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Short, well-written gem, January 3, 2019
Some games start off strong but become less interesting the more you play. (Too much of the same thing, in many cases.) I had the opposite experience with En Garde; it got more and more interesting the more I played. Part of that is baked into the design of the game. You can't tell exactly what's happening at first, and you slowly learn what's really going on as you play.
In fact, I think En Garde does a very good job of capturing this experience. At first, you're just lumbering around, and you have a limited set of actions. But you don't know exactly what those are; they're represented by colored buttons. By experience you learn what clicking on each one does, and you have to remember.
(Warning: This is a major spoiler.) Then, (Spoiler - click to show)you eat a mouse's brains. Which is weird. You get access to the mouse's thoughts and begin to think in a mouse-y way. Then you find a dog, and you eat its brains. Which gives you a few more abilities, and now you have the mouse and the dog in your head. By this point you have nearly ten colored buttons to click for actions, but you still have to remember which button does what. I felt like I was an animal being trained in some experiment: Click the right button, and earn the right action (the reward) from the game.
Then you find a slice of brain that turns out to be human. At this point I'm thinking, "Am I a zombie?" Then eating the human brain slice gives you the words that go with the buttons, and the room descriptions improve. Now I'm thinking, "This game is World War Z meets Flowers for Algernon." And sure enough, that's exactly what it is!
I really enjoyed En Garde, but a couple of things stood out:
1. The PC's progression over the course of the game, especially (Spoiler - click to show)watching the room names and descriptions change.
2. The dialog between (Spoiler - click to show)the various consciousnesses going on in the PC's head.
The cover of En Garde is a parody of the cover of the old Infocom game A Mind Forever Voyaging; its title is a bilingual pun.
En Garde was the second fun, well-written Inform/Vorple gem by Jack Welch I played in IFComp 2018.