One of the best things gaming has ever done for me is, if not outright “save” my marriage, drastically improve the quality of it. (I have plans to unpack this claim in a future post, so stay tuned if you want to know what happened.) Anyway, when I saw that a new couples’ game was coming out designed to replicate the experience of a romantic relationship with all of its joy, drama, anguish, and angst, I knew I had to give it a try. Not only was the theme a huge draw, the idea that such a game might interest more couples in using gaming as a springboard to a better relationship made me curious about it.
How It Plays
Fog of Love is a card-based “storytelling” game that attempts to replicate the experience of falling in (and sometimes out of) love with a partner. There are the usual butterflies of excitement at first, followed by the drama later. (Dealing with the in-laws, anyone?) I’m not going to try to explain every rule and phase of the game. It’s best understood as more of a story. The mechanics support the story, but it’s easier to wrap your head around it if you see what the game is trying to achieve.
Your goal is to satisfy your character’s destiny. You begin the game with the same number and type of destinies in hand as your partner. During the game you will gradually secretly discard destinies until you have only one left. This will be the one you must achieve at the finale in order to win. (More on that in a minute.)
Achieving your destiny is not all about you. Ideally, you’ll find a way to satisfy your destiny, your partner’s destiny, and keep the relationship together until the “happily ever after.” However this isn’t always possible. Some destinies are incompatible and it’s possible that you or your partner will be intentionally trying to push the relationship toward an ugly breakup.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, the game is played either cooperatively, competitively, or semi-cooperatively. Just like in a real relationship, success is determined by your ability to read what your partner is thinking and where they are going with the relationship. Sometimes you’ll play nicely together, and other times you’ll try to mislead your partner.
To replicate this fictional relationship, you will be playing through love stories. (The retail game comes with four. More were available in the Kickstarter version and those will be made available to all in the future.) Each story consists of chapters and scenes. As with a book, each chapter can be thought of as a “main event” in the story, while each scene develops that event. The chapters usually start out fairly innocuous and sweet, but the drama ramps up as the game builds toward the finale. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.
On your turn, you will play a scene and resolve it. Most scenes require you to make a choice. For example, you have an argument at a restaurant. What do you do? Do you admit you’re wrong, insist that you are right, or take a neutral position and simply end the fight. Some scenes require both partners to choose a path, others require only the partner to make the choice.
Either way, the choice will either award or cost you satisfaction points and personality tokens. These are the two metrics in the game which determine whether or not you achieve your destiny. The higher your satisfaction, the happier you are in the relationship. Some destinies require your satisfaction to be at a certain level while others require your partner to reach a certain level.
Your personality also plays a role in your destiny. Every choice you make will either raise or lower one of your six personality traits. (Discipline, Curiosity, Extroversion, Sensitivity, Gentleness, and Sincerity.) At the beginning of the game, you are given trait goals which you must achieve in order to achieve your destiny. You want the balance of trait tokens on specific personality aspects to end up in your favor at game’s end in order to boost your satisfaction and meet your destiny. Some trait goals are shared, meaning that both you and your partner need to achieve the required balance in order to achieve it.
Characters are also given occupations and features (think crooked nose, mumbling, perfect teeth, etc.) which can help or hinder you meeting your trait goals. Sometimes, just like in life, a scene may crop up that allows you to change your personality traits, occupation, or features. This may really throw a wrench in your relationship, or it can help you. Change is hard, sometimes beneficial to both of you (and sometimes to just you), and sometimes your partner just can’t deal with it. So it goes in the game.
Each player takes turns playing and resolving scenes until the chapter is completed. Then a new chapter begins. You keep doing this until you reach the finale. At the finale, you’ll have your final destiny. Did you achieve it? Tally up all of your satisfaction points, check whether or not you’ve achieved the required trait/personality goals. Check to make certain that anything your partner needed to achieve is done, and that any shared goals are met. Now you’ll know whether you achieved your destiny, and whether the relationship ended happily.
Note that while achieving your destiny is technically “winning” the game, there is no real win or loss in the game. It’s possible to achieve your destiny but leave the relationship in ashes, in which case did you really “win?” It’s also possible that you sacrifice everything to help your partner achieve their destiny and you end up “losing.” But is that really a loss? Fog of Love is less about the win/loss and more about how it happened and the talking points that remain after the game is over.
Somebody Get Me a Squeegee Because This Game Fogged My Brain
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a game that is this difficult to review. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s… Different. And different is hard to explain and describe. Fog of Love requires you to pretty much shelve your expectations of what constitutes a “board game” in order to understand and enjoy it. As such, it’s not an easy beast to review.
It is not a game with clearly defined win conditions, and there are no “right or wrong” answers on the cards. There are choices… Some are good, some are bad, and some simply are. But the kicker is that, as in all relationships, the best choice isn’t always necessarily obvious, nor is it even the “best.” Most ethical? Maybe. Most likely to make your partner happy? Possibly. Detrimental to your own goals? Perhaps. Destructive but somehow beneficial in the long run? Sure. Life is messy, love more so, and Fog of Love does a good job of replicating the ambiguity and messiness of relationships.
This “messiness” means that if you are looking for a game where you can crow at the end about your fifty point victory, Fog of Love isn’t going to be for you. This game is more about the storytelling during the game, as well as the after-game discussions about how things went.
To get the most out of the game, you have to be willing to elaborate on the stories, to fill in the gaps in your characters’ backstories, and to talk through the scenes. If all you want to do is read the card, make a choice and move on, you’re not going to have as much fun. The game will devolve into, “Pick card, play it, take tokens and move on.” Mechanically the game is pretty simple, so if you’re not willing to do the storytelling work and really engage with the characters, there’s not much “game” here.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you have to go into knowing that this is more of an experience than a board game in the classic sense. It’s also neither cooperative nor competitive. Neither is it semi-cooperative. At least not all the time. Sometimes you will play cooperatively, really trying to make the relationship work. Other times you will play competitively because you want your character to achieve her destiny and you’re willing to step on your partner to do it. And sometimes it’s just fun to embrace your jerky tendencies and wreck either your partner’s life, your character’s life, or both. If you’re looking for a game that’s easily classified and which will always play out reliably the same way every time, Fog of Love is not for you.
However, if you want a game where you get to create your characters and then see them through a relationship with all its ups and downs, then this is possibly for you. It’s such a different theme that I think it may very well be a great game to bring non-gamers into the hobby. The theme is universally approachable, at least by an adult audience who’s been in the trenches of love.
It’s worth noting that the content is definitely not for everyone. The game simulates a romantic relationship between adults, with all its complexities, drama, and problems. Kids don’t have the maturity or life experience to deal with these types of topics. And, yes, there are sexual references. The age on the box is 17+ and that’s spot on.
Further, I wouldn’t recommend playing this game with people you barely know. It’s not a party game, or one for game night at your local game store. It works best when played between romantic partners or at least very good friends. You need a certain level of trust and experience with your gaming partner in order for Fog of Love to be anything other than ridiculous or squirm-worthy. Playing Fog of Love gives you a chance to really look inside your partner’s brain and see how they think. Done correctly, the game can be a bonding experience and a chance to open up communication under the “cover” of a game. This is just weird, weird, weird with people you don’t know.
And speaking of being uncomfortable, if you aren’t able to separate your character’s issues from the issues you have in your own relationship, things can get really uncomfortable. Or upsetting. For example, there’s a card in the game about whether or not you want kids. If this is an unresolved sticking point in your relationship, it’s possible to forget that you’re supposed to play your character and instead get all wrapped up in your own issues and end up in a fight or tears. There are several cards in the game that I could see causing problems like this (infidelity issues, in-law problems, financial issues, exes, chores, toilet seats, etc.) unless you are very good at separating the game from real life. (Or your relationship is just so perfect that you have no issues to get upset over in which case, yay you.)
It seems like there are a lot of cons in this review, but don’t mistake that for dislike of the game. I really enjoyed it. However, this is such a different experience from most board games that I think there’s a lot that will bother people looking for a traditional board game. Those things don’t make this a bad game, but they do require an adjustment of expectations. You get out of it what you put into it.
The one legitimate gripe I had with the game is that it does feel like it runs long for what it is. The box says it runs an hour to two hours, but we had some games push toward three. Now, granted, some of that was our fault. The more you get into the storytelling and talk about your own relationship or reminisce, the longer it will take. But even when we intentionally sped up, it was still close to two hours.
That was fun for the first couple of games are we were learning out way around and seeing all the cards, but eventually I started wishing the game were a bit shorter. The gameplay does get pretty repetitive as you play through the scenes/chapters. Mechanically it’s very simple and that can lead to things feeling samey.
Despite that, the game manages to offer plenty of replayability. There are four “stories” in the box and more are coming. You play a different character each game, so even the same story doesn’t play out the same way each time. And you can always make different choices and try to play “nicer” or “jerkier.” It’s up to you. I wouldn’t recommend playing it every night, however. It can get pretty intense and that kind of thing will wear on you. Take a break and play some other games and bring this one out once in a while.
Fog of Love is fairly easy to learn, although the rule book could have been laid out a bit better. It took a couple of read throughs for it to gel. It works best if you approach it as I did above, with a high level overview of why you’re doing these things and how the entire structure of the game hangs together before you try to internalize the pickier rules. Once you start playing it does come together fairly quickly and the “sameness” of the turns works in its favor because it’s predictable. It won’t blow a non-gamer’s mind with a ton of exceptions or rule-dependencies.
The game is incredibly well produced. The tokens are hefty and you get little organizer boxes for the markers. The box is so hefty it’s more like a shell and it opens slipcase-style. There are plenty of dividers to organize the cards and it’s all very attractive. The art is easy on the eyes and manages to fade into the background. That’s actually a pro because the game isn’t about the art or the board, it’s more about the mental game and connecting with your partner. A flashy board would just be distracting.
There’s also a very useful tutorial that I recommend you play. I know, you’re thinking, “I’ve played all kinds of games, I don’t need no stinking tutorial.” Trust me on this. You need this tutorial. This isn’t your normal game with normal mechanics. Play the tutorial.
So to sum up what has become a pretty lengthy review, I really did enjoy Fog of Love. However, it is definitely not for everyone. I have a feeling most people will love it or hate it and there might not be much middle ground. It depends on how interesting you find the theme and how willing you are to work at making the game a full storytelling experience rather than a collection of simple mechanics and card reading.
There is much to appreciate here, both in the fun of the game and the bonding that can come about in your own relationship. I commend the designer for trying something new and taking the risk. If you’re looking for a game to play with your partner that’s more than a race to collect victory points, I recommend giving Fog of Love a try.
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Hush Hush projects for giving us a copy of Fog of Love for review.