family game.
The rules of the game are really straight forward, and Stratagem can be learned right out of the box in minutes. Each player starts at their corresponding color hex on the edge of the board. Most of the spaces on the board are marked with numbers, which tell you how many points that hex is worth when you score it.
The edge of the board is mostly blank, the next layer inwards is worth one point, then two, with five-point spaces interspersed throughout. The center hex is worth ten points and is the most valued spot in the game, though you shouldn’t discount the “draw a card” spaces on the edge of the board. Cards can frequently be complete game changers, an ignoring the card draw spaces can easily lose you the game.
On your first turn you will roll the movement die to see how many hexes you must move on your turn (the die is numbered 2-4). For each hex you move into, you place one of your tiles white side up. During your opponents’ turns they will be doing the same thing, and they are free to run all over your white spaces, converting them to another color.
If you have any white tiles on your next turn, you’ll flip those over to their color side and score the hex beneath the tile. Tiles flipped to their color side cannot be entered, so you can set up your tiles to block other players out of the areas they want to enter. Being able to “see” a turn in advance and plan for future board states is important in controlling the center of the board, especially when playing with six players. At the start of your turn you’ll be removing any color-sided tiles you control from the game board, freeing up those spots for future use.
Even with six players we found that the game ran about 30 minutes- much shorter than the 45-60 minutes listed on the game box. Likewise, we found the rules simple enough that the 13+ years old markings on the box seemed a bit off. I think that if you would feel comfortable playing Sorry! with someone, you should be able to easily play Stratagem with them.
The only mechanics that would be harder for younger players to understand is that you have to be vindictive in your playstyle if you want to win. If you aren’t aggressively rampaging through other people’s hexes, trying your best to ruin their score and block them from the best spaces then you’re essentially playing the game wrong.
When playing the first time I was kind of worried that the game would be extremely one-sided and short. In a six player game we were playing to 50 points, and soon Matt and I were in the mid 30s while the rest of the players grasped desperately for 15 points. My fears were soon taken care of as everyone else singled us out as threats and blocked our every move.
At the end of the game five of us were continually one turn away from winning, only to have our victory apparently usurped by the next person in line. Other games that use this as a balancing mechanic (such as Munchkin where everyone dog piles the person about to win) drag out forever unless someone start putting arbitrary time limits or other house rules in to place. Stratagem never fell into that trap, and after a full round of upsets, someone made a blocking mistake and made a situation where it was impossible to stop the winning player.
Stratagem doesn’t have enough complexity or thick enough theme to really carry a whole game night in the same way that other games can, but that’s okay. Comparing Stratagem to games like Agricola or Arkham Horror would be doing it a disservice- it really reminds me more of the classic games I used to play as a kid.
If you like games that any family could pick up and play with little Suzie, Uncle Joe and Grandma then Stratagem is that game. If you’re into abstract games that don’t clutter things up with unnecessary amount of dwarves and elves then Stratagem certainly delivers a good game that fits that bill.
UPDATE: James of 6th Gear Games has shared with us a helpful infographic of strategy vs change in Stratagem, in case you were wondering: