Review | Fog of Love

Developed to suit the exacting taste of his very own wife, Fog of Love is the fruit of Hush Hush Projects CEO and Lead Designer Jacob Jaskov’s labour. A completely unique, straightforward and yet surprisingly deep game for just two players, Fog of Love positions itself as a game of romantic comedy, but I think that undersells it quite a bit. In fact, Fog of Love is part structured role playing, part resource management (for lack of a better way of describing it in a traditional sense) and part co-operative storytelling. 

In my first game of Fog of Love, I adopted the role of Han. Across the table from me was Byron. Fog of Love‘s exceptionally precise (and indicatively delivered) tutorial instructed us each to draw five trait cards from the deck and select three of them, which would form the basis of our character and drive our behaviours throughout the game. Naturally, these traits were be kept secret from the other player, because as in any new relationship, it takes time to learn what makes the other person tick.

Next, we chose an occupation each and then the three features (out of five cards drawn) that first attracted us to each other. At the end of this process, just six cards (each printed with only a single word) had galvanised Han’s character and lifestyle. I was a cocky, innocent and fun loving TV Star with a nose piercing, nerdy glasses and come-to-bed eyes. Byron was an intense, manipulative and workaholic criminal who happened to be short, muscular and sweet smelling. Not only is creating the characters simple and fun in Fog of Love, but the game also has a very gentle, unobtrusive way of encouraging players to really believe in the character that they have created.

And those character traits matter. Each trait indicates what your character needs in order to satisfy their relationship goals. Sometimes, those requirements are individual — like Han’s cockiness, which drives him toward ungentlemanlike behaviour. Other traits demand a shared outcome to be met, as reflected by Han’s fun-loving nature, which made him desire a sociable, extrovert relationship. Sometimes, the needs of one partner will be at odds with those of the other and in the relationship between Byron and Han, Byron’s manipulative approach to his partner was at odds with Han’s child-like innocence.

Each of the character’s current alignment to what Fog of Love calls Personality Dimensions is measured on the board by pink and blue tokens placed on each of the six available tracks. These are discipline, curiosity, extroversion, sensitivity, gentleness and sincerity.  Whilst the players must guide the alignment of their character’s Personality Dimensions towards the relationship needs of their traits, it isn’t the traits themselves that directly affect them. The first time you’ll add tokens to these tracks is as a result of your features and occupation so, for example, being a Police Officer will increase your sincerity, whilst being a TV Star will decrease your gentleness, which turned out to be perfect for Han’s cocky trait.

That’s just a practice though, really, because the main way of driving your Personality Dimensions in Fog of Love is by acting out scenes, which also happens to be where the meat of the game really exists. I’ll paraphrase a bit here, because I can’t do as good a job of explaining this part of the game as the inbuilt tutorial does, but players draw scenes from four decks of cards (sweet, serious, drama and custom) and then play them one at a time, in turn. Each scene card involves the player whose turn it is reading aloud the scenario that they have chosen, as well as up to four choices that the characters can make in response to what has been revealed. Each player then places the (extremely well made) poker chip corresponding to their choice (from A to D) face down on the board, and both players then check for the consequences of any match (or mismatch) in answer.

The structure of the scenes (including how many are played and from which deck) is controlled by the story that players choose at the beginning of the game. Each story has a number of chapters, beginning with a prologue that sets the scene for the story and a finale that explains any special scoring criteria and explains what’s next for the couple. As an example, the first story (which also includes the tutorial) is called Sunday Morning Date. Whilst this story is primarily about showing new players the ropes, it is also a perfectly re-playable sequence of chapters which thematically serves to show how relationships usually begin based on excitement and fun, but eventually give way to more serious and dramatic subjects as they develop.

Throughout each story, in addition to aligning their Personality Dimensions as indicated by the outcome of each scene, players also continually adjust their overall satisfaction rating, which is indicated on their character board. An argument scene might result in both characters feeling less satisfied, but one could be happier with the outcome than the other depending on the choices each makes. Another factor to consider are the character destinies, which tend to act as secondary objectives that can drastically increase satisfaction at the end of the game, should they be fulfilled. I should mention, by the way, that there are four stories to play through and the box contains two more dividers for new content as and when it is released.

In the end, neither Han nor Byron fulfilled either of the destinies available to them, although having replayed Sunday Morning Date with another partner, I think that’s largely due to the fact that it is a short campaign compared to the others and we just timed out in that game. Looking at things under a more detailed lens, both characters were aligned on their desire for extroversion and their lack of gentleness, but the two were opposed on sincerity, which drove a considerable wedge between them. Even despite the failure to fulfill a destiny, four out of the six traits between them were fulfilled and they had often agreed on decisions throughout the game (especially during sweet scenes) which meant that the game ended with both characters fairly satisfied. Scores were 55 and 64, with Han the happier of the two.

A number of other features are present in Fog of Love, each of which comes with its own rules. For example, some scene cards are actually something else — secrets, for example. Secret cards are played instead of a scene card and placed face down under a separate tab on the board. Should they ever be revealed, they can have very broad impacts on Personality Dimension and satisfaction, with the possible range of outcomes very much dependent based on the nature of the secret.

There are four scenarios in the base game, with space for two more. Each one is presented lovingly in a foil packet and comes with its own chapter, scene (often for all decks including special cards) and other cards such as new destinies and so on. As these cards are shuffled into the original decks, Fog of Love not only becomes increasingly complex from a mechanical perspective, but also from a role playing one; there are some cards that really, really change things, meaning that Fog of Love isn’t afraid to challenge players on an emotive level. This is undoubtedly the feature that makes it most memorable — you’ll create your character from scratch and then you’ll live with them over the course of about 90 to 120 minutes, every one of which will be funny, challenging or compelling in equal measure.

In addition to everything else, Fog of Love is also one of the most spectacularly produced games I’ve ever come across, featuring some of the most fetching use of minimalist art and colour that I’ve seen in a game, alongside a set of components that are just fantastic. The tutorial is almost a work of genius, the box a beautiful sliding affair which is well made, pleasing to handle and slide open. Every other component is fantastic, too — from the heavyweight poker chips I mentioned earlier to the little tokens with their plastic boxes and the oversized cards. Not to mention the attractive and intuitive board. Some might initially recoil at the blue and pink theme, but it should be known that either colour can represent male or female, and aside from one story that features certain biological specifics, the game fully supports gay relationships with no inherent bias whatsoever.

There is much to like about Fog of Love, but several of my favourite things were largely unexpected. I’ve never found it easy to role play with my friends (although I have no problems doing so for work, for example, or with strangers) but in Fog of Love, it comes easy. This, I think, is down to the gentle way in which it introduces the concept without announcing it or demanding anything from the players, whilst at the same time providing a structure that is unique and interesting to work through. On that note, the stories and scenes range from lighthearted and throwaway to deep and meaningful. To put it another way, Fog of Love lets players explore interesting and challenging scenarios whilst under the protection of their character’s alter ego.

Mechanically, even, Fog of Love works well. I’ve talked a lot about the way the game feels and how it helps players to act in a certain way, but as a basic game — just a series of counters on a board — it still works well. If you disconnect all of the theme and think of it as a simple resource gathering exercise where each player has three secret objectives to fulfil, an onboard score and a turn structure which influences all of those things, then Fog of Love would still be good. The chapter systems works brilliantly with this theme, but as a basic game concept it also does an excellent job of changing the way players score points over the course of the game. In short, Fog of Love is perhaps the most unique, innovative and enjoyable game I’ve played this year and it is likely to remain my favourite two player medium-heavy game for the foreseeable future.

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