En Garde

from Abacus Spiele

These remarks copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated July 24, 1998

En Garde, published in 1994 by Abacus Spiele, Germany, is not to be confused with the old GDW game of the same name, published in the mid-70s. The latter is an RPG of sorts, while the former is a card game designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia. This is a review of the card game, which simulates the sport of fencing.

En Garde was published in a spiffy format at first, then in 1996 it went to a cheaper, "mass market" edition - with improved rules. The earlier edition has miniature fencers and a roll-out mat, while the later edition has dice to represent fencers and cards that you have to lay out to form the fencing mat. If you can find the earlier edition, snag it, and use the updated rules which can be found on the web.

En Garde is a very simple game. It actually has rules for three different levels of play, but even the advanced level is still a simple game. In brief, the fencers start at opposite ends of a 23-space linear mat. There is no sideways movement - only forward or backward. You cannot move through the other player or backward off the mat, so your movement is limited to the spaces between your start space and your opponent.

There is a 25-card deck consisting of five each of the numbers 1 through 5. Each player has a five card hand - play one card, move the exact number of spaces forward or back, then draw a replacement card. If you play a card which would take you to your opponent's space, instead of moving, you attack (thrust with your foil) from where you are. Your opponent can parry by playing a card equal to the number card you played. You can, if desired, play more than one card of the same rank in an attack - each must be parried by a separate card to avoid a touch. Thus, if you are four spaces away, and have three or more "4" cards, play them all - since there are only five "4s" total, you're guaranteed a touch. The most your opponent can have is the other two "4s", meaning he can't parry your third card.

If you parry successfully, you might be able to riposte - play another card of the same number, if you have one.

The essence of the game is maneuver - and remembering what cards have been played. You rarely want to end your turn one-to-five spaces away from your opponent if you don't have at least one card of that number. Occasionally you may take a chance (or you may know that all cards of a given number have been played), so it can happen. But the game is largely one of maneuvering to where you think you're stronger.

The round ends when the 25th card is drawn. There are rules for resolving the end of a round if no one has made a touch. The game includes a scoring track (or scoring die in the later edition) - first one to score five touches on his opponent wins.

In the advanced game, you can make running lunges, which need not be parried - your opponent can simply retreat, instead. So if I'm eight spaces away, I can play a "5" for movement, then a "3" in the same action as an attack. My opponent can opt to play any card to retreat, though - you don't have to match the attack number if the attacker used a running lunge. Running lunges are primarily about taking territory - one of the ways to score when the 25 cards are exhausted is who controls the most territory. Another way to score a touch is if your opponent would have to retreat off the mat, which a running lunge can sometimes force. Of course, they can still be parried and riposted, so they're not risk-free.

The advanced game actually does a very good job of simulating the feel of fencing, oddly enough. I fenced for nine years, and have a couple of championships under my belt (and more second places, alas), so know how a fencing match feels. The constant back and forth, trying to find the precise optimum position for an attack, not wanting to give up too much territory, but sometimes having to - this all feels very accurate and familiar.

The game is fairly quick - 15 minutes or so - and very good. It's one of my favorite Knizia designs, and one of the few I actually am good at - most of Reiner's work leaves me a bit puzzled, to be honest, but this game I can grasp and excel at. I tend to carry a copy with me (it's very portable), so if you ever see me at a convention, challenge me to a duel by saying, "En Garde!"

Other games by this designer I've reviewed are:

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