|Name||Fog of Love (2017)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|Complexity||Medium Light [2.31]|
|BGG Rank||722 [7.33]|
|Artist(s)||Cecilie Fossheim, Mike Højgaard and Lotte M. Klixbüll Jaskov|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
Repeated plays of Fog of Love have the effect of making you feel a touch like you’re Phil Connors reliving the same patterns of self-destruction again and again without let up or respite. Until that happens though you are playing possibly the single most original and innovative game that exists in the tabletop space at the time of writing. It’s a remarkable package that combines elegant design with top-notch production values and attention to detail. We gave it four stars in our review because I can’t overstate enough really how nicely this game comes together as a physical thing on your table.
It’s also a game with some accessibility issues that I’m really keen to talk about. Enough of the preamble and small talk, let’s get right down to the bit where we go to town on its sensitive bits.
Colour choice for the traits is not ideal, but each trait comes with an icon that clearly identifies it. Unfortunately, the icons are small and often tightly interwoven into the text of a card and so they’re not the easiest things to distinguish at a distance.
You certainly can’t mix them up when you view them up close but even poor lighting can be enough to make Discipline and Curiosity difficult to tell apart unless you pick up a card and examine it.
The good news there is that you won’t leak any gameplay information in doing so because you’ll almost certainly have to do it regardless of colour information. The way Mrs Meeple and I have been handling our play sessions is that the person playing the card reads out the text and the options. It’s a lot to remember though and so inevitably the other player will pick up the card and read it over while they consider their choices. As such, the miniature icons used aren’t really a problem since you’ll have an opportunity to see them up close regardless.
Colour has no significant impact on the game otherwise.
We’ll strongly recommend Fog of Love in this category.
There is a lot of text that needs to be processed in Fog of Love and it’s very dense and tightly interwoven with icons and specialist terminology. They often have subtle, special effects and decisions needs to be considered in relation to the wider game state of personality marker distribution. The font size is constant, and as a result constantly too small. Consider the ‘Let’s pretend to be each other’ card and the ‘Shared Friend’s Wedding’
The card on the left has a huge amount of free space whereas the card on the right is a veritable novella of relatively complex effects. ‘Any choices made on the next scene will count as if it was the other player who made them. So the CHOOSER becomes OTHER and the OTHER becomes CHOOSER for the purpose of determining effects – this includes PERSONALITY TOKENS. The OTHER will therefore get the PERSONALITY TOKENS from the choice made by the CHOOSER’
I mean… what? It’s hard enough to follow that chain of logic if you can read it clearly and repeatedly. If that’s read out to you by the other player it’s going to sound like someone hacked into Siri and gave her a mean-spirited tongue twister in a foreign but vaguely English sounding language.
Consider then the ‘She’s Pregnant’ card which has special eligibility rules (not played if there is no woman in the game) that can be missed if someone is scanning for key information only. It also comes with four options that need considered against the personality tokens on the board; the likely trait goals of the other player; and the trait goals of the current player. Note too that there are consequences for matching or mismatching responses from the selection. While you’re not supposed to communicate this there’s a degree of inference you can draw based on previous behaviours if you can cross-reference the choices against distributed tokens. That part isn’t impossible, certainly, but it’s burdensome and you can’t simply ask ‘So, what would that do for the shared balance of extroversion’ because that’s leaked gameplay information with a massive game impact. Everything hinges on your personality traits being secret, or at the very least, ambiguous.
You’re going to have a hidden hand of these scenes to deal with, and the ones you choose to play will very much be influenced by the specific effect you’re hoping to have on the personalities.
Some cards have lots of additional effects depending on specific intersections of choices and it’s important to know the potential consequences of your decision. Again, you can’t just ask ‘What happens if we both choose C’ because you’ve just potentially let the cat out of the bag as to your own choice. This isn’t a game where you can ‘feint’ at gameplay information to reduce its effect – there’s no strategic benefit to doing that since the game doesn’t approach the idea of winning and losing in the traditional sense. You play this for the experience or not at all – as such, problems here don’t just impact on game score they impact on game meaning.
The tokens on the traits offer a tactility that is welcome, but that tactility doesn’t extent to the game being more accessible since all that changes is the colour of the disc (and the size for a 5x multiplier). As such, you can’t simply feel for personality distribution you still need to inquire of a player. You can ask for a summary, but asking for specific information will again leak game information.
It’s technically possible when playing with a sighted player that they could claim to have played a choice they didn’t for gameplay advantage. The only way a choice is indicated is through the poker chips you get given. They’re clear and well contrasted, but the letter choices are those with the most opportunity for visual overlap – B and D, D and C and A and B. That’s only going to be an issue if you’re playing with a cheat, but it’s still a potential problem that should be taken into account.
None of these are insurmountable problems except for those for whom total blindness must be considered, and in that case I suspect you could likely have a very workable (and indeed, perhaps very interesting) game of Fog of Love by simply playing random cards and making decisions on the basis of those. Consider that a highly experimental suggestion and it would require some significant house-ruling to deal with secrets, reactions and situational cards. It would also involve sacrificing the strategic elements of the game but I think you’d still get a lot out of the experience if you could make it work and I’d love to hear any testimonials from anyone that’s tried it. In that circumstance the game becomes fully playable through narration although it’s still going to be reasonably cumbersome to outline the various consequences of decisions. For players that can close inspect their hand for scenes that wouldn’t be necessary but it’s likely to be very time consuming to fully iterate over the possibilities you have available.
We’ll very tentatively recommend Fog of Love in this category since if you can get around the text issue (perhaps with a narrator or even a ‘third wheel’ at the table) most of the gameplay is conversational.
The reading level required for Fog of Love is high – there’s lots of text and some of it is relatively complex in terms of tone and intention and sometimes even implication. Some sophisticated and ‘adult’ concepts are discussed and dealt with. The appropriate responses are tied up in a roleplaying context as well as a strategic framework of personality manipulation. Arithmetic is occasionally required, but numeracy is not strongly expressed except in the fulfillment of destiny. In that case it’s mostly in terms of comparisons and differences. ‘You can’t have more than X happiness than your partner’ or ‘You must have at least forty happiness’ and so on.
The game state is not complex in its strictest sense, but the features, jobs, trait goals and personality tokens have a degree of malleability to them. Certain cards let you swap out your jobs or traits, or remove a subset of personality tokens from the board. If you or your partner are tugging against each other on a trait you might want to swap out one of your goals, or perhaps swap out one of theirs. As such, it’s not simply a case of having a score in six different axes but having a kind of ‘invested momentum’ that can be redirected given the right tools in hand. It’s important to note too that can happen to you just as easily and you need to be able to be responsive.
That’s if you want to retain the strategic layer of the game. If not, you can look at it as mostly a kind of ‘Relationship Fighting Fantasy’ gamebook – you get a series of choices and you make the choice you like based on the character you have. That’s likely to still be an enjoyable experience but it’s going to need quite a lot of structuring and deck curation. The sex and sensuality in the game isn’t gratuitous or even particularly common, but it exists. Some scenes though are riven with emotional complexities that can be difficult to navigate without the requisite life experience. The game has an age rating of 17+, and it’s not because of the difficulty of the systems but rather because of the applicability of the scenarios. They need experience to contextualise, and they’re all presented from the perspective of relatively able-bodied people. Some features do reference disability, but they’re flavourings of characters rather than a fundamental alteration of experience of perception. The game requires a fair amount of general knowledge as well as situational knowledge from a primarily abled perspective.
The game flow can be difficult to pin down too – chapters have different lengths, you draw from different sets of the deck in each chapter, and while the order of play is rigidly enforced there is a flexibility in terms of what a turn will involve. Some cards are ‘minor scenes’ that don’t count towards chapter length, or are reactions to previous choices, or situations that intensify the choices of the scenes that follow. Manipulating these to best effect is important in achieving optimal outcomes. There’s no synergy in the rules as such but some cards chain together very well provided the choices are going to go the way you predict them.
Some cards too are secrets which will be resolved either as a result of inquiry from a partner at a time of their choosing, or at the end of the game if they are not uncovered. As such these can carry an emotional payload within the game that causes more problems than it solves – they represent explicitly and intentionally hidden information that adds uncertainly to all proceedings while they are in effect.
That said, it’s not that the game is inherently complicated. There are definitely some tricky cards (such as the ‘pretend to be each other’ card shown above in the section on visual accessibility) but they could be removed from the deck to create a curated version that is as cognitively accessible as possible. The rules are relatively straightforward and certainly for minor fluid intelligence impairments Fog of Love is unlikely to be a problematic game. For moderate to severe impairments though we’d be far more reticent in offering a recommendation. As such this will even out to a tentative recommendation overall, bearing in mind the discussion above.
In terms of memory burden everything in the game is presented right in front of you at all times save for those parts of the game that are explicitly not to be known. As such, it doesn’t present any inherent memory burdens for player except in retaining the narrative of the game and any particular features that have emerged through discussion. You could go for simple stereotype characters though and not lose anything, or simply not make an attempt to build continuity into the game. We’ll recommend it in the memory category.
Oh, this is the section I’ve wanted to write since I first heard about Fog of Love. It’s fascinating in here not because of the game design but because of the topics the game explores.
First of all, everyone involved has to completely buy in to the idea that this is a roleplaying game and the decisions you make in the game are the ones your fictional characters would make. You need to accept that if one player says ‘Hey, I had an affair with your best friend’ they’re neither admitting real life fault or indicating something they’d actually like to happen. That’s the easy bit in Fog of Love, because it’s emphasised everywhere and you have specific trait goals that often drive you to destructive conflict with the other player. You can point to the game systems and say ‘I did this because of that’ and everything is probably going to be fine. Fine that is if everyone can buy into the idea this as a roleplaying game where you’re not roleplaying an aspirational version of yourself.
But that’s only the surface emotional inaccessibility. The rest comes in the conversation around the things you do in the game and that’s going to vary depending on who is playing. Let’s say that this is a game that an actual couple is playing. Are you prepared to have the marriage discussion? The children discussion? The sex tape or ‘how many people have you had sex with’ discussion? Well, you’d better hope that the other person hasn’t been waiting for an opportunity to bring it up because hey – you’re playing ‘Awkward Conversations, the board game’!
‘Oh, so your character doesn’t want to have kids? That’s really interesting. What about you, now that the subject has come up? What about us?’
Congratulations, you win the prize of a game being the thing to prompt the Serious Discussion about the commitment issues that have long been a serious but unacknowledged thorn in the side of the relationship.
Maybe you’ve got an incident of infidelity in your relationship. Maybe you’re both fine with it now. Maybe you’ve made your peace with it. Maybe though treating the topic of infidelity cavalierly within a game will reopen an old wound that only stays closed as a result of careful, diligent tending of the injury.
Sure, you can remove those cards from the deck but in the process you’re basically acknowledging the power that the scenario has. You’re taking an elephant from the deck and bringing it right into the room.
Shut Up and Sit Down, when asked during a live podcast whether Matt or Quinns would play the game with their wives they both said ‘No!’ in a way that underlined a definite discussion had taken place on the topic. For Mrs Meeple and I it was fine – there are no conversational traps into which we blundered but we’ve been together for eleven hundred years. A new, fragile relationship may not have quite that resilience.
If you’re not romantically engaged with the other player, the emotional territory is less potentially fraught. There are still cards in there that might create uncomfortable situations depending on how well you know the other player and the nature of your relationship. This is roleplaying that is more like couple’s therapy than it is Dungeon and Dragons and it requires a degree of emotional commitment to the cause.
Some of the more traditional things we tend to encounter in this category also raise their heads. It’s a challenging game and often neither of you will achieve your destiny, or even get particularly close. You’re playing in an environment where it’s difficult to change fundamental elements of your personality (just as in real life) but simultaneously your partner can basically rewrite your character’s DNA with the play of a card. Score disparities can be considerable and indeed for some destinies you might find the other player actively sabotaging your happiness. You’ll occasionally need to lie and bluff around secrets, and even the presence of a secret in your opposite number’s possession can create a distorting need for revelation that can skew player choices.
We’re going to offer a very tentative recommendation here – none of this is inevitable and in some cases the ‘uncomfortable conversation’ element might actually be a positive feature. Just be wary – this is a game full of adult situations and it will prompt adult conversations. You should take that into account before picking it up. The emotional inaccessibilities here can impact on potentially everyone.
Players need to hold a hidden hand of five large cards, but there’s not a huge amount of card manipulation required. You’ll play one, or sometimes more, cards out to the board. You’ll draw up to your hand limit. You’ll occasionally have to manipulate tokens on your player card; indicate a token for making a choice; or swap traits in and out from the tray provided for them. You’ll be moving personality tokens onto the board a fair bit – by default they come in a nice box that is great for storage but makes fishing them out occasionally tricky. You lose nothing but laying them out more accessibility in front of you.
If you have access to a larger card holder for the main scene cards, Fog of Love is a game that can be played entirely through verbalisation. That is, if you can come up with a suitable way to covertly indicate choices between four possibilities. That’s certainly possible, although the exact nature it would take would depend on the specific manifestation of physical impairment. It’s not as simple as arranging your choices in front of you and saying ‘The first one’. If they’re in alphabetical order for ease of referencing then you’ll have indicated to a player what your choice is. If they’re in random order, you’d need to be able to investigate them before saying. Shuffling and then having someone secretly reveal the underside before you say ‘that one’ would work if that’s appropriate.
As discussed in the section on visual accessibility though there is a lot of text and it’s not necessarily very tractable through narration alone. Close examination of the impact of options is important to being able to make clear, effective choices throughout play. It’s not an insurmountable problem provided at least one player can handle this on the other’s behalf. The biggest issue there is that Fog of Love is a two-player game only and that might be restrictive when it comes to accessibility support at the table.
We’ll recommend Fog of Love in this category provided at least one player is able to physically interact with the board on behalf of another.
There’s an awful lot to like here in terms of representation. The game is explicitly accommodating of LGBT relationships, with the only alterations to the game as a result being related to biology. For example, if there is no woman in the couple neither can get pregnant. There are as best I can tell only a very small handful of cards where it matters. For more fluid gender characterisations you could house-rule whatever you wanted. That’s not optimal of course, but it’s also not an area where I am qualified to pontificate so it’s probably best if I just acknowledge the issue and shut my dumb mouth before I say something stupid. I am aware the wording on the Kickstarter transgender card is a problem, but it’s clear the intention here is to be as accommodating as is possible. The box, when you open it, shows a LGBT couple but the more distinctive outer casing doesn’t. I can imagine that this might be considered unappealingly heteronormative but the game attaches very little game impact to it. It would have been nice to have seen some specifically same-sex scenes in the deck to make up for the ones that are otherwise removed – that would have emphasised the perception that this view of relationships was as core to play as the traditional man/woman dynamic. Here, because you remove cards but don’t replace them the implied message is that these relationships are inherently subtractive. I don’t believe for a moment that message is intentional, but it would be mutated into something more positive by swapping in a set of LGBT cards. That would say ‘these relationships are different’ and that would be both true and offer some genuinely interesting opportunities for nuanced gameplay.
The cards are blue and pink, but they’re also double sided so there’s no assumption of colour coded gender roles within the game although there is on the box. Mrs Meeple prefers the blue card so I usually play the pink. I’m aware though that the simple presence of pink does tend to imply the whole ‘who’s the man and who’s the woman’ mindset and so it’s a shame it didn’t go with a less potentially troublesome colour choice. But it’s important here to also look at what we’re talking about – the best way to represent the nuances of non-heterosexual relationships within a board-game. The simple fact that this is what I’m bringing up here shows just how far ahead of the pack Fog of Love manages to be. Sure, it’s not perfect but it’s an awful lot closer than most manage.
I’m going to add in here something that came up after talking with a friend. The first part of this section originally began as a discussion about the various acronyms that are used in the LGBT rights community. I appreciate that the fact I have chosen to go for LGBT in this section is a statement all of its own, but it’s one where the choice is driven by the need for a conversation that is accessible to people outside that community. There is a lot of passionate micro-branding that occurs in discussion within this space, but the importance that one community ascribes to these acronyms does not translate into other communities. I’m aware there is a meaningful distinction between LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQ, LGBTQ, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA, LGBT+, LGBTQ+ and the utterly ridiculous LGBTQQIAAP. That latter term is so bad that it looks like it came out of an 80s satirical sitcom about progressive politics under Thatcherism. Ironically given the topic it is a masterclass in exclusionary language. I realised even when writing it though that the points I made justifying the selection of the more generally understood LGBT acronym would almost certainly end up obscuring the key points of the section and so I removed it. And then I put it back in here. I realise there’s a meaningful distinction, but in the war for that meaning the communicability of the concepts outside the battleground is being heavily eroded.
But the friend with which I was discussing with this section made an important point about a thing I hadn’t even considered – this is a game that inherently expects players to engage in a romantic relationship, and one that incorporates sexuality as a factor. Discussing this purely through the LGBT lens meant that I hadn’t spent any time thinking about asexuality and aromanticism in the context of a game explicitly about sex and romance. That’s despite following some people on twitter who talk about the issue a lot. That’s because truthfully I don’t know enough about it to even know to think about it. Interestingly you’ll see that even adopting one of the majority of the acronyms above wouldn’t have helped there – in the attempt to be all-encompassing often all that happens is that you end up excluding those that weren’t explicitly included. To quote my friend directly:
“Most people don’t even REALLY know what it realllly means, we’re mostly still fighting for people to even realise its a thing that exists and to not be invisible/horribly invalidated and misunderstood all the time”
My lack of knowledge will undoubtedly become obvious as I attempt in my own ham-fisted way to incorporate accessibility guidance in an area in which I am dangerously unqualified. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and add your own experiences.
While Fog of Love definitely works on the assumption you are in a romantic and sexually active relationship, it’s possible to work it as a game where you are a primarily platonic couple. You’ll always be presented with choices and scenarios that subvert that but in the end it’s you that chooses which cards to play and what responses to take. Some traits and features explicitly reference sexuality but you could house-rule a variant where you could discard and redraw inappropriate card. There are plenty of them in the generous stacks that would suit. Still, the assumption is constantly through the game and you need to decide in advance what it means to be presented with a choice.
Consider the ‘Your clothes make me look great’ card. Your partner wears your clothes, and you respond in one of three ways. ‘That’s great, but stop using my clothes’, ‘You look like a hotter version of me’, and ‘you look terrible’ in essence. Are these choices your internal monologue or are they simply paths through a branching narrative? This is a bit philosophical, but forgive me – if you read some of our academic papers you’d realise you’re getting off pretty easily. The stance you take on this will in many ways determine the appropriateness of the game.
‘What’s the most romantic quote’, asks another card. ‘Love song in public’, says another and asks the player to perform. ‘I am so madly in love with you’, proclaims another and asks the partner to respond appropriately. You can certainly play without those cards, and their meaning in context will vary from player to player in any case, but you begin to thin out a deck that already tends to lose its novelty as time goes on. If the topic of romance and sex is not one with which either player wishes to engage this is going to be a game that is challenging to process given the nature of the experience.
There are some curious choices in some of the feature cards, but since they come with no explanation it’s hard to know what to read into them. For example, the ‘wheelchair’ feature results in a personality trait token towards being thick-skinned, calm, or unsentimental. I’m not 100% sure what this is supposed to be saying but it did cause me to quirk an eyebrow because without context it seems to be a piece of random minor ableism thrown into the game. Simply avoiding the trap of linking personality to disability would have been a safer and more accessible approach although at the same time I appreciate that the game has some disability representation of a sorts built in. It’s a complex issue, and not everyone is going to agree with me here.
Cost wise – well. It has an RRP of approximately £50 although I’ve seen it on sale for considerably less. You can’t fault it at all for production values and as such I don’t have a problem with its price. However, it’s still a difficult recommendation given the fact that you do tend to feel the game’s novelty wear away rapidly as you play. It supports only two players, and really needs two players of a very specific personality makeup that won’t find the setting unappealing or the conversational territory too rocky.
We’ll recommend Fog of Love in this category, with special acknowledgement of how hard the designer worked, and continued to work, to ensure inclusivity in its systems even if its theme is going to as a result be problematic for some people.
A very significant part of the game is a kind of conversational roleplaying where you talk through your choices and what they mean and why you made them (without reference to hidden game state information). You could play the game in stone cold silence but it would unsurprisingly be a chilly experience. The assumption we tend to work with in these sections is that day to day communication is a solved problem for a gaming group – that there is some mechanism by which conversations can be had. We focus only on the additional complexities a game might introduce and here while the conversations can be quite intense they don’t stray outside what might be expected of day to day life experiences. You’re not venturing off to the far-off city of Quaxalode because King Filliwinks wants you to deal with the Snufflings at Bigglesnoot Canyon. The vocabulary of the game is all firmly situated within the mundane.
Literacy requirements though are very high because each scene is text heavy and often laden with innuendo and implication. Some of the more complex cards have equivalently complex language that defines how they work and even explaining how they function may be confusing. It’s not that they’re badly worded or such, just that the game occasionally has a card with sophisticated impact and there’s nothing much you can do to mitigate it other than remove it from the deck.
We’ll tentatively recommend Fog of Love in this category, although if there are language barriers we’d be more inclined to recommend you look elsewhere for your recreation.
Communication impairments intersecting with physical impairments would negate our recommendations in both categories given how intensely communicative much of the game tends to be. As is often the case, the tentative recommendations throughout would mean any intersection of those categories would likely render the game largely unplayable.
A substantive issue here with Fog of Love is that it’s a two-player game and that has a statistical impact on whether or not support at the table is going to be feasible. In larger player count games it’s more likely that accessibility compensations can be made by an unaffected player. With two players you need at least one capable of providing support for the other and that may not be feasible in some circumstances. When that’s not possible you’ll need to rely on a kind of referee at the table, although Fog of Love is a game that’s interesting enough to watch that it need not be an onerous task on anyone.
Fog of Love lasts between one and two hours depending on the scenario and how invested you are in engaging with the roleplaying. It can be long enough to exacerbate issues of discomfort but the game has a mostly sedate pace that ensures you can take your time with it or chivvy it along as is appropriate. There’s nothing intrinsically about it that needs a longer investment of time than anyone is prepared to give. That’s good, because if one player drops out the game is over – there’s no mechanism by which it can continue.
Fog of Love does a lot right, but it still presents accessibility challenges in a range of categories. Some of those challenges are all but unique, particularly the emotional spin it puts on engagement with the game. It takes you out into some tricky adult territory and then leaves you to hack your way out of what might become quite awkward conversational weeds.
Still though, one of the hallmarks that a game has made good decisions is how pernickety the discussion becomes in some of these sections. Particularly in the socioeconomic section this isn’t a case of ‘Why can only men and women be in a relationship’ but rather ‘I’m not sure it fully takes into account cultural colour connotations of masculinity and femininity in LGBT culture’. I’m not really qualified to talk too much about that because I just don’t know enough to say. I have a vague suspicion, as I indicated in that section, that saying ‘LGBT culture’ might by itself mark me out as a culturally insensitive fossil. Maybe I’m supposed to say queer culture, but that was hate-speech when I was younger and I don’t know if it’s something I’m allowed to say these days as a cisgender heterosexual man. Help. Abort the teardown. I need to get out.
Fog of Love is a great game that might, in the fullness of time with more content packs, become one of the all-time best games ever. It’s genuinely original, innovative and with a lavish attention to detail in the player experience. It might be a complex beast in terms of its accessibility profile but if you think you can play I don’t think you’d regret giving it a try. We gave it four stars in our review, and only the diminishing returns of questionable replayability robbed it of more.
A word about teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.