Is this a wargame? – or – A grognard’s foggy thoughts on #FogofWar (@StrongholdGames, 2016)

Fog of War by Stronghold Games (2016) is marketed as a “two-player grand strategic game covering the European theater of World War II.” On its surface, Fog of War looks to be a “wargame” but, to this old grognard, I am unsure it really is.

The BoardGameGeek wiki glossary defines wargame as,

n. A game in which players put military units or military-type units in direct or indirect conflict with each other. The goal of these games is typically annihilation of opponents and/or the attainment of certain strategic conditions. These types of games will often have high thematic content and a varying degree of abstraction. (See also miniatures game). Wargames are subdivided into three general scales: Strategic, Operational and Tactical. (See also simulation)

By this definition, Fog of War qualifies as a wargame as it has military units (cards) in direct conflict and victory is through the attainment of strategic conditions (control of various provinces).

But I disagree.

Fog of War is superficially a wargame, but at its heart it is a game of Bluffing. BoardGameGeek defines bluffing as, “Bluffing games encourage players to use deception to achieve their aims. All Bluffing games have an element of hidden information in them.” Now, I recognize that wargames often have an element of Bluffing in them, but it is not the core mechanic as in Fog of War.

To be fair, Fog of War is not marketed as a wargame. Let’s look at how Stronghold Games describes Fog of War:

The game does not have units that move around a map; instead the game focuses on the planning and intelligence aspects of the war. Each player has a deck of cards that represent the army, navy, and other assets of their nations. A map shows the 28 land and sea provinces over which the players are battling.

You defend a province by placing cards face down on the map. If you wish to attack a province, you must plan an “operation” to do so by creating one on your operation wheel. The wheel is a unique way of forcing players to commit to operations in advance, while giving opportunities for intelligence gathering and bluffing. An operation consists of a province card that shows the target of the operation, plus one or more cards to conduct the attack. All of these cards are placed face down, so your opponent does not know the target of the operation or the strength of the cards that are taking part. Each turn, the dial on the operation wheel is rotated by one position. This controls when an operation can be launched and any attack or defense bonuses that apply.

In addition to combat forces for attack or defense, you may also spend Intel tokens to look at your opponent’s operations and defenses.

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Operations Wheel (Courtesy BGG)

Hopefully, you see that the core mechanic of the game is focused on the Operations Wheel where players secretly plan attacks. Defense of provinces and attacks on the Operations Wheel are secret but players can use Intelligence Operations to try to discern the defense or attack plans. The use of deception and hidden information, and not military conflict, is at the heart of Fog of War.

 

But does that make it a bad game?

BGG User TimSmith wrote a long review of Fog of War where he praises the game. In a final assessment he declares:

This game is an absolute must for every wargame designer with any interest in the theory of war, in Clausewitz and SunZi, or the works of Michael Howard, Michael Handel and Edward Luttwak. Even the deans and doyens of our discipline will find that FoW deepens their conceptual insight into some of the non-obvious causal factors that govern war, not just in the military sphere such as attrition versus maneuver, but in the wider context of strategic interaction described by game and decision theory.

For similar reasons, it is a must for all grognards interested in studying warfare through simulation modeling. It might prompt one to contemplate how incomplete the standard wargame framework is, and perhaps to introspect into whether we have been sufficiently aware of this.

FoW is a great addition to the repertoire of those who enjoy stimulating, challenging strategy games. For all its Boogy-Woogie Bugle Boy artwork, it’s a cerebral game. The Anglo-Allies cannot blame the dice if they get booted off the continent!

And finally, for any wargame coach or teacher who uses wargames to teach history or strategy, this game offers a highly valuable and unique insight into the challenges historical figures face in committing their nations and forces to great endeavors during conflict. The game conveys a sense of plunging into the unknown that few games can match.

I know Tim (professionally) and have great respect for his opinion. I can see many of his points, but I personally think he gets a bit carried away. Fog of War demonstrates the role of planning and intelligence in war – STOP! When I keep this (narrow?) perspective I find great enjoyment in playing Fog of War. It is when I try to “read more into the game” that I find my enjoyment dropping off as I (sub?) consciously start questioning design assumptions and doubting the design. For instance, combat is resolved through a straight comparison of attack versus defense strength. The attacker automatically wins if they have a ration of 2:1 or better, seemingly ignoring the historical maxim that 3:1 odds are needed to assure victory. I think I see the design assumption behind the 2:1 decision (driven by a limited number of cards in the game) but as a grognard I found myself doubting the “validity” of the game.

Fog of War is a good game and I am glad to have added it to my collection, but it is best enjoyed with a narrower set of expectations than I started with. As a long time grognard, Fog of War challenged my definition of a wargame, but as a gamer I can enjoy the Bluffing in a military conflict setting.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

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