The best board game of 2017 is a wildly entertaining romantic comedy generator

It’s almost more fun after you’ve played than during a game.

The first time we played Fog of Love, my favorite new board game of 2017, the game was careful to remind my wife and me, over and over again, “This is fiction. This isn’t real.” We quickly sussed out what it meant: This isn’t really you.

Nevertheless, there we were. I played a successful TV chef who clicked with my wife’s character, an ambitious young politician, at a party. Soon, we were in a relationship, trying to balance our goals for togetherness against our own goals as individuals. The only way we could win would be to realize our relationship goal — but neglecting any one of our individual goals would cause our relationship score to drop like a rock.

In the end, she ultimately gave up her career in politics to follow me into the televised food world. Our relationship became one where I was far happier than she was, but we felt obligated to stay together. “Sounds about right,” my wife deadpanned, and we laughed. But the laughter rang a little hollow.

Because this wasn’t us. I wasn’t me. I was playing a character — right?

Welcome to the deliciously knotty interiority of Fog of Love, a board game designed to be played by two people that, nonetheless, might entertain an audience of many more, who sit and watch and debate the finer points of love and relationships. Unlike any game I can think of, Fog of Love forces you to create a new story every time you play — and that story might make you think, just a bit, about your own existence.

The brilliance of Fog of Love is how it balances role-playing against more traditional gaming

As someone who loves board games and loves playing them with my wife, I frequently feel frustrated by how much better most games tend to be at capturing the external rather than the internal.

As a comparison point, take the incredibly fun card game Love Letter, in which players race to deliver love letters to the princess of a medieval kingdom. Sneak enough letters to her and you win her heart and the game. But the process of falling in love is reduced to tokens. You don’t know anything about the princess, or even the character you’re playing; you’re just competing for those little tokens, which represent some sort of emotional culmination.

Thus, what’s most notable about Fog of Love is that it’s found a way to make internal mechanisms the center of a game, by adding just a dash of role-playing to the more rigid mechanics of a typical board game. Each time you play, the first thing you do is create your character, by drawing cards that represent three personality traits, an occupation, and three physical features that might help entice the other player. You also give your character a name and a brief history, one that you further tease out as the game continues. As a result, you have an investment not just in “winning” the relationship, but in your character as an individual and making sure that character is happy.

It may sound like a simple approach, but it ends up being conceptually brilliant, especially once the game adds relationship goals to the mix. Perhaps one partner wants to dominate the relationship, while the other wants an equal partnership. Or perhaps one partner wants to let their partner take the lead, while their partner wants a pairing of highly driven, Type A personalities. All of these potential variables make Fog of Love simultaneously cooperative and competitive: You’re working together to build a lasting relationship, but you’re also working to keep your own head above water. Playing the game has reminded me, at times, of the Mountain Goats’ song “No Children,” reimagined as a board game.

I imagine those who aren’t as into storytelling may not enjoy Fog of Love as much as I do, but everything about Jacob Jaskov’s game design is so beautiful that you can also just play the core game without adding storytelling flourishes and still have a good time. (It will prompt you to “tell” the other player — or gathered audience — about your character; it’s up to you how much you want to embellish or elaborate.) The Danish Jaskov created the game to try to get his wife, who loves romantic comedies but wasn’t into board games, interested in his favorite hobby. He inadvertently came up with something that seems to have stretched what board games are capable of, in fascinating ways.

Plenty of other board games have featured the individual elements that make Fog of Love so compelling, from the balance between cooperative and competitive to the storytelling sheen. Few of them have pushed so far into a realm that forces players not just to try to win the game, but to ask themselves hard questions about what they value in life and love. Fog of Love is fun, while also boasting that ineffable quality I want from all art: It becomes even more fun when you talk about it afterward.

Fog of Love is available exclusively from Walmart for some reason.