En Garde: Travel Version
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En garde! Get ready for a sporting competition! The first player to win five duels is the winner. Cross blades -- and may the best player win!
I look for games with really original ideas, but usually just find a familiar plot with a change of illustrations. This game is great because it is totally unlike anything I've seen before. It's one of very few games that made me say, 'Wow, that's clever.' Don't be put off by the fact that play is rather short. Think of it as an aperitif rather than a main dish.
Short games deserve their own special place in a gamer's closet. After all, we don't always have time for a 90 minute Elfenland, or even a 45 minute Carcassonne. So games that play in 20 minutes or less are a special breed: very light, uncomplicated games with not too much brainwork. And sadly, they are rarely well themed, which takes away from replayability. The double whammy is that Reiner Knizia's numbered card games tend to be dry like the riverbeds of Baja California, and so imagine my surprise upon playing this gem of a game.
Production of this simple little game is nearly off the charts. Heavy fencing figures ('meeple' humanoid silouettes, who, strangely enough, both look suspiciously like Count Dracula), a nicely illustrated deck of cards, a beautifully illustrated board depicting a fencing field surrounded by trees, shade, foliage and the like. (Mind you, this game is very pricey for such a light 2-player game, so I suppose you get what you pay for.)
Gameplay is simple enough, play a card, advance you figure. Das' it. If you can add numbers between 1 and 5 together, you can play this game (that means you, Joe Steadman. =) The beauty of the game is its simplicity and remarkable capture of the fencing aesthetic.
The deck of cards is numbered 1-5 with 5 of each card. Players have a hand of 5 cards to choose there action from. When a player plays a card, he advances (or retreats) that many spaces on the fencing ground. Players rush towards each other trying to push the other fencer back. Once a player is within striking distance (5 spaces or less) the player has an additional option: make a strike at the other player. At this point he may play more than one card. For example, if he is 3 spaces from his opponent, he may play any number of '3' cards to attack. Then the attacked player has an opportunity to parry by playing the same number of '3' cards. At this point, the parrying player may also counter attack. The key here is that since there are only five of each number, having three of a number guarantees a hit from that range (sicne your opponent couldn not parry it). But the kicker is that since you hold so many cards of that number, a smart opponent will make sure never to be that many spaces away from you. But as the draw deck evaporates, the players must takes risks, for if no hit is made when the draw deck runs out, then whomever was pushed back the furthest loses. This creates a remarkable tension and bluff as players move inside each others range trying to feel out what cards a player may have.
And when you tire of that way to play, the game includes extra cards that add some spice by introducing one rule change to a match, changing the tactics needed to win!
Amazingly light, and uncharacteristicly thematic, Duell is an excellent 2-player game. I almost feel bad only awarding 4 stars, but the high price point, and the repetitive nature of gameplay mean this game will be great filler for 2-player game nights, but probably not a game to be played every day. But if I am wrong, I'll come back and up the rating, because this game is close to excellence. Elegant, appealing, Duell is a game most people will want to pick up, and by far the best game in the Ravensburger 2-player series.
Quick two-player card games are appealing to me both for the home and office lunchtime games. This one looked good and was worth a try. It does capture the flavor of fencing (a sport I tried in college), which is not so much swashbuckling as it is cautious advances and retiring followed by furious, brief flurries of activity.
Players start with 5 cards from a deck of 25 cards (five each of 1 through 5) and advance on a 23-space track (each starts at the far end of one side). During each turn, a player can play a card to advance or retire that many spaces, board permitting, then restocks his or her hand to 5 cards.
The action starts when you get close enough to your opponent to reach him or her with a card play. Instead of moving forward, if you have a card or cards exactly equal to the number of spaces between you, you can play them and say 'hit'. The opponent must respond with an equal number of cards to parry your attack and then play a card in response, or else they lose the round.
This leads to some interesting bluffing and calculating. Because everybody knows the number and value of cards in the deck, you may have to take some chances (I'm 2 spaces away and have a 2 in my hand--does she have one 2 in her hand, or more? How many 2 cards have been played again?) to win. If the deck runs out without hits, the player furthest from his or her start point wins. There is luck in the initial deal, but clever play and sound thinking will give an advantage to the thoughtful player instead of the heedless one. Bluffers can do very well, too.
There are additional cards that can be drawn before the start of each round that provide some variation in play, such as start with 3 cards only, start 10 cards but don't draw to refill your hand, etc. These make for interesting play. The only drawback to the game is that it is somewhat repetitive. My 11-year old daughter and I are the primary players, and the game is good for one 30-minute full round or so, but not often two back-to-back. We both think the game would excel as a tournament, though. Well worth your money if you have interest in logical card games!