The history of En Garde!

En Garde! started in the early Seventies as a fencing system for fighting duels with swords. The players invented backgrounds to provide a reason for the duels. In short order they had individual characters in an ever more complex setting. The setting took over as the main focus of play and En Garde! was born. It can be seen as one of the earliest role-playing games.

Cover of original En Garde! booklet

The rules of the game were formalised by Darryl Hany, Frank Chadwick, John Harshman and Loren Wiseman of Games Designers’ Workshop (GDW). In 1975 GDW, Inc published the now famous small, brown booklet: the first edition of En Garde!.

GDW published a second edition in 1978, incorporating a number of corrections to the original. This ran through seven printings until sales fell to the point where GDW discontinued reprints in 1983.

Like the other early role-playing games, En Garde! quickly travelled across the Atlantic. It was picked up by the gaming community in the UK. In particular, postal (or play-by-mail) gamers appreciated the game. The structure of En Garde! is well-suited for postal play – with the addition of a central referee (or GamesMaster – GM) adjudicating what the players do.

The earliest postal games of En Garde! started towards the end of 1977. In the UK, John Hopkins began a game in the postal games 'zine, Herald, in November 1977 and this continued for several years. Meanwhile in Sweden, the first deadline of En Garde! game "Klingor mötas" (Blades meeting) was 19th December 1977. GM Lennart Karlsson ran this game for a group of players from Stockholm and Uppsala for five years.

Other PBM games quickly followed. There were two in Australia in the late 1970s-early 1980s: The Paris Gazette, run by Laura Seabrook, and The London Gazette from Lance Bremen. In the UK, Keith Thomasson's 'zine, Griffin, started a postal En Garde! game in September 1979 and was followed by games in Cut & Thrust and Take That, You Fiend! and others. All of this generated more fans of the game.

Cover of issue zero of SFCP

Two of these fans were Theo Clarke and Paul Evans – the 'small furry creatures'. With a team of helpers, they used the postal adaptation of En Garde! to run games at games events: notably TSR’s GamesFair and, later, European GEN CON. By 1985 this system had been semi-automated with a suite of computer programs, allowing a game for 50 players to be run by a single GM (though splitting the load between 2-3 made it much easier).

In 1986 Paul and Theo launched The Small Furry Creatures Press, a postal games ’zine with a 50-player En Garde! game called Les Petites Bętes Soyeuses. (The ’zine quickly morphed into a news and reviews magazine and was renamed Games Games Games – the last issue, number 150, appeared early in 2001. Les Petites Bętes Soyeuses separated from the magazine and is still going strong.)

Cover of SFCP edition of En Garde!

SFC Press (the name Paul and Theo operated under) had plenty of demand for copies of the En Garde! rules, but these were out of print. SFC Press negotiated a licence with GDW and published a new edition of the game in 1988. The text hadn’t changed substantially (apart from adopting British spelling), but the format had. The new rules were A4 in size with a colour cover, internal illustrations and separate sheets of the reference tables. They remained available well into the 1990s.

After GDW, Inc shut up shop, the rights in the game reverted to Frank Chadwick. SFC Press made a deal with Frank and planned a further printing of the En Garde! rules. However this had not appeared when SFC Press closed down in 2003. Paul Evans, who parted company with SFC Press in 1998, bought the rights to the game at the beginning of 2005. He has produced the new edition, which is published through Margam Evans Limited. This edition has refreshed the layout, but not changed the content of the rulebook.

Over Forty years on, games of En Garde! are still going, whether sticking to the rules as published or using them as the basis for something completely different (London after the restoration of Charles II or a galactic empire).

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Page created 2nd December 2005. Last modified 9th December2018.
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