The fog of war

Deze review werd op aanvraag van Stronghold Games in het Engels geschreven.

"The fog of war" is an expression indicating the uncertainty of enemy strength and activity beyond what is visible from the front line. In video games this is often depicted as a grey area beyond the line of sight of your units. In modern warfare with radar, reconnaisance planes or drones and spy satellites this is less of an issue as during the great wars of old, including WW2. This game tries to evoke this era where espionage was key to discover enemy plans and put countermeasures in place.

"The Fog of War" is a 2 player game, set in the European theatre of WW2 where Axis and Allies compete to either conquer the continent or protect it from its agressors over a period of 5 years. The board covers the complete map of Europe, with some surrounding locations from North Africa and the Middle East. For convenience it is divided into 23 provinces, roughly corresponding with historical regions of interest. In addition, some sea areas are also defined, thus providing for naval conflict as well. The edge of the board has spaces for each province / sea area. This is where defensive forces (represented via hidden cards) will be stacked. The map itself is used to place tokens indicating the current controller of each province. These tokens are double sided, so a simple flip is sufficient when control has changed. Both Axis and Allies have a set of province cards, with controlled provinces open before them and the rest as a deck on the side. The initial setup reflects the political situation at the start of 1940.

Troops are available as individual card decks. Four types are present: land units, sea units, air units (with both land and sea stats) and forts. Strength ranges from 1 to 3, with higher strength being more scarce. Not all cards are available from the start though. Each year new cards are added to simulate technical improvements and changing production rates. However, these are not added to your deck directly but must be purchased with production points (more about that later). Note that you also start with some dummy cards with value 0. These can be used to fool the enemy.

Troop cards can be used in 2 main ways: as extra defense for a province, or to set up an operation to conquer a province. Such an operation is composed on the player mat, which has six operation slots available. An operation wheel, which is moved each turn, indicates the progress of operations. One slot is always available for a new operation, while the other slots have different markings representing the op state. For example, it takes two turns before an operation can effectively be launched. On the 3rd turn the op has an attack penalty of -1 (still ill prepared), while on turn 6 there is an attack bonus of +1 (well prepared). If an op is left for more than 6 turns it is automatically disbanded. To compose an op, you pick a province card and at least one troop card and place them face down on the current available slot. This represents the target of the op and the initial attack strength assigned to it.

Ok, with that explained we can move to the actual game play. Each player starts with 3 cards in hand. On a turn at least 1 card must be played. The following actions can be chosen: create, launch or disband an operation; add a card to an operation or defense; add to and/or resolve an ongoing conflict (called quagmire).
Launching an operation starts a conflict in the target province. However, before an attack is possible a supply line must be present (a continuous path of controlled provinces to your supply base). Then all inappropriate troops are removed (zeroes, sea units in a land combat etc) and the total strength is compared. If the attack strength is double the defensive strength, the attacker wins. If less, but still higher than defensive strength, it's a quagmire and the conflict continues into the next round (random cards are discarded indicating combat losses). If less than defensive, the defender wins either by defeat or rout (worse). In all win cases the province control is (re)assigned, cards are discarded in a win or loss stack (relevant for end of year proceedings), and some cards remain to form the new defensive force. Note that moving deployed troops to other provinces is not allowed, not even after a combat victory.

In order to plan his actions more efficiently, each player possesses an amount of intel tokens. These can be used to spy on all hidden card stacks on the board or operation mat. The mechanism allows to view a portion of the cards (not all) in such a way that the other player does not know what he has seen. This adds a layer of uncertainty to the game, and the dummy cards play an important part here. Gathering intel is also an action, costing two tokens per peek. However, your opponent can block your action by spending one more token if he desires.

When a player is done with his actions, there is still a separate intel phase. This costs only 1 token, but then you don't have the opportunity to react immediately. After this, refill your hand to 3 cards and play passes to your opponent.

When all players have run out of cards, the year ends. The Axis player scores victory points according to his occupied provinces. Cards discarded during combat either return to your deck or become available for purchase. Then a production phase is started. Production points are counted (also by province or by global production track) and can be used to purchase new troop cards, extra intel tokens, victory points (Axis only) or increase your production value. Next you can disband pending operations and retreat defensive forces from the board to your deck. The player with the most cards in his deck starts the next year of conflict.

The Axis player wins the game when he has a certain amount of victory points, the Allied player wins when he conquers both Axis home provinces. If neither condition is reached after the final round, the Axis player reveals two hidden victory province cards that he has set aside at the start of the game. If both are under his control, Axis wins. Otherwise the Allies win.

Note that there are a lot of aspects of this game that have not yet been discussed. For this I kindly refer to the excellent rule book. One thing that I would like to mention though is the influence of the historical denouement of WW2. At the start of the conflict several provinces are neutral (e,g, Spain, Greece). Most of them remain neutral until attacked, but some behave differently. For example, the Balkans join the Axis at the end of 1940; Russia joins the Allies at the end of 1941. In addtion some special conquest rules apply: if Paris is taken by the Axis, 3 other provinces (South of France, Morocco and Middle east) fall as well. These rules can have considerable impact on the chosen strategies.

After two games I can say that I like 'The Fog of War'. It's not a real war game, it's not Risk, but it certainly offers one or two hours of intense cat and mouse play. Planning ahead, defending the right provinces and timing your op launches is key, and spying on your enemy while trying to mislead him can be tricky but oh so rewarding. You'll definitely need several plays to discover all tactical options that are possibles with this mechanism.
I do have some reservations though. Its format as simulation of WW2 nudges you to follow the historical flow of events: the Axis conquer Europe in 1940 (with Paris being a preferable target) and the Allies try to strike back from 1942 on with a land invasion. I'm not sure if really different strategies are viable here for the Axis player, that's still to find out. Also, you are somewhat dependent on the luck of the draw. If you found out what your opponent plans to do but you have no appropriate reaction (only dummies or the wrong type of troops) you can get very frustrated. But I guess that's also part of the fog of war: not having the right resources at the right place and time...

If you are into this kind of game then by all means give it a try.

Dit spel werd geschonken door Stronghold Games en is vanaf december te spelen bij Het Geel Pionneke.

Aantal spelers : 2
Leeftijd : vanaf 10 jaar
Speelduur : 90 - 120 minuten


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