Amsterdam-based Keesing Games has launched an online social version of the classic board game Stratego through a website, Facebook page and paid iPad app. Stratego, for those not familiar with it, is a two-player board game and a variant of chess. It is a more elaborate version of "capture the flag," in which the ranks of each player's pieces are hidden and become revealed through attacks and moves on the board.
Keesing is starting online social Stratego modestly, with 18,000 users participating in a beta version that began operating in October to prepare for its full public launch made last week, according to Dennis Maas, commercial manager for the company. On Facebook, Keesing's Stratego has collected about 1,200 "likes" so far, he adds.
In addition, as part of Keesing's launch strategy, the company has partnered with SpielAffe.de, a German social online gaming site, to reach that site's users; Free Online Games (freeonlinegames.com) internationally; and the International Stratego Federation, which organizes the annual Stratego World Championships, according to Maas. "The Netherlands, Germany and the US are the biggest markets for Stratego," he says.
The Stratego online site, the Facebook portal and the iPad app are all linked through a common client, explains Wojciech Przedzimirski, lead developer of the game. Players who already know each other can find each other through a chat window on the right side of the screen, or choose to challenge new acquaintances on the game. This makes online Stratego more social than other games in the space, adds Maas.
"On Zynga's games, you are actually playing on your own," he says. "This is the first good translation of a board game where you can challenge each other, battle for ranks and communicate in a social way."
Przedzimirski adds, "You get into a lot more interaction with an opponent directly than you do in Farmville, where you visit a friend's farm but that's it, and they don't even have to be there."
Online, Stratego can be played in "quick mode," a simplification of the full board game in which pieces of lesser rank and importance are eliminated and players just place and play with the top few ranked pieces, plus the standard flag, bombs and spy pieces. Maas and I played a game online in "quick mode" in about three minutes. However, players can also play the complete original form of the game, which can take about 30 minutes, using all ranks of pieces.
Along with income from the iPad app, Keesing's business plan for online Stratego includes small charges for "Battle Coins." These will be used to buy extra capabilities for use in the game, such as the ability to freeze one of an opponent's pieces, other offensive and defensive capabilities, and even "distractions" such as animated chickens running around the board or decoys of the flag they are trying to capture. Battle Coins will also be used for added display and interface choices, expert game-play set-ups and a "sci-fi" version of the game that Keesing is developing, like a version of the board game that already exists.
The extra capabilities offered this way will not be so extreme as to tip the outcome of games, Maas promises. "We want to leave the original gameplay in such a way that you will never be able to buy your way to the top," he says. "We're still testing how we will implement this."
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