(2016 – Stronghold Games)
Geoff Engelstein & family have shown that they don’t mind checking off the boxes of the hypothetical designer genre list that I just made up in my head. They’ve covered space (Space Cadets series and the upcoming Expanse), fantasy (The Dragon & Flagon), tactical warfare (The Fog of War), and will be soon diving into sports racing (Pit Crew). A graduate of MIT, Engelstein’s games certainly explore mathematical and analytical concepts within game design. Specifically with his most recent release, The Fog of War, the concepts of the extended planning needed for operations during the European theatre of World War II are examined.
The Fog of War is a two-player tactical warfare game in which one player takes the role of the Axis Powers and the other, the Allied Powers during World War II. Players will plan out operations in order to advance on and control the various provinces within the European theatre. Action cards are played facedown on an operation that include ground units, naval units, and air units (among others). When a player chooses to launch an operation on a province, the units on his cards are compared to the defensive units located on the province. The operation is only successful if his value is double the defender’s value. Players can use intel to secretly looks at some of their opponent’s facedown cards, and new cards can be added from year to year (1940-1944). Each province contains a number of victory points and resources it will provide when controlled at the end of a year. If the Axis player has accumulated 70+ victory points by the end of 1944, he wins the game. If not, he can also win by controlling the two provinces on his hidden victory cards simultaneously. The Allied player can immediately win if at any point he controls both Ruhr and Berlin simultaneously. Otherwise, if the Axis player can not complete either of his victory conditions by the end of 1944, the Allied player wins.
– Fog of War game board
– Player mat (1 Axis and 1 Allies)
– Operation boards (1 Axis and 1 Allies)
– Province cards (1 Axis set and 1 Allies set)
– Action cards (1 Axis set and 1 Allies set)
– Neutral cards
– Axis Victory cards
– Control tokens (Axis, Allies, and Neutral)
– Quagmire and Out of Supply tokens
– Intel tokens
– Year, Axis Victory Point, and Production markers
– Advantage token
– Summary cards
The Fog of War is a game that focuses on the planning of operations and military tactics during the opposing sides in World War II. As such, the two players will vie for control over numerous provinces throughout Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. At the beginning of the game, each provinces starts under the control of either the Axis player, the Allies player, or they are neutral. The Allied controlled provinces consist of Britain, the Central Atlantic, the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Levant, Morocco, the North Atlantic, the North Sea, Paris, Vichy, and USA/Canada. The Axis begin the game controlling Berlin, Italy, Libya, Poland, Ruhr, and the Western Mediterranean.
Each player will remove these Province cards from their Province deck, and place them face up in front of their play area to show that they currently control them. They’ll also place a control marker of their side on the corresponding space of the map where that province is located. There are also some provinces with an attached red number on the map. These provinces receive a neutral control marker. Each player’s remaining Province cards are placed face down in a deck on the dedicated corner spaces of the game board.
During the game, players will prepare military advances and defenses amongst these provinces. Each side (Axis or Allies) has a deck of Action cards which include ground units, air units, and sea units, along with fort cards (only used for defense) and dummy cards (blank cards used for bluffing purposes). The spaces on the board that surround the map reference each of the provinces. When a player controls a specific province, he’ll be allowed to defend that area by playing Action cards straight onto the province’s space, facedown. If a player does not control the province, but wishes to advance on it, he’ll need to do so by planning an operation. Each player has an Operation board that they’ll play these Action cards on instead. When resolving an Operation, the Action cards are then transferred to the provinces spaces around the map, as an attack. Thematically, it can take months and years to plan and carry out an operation.
At the beginning of the game, the Axis player will separate his Action cards between those that reference “start” and those that reference “1940”. The start Action cards are placed facedown on the draw (leftmost) space of the Axis player’s playmat, while the 1940 cards are placed facedown on the loss (rightmost) space.
The Allied player will do the same thing with his start and 1940 Action cards on his playmat, except that he also has additional decks that will come into play during the 1941, 1942, and 1943 rounds. But for now, these are keep separate from the cards on his playmat. The Allied player also has a set of USA and USSR cards that will come into play once these countries join the war. The USA cards are placed on the top-left corner of the map, while the USSR cards (including the specialized Urals card) are placed on the top-right corner.
Some of the provinces are neither Axis or Allied controlled, and are therefore considered Neutral. The game includes a deck of Neutral cards which consists of defenses these neutral provinces will use to protect their borders, should one of the players attempt to advance on them. Each Neutral province space surrounding the game references a number for how many Neutral cards are placed there at the beginning of the game, facedown. Once the cards have been shuffled and placed out on all of the Neutral province spaces, there should be 1 remaining Neutral card left over, which is discarded from the game.
The right side of the game board houses a few different tracks. The time track references the current year in which the game is resolving. At the beginning of the game, the Year marker is placed on the 1940 space of the track. Below the Year track is the Victory Point track. If the Axis player ever accumulates 70 victory points or more, he immediately wins the game. At the beginning of the game, his Victory Point markers are placed on the “0” spaces of the track.
Finally, the Industry track is found at the bottom corner of the game board. At the end of each year, players can use their production points from this track in order to do various things, such as gain back “lost” Action cards, increase their Intel ability, increase their overall production, or in the Axis player’s case, can be used to purchase victory points. At the beginning of the game, the Axis player’s Production marker is placed on the “8” space, while the Allied player’s marker is placed on the “6”. Which again, thematically makes sense as the Axis Powers had a larger war machine running at the beginning stages of World War II than the Allied Powers.
While the Axis player can win by accumulating 70 victory points, he can alternatively claim victory at the end of the game (after the year 1944 is complete) if he’s able to control 2 secret provinces simultaneously. At the beginning of the game, the Axis player will shuffle the 6 Axis Victory cards, draw 3 of them, then choose 2 to keep. The unchosen card is removed from the game, while the remaining 3 cards that were not drawn are placed on the designated space of the game board. Each Axis Victory card contains a specific province on the map. During the game, the Allied player will need to attempt to keep the Axis player from controlling these provinces. While he has no knowledge of which 2 of the 6 the Axis player needs to control to win at the start of 1940, the Allied player can use Intel during the game in order to view an unchosen Axis Victory card in the deck, therefore allowing him to narrow down which Axis Victory cards his enemy has in hand.
As mentioned above, players have the ability to collect intelligence during the game. Players can spend their accumulated Intel tokens in order to look at an enemy’s hidden operation, look at one of their enemy’s defenses on a Province space, or can even use them to prevent an enemy from doing one of these two things to himself. These Intel tokens have designated spaces on each side of the game board for each player. At the beginning of the game, the Axis player starts with 5 Intel tokens and the Allied player starts with 7. When an Intel tokens is spent, it is flipped over to its darkened side and placed in the space adjacent to the Intel token space (considered the Intel token discard space). At the end of each year, these discarded Intel tokens are returned and become active again. Also, remember that at the end of each year, players can use some of their production to purchase additional Intel tokens.
Finally, all remaining components are placed near the game board and the Axis player is given the Advantage token. The Allied player will then look through his Action card draw deck and choose 3 cards of any type. Then he’ll choose 3 provinces of which he’ll place 1 card on each province space around the map, facedown. The Axis player will then perform the same action. After this is complete, both players will shuffle their draw decks and draw 3 cards into their hand. The year 1940 (and the game) is now ready to begin. After initial setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
I. Operations Wheel:
When a player chooses to carry out one of their operations, they’ll name the operation on the board (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, or Foxtrot) and resolve the cards they’ve placed there. The section of the wheel that is adjacent to the operation will take effect as well. I’ll discuss more in detail how an operation is resolved in a bit, but for now note that during this step of a player’s turn, he’ll rotate the wheel on his Operation board one space clockwise.
Next the player will take his actions for the turn, some of which are performed with the cards available in his hand. A player can perform any number of actions during his turn, and in any order he chooses. The first set of actions a player can perform relate to managing his operations on his Operations board. When a player first designs a new operation, he’ll need to choose a province card from his deck as the target of the operation, and at least one action card from his hand. These will be placed on the operation space that is adjacent to the section of the wheel that states “New Op”. The icons on the New Op wheel space reference that the operation can not yet be launched and the opposing player can not perform intel on this operation yet.
For instance, the Allied player wishes to start planning an attack on Axis-controlled Spain. He would secretly select the Spain province card from his province deck. He then chooses a blank “0” card and an Army 2 card (ground units with a strength of 2) from his hand. He’ll shuffle and place these 3 cards facedown on the Alpha space of his Operation board, which is where the “New Op” section of the wheel is currently adjacent to.
While the 0 card adds no strength to his operation, it does work to fill in the operation with a “dummy” card. If the Axis player were to take an action to gain intel on this operation, he’d be able to secretly look at on of the cards in the deck. Therefore, by placing a dummy card there, it’s possible he’d end up gaining no information, if drawn.
If you’ll remember, at the beginning of each turn, the player will rotate the wheel on his Operations board one space, clockwise. As he does so, the status of the operation changes. The operation become more well-formed the longer the player waits to resolve it. Taking a look above, let’s pretend that the wheel has rotated one more time. The Alpha Operation is now on its 2nd phase of planning, and no longer considered a new operation. During its 2nd phase, the player is still not allowed to launch it, however his opponent now has the ability to do some intel on it. During its 3rd phase, the player is allowed to launch the operation, though the defender will get +1 strength to his defense. If the operation is launched during its 4th or 5th phases, no bonuses are given to either side. If the player is able to wait a full 6 turns before launching the operation, he’s given +1 strength to his attack. Finally, if the player does not launch this operation within 6 turns, the operation is disbanded.
Players are always allowed to add cards to their operations as an action on their turn, and can plan multiple operations simultaneously (6 available spaces on the board). Players can also voluntarily choose to disband one of their operations by discarding the action cards there to their discard pile, and placing the province card back into their province deck. When the player is ready to launch an operation, he’ll remove the cards from the space on the Operation board, reveal the province being attacked, show that he can supply the attack, reveal the attack cards, and resolve the battle at that location.
Each side has a few major provinces that supply their war effort. These are marked on the map by a printed “star” icon on the map for the Allied player, and a printed “cross” for the Axis player. Players are only allowed to launch an operation onto a province if they control an adjacent province that can trace a direct supply line back to one of these major supply provinces. For instance, using our example from before, the Allied player would be allowed to launch an operation on Spain from the adjacent province of Vichy because he currently controls Vichy. He can also trace a direct line from Vichy to Paris, which is one of his major supply provinces. He could continue to expand from Spain, but if any point in the supply chain was broken by the Axis player taking over a province, he’d need to either retake that province to connect the supply chain again, or find an alternative way around it. Provinces that are cutoff from the supply chain are given one of the Out of Supply tokens as a reminder.
When resolving a battle, the attacking player will compare the action cards from his Operation with the action cards that the opponent has played on the matching province space surrounding the map. There are various icons that can be found on an action card (not counting the dummy “0” cards). Army cards (tanks) resolve land battles, Naval card (ships) resolve sea battles, and Aircraft (plane) cards resolve both land and sea battles. There are also cards such as those with the “fort” icon that can be used strictly for defensive strength. Players can not count the strength of a fort card when attacking. Cards are only considered valid in the battle if they match the type of battle being resolved.
For instance, if the player was launching an attack on the Central Atlantic Ocean province, it’d be considered a naval battle since it is being held at sea. Therefore any cards adding ground strength to the battle would not count. Naval and Aircraft cards would count. The player that has the Advantage token can decide to use it once cards are revealed. If so, he’ll add +1 to either the attack or defense. But then must give the token to his opponent, who can use it on a future turn. After revealing, any cards not being used to resolve the battle are discarded.
Players will then total their combined strength amongst the cards they are using in the battle, taking into account any modifiers. One such modifier is those given per the Operation wheel (+1 attack or +1 defense) depending on when the operation was launched. Also, if the operation is launched from a sea province onto a land province, the defender gets +4 strength. Additionally, when a player has no more cards in their draw deck on their player mat, the current year advances to the Winter season of that year. During Winter, the defender gets +1 strength, although any province with the “snowflake” icon printed on the map will give the defender +2 strength if the battle is occurring there. The final modifier comes from the +1 Advantage token.
For instance, the Allied player has chosen to launch his operation on Spain during the final phase of his operation wheel, giving him +1 to his attack. However, the Axis player controls the Advantage token and can use it for +1 defense if he chooses to. The Allied player reveals the cards from his operation space, which consist of three Army cards (2, 2, and 1), an Aircraft card (1), a Naval card (2), and two dummy cards (0). Since the battle on Spain is one by land, he’ll discard the Naval card, along with the two dummy cards.
Axis player then reveals the cards he’s placed on the Spain province space on the game board, which consist of two Army cards (1, 2) and three dummy cards (0). He’s also decided to use his Advantage token (you’ll see why in a bit).
B. Resolve Battles & Quagmires
Once all cards have been revealed, and any modifiers applied, players will total and compare their overall combat strength. There are four different results to a battle:
– If the attacker does not have at least equal strength to the defender, the attacker’s operation has been defeated. In this case, all of the attacker’s cards are placed on the “Loss” space of his player mat. The defender then places a number of cards equaling the strength of the attacker onto the “Win” space of his player mat, placing any remaining cards back on the province space.
– If the defender had an amount of strength that doubled that of the attacker, the defender declares a rout of the operation. As with being defeated, the attacker places all of his cards used in the battle onto his “Loss” pile. However in a rout, the defender gets to keep all of his cards used in the battle on the province space of the board.
– If the attacker had an amount of strength that doubled the defender, the operation is a success, and the attacker claims victory over the province. All of the defender’s cards used in the battle are placed onto his “Loss” pile. The attacker then places cards equaling the strength of the defender onto his “Win” pile, placing any remaining cards back on the province space. The attacker will now place the Province card into their tableau to show that they control it, as well as placing one of their control markers on the province area of the map.
– If the attack had an amount of strength at least equal to the defender, but not double, the operation is considered a quagmire, meaning the battle will continue on the following turn. A quagmire token is placed on the province on the map. Supplies can not travel through a province that is currently in a quagmire status. When a quagmire occurs, players will randomly select half of the cards they have in the battle and place them in their “Loss” pile. The remaining cards are then returned facedown to the province space. During the defender’s next turn, he may take an action to add more cards to the province. When it becomes the attackers turn again, he may then add more cards to the province. Whether he chooses to add more cards or not, the attack is required to resolve the quagmire during his turn. The ongoing quagmire continues until one of the other three battle results occur.
For instance, using the previous example of Operation: Spain, we can see that the attacking Allied player has a total combat strength of 7 (5 by Army cards, 1 by Aircraft cards, and +1 operation wheel bonus). The defending Axis player has a total combat strength of 4 (3 by Army cards and +1 from his Advantage token). Therefore, the compared totals are 7 vs 4. If the Axis player had not used the bonus from his advantage token, the Allied player would have claimed victory, since his total would have been doubled (7 vs 3). However, since it was not doubled, the battle converts to a quagmire.
The Allied player will randomly place two of his cards (half of his four used) to the Loss pile, while the Axis player only has to discard one (half of his two used). The remaining cards are returned facedown on the Spain province space, and a quagmire token is placed onto Spain on the map. While in a quagmire, Spain can not be used as a supply route by the controlling Axis player.
III. Collecting Intelligance:
After the player has completed all chosen actions, he may attempt to collect intelligence before ending his turn. In order to collect intel, the player will need to spend 1 Intel token by removing them from the Intel space on their side of the board, and placing it facedown onto the adjacent Intel discard space. At the end of the year, any spent Intel tokens are returned to the active space, and players will also have a chance to purchase additional Intel tokens during their production at the end of the year. The player can choose to collect Intel during the Action step of his turn, however he’ll need to spend 2 Intel tokens to do so, instead of 1. After spent, player then has a variety of Intel actions he can choose to resolve. He can choose to look at a Province stack surrounding the game board. He can look at one of his opponent’s Operation wheel stacks (as long as the “New Op” space of the wheel is not adjacent to it). He can also choose to take a look at the unchosen Axis Victory cards.
When a player chooses to conduct Intel on a particular stack of cards, he’ll take the cards, shuffle them, then choose half of the cards in the stack to look at. After looking at them, he’ll return the cards to the stack, shuffle them again, then place them back on the space they came from. In this way, he’ll know half of the information of the cards that are there, but not the full information. The opposing player also has a chance to block the player from conducting Intel. When a player spends an Intel token, the opponent can choose to spend that same number of Intel +1 to block it. The current player can then spend +1 than the new total to conduct Intel, and so on. This continues until one of the players either gives in or runs out of Intel tokens. In either case, both players will spend their bidded Intel whether they won or lost.
For instance, the quagmire in Spain has continued for a few turns. The Axis player takes an Intel action on his turn to try and take a look at what cards the Allied player has in the current quagmire in Spain. Because he is doing this during the Action step of his turn, he’ll need to spend 2 Intel tokens. The Allied player wants to block him from doing so, as gaining this information may help the Axis player know what cards to play on this quagmire, before the battle is resolved on the Allied player’s next turn. Therefore he announces that he’ll spend 3 Intel tokens to block it.
The Axis player then states that he’ll spend 4 Intel tokens. The Allied player then forfeits, and both players spend the Intel tokens they bid (Axis – 4, Allied – 3). The Axis player then takes the stack of 6 cards from the Spain province space, shuffles them, and takes a look at 3 of them. He then shuffles all 6 cards together, placing them back facedown on the Spain province space. He then plays two cards from his hand onto this province.
IV. Draw Cards:
Once the player has advanced his Operation wheel, taken actions, and collected Intel (optional), he’ll end his turn by drawing cards from the draw pile of his player mat, up to his hand size of 3. Once a player’s draw pile is empty, the Year marker is flipped to its “winter” side.
If you’ll remember, during Winter, the defender of a battle gains +1 strength, unless the battle is taking place on a province with a “snowflake” icon, in which case the defender gains +2 strength. Once the opposing player has also run out of cards from his draw pile, the year ends.
End of a Year:
At the end of each year, the Axis player will first score a number of victory points based on the provinces they control (even those that are currently in a quagmire). Each province contains a specific victory point amount, as listed by the “yellow” number on the province space.
For instance, while the Axis controls Spain, even though it is in a quagmire, it will score 2 victory points for him at the end of each year. Remember, that if the Axis player reaches 70 accumulated victory points, he immediately wins the game.
Next, each player takes all of the cards (if any) from the “Win” space of their player mat, shuffles them together, then deals 1 card to their discard pile, 1 card to their “Loss” space, 1 card to their discard pile, and so on until all cards from their “Win” space have been dealt.
The next step is resolving production. Production helps with furthering the war effort for each side. Players can use production to purchase back “Loss” cards into their deck, buy additional Intel tokens, and increase their industry rating. Additionally, the Axis player can purchase victory points during his production step. The player that doesn’t have the Advantage token resolves his production first, followed by the other player. When resolving production, the player will total up the number of resource points on their controlled provinces (provinces must by in supply to count). The number of resources a province produces for a player is seen to the right of the province’s victory point number. For instance, as seen above, Spain produces 1 resource for the Axis player while he controls it. After players have totaled their resources, they’ll take a look at their progress on the Industry track. The players total production points are considered the lesser amount when comparing the player’s resource points and industry points.
For instance, the Axis player’s controlled, in-supply provinces gain him a total of 12 resource points, and his current Industry rating is 10. Therefore, he has 10 production points to spend at the end of this year.
Each production point can be used to either remove 1 card from the “Loss” pile and add it to the discard pile on the player mat, increase the Industry marker 1 space on the Industry track, purchase 2 Intel tokens, or in the Axis player’s case, purchase 1 victory point. Note that the Axis player is limited to only being able to use half of his production points on purchasing victory points. So in the example we’re using, with the Axis player having 7 production points to use, he could only use 3 of them to purchase victory points. Also, there’s a specific rule that if the Berlin or Ruhr provinces are Alliled-controlled, the Axis player can purchase no victory points at the end of a year.
Next, starting with the player that does not have the Advantage token, each player can discard cards from province spaces (except for those currently in a quagmire), as well as disband operations on their Operations board. All discarded cards are placed in the player’s discard pile on his player mat. After all cards have been discarded, the players discard pile is shuffled to create the next year’s draw deck. Note that the player with the most cards in his draw pile after this step will be the player to take his turn first during the following year.
Finally, a new year begins. The Year marker is advanced to the next year on the board. If there are Reinforcement cards attached to the new year, these cards are placed in the “Loss” space of the player mat. For instance, when it becomes 1941, the 1941 Allied cards are placed in the Allied player’s Loss pile. The Balkans also comes into play. Remember that during the end-of-year production, the player can use production points to move cards from his Loss pile to his discard pile, thus these cards will be part of his draw pile during 1942 and on.
The sides will continue through the year 1944 unless either the Axis player has accumulated 70 victory points, or the Allied player has taken control of both the Berlin and Ruhr provinces. If neither of these conditions are met by the end of 1944, the Axis player will reveal his 2 Axis Victory cards. If the Axis player controls both provinces listed on these cards, he wins. Otherwise the Allied player has won.
I’ve tried to layout a streamlined summary of how The Fog of War works, but there is a lot going on in this game. There are many situational specific rules that I didn’t go over, that at first can be difficult to remember, but once you’ve played the game a few times, can come easier to recall without searching through the rulebook. The good thing about these special rules are that they are mostly thematically-driven, therefore the situations in which they occur can be easily understood. For instance, the first time that a French province falls to Axis control (Paris, Vichy, Morocco, or Levant), all four of them fall under Axis control. Or at the beginning of the game, all of the USSR provinces are neutral, however if one is attacked by the Axis player, all USSR provinces enter the war under Allied control. Alternatively, if this doesn’t occur by the end 1942, the USSR provinces still enter the war under Allied control at that point. There are many other condition-based rules such as these. I found them thematically engaging, but I can see where it could account for some frustration by first-time players.
The game itself feels like a hidden gem. I hadn’t heard much of anything about The Fog of War before picking it up, and while learning the game, found very few resources online. I’m not sure why this one has fallen under the radar for many in the community, but it’s a remarkably well designed tactical game, brimming with theme. I love all of the subtle thematic touches woven into the design of the game. Such as the longer an operation is planned out, the more effective it becomes. Allowing for additional defensive bonuses during the Winter season, when troops were in a lull and fighting for their own survival from frostbite and starvation as much as they were enacting an offensive. The defensive side gaining +4 strength on a land province if the offensive is initiated by sea. The fall of France. The emergence of USSR into the war. Conducting secret intelligence. The cutting off of supply lines. The way industry and collected resources from controlled provinces help to fuel the side’s war effort. It’s all the little things that tie into one, grand, cohesive product.
The Fog of War does have a lot of weight to it. Like many heavy two-player games (War of the Ring, Stronghold, Twilight Struggle), it’s best played by two people that have had some experience with the game. It’s almost given that a novice player is going to get trounced by an experienced player. But as long as you know that going in, and are willing to give in to the tactical learning curve, The Fog of War can become quiet an enjoyable experience, especially for those looking for a different type of war game. One that’s more card driven like Twilight Struggle, as opposed to the chit-heavy games that have become norm to the genre. I work on a lot of reviews throughout the year, with my goal being to teach the community how a game works. But with The Fog of War, I really hope to give this game a bit more attention. I feel like it’s a game that deserves it. One that’s quite underrated.
If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.