Call it Ghosts or Geister or Jekyll and Hyde, this is a game that I enjoy playing. Almost all of the game I have played have been on BSW, so I think of it as Geister and I have long considered making a homemade copy so that I can play the game more often in person, as well as online.
In theory, I like Stratego. It is a game built on a simple premise, that your pieces are hidden information that your opponent can only discover through confrontation. However, that one concept opens it up to complex and deep play. However, there is no such thing as a casual or short game of Stratego. For me, games end up lasting longer than my enjoyment of the game.
However, the idea behind Stratego has been used to create many other games, all of which I enjoy more than Stratego. The Battleship Card Game, Zeus and Hera, and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation are all examples. Geister is the simplest application I have seen of hidden pieces, yet, perhaps because of the simplicity, I like it.
Geister takes place on a six by six board. Each player has eight pieces, ghosts in most versions of the game. They all look alike from the front. However, four of them are good ghosts and four of them are bad ghosts but only their own player can see which is which. The good ghosts have a blue spot on their back and the bad ghosts have a red spot on their back. Unless you are playing in front of a mirror, your opponent will not be able to tell them apart.
Players set up their pieces in two rows of four on their end of the board, which leaves an empty space to the left and right of their pieces. Of course, players must carefully choose how they lay out their good and bad ghosts, decisions that your opponent will only learn in the course of the game.
On your turn, you can move any one of your ghosts one space in any straight line, left, right, forward or back. There are no diagonal moves. If your opponent happened to have one of their own ghosts on that space, then you capture that ghost.
There are three winning conditions in the game. First, if you move one of your good ghosts off of the board through one of the corner spaces on your opponent’s side of the board. Second, if you capture all of your opponent’s good ghosts. Finally, you will win if your opponent captures all of your bad ghosts.
These simple rules create a game that combine bluffing and strategy beautifully. On one hand, the smaller board and the fewer different kinds of pieces makes the game much faster and simpler compared to Stratego. On the other hand, the three different victory conditions open up a wealth of ways to play.
The board is simply too small for players to avoid conflict. Pieces are going to start capturing each other very quickly. However, because capturing all of your opponent’s bad ghosts will cost you the game, you cannot just attack indiscriminately.
The strength of the game comes from having so many different victory conditions. There is no way to defend against all three of them so Geister breaks out of the turtle position that too many games of Stratego seem to find themselves in as players attempt to fulfill one of the conditions before their opponent does.
Online, games rarely last five minutes. In life, twenty minutes would be a long game, which makes Geister a very fast game to play and a game where it’s easy to have a rematch or two or five. In fact, it’s a game that almost requires rematches, as you try to figure out your opponent’s patterns while varying yours enough that they cannot figure out your own.
While Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation is my favorite Stratego variant, Geister is a very strong game with a lot of replay value, particularly against the same opponent. It is a game that rewards bluffing and clever planning while still be accessible to almost any player.
I really love this game! The one key to remember is that to a point the "Bad Ghosts" are still valuable in that they can capture and block enemy pieces... loose them too quickly (or not quick enough) and you'll have less footsoldiers to plug up the gaps.