Designer: Jacob Jaskov
Publisher: Hush Hush Projects
Year Published: 2017
Playing Time: 60-120 mins.
To Play or Not To Play: Play this . . . game?
Fog of Love is more of an experience than a game. It has cards and character traits, and there are goals to strive for, but there is no win condition. Literally. There is an end to the game, but there is no winner. Or maybe both players are winners. See, Fog of Love is a simulation of a romantic relationship. You can try to balance your needs and wants with those of your partner to achieve a mutually satisfactory relationship. Or, maybe it’s in your best interest to break things off.
In many ways, Fog of Love is a role-playing game. Your select your character’s occupation, traits, and, features, all of which shape your character’s personality and behaviors. Your features and occupation are public attributes that are immediately noticeable, and they each adjust your position on one of the six Personality Dimensions on the board. For example if your occupation is Florist, you place a marker on the positive direction of the Sensitivity dimension. You also start the game with three hidden traits. These help shape your personality and your relationship goals. For example, you might be shy. If at the end of the game you have a net total of three markers on the negative side of the Extroversion dimension, you’ll earn several heart points (more on these later). Other traits are objectives that check both you and your partner’s markers on a personality dimension. One might require you and your partner to have a net five markers on the Curiosity dimension. But your partner might have one that requires the opposite. In that case, you may find yourselves in conflict more often than not as you each try to get opposite things out of your relationship.
I mentioned before that Fog of Love is a sort of roleplaying game. That takes shape in the actual play of each turn. On your turn, you’ll select a “Scene” card from your hand and play it to the center of the board. This is a scenario that if affecting both you and your partner. Early in the game, you’ll draw lighthearted cards like “Do you think these pants fit me?” Later in the game, you’ll get more serious or dramatic cards that can drastically affect your relationship. Most cards will list several options for how to react to the scenario, and will say “Both Choose.” The players each have four poker chips, labeled A through D, and they will secretly select one and place it on the board. The active player (the one who selected the card) is picking the response that they want to hear from their partner. The other player is selecting their actual response. Then both players reveal their selections. Most options will affect a player’s traits positively or negatively, so the players add markers to the board accordingly. Some cards have Additional effects, which take effect if both players match their selection, or don’t match. Generally, matching is good and will earn both players heart points.
So what good are heart points? Well, they are symbol of how satisfied you are by the relationship. If the relationship allows you to fulfill your traits, it means that you are able to live your life the way you want. But you also need heart points to fulfill your destiny cards. At the start of the game, you’ll have a bunch of possible destiny cards in hand, but as the game progresses you’ll have to narrow down your options until only one is left. These destiny cards determine what type of relationship you’ll have.
For example, you may decide to aim for “Equal Partners,” which lets you fulfill your destiny if both you and your partner’s heart points are within 3 points of each other, you have 20 or more heart points at the end of the game, and your partner doesn’t break up with you with their destiny. If you fulfill those three conditions, hooray! You did it! That’s about as close as Fog of Love comes to having a win condition. But what if you fulfill your destiny, but your partner does not? What if your partner ended the game with the “Dominant” destiny where they are supposed to have many more heart points than you while still staying together in the relationship? That means that your character is happy to have this equal partner, but your partner is trying assert their authority and you’re not letting them, leaving them unfulfilled. So is that a win? Or a loss? Or something in between?
Some of the destiny cards cause you to break up with your partner, but are otherwise the same. Which means you could be in a situation where your partner has discarded all of the breakup destinies by the end of the first chapter of the game, meaning they will do whatever it takes to make this relationship work. But maybe you’ve kept your options open by hanging onto one or two breakup destinies. You may find that it’s in your best interest to find a way to leave, but your partner will be determined to let you stay. And that can lead to some very tense, or very funny, situations during the actual gameplay.
Basically, you’re not selecting the best option in your opinion. You’re selecting the best option for your character, and for the overall relationship goal you have for you and your partner. As more and more cards get played, you’ll develop a better understanding of what your partner needs, and how to help them. Or you’ll realize that this is an unhealthy relationship for you, and you just need to drive them away. Like I mentioned above, you can get some really weird situations. Like if you’re trying to break up with someone, you could tell your partner that you cheated on them, and now you or your liaison is pregnant with that baby. But if your partner no longer has any destinies that let them break up, they might just thank the other player for their honesty, take a heart point hit, and keep trying to make things work. And some cards will force players to discard certain destinies, or retrieve them from the discard pile, which can really change your path through your relationship.
And that’s really the entire game. The base set comes with four scenarios of increasing drama. The first is a simple tutorial where a pair of high school sweethearts reunites after several years apart. The old flame rekindles quickly, and to keep things simple both players don’t have access to the destinies where they breakup. The relationship will stay together, the only question is how compatible it will be. Once you’re comfortable with the rules and the gameplay, you can open the more dramatic scenarios included in the base set. These will introduce more tense situations, secrets you keep from your partner, surprise cards you can play out of turn to avoid a unpleasant consequence, and more intense destinies. And while the scenarios won’t change dramatically, the character you play and the scenes you draw will lead to very different outcomes.
At this point, you probably have a good idea of if this is a game you would enjoy or not. It’s basically a moderately complex system of simulating how your behavior affects your partner. So the only real “gameplay” is trying to figure out which is the correct answer for a scene. Do you pick the thing that is best for you? Or do you try and do what’s best for your partner? Or do you pick the thing that would best for both of you? And is that last option mutually exclusive from either of the other options? Sometimes one answer will solve all three, other times it’s a tough dilemma. How well can you figure out what your partner wants, and does that match with your own objectives? Honestly, that sounds pretty accurate for real life! You never know exactly what another person is thinking. Sometimes you give different responses to different people. One partner might want you to be honest when they ask you if their pants fit, while another might just want you to admire their choice of clothing. The former might appreciate it if you tell them that they don’t, while the latter might prefer a compliment regardless of how they actually fit. Your job is to figure out when to give what response.
I’ve been careful to be gender neutral throughout this review, and that’s intentional. While the pieces for both partners are dark blue and pink, suggesting traditional gender roles, the character cards are double-sided. One side has a traditionally male silhouette, while the other has a traditional female silhouette. So a hetero relationship could have the male be pink while the female is blue, or you could roleplay a gay relationship if you choose. There are also three different versions of the box art to choose from: male/female (which is what I have), male/male, or female/female. This is remarkable because Fog of Love is only available in the USA from one retailer: Wal-Mart. Yep. Go figure.
I have friends who refuse to consider Fog of Love a game. Both players have goals to work toward, but there is no victory condition. In fact, many games kind of end a little flat. The last scenario gets resolved, players count up their heart points and reveal their destinies. And it turns out neither player accomplished their destiny, but they’re both still in the relationship. Great, you have a mediocre and unsatisfying relationship to show for the last hour and a half of roleplaying. But the journey is tons of fun, especially if you really get into character. I’m told it can also be fun as a spectator sport. The game is basically a romantic comedy in a box, so an audience can watch while the two players try and find a way to overcome their foibles and reach a satisfying conclusion. I haven’t tried it, but I’d love to give it a shot sometime.
And if you do find the experience fun and enjoyable, they’ve released several expansions with new scenarios. One takes place during a visit to the in-laws house, which is always a tense one. The other is entitled “Paranormal Romance,” so you can probably assume some Twilight style shenanigans will be at play.
Perhaps that most interesting thing about Fog of Love is that it is a truly cooperative game, as Shut Up and Sit Down pointed out in their review. Most cooperative games force you to work together to accomplish a common goal. Like curing the diseases in Pandemic. Fog of Love gives you the option to work together with your partner. You don’t have to, but you may want to. That choice makes for a fascinating experience. Most cooperative games are about solving the puzzle that the game provides. Fog of Love is about figuring out your partner’s needs and wants based on how they react to the various scenes and adjusting your goals and behaviors accordingly. It’s a fascinating look at the psychology of romance and relationships, and definitely worth a try. You should play this . . . game?