A Preview of Fog & Friction

Jim gets his paws on an early copy of Fog & Friction and tells us what we’re in store for when the rest of us finally get our hooks into it.

Jim Owczarski, 22 August 2015

As an historical miniatures gamer down to my genome, I live for the spectacle of the gaming table.  In moments of weakness I have considered those willing to play on tables smaller than those used for ping pong a lesser breed of men and been dismissive of those games and rule sets than enable them.  With age comes wisdom, though, no matter what my wife would tell you, and I’ve grown to see the merits of games that offer a smaller footprint while still trying to offer a bit of what draws each of us to the hobby.  In this light, Pondfoot Games’ “Fog and Friction” (hereafter F&F) is a fine offering — it brings some of the toys, drama, and tension that make gaming the Second World War so appealing and lets you do it all on your kitchen table.

I’ll leave aside the fits and starts that this project has experienced as it’s tried to make its way to market (more here) and say that my remarks will confine themselves to the promo copy of the base set I received from the folks at Pondfoot.  The offering is simple enough:  two 60-card core decks, one each for the Axis and the Allies, and two 30-card expansion decks.  The game is non-collectible (first step towards toleration for me) but the designers hope to offer several expansion sets that will allow players to eventually fight in theaters other than the familiar terrain of Normandy represented in the base set as well as adding in new units and special cards.

Yep, decks of cards.  You were expecting model T-34s?

Yep, decks of cards.  You were expecting model T-34s?

There are several different types of cards.  Probably the most important are the battlefields.  There are two on the table at any given time for players to contest.  The main victory condition is claiming five of these for your own.  Each card deck has a unique set of five battlefields and players take turns both placing the initial battlefields and then replacing them once won.  Battlefield cards also are identified as having a particular terrain type.  Some units have special abilities that allow them to take advantage of particular terrain.

Vacation spots the pair of them.

Vacation spots the pair of them.

Conquering these battlefields requires the glorious exertions of someone or other and, in the case of F&F, that someone is what the rules call the Frontline troops.  These can be armor…

Tankity, tankity, tankity...

Tankity, tankity, tankity…

…or infantry.

Bless 'em All!

Bless ’em All!

Each battlefield has three front-line “slots” into which cards of this type can be played.  Once there, they can be supported by, well, “Support” cards.  These also come in multiple flavors including artillery…

BOOM!

BOOM!

…and aircraft.

Check me, I'm a buzz-boy!

Check me, I’m a buzz-boy!

Each front-line card can have one supporting card attached to it and, in fact, most support cards must be attached to a front-line card.  Aircraft are the exception being allowed to freelance the battlefield unattached from a front-line card.

Both the turn sequence and the combat system are elegant creatures and show considered development by Pondfoot’s team.  Each turn begins with two, sequential deployment phases in which the attacker (you do NOT want to be the attacker) and then the defender is allowed to place as many front line and support cards as he cares to on the table.  Each player is also allowed to make minor deployment tweaks within each battlefield or, if allowed by a card’s special ability, even between battlefields or back to a player’s hand.  The catch is that the defender always gets to see what the attacker does first and will always get to make the final deployment adjustments.

After deployment is complete, combat begins.  The system is diceless and struggles mightily to convey a sense of combined-arms battle.  Take a look at the unit cards depicted above.  Each, at the upper left, is rated for a type (air, armor, or infantry) of “Fight Strength”.  This is the amount of damage of a certain type necessary to harm that unit.  Each card, at its middle, is also rated for the amount of damage it can do to an air, armor, or infantry unit.

Combat occurs over a series of phases.  Combat is simultaneous within each phase, but the effects of each phase are implemented before proceeding to the next.  So, for example, if you lose a unit to artillery fire, it won’t be available for front-line fighting.

Uncommon valor

“Stuff” happens

In the first phase, anti-aircraft, the total of all AA assets held by one side are totaled.  That total is then spread out according to a hierarchical system over all of the opposing units possessing aircraft Fight Strength.  Full-strength units are first “depleted” (tapped or turned sideways).  Once all full-strength units are depleted, those units already depleted are destroyed and removed from the battlefield.  In the next phase, ground attack, the air forces that survived the previous phase are allowed to aggregate their combat factors and have them spread out over the Fight Strength of either the front-line or supporting troops of their opponents.  Play then proceeds through an artillery and, finally, front-line combat phases.

This system, and its fairly complex matrix of choices, is one of the game’s real strengths.  There is a lot of bluff and double-bluff that can go on in the early deployment phases just to set up the “perfect” sequence of attacks during combat.  More than a two dozen games in, I can say that strategies and connections are still appearing and help keep the game fresh.  Combats can be relatively simple…

Not exactly Kursk.

Not exactly Kursk.

…or a bit more, erm, confused.

This might be Kursk...or maybe Falaise.

This might be Kursk…or maybe Falaise.

A battlefield is won when there are no un-depleted units left to your opponent. The battlefield is then claimed and a new one placed. Any attacker who claims more battlefields in a single turn than his opponent may declare himself the defender.  One absolutely brutal rule is that all of the units placed by the victor are discarded when the battlefield is won.  The rules call it “R&R”.  I call it a mandate to never use too many troops to win any one battlefield.

Also, if I have a concern about the rules — and the designers and I had a very pleasant chat on the topic — it is that un-disrupted airpower alone can prevent an opponent from claiming a battlefield.  This is true even if the force opposing that airpower consists of three Tiger tanks.  This is of particular interest as the decks, historically I think, are stacked (pun intended) against the Axis in terms of airpower.  I had a couple battles against my wife where she held off a much larger force with a couple of Spitfires only because I couldn’t come up with adequate AA assets.  This, I am assured, is a feature not a bug and can be addressed, at least in part, by using the available expansion decks to bolster the Axis’ AA resources.

After combat concludes, players are allowed to draw new cards and to take advantage of Logistics cards (yep, G4 love).  These provide points in the appropriate categories and, if enough air, armor, or infantry points are assembled, a depleted card may be returned to full strength.  There are not, however, a lot of these cards and players who burn through their strength too rapidly will wind up with a lot of unusable, depleted units.

I feel smarter looking at them.

I feel smarter looking at them.

The “Fog and Friction” of the game’s title is most eponymously realized by the Fog and Friction cards.  Their effects run the gamut, but are broadly intended to inject a certain amount of, frankly, “oh, yeah, BOOYAH!” into the game.  In this, at least in my experience, they succeed admirably.  My personal favorite is probably that which allows you to take all but one of the cards you’ve played on a battlefield back into your hand and replenish them for later redeployment.  It’s enough to make Rommel weep.

As I understand it, F&F will be back up for Kickstarter support in the Fall.  Based on my plays, and presuming the price comes in right, it’s well worth your support.

 


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One Response to A Preview of Fog & Friction

  1. […] over at GrogHeads.com has posted up a very positive preview of Fog & Friction, so head over to GrogHeads to see why he thinks it’s a game worth […]

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