Strategos was meant to be a training tool at various levels, starting with introductory scenarios and working toward more complex and advanced ones. This was contrasted with other forms of kriegsspiel which were cast as being primarily for those in elite military leadership. An article in the Army and Navy Journal, from November 25, 1882, describes the role and function of the Strategos game in contrast to William R. Livermore's publication of a more traditional The American Kriegsspiel (1882), as follows:
We have offered to us two American games — those of Messrs. Totten and Livermore. Mr. Totten's has the advantage of priority of publication, and is claimed to be based on military principles and to be an assistant both to the young and old student, that by its means one can wheel a set of fours and manoeuvre a great army. The War Department, by issuing the book to companies, inferentially approves it.
Strategos consists of two different games. The Battle Game was played on a board, whereas the Advanced Game was played on maps and miniature terrain.
In Strategos, Totten leans toward the "free" kriegsspiel movement in allowing the referee discretion in matters not covered by the normal game rules. Peterson identifies the free kriegsspiel movement with Klemens Wilhelm Jacob Meckel's work Studien über das Kriegsspiel, along with other Prussian authors of the 1870s and later.
The Advanced Game relies on the referee to provide a scenario to the two sides, which are colored red and blue. Orders are provided in writing, and three topographic maps may be used: one for the referee, and one for each side. The referee map is the master copy with all information, whereas the player maps show only what is known to the respective side. Blocks are used for troop formations, and are scaled to the size of those formations on the topographic maps.
When there are conflicts in the game, the referee calculates probabilities, and then dice and tables are used to determine the outcomes. In more traditional kriegsspiel games, the referee would roll all the dice privately, and provide the relevant battlefield report. However, in Totten's Strategos, the players roll the dice openly and consult the necessary table, such as Table T, for combat resolution.
While Strategos was reiterating common practices and trends in 19th century wargaming, these systems largely fell into obscurity in the 20th century. In 1967, Strategos was rediscovered by David Wesely at the University of Minnesota library. An avid hobby wargamer and reader of wargaming literature, Wesely seized upon these rules and incorporated their principles into the miniature wargames played by the Midwest Military Simulation Association (MMSA). These included the role of the referee, and the principle of free kriegsspiel that players could attempt anything, although not always successfully, and that the referee should be able to make judgements to cover anything not ordinarily covered by the rules. Totten's Strategos became the cornerstone text for the Twin Cities gamers. The incorporation of Totten's Strategos into MMSA wargaming culminated with the 1968 development of Strategos N, a compact set of Napoleonic wargaming rules devised by Wesely and other MMSA members. These rules were eventually published in 1970.
Dave Wesely developed Strategos N as the first MMSA Strategos variant for the first time in 1968. It was later self-published in 1970, and again in 1984.
Dave Arneson and Randy Hoffa developed Strategos A in 1969, for wargames set in the ancient period.
The concept of the referee in Totten's Strategos led to Dave Wesely expanding upon these ideas to create the Braunstein games, which were influential in the early history of role-playing games. This development of the role of the referee became a catalyst for the evolution of role-playing games.
- Peterson, Jon (2012). "1.9. The Return of the Referee". Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games (2nd ed.). Unreason Press.
- Peterson, Jon (2012). "3.1.4. The Kriegsspiel Vogue (1824-1881)". Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games (2nd ed.). Unreason Press.
- Harrigan, Pat; Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. (2016). "A Game Out of All Proportions". Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. MIT Press.
- Peterson, Jon (21 January 2013). "Strategos in the Twin Cities". Playing at the World. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
- Boggs, Daniel H. (August 2018). "Dungeon in the Womb of Strategos". Hidden in Shadows. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
- Laycock, Joseph P. (2015). Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. University of California Press. pp. 35–37.
- Zegal, José; Deterding, Sebastian (2018). "Precursors". Role-playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations. Routledge.
- Boggs, Daniel H. (July 2017). "Blackmoor as a Chainmail Campaign". Hidden in Shadows. Retrieved 2 February 2020.