Haze of Love
Look, whether or not we agree with it, we’ve all heard the refrain: why are so many games about war and violence? Why not love? Why not relationships?
Fog of Love is why. This isn’t a ding on Fog of Love, per se — there will be time for that later — so much as it is a statement on just how difficult this love stuff can be. All’s fair in love and war? Baby, war ain’t got nothing on love.
In its deepest heart, Fog of Love wants to be a romantic comedy generator. Two people sit down across from one another, pick a scenario with guidelines like “High School Sweethearts,” “We Give It a Year,” and “I Know What I Want,” then proceed to engage in some light role-playing to determine whether their star-crossed couple will make this thing work or swap their relationship status to “It’s Complicated” while their partner stinks up the bathroom.
As a pitch, there’s very little wrong with the idea. Played out across multiple chapters, each scenario introduces a few basic guidelines, maybe adds a couple cards to its spread of decks, then releases you to dash your most romantic dreams against the rocks of reality.
How does it accomplish this? By having you draw, pick, and play multiple-choice tests from one of three decks. As lovers do.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you play the card “Switch Jobs.” One partner in the relationship raises a fascinating question: how about we just swap careers? It doesn’t matter that you’re an elevator inspector, the reincarnation of Elisha Otis himself, and I’m a drag queen. Easy peasy, we’ll just switch. I’ll go into the elevator inspector’s office of Salinas tomorrow, and you’ll head on into the dragporium.
(As a side note, this happened. The cards allowed it. All names have been changed to protect the innocent).
Now both players get to lodge a vote. Do you (a) want to switch jobs but keep doing your original work, (b) decide that you want to walk a mile in your partner’s shoes and go for it wholeheartedly, or (c) bring your partner crashing back down to reality by saying no? Both players pick the chip that reflects their answer, maybe engage in some of that light role-playing, and then depending on your answer and how it interacted with your partner’s, make some adjustments to your personality and satisfaction with the relationship. For instance, if you both picked the first option, you both get fired, which strains your feelings for one another. Because you’re idiots.
To be clear, neither the plausibility of this scenario nor its outcomes are an issue. Fog of Love is chock-full of events mundane, silly, cute, stupid, mysterious, and even PG-13 erotic. In fact, one of the best things about Fog of Love is the way it throws its protagonists into downright goofy situations out of nowhere, as though you’re a meet-cute couple in the last season of a once-great television series and the writers are running out of ideas, so they have you argue about romantic quotes, take part in a masquerade, switch religions, and try your hand at outdoor lovin’, all in the span of three episodes.
That’s all well and good. Instead, the issue is the conclusion that all these events and multiple-choice tests are reaching toward. And that’s going to take some explaining.
Creating a character is a pleasant blend of input from both players. You select your career from three random possibilities, then your partner selects what attracted them to you. The results are often pleasingly madcap, like a down-to-earth city planner who appealed to his future wife because of his luxurious watch, jiggling legs, and strange makeup. It takes all kinds, and Fog of Love is totally cool saddling you with a personality very different than what you first envisioned.
These options also begin cementing your personality on the game’s chart of personality traits. There are six scales with both positive and negative extremes, ranging from sincere/deceptive to disciplined/disorganized. As you play, nearly every event will, in addition to altering the strength of your relationship, also further modify these traits. In our above example, deciding that you’d be cool switching to your partner’s career will mark you as extroverted but reckless, while declining will decrease your curiosity.
So far so good. But then we get into the particulars of how you win a game like Fog of Love.
From a certain altitude, it seems like designer Jacob Jaskov had a great answer in mind. Instead of having only one win condition, perhaps you could have five or six! And perhaps these could change as you play, shifting in and out of existence as your relationship grows stronger or more fragile! For the most part, this works wonders. A strong couple can pick “Unconditional Love” or “Love Team,” both of which require a high relationship rating, certain traits, and that they’re still together once the game ends. On the other hand, you could wind up being the dominant partner in an iffy marriage (yikes!), or even decide to break your partner’s heart after some manner of personal epiphany. Love is tough.
Unfortunately, this very clever idea is simultaneously undermined and made way more interesting by the personal goals you were dealt during setup. In addition to being a city planner with strange makeup, you might be impulsive. Now true love is not sufficient — you and your partner also need to have a negative discipline rating. Or maybe you’re a worrywart, and won’t be happy at the conclusion of the game unless you’ve achieved a high enough sensitivity.
To be clear, these goals don’t wreck the game. They can be bypassed, albeit for a significant penalty to the strength of your relationship. Fair enough. People have needs. And with yours in mind, Fog of Love sheds some of its quirk and becomes a game about striving for a favorable outcome within your relationship while also struggling to meet your personal goals. It’s almost brushing its fingertips against profundity there.
However, your goals also have a tremendous impact on the turn-by-turn gameplay. Rather than role-playing your character by selecting the answers that match up with your vision of their personality, you’re nearly always encouraged to pick the ones that give you the traits you need, do as little damage to your relationship as possible, and maybe avoid getting pregnant.
Again, that a relationship isn’t a buffet of options may be realistic and a valuable life lesson, but in game terms it means that Fog of Love seems far less interested in role-playing than in mathing out the optimal decision to each question, no matter how preposterous. For instance, if you think your partner really wants to swap careers, should you go along with it for the benefit in hearts, or stay away for the hit in orange icons? The textual decisions are supplanted by the need to fill the proper gauges.
A far worse issue is the game’s repetitiveness. While Fog of Love has done a great job of providing hundreds of cards to choose from, the actual multiple-choice options are limited enough that the allure, surprise, and charm of the first few plays quickly wears thin as your couple once again visits IKEA for the first time, witnesses a triple rainbow, or heads to an erotic movie. Very quickly, the first-time delights of a new relationship are lost and replaced by a nagging sensation that you’ve been here before.
The result feels oddly dysfunctional. It’s dependent on its goals and long-term victory conditions to provide any sense of a narrative arc or outcome, while yearning for the freedom and whimsy to spin the cardboard equivalent of a Sandra Bullock headliner. Ultimately, it excels at neither.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for the gumption of what Fog of Love is trying to accomplish, and even more for the fact that it pulls off many of its goals so smoothly. It’s defiantly unique, and even though it has a tendency to wear out its own welcome, it’s the sort of game that can easily provide a gratifying date night or snow day activity. I have fond memories of my first few fumbling romances, and if it has grown less interesting with each subsequent play — well, that only means it’s time to put the old aphorism to work: absence makes the heart grow fonder.