Geoff Bottone &
Colleen Skadl &
Cliff Bohm





A cardgame about a fencing match for two to six players with an expected playing duration of about 30 minutes - I must confess that I was rather curious on how such a game would be organised and how the adventurous spirit of a fencing duel which is so well known from many movies could be brought within the limited scope of a deck of 85-cards!

Unpacking the small gamebox of En Garde and handing each player a playing mat and a token used to record his 'Poise' (Endurance or Focus), the game also reveals a deck of fencing cards which have beautifully illustrated with black and white illustrations which have been given an antique-looking, yellowing background colour. For starting preparations, the deck of cards is mixed and a hand of 7 cards is dealt to each player, while each player puts his Poise marker at a starting value of 10.

During his turn, each player first may discard any cards he doesn't want to keep before he re-fills his hand to the maximum of 7 cards. Then the player may use any Poise-Restauration cards and Item cards which he might have at his hand, before he progresses to the central element of his turn, a passage of arms with another player.

This so-called 'Exchange' is initiated by the active player chosing an opponent and playing an Attack-card (like a 'Slash' or a 'Lunge' or 'Thrust') by placing it openly on the table. If in possession of a fitting card and desiring to use it, the attacked player may react by playing a Defensive-card like 'Parry', placing it opposite to the Attack-card and thus blocking the attack initiated by the active player. This simple pair of an attack and a defense would end the Exchange and with it the player's turn, but you can imagine that the game would be rather boring if the structure of a passage of arms would be so well arranged.

Quite the opposite, different kinds of special cards add spice to the fencing, and allow the development of quite spectacular Exchanges which may rage between the players. On the one hand, an Attack-card may be bolstered with Attack-Enhancement-cards, an assortment of cards which usually gives more power to the attack by increasing its possible damage or restricting a defensive move. The defensive player on the other hand may be in possession of Defensive-cards like 'Parry Riposte' which not only can be placed to cancel the damage of the attack but which also allows the defensive player to play an attack card on his own which the attacker now must try to defend against.

If a successful defense is made, the attacker once again may chose to react by playing a 'Press Attack' card, giving even more thrust to his initial blow and cancelling the defense made. However, if he should still be in possession of a fitting card, the defender once again may try to make a move against the new unblocked Attack-card.

However, what would a real fencing match be without some amazing, unexpected twists, and here the Fancy Moves cards allow the players some special actions which otherwise would be impossible. Fancy Move manoeuvres range from 'Taste my Blade!' which allows the playing of an additional attack-card, to a 'Defensive Stance' which gives an extra reduction of damage or a 'Superior Technique' which can be used to totally negate an attack or to counter a Fancy Move played by the other player.

The Exchange comes to its end when either Attacker or Defender cannot or does not want to play an additional card. This may be as early as after the first Attack-card, but it may also be after several cards have been played by both players. At this point the players will have to look at the cards played during the Exchange, and any Attack-cards which could not be blocked will cause an amount of damage which the opponent must substract from his Poise. These effects may be lessened or strengthened by items in possession of each of the players, so that a 'Second Sword' may cause additional damage while a 'Buckler' may be used to deflect blows and reduce damage. Also, Poise might be lost directly during an Exchange, since some of the cards represent difficult moves for the use which a player must pay with some Poise.

If a player's Poise is reduced below "1", his marker stops at "No Poise", leaving him enraged and on the brink of defeat. This player now may use any cards he desires without having to care about Poise-costs, but his position is dangerous since the next hit which he cannot parry will lead to his ultimate defeat and his removal from the game. And, as might be guessed, the winner is the player who is still standing after all other participants have been defeated.

Giving the players a turn or two to understand the basic playing principles, the game fastly picks up speed and develops into a furious battle with each player clinging to his rapier (or hand of cards). To my mind, both the speed and the atmosphere of fencing are captured surprising well by the easily manageable rules and the clearly structured cards, so that the players are drawn into a contest which is as enjoyable as it is dangerous. The player interaction is at maximum not only because of attack and defense movements but also because of unsuspected Fancy Moves, the use of a special item or attacks which may lead to the disarming of a player and thus the loss of an item he might hold.

To my mind, the game is best played with up to four players, since otherwise the number of players makes it difficult for a player to survive a whole round if the other players might have an idea that he had run out of defensive cards. With up to 4 players, the hand of 7 cards still is large enough to carry through an attack and then possibly get over any attacks the other players might make during their turns, so that the aspect of the other players "teaming up" on a weaker player is not too high as to force the players to collect only defensive cards. This balance topples with 5 or 6 players, and it may cause early, unsatisfied deafeats if the other players are not as honorable as not to go all and attack the same player.

Talking about honour, it is especially the Poise-Restauration cards which give some humorous glimpse on the "civilized" aspect of a fencing match, since the re-gaining of Poise usually is coupled with events like the wiping of a player's brow, the honourable permission of the retrieval of a lost sword or the interruption for a couple of refreshments.

En Garde! comes with all the typical aspects with can be expected when a player's options depend on drawing cards from a random deck, but I still could discover during playtesting that there is some degree of strategy and speculation included which makes the game rather worthwhile. So, the players constantly have to evaluate their deck of cards whether it would be useful to cling to a reserve item to a good item which might possibly get lost, or whether it would be better to discard certain cards in search of more attack or defensive cards. The situation gets tense once a players Poise sinks dangerously low. A player on the brink of defeat will have to decide whether he takes a defensive stance, barely surviving round by round, or whether he puts all into one attack in the hope of getting an opponents Poise down to his own level. What is even better, the playing fun increases the more communicative the players are, and if played with a couple of people who like to add a bit of role-playing the whole fencing match really become a 'live' experience. A great little game!!!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2007 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany