Posted by: gschloesser | August 2, 2011

En Garde!

Design by:  Reiner Knizia
Published by:  Gryphon Games
2 Players, 20 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

I guess it is only natural that a game about fencing would be designed strictly for two players.  I’m not very familiar with fencing, but I’m pretty sure most fencing matches involve just two individuals.   I guess if there are more participants, it would be a sword fight! 

I’ve been enjoying this little 2-player game since the mid-1990s when it was released by Abacus Spiele in a small card box.  The components were very basic, with dice representing the fencers and the field being formed from cards.  I played the game so much, the box is now considerably worn.  So I’m especially happy that Gryphon Games has released a new, spiffier version.

The card game pits two players in a fencing duel, with each player attempting to be the first player to score five points, with points being scored either by hits or positioning at the end of a round.  Players position their pewter swordsman at either end of the twenty-three space board and draw a hand of five cards.  The large cards are numbered from 1 – 5, with five of each number.  Cards regulate movement, defense and attack.  Players alternate playing cards to move and/or attack, drawing cards to replace those played.  The idea is to try to position yourself so that you can make an attack.  

Movement is simple:  play a card and move that many spaces forward (toward your opponent).  An attack is also simple:  play one or more cards with a value equal to the distance to your opponent.  For example: if you are three spaces away from your opponent, you can use cards with a number ‘3’ to make an attack. You can use more than one of the same numbered cards in an attack, and the defender must parry all of them in order to avoid an attack. To successfully parry an attack, your opponent must play an equal number of cards of the same value.  If he cannot do this, a hit is scored.  

If a player successfully parries an attack, he has a choice.  He can either immediately attack his opponent before re-filling his hand of cards (known as a “riposte”), or he can take a normal turn, playing a card to move.  In either case, he refills his hand to five cards after his turn.

The Advanced rules allowing a charge attack, wherein a player can play both a movement and one or more attack cards during the same turn. However, the defender can evade this type of attack by simply moving backwards. The advantage of a charge attack, though, is that it usually forces your opponent back if he cannot parry the charge, thereby improving your position on the board. This is important because if the round ends without anyone scoring a ‘hit’, the player furthest away from their starting position wins the round. 

It is important to note that there are three versions of the game:  basic, beginner and advanced, with additional rules added with each level.  The advanced version is really not that much more involved than the basic version, but it offers more tactics and options.  Thus, I always play the advanced version. 

The game plays quickly, with most hands taking just a few minutes.  In spite of its simplicity, there are numerous decisions to be made and tactics to pursue.  Counting cards is a benefit, as one can track which cards have been played, which cards you hold, and play the odds when maneuvering forward and contemplating an attack.  Until the deck nears depletion, however, one can never be quite sure which cards an opponent holds, and which are still buried in the deck.  So, chances must be taken, but it wise to take calculated risks as opposed to simply recklessly charging ahead. 

I usually desire to be aggressive, charging out of the starting block and racing to my opponent’s side of the field.  That way, if the round ends with the deck expiring, I have a better chance of winning based on my position.  However, one must adapt to the cards being held, so sometimes a slower, more cautious approach is wiser.  Plan your strategy based on the cards you hold and draw. 

En Garde is a fun, fast and engaging two-player game that has stood the test of time, at least in terms of today’s game market where games have a short shelf life.  It has been around since 1993, and hasn’t lost any of its luster.  This new, more attractive version makes it even more appealing.  Hopefully, the game will find an even wider audience who will get to enjoy the challenge of fencing … without the bruises! 

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