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Subject: The elusive concept of Fog of War rss

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Have Dice Will Travel
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I know this is like beating a dead horse but I think most can agree Fog of War (FoW) is one of the lacking things in wargames as a practical mechanic or feature to demonstrate the chaotic nature of warfare by means of intelligence gathering, situation awareness and the likelihood that if something can go wrong will go wrong. Also known as Murphy’s Law or my version of “Fate is in the business of do we fuck you and how?”

There have been many concepts tried in the form of double blind maps, pool of mixed blank and actual unit markers, random event cards, dummy markers. I know that’s not all of them but those are the most common ideas I’ve seen floating about.

I have noticed among related discussions FoW is taken as a matter of perspective as one person’s idea of FoW is different from another. FoW from what I understand in practice is a mixture of uncertainty of the enemy’s location, security of your and the enemy's supply lines, if your forces vulnerable being flanked or walking into an ambush, reliable intelligence gathering and the likeliness your plan can turn into a SNAFU. Some mechanics I’ve seen it is all about reconnaissance which is all well and good but I think it ultimately boils down to how much detail you want.

So the question is can there be ever a practical FoW mechanic and if there is would it just bog the game down as something overly gimmicky?

The best examples I can think of that I have played and actually appreciated is THW’s Star 5150 series games in the form of the reactions where you have less control of your models which adds that bit of that chaotic nature. Ultimately if anyone wants a good practical FoW mechanic has to lose the omnipotent commander syndrome in place of having less direct control over your own forces unless you’re command an entire army of robots that follows every command by the line and morale is pretty much something to be ignored.

So does it really boil down to how much detail you want in a wargame to make a good Fog of War mechanic possible?

Your thoughts. I may have the solution.
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Andrew Walters
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Two thoughts. Well, three, if you count that I don't think you have "the" solution, since there is certainly more than one solution.

Thought one: having read a lot and talked to some officers (and sergeants, come to think about it), the problem is not just "where is the enemy and what are they doing?" A lot of the time you don't know where your forces are, what their condition is, whether they received your most recent orders. When I've been coordinating events I've always been surprised by intelligent people who looked me in the eye and nodded when I gave them clear instructions, and then went on to do something entirely different. That's the adults, when it's teenagers... don't get me started.

Maps get mis-marked. People encounter conditions different than they were lead to expect so they assume their instructions are no longer valid and just sit and wait. Or they assume that even though they didn't expect something that you did, so they proceed without saying anything.

I read about one company in Desert Storm that arrived at the location they'd been ordered to outside Baghdad and radioed that they were on site and asked for further instructions. They got nothing for twenty four hours. They said it was like everyone forgot they existed. They just sat there through the heaviest day of the battle with nothing to do.

Thought two: wargames are very stylized simulations. A lot of details that would be objects of great focus for staff officers are glossed over, assumed to be part of the movement rules or the CRT rolls. Wargames are not science, they are almost literary representations of the events. As in art they focus on certain interesting elements and ignore others. Some games make leadership central to what you're thinking about, others leave it out. Some games make differences between troop types central to the experience, others treat all infantry the same, all cavalry the same, etc. Some games let you choose where the artillery strikes, others just assume that it's where it needs to be. Some games have ZOCs, which assume that forces move to intercept and otherwise react to each other. In other games this isn't abstracted out, you actually have to decide to intercept and make a roll based on terrain and leadership and whatever.

In the same way fog of war is an element that the game designer can leave out, include in a stylized way, or make it central to the player's awareness and decision making. It's all about the evocative experience the creator is aiming for. A game isn't necessarily better for including fog of war or worse for excluding it. There's only the matter of whether it's done well if it's included, and whether the game works as a whole.

There are some battles where it's pretty hard to include fog of war. At Midway, for example, it was very important that the Japanese didn't know they were going to be ambushed, and didn't know how many carriers the Americans had operational. Pretty hard to have a game about Midway where the Japanese player won't know what's coming.

There are also battles where it would probably be a mistake omit any form of fog of war. Sometimes that's such a big deal that to exclude it would be as bad an oversight as to exclude some of the forces or a city that should be on the map.

But all in all fog of war is just one of the elements of the situation, and the creator can make it weigh heavily or lightly on the player, depending on the effect he's aiming for. Game mechanics are how the designer makes the player aware of different historical realities.

All that said there have been some dumb fog of war mechanisms. I like Victory from Columbia, except that you didn't know what type of unit an enemy block represented, even if you were adjacent. So I could move a division of infantry adjacent to your city, but then be hesitant to attack since the city gives you such a defensive advantage. Then it turns out that your block in the city is a submarine or bomber, or something else that can't defend the city. Dumb. If I'm right next to the city shouldn't I know if it's defended? There's no way to know without launching an attack that is going to be very expensive if that's infantry. It really felt dumb when you played it.
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Have Dice Will Travel
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I confess that I meant to use the operative letter a as in “a solution” instead of “the solution”, my mistake. I do not have the solution but a solution to a particular fog of war if that is any indication.

What you say was not only informative it also shed some light on the subtle details I think some designers overlook and for good reason. The best game I can think of that exemplifies the problem with coordinating your own forces is Cold War Commander where you have to do command rolls to issue orders to your units. That I believe is an element of command and control fog of war, correct me if I am wrong. I dunno if you played the game before there are situations if you roll box cars on 2D6 you blunder yet if you roll snake eyes you get a command bonus and that sort of thing. It seems a bit counterintuitive since the average person expects to roll high to get better results than the other way around. Cold War Commander can be finicky that way since you go from rolling low to be better with 2D6 versus rolling high on a fistful of 1D6.

Secondly you made a good point and reinforced my approach that in the design of the game it depends on the designer how much he or she wants to focus on the aspect of fog of war versus it being a bit of gimmick to add randomness to it akin to how some designs have critical bonuses (or penalties) to add a little flavor.

I think what I was going for is reaching a middle ground. For example (I might as well reveal it now since it’s been done before) there is a hex and counte game where as you use tokens to represent enemy units that were spotted by either revealing themselves or sending a recon unit or by other means of locating your opponent’s pieces in the form of decoy tokens. You roll a die as a chance to reveal the enemy unit and depending how well you roll it is a viable target for an x number of turns. Generally before you can even shoot at your opponent’s units you have to indicate if they’ve been spotted or that’s where you units think they are. If you roll poorly your opponent places more decoy tokens to really screw with your strategy. That way it does take away that omnipotent commander syndrome. What I have is very similar in theory.

That’s simple situational awareness fog of war that did not include communication, logistics and all that good stuff. It seems there is no middle ground of either aspect. You see where I’m going with this or did I just dig myself a pretty deep hole?
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Andrew Walters
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If you add decoy markers that creates confusion about where the enemy unit is, but do you still know the type? Should you?

The other thing to be aware of in your design is that adding and moving decoys, rolling for reconnaissance, and tracking the number of viable turns left on a target is going to take some time. You could build this into a pretty good game with uncertainty as one of its major themes, if that was your goal. But if uncertainty is not one of the things you want to stress then this is going to muddy the water.
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Have Dice Will Travel
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It did get confusing but I guess if you’re placing the tokens you know which ones are real by memory I suppose, I only played this game once which is more the reason I can’t remember the name of it. I think it was OPORD but don’t hold me to that. If it is anything it was a game similar to it.

Anyway in theory this is similar except mine isn’t hex and counter it is miniature based. Instead of tokens you can have the models in plain site or kept in reserve if it is an ambush or something sneaky. Models in plain sight in any other miniature game you’re thinking “ok let’s shoot at that.” Not so fast! Even if it is in or outside cover every model has a stealth rating that translates how much of a silhouette it has and this is modified according to a model’s range. Infantry in this are very sneaky since they’re small targets and can go prone while a tank cannot. Tanks are nice but they attract too much attention if you try to keep a low profile. So you may see your opponent’s models as the player but your models may not therefore taking away that omnipotence thus forcing you to do recon instead of charging ahead like in so many miniature games like warhammer. It is one thing I find irksome that there are many situations a model can be in even behind cover yet a model from halfway across the table can take a pot shot at it like it had a gigantic neon sign attached on its head saying "shoot me!"

Once your opponent’s models are spotted you tag them with a token to represent this and it can be engaged by anything else in the area within range and LOS unless your opponent jammed your communications so your people can't call it in. If however this model survives being shot at then the token has the chance to go away during the clean-up phase. It still needs a lot of work but that is my concept. I’ll admit some of this was inspired by a game called Dirtside using chits for recon assets in the like. Take that as you will.

I did at one time had something inspired by Chain Reaction where you take an opportunity test to show how cautious or how foolish your units can be when you’re in a certain distance of an enemy model to just put themselves out on the open according the model’s experience. Conscripts are more likely to make themselves easy targets than hardened veterans therefore you lose even more control as an omnipotent commander. However that idea has been put on the back burner since it is bogging my game down a bit. I wanted fast pace and so far I’m just adding things to slow it down. This is my second design and the first one didn’t turn out so great…

Anyhow those are some ideas floating out there. Feel free to pick it apart I enjoy some constructive criticism.
 
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