Introducing En Garde
A Knizia with genuine theme? Could such a thing even exist? Despite reports that Knizia games with genuine theme only exist in urban legends, En Garde provides convincing evidence that it is possible to have Knizia's name as designer on the box cover, and yet offer a thematic gaming experience inside. This is not your usual Knizia game with a safari adventure theme pasted onto a cold mathematical formula (Lost Cities anyone?). Let's hear from some BGGers who have personal experience with fencing, and listen to what they have to say about En Garde:
"Definitely captures the feel of fencing (which I did a year of in college)." - David Kuznick (dkuznick)
"I took fencing lessons a few years back ... During my infatuation with fencing I bought a cute little card game by Knizia called "En Garde". I was delighted to discover that the game authentically replicates everything I liked about fencing, without any of the annoying physical activity ... Perhaps the most surprising thing about En Garde is that this, Knizia's most minimalistic game, is also one of his most strongly themed: a game with twenty times the rules and components couldn't feel any more like fencing." - Matthew Baldwin
"Captures the feel of fencing perfectly - so my wife the fencer tells me." - Crispus Attucks
"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." - Steffan O'Sullivan
"I've fenced before... and think the game captures a lot of the feel... really fun." - Jason Totten
Want a Knizia with theme? As you wish. And it all sounds rather promising! But what's even a bigger surprise is that this game has been around since 1993! Mr Knizia has produced a few gaming duds over the years - although I guess you're allowed to have a few stinkers if you've designed over 200 games. The good news, my gaming friends, is that En Garde is not a Knizia dud. On the contrary, this design from 1993 is a clever and quick two player gem that sparkles just as much today as when it first was released. In fact, with the help of some lovely pewter miniatures from the new Gryphon Games edition of En Garde, maybe it even sparkles a little more than it ever did! Who would have ever thought that a game about fencing could be that much fun? A game that is almost done being a teenager and is nearly grown up?! I mean, this is entry #169 in a BGG database that now holds more than 70,000 games! This is the gaming equivalent of the Flintstones! But "yabba dabba doo!", is it ever good! I certainly wasn't expecting a whole lot from En Garde, and I was pleasantly surprised, and I'm pleased to say that this great new edition is welcome indeed! Let's go check it out!
En Garde is an old game, but it's had a fresh coat of paint now that it's part of the Gryphon Two Player Games series, which also includes another of my two player favourites, 2 de Mayo.
Here's the box cover for En Garde.
Yes I know what you're thinking. "How exciting can fencing really be?" You mean you didn't know that fencing is in fact quite thrilling? It's true! It must be true, because it says so right on the back of the box! Have a look for yourself:
See, right near the top: "Experience the thrill of fencing - board game style!" I saw this myself, and it's even on the internet, and everything on the internet is always true isn't it? But maybe you're the suspicious type and need a bit more convincing. Fair enough. Just look at that fella on the left of the front cover? Remind you a bit of Inigo Montoya at all? Perhaps even just a tiny bit? Well, maybe there's very little resemblance at all, but does the name Inigo Montoya ring a bell perhaps? Here he is, enjoying the thrill of fencing against the famous Westley.
Ahh... NOW you remember! I thought you would! "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Yes, that's the one! See, didn't I tell you that fencing could be thrilling? This is the fella who was 11 when his father died at the hands of a murderer, a six fingered man. "And when I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."" You know what Inigo Montoya did as part of his life dedication to fencing? He played En Garde for 16 years straight. You don't believe me huh? Inconceivable! Well I know this because Reiner Knizia told me this personally! So it must be true! Or did I read it on the internet? I can't recall exactly anymore, but anyway, Inigo Montoya is my hero, and fencing is thrilling, and so is En Garde, and I think it's about time we opened the box.
So what's inside the box? Slowly my friends, not so fast. Not so fast! Let's savour the experience, so read this next bit s l o w l y:
● 1 board
● 25 cards
● 2 pewter swordsmen
● 2 scoring stones
● 1 rule book
Well it's a rulebook, isn't it? What else were you expecting?
I know I'm 17 years behind the eight ball, but I've never played En Garde before, so I can't tell you how this compares with previous editions of the game. In fact, my experience with fencing has been limited to ... Inigo Montoya. Yeah, he and I would play at recess, we went to school together and all that. Well, maybe not, come to think of it, but it is a fact that this is my first run at the game, so I came in pretty green. Even so, the rules weren't hard to pick up and learn. There's rules for a Basic game, a Standard Game, and an Advanced Game. We took it easy, you know, so we started with the Basic game. The Standard rules just added a few more possibilities, and the Advanced rules added a few more. The rules about what exactly to do when the game ends and the fight isn't over was a little confusing to get the knack of, because it changes slightly depending on which version of the game you're playing, but I think we got there in the end. You can teach the game very easily, and even though it says 13 and up on the box, an 8 year old can catch on to how the game works in minutes. I suppose the publisher needs to get President Obama's personal permission or something to let kids under 13 play with the knives and fencing equipment that's in the box, hence the age 13 and up suggestion, but go ahead and ignore that and just pull this out with the kids, they'll catch on no problem.
Fencers need something to fence on. Preferably with numbered stones. Wasn't that in the Princess Bride? If it wasn't, they should put it in. Here's the lovely mounted board (with the obligatory numbered stones) that comes with the Gryphon Games edition:
It's very sturdy and solid, and has a lovely linen finish. Oh, and you can fold it so it fits in the box. They think of everything, these publisher guys, even how to fit components inside the box. Here's a closer look at part of the board:
Go ahead. Touch it! It's mine, and I'm letting you. Nice eh?!
Swordsmen & Scoring Stones
We also get two scoring stones, one for each player, which are used on the two score tracks (labeled 1 to 5, since the first player to 5 wins):
Why silver and black? Because those are the colours of our two miniature swordsmen, one for each player. And these are made of pewter for crying out loud! Talk about over-produced! They really do look fantastic!
If you think that looks scary, just wait till you see the shadows of these guys!
I'm not sure if they were modelled on professional fencing or primitive shadow boxing, but doesn't this look great? That picture managed to sneak up to be the #1 hottest picture on BGG, and even though it only lasted there for a single day, I'm mighty pleased with it. But credit where credit is due - it's the components that looks so good - these miniatures are VERY impressive and are a really nice touch. My son just loved playing the game, and I think half of the appeal for him had to do with the minis!
There's also a deck of cards. They feature nice artwork on the back, and are oversized, with a quality linen finish.
The cards themselves come in values 1 through 5.
There's five of each card, for a total of 25 cards. Simple huh?!! I think it's high time we got to our first fencing lesson!
The aim is to be the first player to win 5 rounds. At the beginning of each round, the deck is shuffled, and both players get 5 cards each. Players take turns to start each round, which begin with both swordsmen on opposite ends of the board.
Flow of Play
Basic movement is ... basic! On your turn, you simply play a single card in order to move your swordsman that many spaces forward or backward. Then you draw another card. Now it's your opponent's turn to do the same!
If you play a card that's exactly equal in value to the distance between the swordsmen, instead of moving you declare an "Attack". You can play more than one of the same valued card to strengthen your attack, for example, here's an attack with two fives (note how the two swordsmen are exactly 5 spaces away from each other):
If you attack your opponent, one of two things happen:
1. Your opponent must play an equal number of cards of the same value to "parry" the attack. If he does parry in this way, he can immediately play another card in order to counter-attack (often a powerful move!), advance, or retreat.
2. If your opponent can't parry the attack, he takes a hit. This means that you have won the round, so you adjust your score by one. Then you shuffle all the cards, place the swordsmen at the ends of the board, and start the next round.
In the example above, a player would need to parry with two 5s, or else would suffer a hit.
That's really the essence of the game! Often an entire round will only last a few minutes. In the event that neither player has produced a successful attack by the time the last card is drawn, there is an alternative win condition. You check the current distance between the two players and the winner is the player who has the most cards of that value in hand; otherwise the winner is the player who has travelled farthest down the board.
The first player to win five rounds, wins the game! Most games only last 15-20 minutes.
Simpler and Advanced Levels of Play
The version described above is the Standard Game, but you can make the game easier or harder.
Basic Game: In the Basic game, every attack results in a hit, and there's no parrying. This makes the game more dependent on luck and removes the interesting element of bluffing; but it is appropriate for teaching the game to young children.
Standard Game: As explained above, the Standard game adds the concept of parrying to the Basic game.
Advanced Game: The Advanced game adds one more possibility: players can advance and attack by playing a card to move and then attacking at the same time. Such an attack can be parried as normal, but because it is so powerful, an opponent can simply retreat instead of parrying; although this ends his turn. Essentially this means he gives ground, which can cost him the game if they get through the deck without getting a successful attack. This makes the game much more fluid, and while you can use the advance and attack to reach across longer distances, these attacks are more easy to avoid by retreating; the net result is that the positions of both players on the board change more rapidly, the deck is exhausted more quickly, and the game has more ebb and flow. The additional gameplay elements offered by the Advanced Game are easy enough to learn and understand, although you probably want to get comfortable with the Standard Game first.
Example: Here's how a quick round of the Advanced game might look:
Black: 5 - Advance (from #1 to #6)
Silver: 5 - Advance (from #23 to #18)
Black: 4 - Advance (from #6 to #10)
Silver: 5 - Advance (from #18 to #13) and 33 Attack!
Black: 1 - Retreat
Silver: 44 - Attack!
Black: 44 - Parry! and 4 Attack! WIN!
Here Silver didn't expect Black to have three fours, although Black (with three fours in hand) was baiting Silver by retreating one space, in the hope that he could counter-attack after parrying! Beautiful bluffing! These lines from a sword fight in The Princess Bride might just as well have been said about a game of En Garde!
Inigo Montoya: You are using Bonetti's Defense against me, ah?
Man in Black: I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain.
Inigo Montoya: Naturally, you must suspect me to attack with Capa Ferro?
Man in Black: Naturally... but I find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro. Don't you?
Inigo Montoya: Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa... which I have.
Want to try the game? An online implementation is available here:
I haven't tried it personally, but if the screenshots and game information are any reliable indication, it seems to be a decent implementation of the actual game.
What do I think?
En Garde is easy to learn. It is a good example of elegance, since it has simple rules that offer interesting gameplay. You can teach it quickly and easily, and yet it's not so simple that it becomes boring, because there's still interesting and sometimes tough decisions to be made, even if they are quite light.
En Garde is a very quick game. While each round scores points toward to a final victory, each round feels like it's a new and separate event and a new opportunity, so the game rarely overstays its welcome. Each round is very short, with some to-ing and fro-ing, stabbing and counter-stabbing, and you soon have a result and are on to the next round. An entire game can be played in under 20 minutes, which is just perfect for this sort of game.
En Garde gives room for skill. Sure it's a card game, so there is luck. But the decisions you make play at least as much of a role in determining the outcome. Should you attack and risk a parry and counter-attack? Should you get within range of your opponent and try to bluff him to attack so that you can counter-attack? If you keep track of some of the cards that have been played, combined with the cards you have in hand, you can increase your chances of calculating the odds. Card counting doesn't require the brain of a rocket scientist because there's only five of each card from 1 to 5, so even if you only keep track of some of the higher valued cards you're ahead of the game. At the same time this isn't a game to sweat over, calculating at length what you should play - that would break the spirit of the game. It's best enjoyed like a cheap summer beverage - with regular sips and with spirited enthusiasm. I'm sure analysis paralysis types wouldn't survive long in the world of real fencing either.
En Garde gives room for bluffing. Some of the game is in the cards, but much of it is also in the mind, as you try to anticipate what your opponent might have and might do. There's definitely a strong psychological element, and lots of score for bluffing - just as might be the case in a real face-to-face sword-fight!
En Garde is brimming with theme. As a disclaimer, I readily confess that I've never competed in Olympic fencing. In fact, I don't even know the first thing about fencing - aside from what I've learned from En Garde and from The Princess Bride! Nonetheless, as a gamer, I don't get the sense that this is a game with a pasted on theme which could be one of many themes, as I do with many other Knizia titles. It may not be a full-on fencing simulation, but when you play the game you certainly do have a sense that you're doing battle with your opponent, lunging and attacking, parrying and counter attacking. It may not be true of many Knizia games, but it can be said rightly about this one: the mechanics do marry beautifully with the theme.
En Garde has great components. GREAT components! I particularly love the pewter miniatures of the Gryphon Games edition. There have been previous editions (e.g. under the name "Duelle") that didn't include the advanced rules, much to frustration of many. I can't compare the current reprint with other editions, but I can say that the Gryphon Games edition has all the rules you need, and great components as well.
What do others think?
Criticism: So why wouldn't you like this game? To make sure we consider all aspects and present a fair and balanced perspective, let's hear from some the critics.
"The theme completely intrigued me but the mechanics on this one are just too simple and mindless." - Jason S
"I think this would be a good game for certain people, just not for me." - Lindsay Scholle
"This game captures a back and forth beginning as you jockey for position, followed by a series of furious attacks until someone scores a point. Which is said to be evocative of actual fencing. I love that idea. And the game actually delivers what it promises. Unfortunately, when I played, I felt unsatisfied. We felt that with only 25 cards, we were often at the mercy of the draw, while at the same time we thought to ourselves that this is probably a game that rewards card counting, but we didn't want to devote the time and energy to that." - CS Hearns
"A bit too simple for my taste." - Andrea Jørgensen
"Too luck-driven. The advanced game is the only way to play, and it still isn't worth playing. The only reason I don't rate this lower is because the mechanics match the theme so well and the game only takes 15 minutes to play." - Chris Brua
"Just not enough meat to make this game interesting." - Mark Tyler
"A very simple hand management game, but with an awesome theme and components. Not sure that I would pick it up, only if it was very cheap as the gameplay is not that deep." - Beau Bailey
It's evident that if you're looking for a deeper game, look elsewhere. And yes, it does have some luck. I would disagree that it's luck driven, because there are lots of interesting decisions, even if they are quick, and your choices are just as much a factor as the cards you draw. But En Garde isn't pretending to be a deep game with layers of strategy either, and if that is what you're looking for, then this is not your game. It's quite minimalistic, and intended as a quick two player tug-of-war style game with jabs and thrusts, rather than a complex system of euro optimization.
Praise: For what it intends to do, it does well, and so it's not surprise that En Garde is also showered with praise.
"Utterly compulsive." - rorshaq
"One of the best much-fun/few-rules ratio! Just 5 cards and a line, but feels like a duel." - Miguel
"Brilliant in its simplicity." - Jason Wagner
"Super-quick, easy to teach, and interesting psych-out games lie within." - James Stuart
"Fun two player filler. I always have fun with this game." - Craig Berg
"Knizia strikes again with ANOTHER underrated game! So simple, so deft, but so fun!" - Nate Merchant
"Indispensable Knizia Game." - P.L.A (D0NK1J0T3)
"Simple, light, easy to learn. I adore it." - Sam Collard
"Near perfect filler game for two when played with advanced rules." - Jeff Myers
"Reiner's best game (played with the advanced rules). Really. 25 cards numbered 1-5, sheer genius in its simplicity." - Stephen Tavener
"Simple to play and fast-paced, this game has stood the test of time in my collection and is #1 on my list of games to take when I travel." - Jeffrey Vaca
Theme: As well as the quick and clever psychological game-play, the real draw-card is undoubtedly the theme, as is evident from these comments.
"Simple and addictive, the ultimate fencing simulation." - Roland Alkemper
"Simplicity itself, with a surprising flavour of fencing." - Andy Parsons
"If you're looking for a quality 10-15 minute game for 2 players, it's hard to beat this. The mechanics match the theme beautifully, with the forwards / backwards cut and thrust providing a nice feel of fencing." - Patrick Brennan
"Fast game that captures the feel of fencing. " - Scott Russell
"Great feel of cut and thrust, really evoking a classic bout of fencing despite the dry simple components and rules. Despite appearances, it is clear that this one is not just the luck of the draw. I love it!" - Avri Klemer
"En Garde is one of my favorite games. Simple, brilliant, and it's a wonder how well the mechanics capture the spirit and feel of real fencing." - Francis K. Lalumiere
" Although it appears to be very abstract, it's actually one of Knizia's best matches between mechanics and theme." - Steffan O'Sullivan
"Every time I play I'm astonished how the feel of a fencing bout is reproduced with this simple card game." - Jean-Luc Simard
"So simple... so cool. And, shock of shocks, a Knizia game that actually captures its theme!" - David Arnott
"My personal favorite of light card-games. Captures the feel of fencing really well for a simple card game." - Antti Tahvanainen
"A perfect theme for the mechanic. Or is it the other way around? After playing this, I feel like taking a fencing course!" - Michel Fortin
The title of the game "En Garde", by the way, is the technical term for the stance that fencers assume when preparing to fence - learn more fencing terms in this glossary.
Finally, an endorsement from two power users!
"Great 2 player game. Really gives the feeling of fencing with the give and take of the board." - Scott Alden (Aldie)
"Very entertaining for a short two-player card game. And surprisingly evocative of the fencing theme as well." - Derk Solko (derk)
Is En Garde for you? I don't often see myself praising a Knizia game for theme, but I'm doing it here. This is unlike any other two-player game I've played, in the tug-of-war style battle it offers. It's easy to learn, it's quick to play, it's fun - really, Knizia got almost everything perfect! With the great components of the Gryphon Games edition, I'm very pleased to have this in my collection. If you are one of the few disappointed by this game, it's likely through no fault of the game, but simply because you were looking for a different style of game. If this is the kind of game you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. The Fighting Little Knizia with the Big Theme - highly recommended.
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Tue Nov 9, 2010 2:27 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Nov 9, 2010 10:39 am
Want to try the game? An online implementation is available here:http://www.yourturnmyturn.com
I haven't tried it personally, but if the screenshots and game information are any reliable indication, it seems to be a decent implementation of the actual game.
To get an impression you could practice against a computer opponent here: http://www.yourturnmyturn.com/java/engarde/index.php
Thanks for another great review!
Were I to have rated the game based on the success of the design instead of by how much I want to play this game, my rating would have been a lot higher.
Mechanics and theme are a great match for one another. Reading the rules, I thought I would really enjoy the game.
In the end, it just didn't come together for me (and I tried, I gave it more attempts than I give most games). However, I still think it's a great design. Very evocative of it's subject matter.
Funniest CPO ever, bravo sir! I'm really surprised by how attractive this game looks and how much fun it sounds - to think of all the times I've overlooked this little gem in my FLGS. [note to self: add to Christmas present list]
Gender: pot*ato. My opinion is an opinion.
The french version from Ferti sports a 3 D board, but the box and illustrations are the same; Ferti also carries a travel version, which is equivalent to what is pictured above.
Duell is another version of the same game, with wooden figures instead of these nice metal ones, but it also feature a set of cards that change some of the games rules and one of these cards is choosen at random for each fight; at the time I acquired it, I found them to be a worthwhile addition.
- Last edited Tue Nov 9, 2010 2:38 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Tue Nov 9, 2010 2:35 pm
We will meet at the Hour of Scampering.
Agree that the game is not luck-driven - there is much one can do to level out the cards drawn. However, a clever player can keep track of cards played and use this knowledge in his tactics, as there aren't a lot of cards in the deck. I've personally toyed with the idea of an "energy management" system that would replace the randomness of the draw, but haven't taken the idea any further than pushing it around in my head.
But the game does capture fencing beautifully.
Likes: Mountains, Tundra Turn-offs: Serpents, Marsh
I was really impressed with this game and how tidily it captured the theme. I was far more impressed with this review! Touche!
If you are one of the few disappointed by this game, it's likely through no fault of the game, but simply because you were looking for a different style of game.
Exactly. It is what it is, no more, no less ... and I like it!
Thanks for the review of this under-appreciated game!
If you like En Garde, you should really give Flash Duel a try. I was very skeptical at first, since it comes very close to completely ripping off Knizia's original design.
But, when I tried Flash Duel and saw how much the characters' special abilities changed the game, I realized that I liked Flash Duel better. I feel that the asymmetry created by how differently each character plays gives the game a breath of life.
Also, I could see how creating interesting, thematic and yet balanced matchups was a lot of design work and surely entailed a good amount of development and playtesting.
Great review of a great game. I have the travel edition from Ferti with the neoprene board/mat. Very portable, quick play - my wife enjoys it too - she wins quite often (a little too often, if the truth be told).
Re: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: The Fighting Little Knizia with the Big Theme
Again, sir - touche!