Fog of war

For the documentary film, see The Fog of War.

The fog of war (German: Nebel des Krieges) is the uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations.[1] The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one's own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign. Military forces try to reduce the fog of war through military intelligence and friendly force tracking systems. The term is also used to define uncertainty mechanics in wargames.


The word "fog" in reference to uncertainty in war was introduced by the Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz in his posthumously published book, Vom Kriege (1832), which appeared in English translation in 1873 under the title On War:

War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.
Carl von Clausewitz[2]

It has been pointed out that von Clausewitz does not refer to a literal "fog of war," using multiple similar metaphors such as "twilight" and "moonlight" to describe lack of clarity.[3] It was not until 1896 when the literal "fog of war" was used in text, described as "the state of ignorance in which commanders frequently find themselves as regards the real strength and position, not only of their foes, but also of their friends."[4]


The fog of war is a reality in all military conflict. Precision and certainty are unattainable goals, but modern military doctrine suggests a trade off of precision and certainty for speed and agility. Militaries employ Command and Control (C2) systems and doctrine to partially alleviate the fog of war.

Simulations and games

A block wargame, Richard III by Columbia Games, showing the fog of war in play.

Abstract and military board games sometimes try to capture the effect of the fog of war by hiding the identity of playing pieces, by keeping them face down or turned away from the opposing player (as in Stratego) or covered (as in Squad Leader[5]). Other games, such as the Kriegspiel chess-variant, playing pieces could be hidden from the players by using a duplicate, hidden game board.[6]

Another version of fog of war emulation is used by block wargaming where, much like Stratego, the blocks face each player, hiding their value. However, this also allows for step damage, where the block is rotated counter-clockwise up to four times to simulate battle damage before the unit is eliminated.

Solitaire games also by their nature attempt to recreate fog of war using random dice rolls or card draws to determine events.[7] Complex double-blind miniature wargames, including military simulations, may make use of two identical maps or model landscapes, one or more referees providing limited intelligence to the opposing sides, participants in the roles of sub-unit leaders, and the use of radio sets or intercoms.

In video games

In the computer game Freeciv, completely unexplored areas are fully black, while currently unobserved areas are covered in a grey shroud.

A computer's ability to effectively hide information from a player is seen as a distinct advantage over board games when simulating war.[8] Fog of war in strategy video games refers to enemy units, and often terrain, being hidden from the player; this is lifted once the area is explored, but the information is often fully or partially re-hidden whenever the player does not have a unit in that area.[9]

The earliest use of fog of war was in the 1977 game Empire by Walter Bright.[10] Another early use of fog of war was the 1978 game Tanktics designed by Chris Crawford, which was criticized for its unreliable fog of war system.[11] In 1988, Crawford noted that his fog of war system attempted to mimic a realistic fog of war, but stated "Who wants to pay good money to experience [realistic] confusion and chaos?", urging to "dump" fog of war entirely. However, in the same article Dave Arneson called fog of war "one of the biggest 'plus' factors in computer simulations."[12]

Two large Blizzard franchises, Warcraft and StarCraft, use a fog of war which only reveals terrain features and enemy units through a player's reconnaissance. Without a unit actively observing, previously revealed areas of the map are subject to a shroud through which only terrain is visible, but changes in enemy units or bases are not.[13] This is also common in both turn-based and real-time strategy games, such as the Age of Empires series, Red Alert series, Advance Wars series, Fire Emblem series and Sid Meier's Civilization series.

Fog of war gives players an incentive to uncover a game's world. A compulsion to reveal obscured parts of a map has been described to give a sense of exploring the unknown.[14] In some strategy games that make use of fog of war, enemy AI can get access to complete visibility of the map, which a player may associate with cheating when discovered.[15] A designer may use fog of war to keep a game that has become impossible to win enjoyable, by hiding this fact from the player.[13]

See also


  1. Joint Service Command and Staff College, Advanced Command and Staff Course Notes dated 2001
  2. Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Book 1, Chapter 3.
  3. Eugenia C. Kiesling (2001). "On War Without the Fog" (PDF). Military Review. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
  4. “The fog of war”, by Col. Lonsdale Hale, Royal Engineers (retired), Aldershot Military Academy, March 24, 1896.
  5. Squad Leader Rulebook, 4th Edition, section 25.0.
  6. Kriegspiel by Hans L. Bodlaender.
  7. Pulsipher, Lewis (2012). Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish. McFarland. p. 227. ISBN 0-786-46952-8.
  8. "Carrier Force: The Fog of War at its Foggiest" (PDF). Computer Gaming World. April 1984. pp. 22, 47.
  9. Adams, Ernest (2014). Fundamentals of Game Design. New Riders Press.
  10. Christopher Lewin, War Games and their History, Chapter 8, Fonthill Media, Stroud (GB) 2012, ISBN 978-1-78155-042-7
  11. "Tanktics: Review and Analysis", Computer Gaming World, January 1982
  12. ""Fog of War": A Clearer View" (PDF), Computer Gaming World, pp. 24–26, 52–53, April 1988
  13. 1 2 Dave Howell (2010). "StarCraft's Steps" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-10.
  14. Jonah Stowe. "Power, Knowledge and the Fog of War". Gamechurch. Retrieved 2014-11-06.
  15. Johan Hagelbäck and Stefan J. Johansson. "Dealing with Fog of War in a Real Time Strategy Game Environment" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-06.

Further reading

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