STRONGHOLD GAMES "The FOG of WAR" is number 4 in their list of Great Designers Series and so before entering my opinion of the game here is the list of the top games in this highly impressive series.
What if there were parallel Earths, where each Earth is different, and on each unique Earth, the priorities on Earth are unique from one another?
In a distant future, scientists are able to build small alternate Earths. Exactly 504 such Earths have thus far been built. The scientists programmed each of these Worlds with an individual set of laws and rules which the residents strictly follow and consider most important for their lives. These may be exploration, consumption, economics, military, etc., and each is unique. You can visit all of these 504alternate Earths to experience how the people are living, and decide which of these worlds harbors the best civilization. On which World do you want to live? Explore them all and decide!
504 is a game that creates 504 different games out of one box. The game consists of nine modules:
- Module 1: Pick-Up & Deliver
- Module 2: Race
- Module 3: Privileges
- Module 4: Military
- Module 5: Exploration
- Module 6: Roads
- Module 7: Majorities
- Module 8: Production
- Module 9: Shares
In each single game, you pick three different modules from the nine available and assemble them in any order you like to create a new game. For example, you can play:
- a racing game that expands through exploration with technology improving the racing or exploration (World “253″).
- an 18XX-style stock game with network building for income and production sites to provide workers for the road building (World “968″).
- a war game with a pick-up and deliver economy and bonus scoring from majorities (“World 417″).
Each single game takes from 30 to 120 minutes to play.
504 is in the new Stronghold Games” The Great Designers Series – #2, which will be an ongoing series of games featuring the greatest game designers from around the world. 504 is designed by the great game designer Friedemann Friese. $99.95
You are rival cattlemen in 19th century America, herding cattle in a circular trail from Texas to Kansas City. Your cattle are then shipped by train, earning you money and victory points. Needless to say, each time you arrive in Kansas City, you want to have your most valuable cattle in tow. However, the mastering the Great Western Trail not only requires that you keep your herd in good shape, but also that you wisely use the various buildings along the trail. It might also be a good idea to hire capable staff: cowboys to improve your herd, craftsmen to build your very own buildings, or engineers for the important railroad line.
The winner is the player who manages their herd best and exhibits good timing in mastering the opportunities and pitfalls of the Great Western Trail.
Great Western Trail is designed by the renowned game designer, Alexander Pfister, and has been designated in the Stronghold Games The Great Designer Series – #7. Mr. Pfister has won several game awards for his recent designs of Mombassa and Isle of Skye.
The FOG of WAR takes a unique viewpoint of the board and tabletop wargame genre. Here is a wargame where there are no units or models on the board, no troop movement or die rolling, no chart referencing combat tables, only the strength of strategies and planning on intelligence gained through the clever use of the intel tokens and the bluff factors.
The game begins in 1940 and the action cards for both sides depict the strengths of the armies during this period. As the game progresses the Axis continues to rely on the same deck of cards it began with whereas the Allies can bring in cards for 1941, 1942 and 1943 as well as being able to call on the USA and the USSR. The action cards have combat strengths from 0 to 3 as well as determining whether these are specifically for Naval or Ground support; plus there are the Air Support cards which show an aircraft and strengths for both Ground and Naval strength. Combat is quick and without commentary, it is simply a display of strength which includes the value of the cards plus the possible modification from the Operations Wheel, Winter and/or the Advantage Token. When one player attacks a Province that is either Neutral - the game begins with several Provinces designated as Neutral zones and each has a random defence card placed face down on it - or owned by the other player then the battle cards from each side are revealed. There are four possible results that come from the values of the combat cards of the Axis and the Allies: If the Defender's value is greater than that of the Attacker, but not enough to be double or greater than, then the Attacker is defeated, both sides discard cards according to the rules of battle and the action is repeated. If the Defence is double or greater than that of the Attacker there is a Rout and the attacker loses all of their combat cards as well as the battle. The Attacker is victorious if they have a greater but less than double value than the Defence and the combat continues as designated for the defeat but with the results reversed. Finally if there is a tied combat it results in a Quagmire and a whole new procedure begins to determine the outcome. There is no need to go all through the mechanics of a Quagmire as they are ably described in full detail with examples in the rule book.
Each player has their own Operations Wheel which is a hexagonal spinner set in the middle of the player's personal Operation's board. This board has card spaces, one space for each edge of the hexagon, that are marked Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo and Foxtrot. The sides of the hexagon will affect what the player can do on their turn four out of six turns. Two of the hex sides are blank with no specialities, two affect combat by adding +1 to the Defence or +1 to the Attack, one side has a No Launch sign and the final and thus sixth hex side is the New Operation side.
The central hexagon is turned one notch at the beginning of the player's turn. When the New Op side is facing a blank card space the player may, if they wish, put forward the plans for an offensive launch against one of the Provinces owned by the opponent or Neutral. The cards chosen for this operation have to include the Province card of the target plus any number of combat cards valued from 0 through to 3. If this attack hasn't been launched by the time the New Op side has returned to it then the attack is discarded without being launched; the No Launch side also prevents the attack from occurring. Other sides, the two blanks or the A1 or D1 can affect the combat result.
Combat cards ae Forts (Fortifications) that show a Defence against a Ground attack. Fleets that show a Naval attack value, Army that show a Ground attack value and Air that have values for both Ground and Naval attacks, giving air support rather than being available for air combat (which actually has no part in this game). There are also Neutral cards which have a defence value against wherever the attack comes from. Any time a player decides to launch a planned attack they must be able to connect a supply line from one of their main depot Provinces (marked accordingly on the map) to the Province from whence the attack is being launched. This Province has to be adjacent to the target Province. Cards can be added to those already on the Operations Wheel at any time during your turn.
Players also have another small personal board which has four sections for holding the player's cards: Draw is the personal stack of cards from which the players make their hands up. Discard is obvious. Op Win is where some of the cards discarded after combat are placed and Op Loss Quag is the stack from which cards may be obtained during the Production phase; the game being played in steps. One of the things that players may do is spend their Intel counters to look at the combat cards prior to launching an attack or when deciding to launch or bluff an attack. Playing zero value combat cards is always bluffing but they do thicken the stack to make the opposition think twice prior to attacking. Targets of Intel are Province Defence, Operations, Quagmire, Neutrals and Unchosen Victory Cards. Victory cards are chosen at the beginning of the game and are the 6 Provinces bnordering Germany. These are the Provinces which must be controlled by the end of 1944 if neither side has already won the war; how this occurs is carefully explained in the introduction on page 2 of the rules book.
The Minor Neutral Provinces can be both attacked and defended by the players. Both players may add cards face down to those already on the Neutral spaces. If one of the players later decides to attack this Province then the cards of the players on the target space come into play, well actually only those of the player not attacking come into play. This is the only section of the game that we, my fellow players and I, disagree with. If the Attacker has cards on the target space they are removed and take no part in the battle; however any cards placed there by the other player are added to the combat value of the defending Neutral. Logically, in our opinion, any units positioned on the attacked Neutral space should be counted as an advance force and thus be allowed to take part in the invasion, but that's only our thoughts on these particular battles. The rules state otherwise and the game plays okay either way - yes after playing the game as written we have introduced our own house-rule on this point only. I am not denegrating the game or the rules in any way, it is just one particular rule that we feel doesn't do the game justice.
The rules are very well written and explain everything in the necessary detail with descriptive and illustrated examples, including an example of play set out on headed Turn order. Following these are six additional rules that have been included for players wanting to add realism at the cost of complexity. Using these rules, again in our opinion, does add some realism but actually improves the game rather than taking anything from it. Each of these rules makes more sense of the game.
Each Province has a Victory Point value and possibly Resource Points. It is these Resource points that are spent at the end of each Year - the game is played in Years determined by card exhaustion - during the Production phase to buy cards to bring into their Draw deck. Cards are chosen by looking through the deck and selecting the cards you wish to add into your deck.
The FOG of WAR makes a good change from the regular war games of this genre. There is far more to it than I have described above where I have purposefully only kept to the basics. The board is well apponted and the Provinces clearly defined. There is a need for the German player to border up the Ruhr and Berlin before going on an attacking spree because they are quite vulnerable early on and losing one or both of these will mean the downfall of the Axis. As Axis player I have found that ruling the oceans has been a good tactic for me, but it isn't a guaranteed win, indeed there aren't any such strategies that we have found which make a quick win or in fact any win a guarantee. The Operation Wheel and boards work exceptionally well and the arrival of Winter and the necessity of supply cleverly make for thoughtful approaches to which Provinces one should be aiming for and when. Overall this is an intriguing two-player game that offers hours of coordinated game play. You cannot attack willy-nilly in a (Waddington's) Risk style game and you aren't forever counting the values and abilities of stacks of small, barely manageable counters. The FOG of WAR makes a decent alternative to wargames in the GMT and Avalon Hill genre. It doesn't replace those type of games but it does offer a new approach that is definitely worth considering.