Game of the Generals
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Box cover of the 1981 version
|Players||1 versus 1, plus an optional arbiter or referee|
|Age range||All ages|
|Setup time||2 to 3 minutes|
|Playing time||30 to 120 minutes (player-dependent)|
|Skill(s) required||Strategy, tactics, memory, bluffing, inter-player communication|
The Game of the Generals, also called GG as it is most fondly called, or simply The Generals, is an educational war game invented in the Philippines by Sofronio H. Pasola, Jr. in 1970. Its Filipino name is "Salpakan." It can be played within twenty to thirty minutes. It is designed for two players, each controlling an army, and a neutral arbiter (sometimes called a referee or an adjutant) to decide the results of "challenges" between opposing playing pieces, that like playing cards, have their identities hidden from the opponent.
The game simulates armies at war trying to overpower, misinform, outflank, outmaneuver, and destroy each other. It optimizes the use of logic, memory, and spatial skills. It simulates the "fog of war" because the identities of the opposing pieces are hidden from each player and can only be guessed at by their location, movements, or from the results of challenges. The game allows only one side's plan to succeed, although a player may change plans during the course of the game. In addition, there are two different ways of winning the game (see below). Certain strategies and tactics, however, allow both sides the chance of securing a better idea of the other's plan as the game progresses. Players can also speak or gesture to their opponents during matches, hoping to create a false impression about the identity of their pieces or their overall strategy.
- 1 History
- 2 Objective and victory conditions
- 3 The gameboard and the playing pieces
- 4 Application of warfare concepts to the game
- 5 Variations
- 6 The Generals Electronic Strategy Game
- 7 References
- 8 External links
This game was invented by Sofronio H. Pasola, Jr. with the inspiration of his son Ronnie Pasola. (Download the PDF file in the References below to read a discussion of the history of the game and suggestions on strategy by the creator of the game.)
The Pasolas first tried the Game of the Generals on a chessboard. Even then, the pieces had no particular arrangement. There were no spies in the experimental game; but after Ronnie Pasola remembered the James Bond movies and Mata Hari, he added the Spies.  Making the pieces hidden was the idea of the Pasolas after remembering card games.
The Game of the Generals' public introduction was on February 28, 1973. After the game was made, it angered many Filipino chess players thinking that Pasola was trying to denigrate or supplant chess.
Objective and victory conditions
The objective of the game is to eliminate or capture the Flag of the opponent, or to maneuver one's Flag to the far edge of the board (the opposing back rank), subject to the following conditions.
The Flag, if challenged, is eliminated by any opposing piece, including the opposing and challenging Flag. If a player's Flag is eliminated by a challenge, that player loses the game. The Flag that challenges the opponent's Flag wins the challenge and thus also wins the game.
When the Flag successfully reaches the opponent's back rank, it has to survive one more turn without being challenged before it can declare a victory. If a Flag reaches the opposing back rank and there is no adjacent opposing piece that can challenge it, the Flag wins the game immediately. If a Flag reaches the opposing back rank directly adjacent to an opposing piece, and that piece does not challenge the Flag immediately on the opponent's subsequent turn, then that Flag wins the game. Any player may reveal his Flag at any time and for any reason; play can then continue; most often, a player reveals his Flag after it has already secured victory at the opposing back rank.
Most games end in a victory for one of the players. One player may have lost so many pieces or his pieces are impractically positioned on the board that he feels he can no longer win the game so he decides to resign. However, any player may propose a draw at any time; the opponent can either decline, so play continues, or agree, and thus the game ends in a tie.
At the end of a match, whether as a draw or as a victory for one player, it is courteous but not required to allow the opposing player a view of the surviving pieces before they are taken off the board, as well as of the eliminated pieces.
The gameboard and the playing pieces
The player's set of pieces represent 21 soldiers (combatants) with a hierarchy of ranks and functions. A higher-ranking piece (usually the officers) will eliminate any lower-ranking piece, with the exception of the 2 Spies, which eliminate all pieces except the 6 Privates.
The playing pieces are identical-sized plastic or metal flat rectangles that are bent or molded at a 90-degree or 80-degree angle. The rank insignia are printed on the rear side to keep them hidden from the opposing player; the game requires that the front side of the pieces should have no distinguishing marks that will help identify the pieces.
In plastic sets, the colors commonly used in the pieces are black and white. There are also sets composed of wooden boards and aluminum pieces. Those pieces have rank insignia that are printed either red or blue. In metal sets, the color of the board is commonly brown and the pieces are aluminum colored. Some of the cheaper game sets consist of just a rolled up sheet printed with the squares instead of a rigid board, as well as plastic pieces with ranks printed on cardboard.
|Pieces||No. of Pieces||Function|
|General of the Army (Five Stars)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|General (Four Stars)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Lieutenant General (Three Stars)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Major General (Two Stars)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Brigadier General (One Star)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Colonel (Three Magdalo 7-Ray Suns)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Lieutenant Colonel (Two Magdalo 7-Ray Suns)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Major (One Magdalo 7-Ray Sun)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Captain (Three Magdalo Triangles)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|1st Lieutenant (Two Magdalo Triangles)||1||Eliminates any lower-ranking officer, the Private, and the Flag.|
|2nd Lieutenant (One Magdalo Triangle)||1||Eliminates the Sergeant, the Private, and the Flag.|
|Sergeant (Three Chevrons)||1||Eliminates the Private, and the Flag.|
|Private (One Chevron)||6||Eliminates the Spy, and the Flag.|
|Spy (Two Prying Eyes)||2||Eliminates all officers from the rank of Sergeant up to 5-Star General and the Flag.|
|Flag (Philippine Flag)||1||Eliminates the opposing Flag as long as it takes the aggressive action against the enemy Flag.|
Note: If both soldiers are of equal rank, both are eliminated (colloquially termed as a "split").
Board layout, moves and gameplay
The game is played on a rectangular board with 72 plain squares arranged in 8 ranks and 9 files. The 21 pieces are placed in various locations within the nearest three rows to each player's home side (a total of 27 squares).
A player can consider the half of the board nearest him to be "friendly territory" while the other side's half is the "enemy territory," though this is not an actual requirement of the game. The two middle rows (fourth rank from each player's edge of the board) are initially empty at the start of the game and represent "no man's land" or "unconquered territory" that the contending pieces can occupy or leave vacant, depending on each player's strategy.
Although not specifically marked, each player's side of the board can be grouped into three amorphous battle zones: these zones are the left flank, the center, and the right flank, but the boundaries are variable or may be considered psychological in nature.
Unlike chess or its variants, there is no predetermined layout for the pieces, allowing each player to place the pieces in different squares to his advantage or according to his strategy. The allocation of spaces (6 vacant squares) is important for the tactical movement of the individual pieces in the first three ranks, because a piece that has friendly pieces in front, behind, and on each side is effectively immobilized until a space opens up on these adjacent squares.
There is also no predetermined order of play. The players can decide who goes first; afterward, the players take their turns alternately. Each player can move only one piece per turn.
All pieces have the same move: one square forward, backward, or sideways, as long as it is not blocked by the board's edge or by another friendly piece. A piece cannot move into a square already occupied by a friendly piece.
Challenges and arbitration
Each piece can challenge an opposing piece that is directly adjacent in front, behind, or to either side of it (identical in effect to the way it moves). Thus, a piece does not directly threaten an opposing piece that is situated diagonally to it. However, a piece that is known or thought to be stronger can restrict the movement of a weaker opposing piece that is situated diagonally to it by threatening elimination.
A player initiates a challenge by placing his/her piece on the adjacent square where an opposing piece is located.
The arbiter then examines the ranks of the opposing pieces, removes the lower-ranked piece off the board, and returns it to the owner regardless of who initiated the challenge. The eliminated pieces are not revealed to the opposing player until the game ends. The arbiter must take care not to reveal the ranks of the pieces to the opposition; nor can he give any verbal or non-verbal clues about the rest of the board layout.
The game can also be played without an arbiter. In this case, when a challenge is made, both players must state the rank of their piece after which the lower-ranked piece is eliminated. Therefore, the presence of the arbiter, though not compulsory, is especially important to ensure secrecy until the game is over. It should be noted, however, that official games are conducted with an arbiter.
Determining the results of a challenge
Regardless of which piece initiated the challenge, their ranks determine which piece is to be removed from the board.
- Any one of the player's pieces can capture the opposing Flag. This includes the player's own Flag.
- Any piece eliminates the Private except the Spy and the Flag.
- Officers eliminate other officers that are lower in rank (e.g. a Four-Star General eliminates a Lieutenant Colonel).
- A Spy eliminates all officers (including the Five-Star General). Only the Private can eliminate the Spy.
- If both pieces are of the same rank, both are removed from the board (often called a "split" by most players and arbiters).
- If a Flag challenges the opponent's Flag, the challenging Flag prevails and wins the game.
If a Flag reaches the opposite end or farthest rank of the board, the opponent has one turn left although it is not announced. After the turn, the player reveals the Flag. If the Flag was not challenged, the player wins the game. If it was challenged, the player loses.
Application of warfare concepts to the game
Combatant roles of the pieces
The playing pieces can be classified according to the following tactical functions and roles:
- Killers - The two Spies and the two most powerful Generals (Five-Star and Four-Star Generals) have the critical job of eliminating the enemy Sweepers and all other pieces, either by aggressive challenging or ambush, to gain a power-level, numerical, or positional advantage against the opponent.
- Sweepers - The next most-powerful officers (Three-Star General down to the Lieutenant Colonel) will take over the Killer function if the Five-Star and Four-Star Generals are eliminated. Their main job is to remove all lower-ranking enemy officers as well as acquire and retain a numerical or positional advantage of friendly pieces over the enemy.
- Probers - These are sacrificial junior officers from the Major down to the Sergeant. Their job is to challenge untested enemy pieces and determine their power so they can either be avoided, ambushed, or targeted for elimination by the Killers or Privates. By eliminating Privates, Probers often act as bodyguards to the Spies and the Flag.
- Privates - Their main job is to eliminate the Spies (in the opening and middle game) and the Flag (in the end game). They usually accompany the highest-ranking officers in order to eliminate the Spy that targets the officers. While they can be considered sacrificial, once there are only one or two Privates left, it becomes very difficult to eliminate the Spies.
- Flag - This is the only piece that can win victory and must be hidden and protected at all costs, except when it has an unobstructed way to the far edge of the board, then it can go for broke. Often, a Private or low-ranking officer is made to act like a scared Flag to deceive the opponent. Sometimes a Flag can try move as if it was a mid-level or low-ranking officer, or a Private, to avoid being challenged by another piece.
The roles of the Sweepers and Probers can be interchanged in a variety of ways, depending on the preference of the player.
Common strategies and tactics
An experienced Generals player will have tried out and practiced a number of basic strategies. Each strategy starts out with a particular distribution of strong or weaker pieces in the front line or rear areas, as well as in the left flank, center, or right flank. The most common strategies usually depend on clustering or distributing powerful pieces in different areas of the board.
- Blitzkrieg - Amass powerful pieces on one side of the board (left or right), then try to steamroller and blow a hole through the enemy lines by eliminating all the defenders. Once the way is clear, send the Flag forward with an escort and march on to victory. A Blitz through the center is rare because it requires lining both sides of the corridor with powerful pieces to eliminate possible blockers of your Flag.
- Distributed Defense - Spread out the powerful pieces with supporting units to probe and ambush the enemy Killer pieces. Maneuver your pieces to rearrange them as blocking forces and to deceive the opponent as to which are powerful or sacrificial. Put lower-ranking generals in the rear areas to take over the defense or bring them forward to assist in the counterattack.
- Clustered Task Forces - Group a high-ranking general, a Spy, two Privates, and two to three officers into a "combined arms" task force whose job is to eliminate enemy pieces in one area and to reduce his numbers. Switch the attack or defensive maneuvers from one side of the board to the other as needed to divert the opponent's attention and make him become confused about the identity of your powerful pieces. Use expert maneuvering to isolate the enemy Flag and eliminate it.
- Rampaging Bulls - Send unsupported generals into the enemy lines to eliminate as many opposing pieces and try to put them in the enemy rear areas to create havoc and disrupt the enemy's plans and composure. Use them to force the enemy to move his Spies or to weaken his front lines so your other high-ranking pieces can make their own rampage. Spaces within the ranks must also be allocated to provide maneuver room for certain pieces. Beginners often put these vacant spaces on the rearmost rank (because they don't think these are important) whereas an experienced player sometimes use this arrangement to deceive the opponent into thinking he is a beginner.
- Divide and Conquer - Troops are generally divided into three groups. One group consists of high-ranking units while the other two flank the enemy troops. While flanking the enemy troops, blitzkrieg the strong group to make a path for the flag. This strategy is very effective if the opposing player uses the Distributed Defense strategy.
- Vaccination Technique - This is a variation of the Blitzkrieg strategy. A disadvantage of the Blitzkrieg is that when you advance your strongest troops, you leave your side poorly defended. The Vaccination Technique strategy consists of a mini-Blitzkrieg using a three star general, Lt. colonel, Spy, two star general, and a sergeant or any "give-away" unit. These five units form a vaccine-like shape (a cross). The remaining troops are divided into two groups and are at the sides of the cross. Diagonally placed privates in each group can defend and support to kill spies while your four and five star generals are reserved in the middle of the groups. The advantage of this strategy over Blitzkrieg is that in the Vaccination Technique, you have a small force enough to wipe the front line of the enemy while also having a strong force in case that the enemy decides an offensive strategy. This works against most of the other strategies but it can be easily defeated by the Random Forces Placement strategy. This is a hybrid offensive-defensive strategy.
- Box Strategy - This strategy is mostly used by amateurs. It consists of powerful units in the front line forming a shield and weaker units at the side and rear line. Advancing the whole front line as a "lawnmower" to eliminate most of the enemy. This is not very effective if you immediately lose your front line. If your front line is down, the only troops left are the weak ones.
- Mothership - Troops are formed like a shape of an alien mothership or a UFO and spies and generals in the middle lane. Two spies are placed like the missles on the mothership. Generals are in the middle lane for defense. Flag is placed in the center for maximum defense. This is a very good strategy against offensive players, but it is not good if the opposing player plays smart. The Mothership can be defeated by advancing the spies to eliminate the generals, then advancing a blitzkrieg of privates to corner the spies. After defeating most of the troops in the front line of the Mothership, advance more troops and lock on the center to corner the flag. Since the flag is in the center, its' moves are limited and can be cornered immediately. This is a defensive strategy.
Note: All strategies have their pro's and con's, but you can always win by deceiving the enemy. Learn the Art of Deception, and you can win almost every game with any strategy.
Switching strategies and changing tactics
A game can have multiple strategies depending on the outcome of the initial challenges. Loss of high-ranking pieces, especially of the Killers, usually stops an offensive action and forces a player to change plans or to go on the defensive. A player needs to muster and redistribute his remaining higher-ranking pieces to avoid the enemy's Killer pieces while continuing to eliminate the mid- and low-ranking pieces. Once numerical balance or superiority is achieved, or if he can outflank the defenders, a player should be able to shift back to offensive Flag-rushing operations.
Deception and psychological warfare can be a major component of the game. Players must memorize the position and probable identity of known enemy pieces because losing track of a possible Killer piece or Private can lead to loss of important pieces. Sometimes a Spy has to be sacrificed against a known enemy Spy in order to clear the way for your Sweepers to eliminate the remaining enemy pieces. Try to keep one or more reserve forces available for various contingencies and to provide multiple tactical options or changes in overall strategy. The art of maneuvering pieces and allocating empty squares in a crowded area is also important to bring your appropriate pieces against enemy pieces, to avoid losses, or to eliminate the enemy Flag.
There are many variations made by various people to make the game more exciting and difficult. Many variations involve simple modifications like showing the flag or simply playing with only 11 pieces. These modifications are often combined with each other to make the game more challenging.
The Generals Electronic Strategy Game
In 1980, Ideal released The Generals Electronic Strategy Game. The rules and piece ranks are the same as above, except that the "Spies" are "Agents", and an electronic arbiter determines which piece wins in a confrontation; neither player sees his opponent's pieces. The plastic pieces have selected notches on their bases, which depress certain indentations in the electronic arbiter's twin slots. The lights flash and a short musical phrase plays before a light labeled "battle winner" is illuminated. The losing piece is removed from the board, while the winning piece is placed back on the board. If the flag is placed in the arbiter, it plays "Taps" after the initial musical phrase.
Unlike the original version of the game, if a player's Flag reaches the back row in The Generals Electronic Strategy Game, that player wins, even if an opposing piece occupies an adjacent square on the back row.
Unlike the somewhat similar game of Stratego, Generals does not have any bombs, nor miners to defuse them, nor scouts to zip several spaces across the board in one move. Nor does Generals have any immovable pieces (both the flag and the bombs in Stratego are stationary). In addition, unlike Stratego, which features two "lakes" in the middle of the board, all the squares on the board are accessible. Also, each player has two Spies in Generals, while each only has one Spy in Stratego. Finally, Generals inherently requires a third-party arbiter to maintain the game's uncertainty all the way to the endgame.