Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The exhilarating and humbling sport of En Garde fencing

In the past few months, as I have gotten more and more enmeshed in the sport of En Garde fencing, I have made a wonderful and a terrible discovery. The wonderful discovery is that I seem to have some sort of knack for this sport. The terrible discovery is that the unpredictability of the sport seems designed to occasionally drive me round the bend.

For those not familiar with it, En Garde is an SL game that is simultaneously an animated fencing match and a card game of skill, strategy, and statistics. And luck. There's no small part of luck. The programming of the game randomizes the cards you receive to make your attacks, retreats, lunges, and parries. Sometimes you get cards that allow you to make clear-cut winning moves. More often, you have to do a quick mental calculation of the relative risks of various possible moves, and then take your best shot, hoping the odds are with you. Practice, skill, and strategy help you to make the most out of good cards, and to survive many mediocre hands. But sometimes the luck of the draw is definitely running against you and in your opponent's favor, and all the skill in the worlds can't save your game.

I have been taking my first steps into En Garde league tournament play, and had been doing well enough to please me--right in the middle of the pack, making it into the bottom of the finals before getting eliminated. Until this week, where I had such a thunderous string of losses that I swear I was close to pitching my saber in the trash barrel.

The human psyche has a naive grasp of statistical randomness, ascribing somewhat superstitious significance to lengthy winning or losing streaks when both are well within the long-term pattern of randomness. My rational self grasped that my losing streak could be plain and simple bad luck. My dratted ego, however, was irrationally enraged that I could be doing everything I usually did, and suddenly have none of it work. Had I suddenly started playing more poorly? Had my opponents somehow increased in skill, leaving me in the dust? I just couldn't get myself to accept that this time round I was near the bottom of the list of players and shut out of finals before the round was halfway through.

Finally I went and enrolled in a separate fun one-day tournament for tinies--put on my favorite tiny purple tiny tiger av, did a few rounds of Riverdancing with the other tinies to get in the mood, and then had at it--and beat a couple of high-ranking players before I finally washed out in a fiercely-fought 5-4 game. As I played, I made a point of noting how often I had to take risky moves--and how often, this time, the risks turned out to my benefit. Yes it felt good to break the losing streak, score some wins against really good players, and confirm that my skills were in fact still intact and growing. But it also felt humbling to realize to what extent my wins this time were just as random as my losses earlier in the week.

So--let's hear it for a sport that exercises not only the brain muscle but also the strength of the ego against the slings and sabers of outrageous fortune. Not to mention the fact that one always looks more dashing with a sword in one's hand.


  1. En Garde is a wonderful game, and a great way to really get to know the minds of your frequent opponents.
    I highly recommend it for courting as well :)

  2. Very well said, Mr. Kozlov. I am glad you are getting to be able to recognize the bouts of random bad luck for what they are.

    I am certain that eventually, luck will run your way and you will get to win one of those pesky tournaments. Certainly you are a player of equal strength to those of your opponents I've had the pleasure of playing.