With Sword and Shield
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The nature of With Sword and Shield, which can be played as a duel between two players or a mêlée between two groups of players, is evident even before the game begins. Players shuffle the knight, health and artefact cards, then take turns drawing cards from the deck until they possess both a knight and a health card. Didn't draw an artefact? Nertz to you, pal.
For the most part, the artefacts aren't awesome cards that ensure the lucky artefact wielder will dominate the table; they modify a knight's characteristics -- strength, technique, chivalry and endurance -- in minor ways to customize a knight and differentiate one game from another. They do, however, represent how card drawing and luck will affect your success or failure in the game.
Your goal in With Sword and Shield is to land five hits on your opponent or else exhaust him to such a degree that he injures himself. Typically you'll play a number of combat cards each round, paying fatigue points (as tracked on your health card) if the strength of the attack is higher than the tactic (strength or technique) that you're currently using. Attacks come in eleven different types: rage cut, crown cut, plunge strike, father strike, and so on; defenses are of two general types – sword or shield, big surprise there – with five different flavors of each: hook catcher, cross guard, wing guard, etc.
The difficulty for both attacker and defender is that combat is a hit-or-miss affair. If I play a father strike (so named because it reduces your ability to become one), then you may or may not have a defense card to protect you. The "iron gate" defense works against the father strike and crocked cut, for example, while the "hook catcher" defends against the battle cut, squinting cut and plunge strike. If you lack the proper defense, you can play a card with a Manoeuvre symbol (and add five fatigue points to your health card) in order to run away. Failing that you take a hit – or two if I'm using a plunge strike. Nasty stuff, that plunging.
The other cards in the deck typically alter combat in some way: Achievements mostly cause fatigue while providing a benefit, events compare the knights' chivalry scores to cause some effect, and improvements do just what the name says. Your knight's endurance determines how many cards you can play on a turn, although you can break this limit by playing combinations; each combat card has one of ten symbols in the upper-left corner, and you can play 2-4 matching cards as one action on your turn, with the opponent needing to defend against each of them.
Description written by W. Eric Martin and used with permission of BoardgameNews.com