How Would You Implement Fog of War On a Tabletop Game

What it says on the title. Of course, there’s Battleship, but the setup phase happens once at the beginning of each skirmish and after that it’s just down to trying to blow each other up.

Would it be at all possible to play a 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) on tabletop that involves Fog of War? You’d have to have a setup for each player, separated by a large physical space, and things get complicated very fast.

(I’m not trying to design a game or anything, my brain just lobbed me this idea in a dream and now I can’t stop thinking about it.)

There are block wargames. *Stratego *is a simple example.

Decades ago, I used to play a lot of Avalon Hill bookshelf games. There was one set on the Eastern Front of WWII (maybe Panzergruppe Guderian?) and in that game the actual value of the units was hidden on the bottom of the piece. On the top, would be a symbol indicating it’s general value, but not it’s strength and morale. Once the enemy made contact with a unit, it was flipped over showing its true strength. IIRC, neither side knew the true value of the unit until it made contact with the enemy.

While this doesn’t entirely create the fog of war, it did inject an element of the unknown into the game.

Dry ice.


G4 Hit! F7 Hit! A1 Hit! D8! We Sunk the Battleship! (as reported in the Blue Press)

G4 F7 A1 D8. Apart from bombing an orphanage, the Blue Menace has inflicted no damage (as reported in the Red Press)

In some miniatures games, shoeboxes cover the main armies and players were given more shoeboxes than units. The games were refereed and the player whose turn it wasn’t would have to leave the area while the miniatures under the shoeboxes were moved. Some of the shoeboxes had nothing under them, mind you. When the shoebox was in line-of-site, they were removed and what was underneath revealed.

This was done only a few times that I saw, since it meant the awesomely painted miniatures were not on display until contact.

A high-tech solution would be to use a tablet or laptop for each player, which tracks which parts of a common map the player uncovers.

A low-tech solution is a set of color-coded flip tokens with abstract symbols. Every area of the game board gets one token per player. When a player uncovers an area, they flip the token of their color, then look up the symbol on their chart to find out what it means. For each game, you change the charts (maybe have a deck of charts to choose from at the beginning of game setup), so no one can tell what another player’s symbol represents until they uncover it as well. This would be a bit of a hassle to set up and manage, but it would enable all the players to play on a common board while maintaining the fog.

To maximize the effectiveness of the fog, you could have multiple symbols in the chart for each map element. Eliminating the one-to-one correspondence between symbols would make it more difficult for players to map opponent’s symbols to their own using commonly exposed areas. For example, if two players have both exposed an area with a gold mine, and Player 1’s token is an X, Player 2 will know that any other X symbols in Player 1’s territory are gold mines…but if Y and Z are also gold mines, Player 2 won’t know what those are. You could also use this to create intelligence mechanics in the game.

For a procedural game, in which certain game elements act on their own according to the game algorithm (e.g. Arkham Horror or Zombicide), the tokens could have action symbols on both sides, so they could move or perform other actions without being revealed.

The first tabletop wargame, Kriegsspiel (1824), included fog of war through use of an umpire. The umpire had a copy of the board with all pieces visible and made adjustments to each player’s board as necessary.

Similarly, and also from Avalon Hill, for some scenarios Squad Leader had question mark tiles that you could place on top of your stacks. In fact, you had enough for the scenario that you could make stacks of nothing but question mark tiles. Your opponent wouldn’t know the strength or exact location of your forces.

If I remember correctly, the first scenario using those tiles was for an actual foggy battle, so “fog of war”=“actual fog” in this case.

Sorry for the slight highjack, but can I just say that I loved those Avalon Hill games. Squad Leader was a great game.

This is how I’ve always heard of it being done - it’s sometimes called “Double blind” I think. Always seemed like an incredible nuisance though.

My dad played Russian Front with me (another Avalon Hill game) wherein all the pieces were flipped upside-down. I knew there were Russians in front of me, but I didn’t know how many of what kind, etc.

When I committed to an attack, the pieces were flipped right side up. My pieces were upside-down as well, but since I was the Germans, at least for most of the first year he didn’t have to worry about attacking a super strong unit very often. :slight_smile:

Worked astonishingly well.

Russian Front is the game I was thinking of.

Those ‘?’ counters were called Concealment counters, and are still in use today in Advanced Squad Leader, the direct successor to Squad Leader. There are a number of other methods used to create a fog of war effect in todays wargames. You have blocks which represent your side’s forces, which are visible only to you - Columbia Games has quite a few of those titles.

There are card driven games, starting with We the People - which simulated the Revolutionary War in which you are dealt a hand of cards each turn, and the cards are used to move your counters on the map. The fog of war comes in because you never know what cards your opponent has or what capabilities those cards give him/her.

The ‘untried units’ was a core feature of an SPI game called Panzergruppe Guderian, and has been carried over into a number of different games as well.

One of the most interesting mechanics I’ve played is an old Avalon Hill game called Flattop, which covered the carrier battles in the Solomon Islands, in which you moved your units on a paper map, and only placed them on the big map once they were spotted. Incredibly tense, as you were often worried that you were about to get crushed by an unseen enemy airstrike. Also, I believe there was a similiar mechanic in Midway by AH as well.

So, yes, there are lots of ways to introduce a fog of war aspect into a game.

IIRC, Squad Leader would also sometimes use completely hidden setup for one side: the defending player would write down on a hidden piece of paper the location of his units, keeping the counters off on the side, and only put them on the board when an attacking unit came into line of sight, or the defender decided to move the unit.

I’ve seen other games where neither player knows what’s going to happen: for instance one side gets reinforcements determined by a die that’s not rolled until the first possible turn the reinforcements can arrive (as an example, starting turn 6, the defender rolls a die, and if it’s 1 or 2 the reinforcements arrive; when they do arrive the defender rolls another die to determine what units arrive).

I’ve seen various kinds of games (from serious war games to simple kids board games) that involves a board that is mixed up and covered with something, and only uncovered gradually during the game. (For instance a game might have a whole bunch of small terrain tiles that are blank/generic on one side, but have different terrains on the other side; they’re shuffled and arranged generic side up and are only flipped over when a player goes there and does something in particular). This works just as well multi-player.
Finally, I’m thinking of the old classic Careers. Play is all out in the open, but each player sets their own (hidden) victory conditions.

Another Avalon Hill classic, Bismarck.

Each turn, the players move their respective units (cardboard counters), searching for enemy units, and possibly engaging in combat. In the vast spaces of the Bering Sea and North Atlantic, the search phase becomes vital. Each player calls out grid coordinates containing a ship or aircraft, and the opponent indicates whether a ship is located there, and if so what type. A player may choose not to search with a particular unit, thus keeping its location secret (common tactic for German player, obviously).

For a 4x game, how about random tiles drawn from a cup to build a map?

Neither player knows what a tile will be until he moves a unit on it, and the units can be face down to hide their identity from the opponent unless he has a unit on the same (or adjacent) tile.

I owned a game of Squad Leader. I read the box and I had heard about it. I never got someone to play it with me.
The father of a friend of mine played this warship game that was completely to scale. I was like battle ship but you played in a large park and had tiny ships that were really far apart. You set the angle and guessed the range. A umpire would then measure and say where the the volleys landed. I’m not sure if you even knew what short of vessels the enemy had. (He also had this really cool, 7ft long model of a battleship from about 1900.

I’m an old school wargamer and there’s another issue of battle uncertainty I was wondering about.

Consider the Battle of Blenheim. The two armies faced each from across a small river. The French had concentrated their units at the fords because that was the only place the English could attack them. But the English had done a little extra scouting and they knew something the French didn’t - there was another ford.

So Marlborough, the English commander, sent part of his forces to attack at two of the known fords where the French would be expecting them. Once the French forces were committed to battle, he sent a third force across the unguarded ford and caught the French by surprise. Being attacked from an unexpected direction, the French were routed.

But how would you simulate this in a game? Presumably both players would have read the rules and would have known the ford existed. So the French player would have stationed some troops there to guard it like he did the others. Even if the French player were forced to use the historical set-up, he’d still move some of his troops to the ford rather than committing them all to the initial crossings.

You could simulate it very well on a computer game: you would have to scout out the terrain and only then would you have a sense of the battlefield.

BTW, does anyone know of any serious computer war games? In the 90s Avalon Hill had put out some great wargames that were pretty much their hexagon games run on a computer. Anyone know of games that have a similar level of stategy? I play Total War on my computer which is a lot of fun, but not quite the same level of battlefield depth I’m looking for.