ENTERN! is a fast-paced 2-player card game where the players take on the roles of either a 17th Century Pirate Captain and crew in their Jolly Rogered Galleon or a Spanish Navy (Armada) Warship Captain defending their honour and cargo. Both have an objective of boarding and taking control of their opponent's ship whilst battling to hang onto their own.
To represent the coming together of the two mighty behemoths of the near-ancient seas there are five Ship cards that when placed in order show the converging ships in full colour, each flying their famous Flags and resplendent with crew in Pirate attire or Naval uniform. As areas of the decks get conquered their card is flipped over revealing the defeated side that cannot be regained and flipped back. From a purely visual aspect this effect is slightly ruined by the flipped side still showing crew illustrations as on the front side except not in colour.
Players have one Meeple Captain each in their own colour plus several small wooden blocks, serving as the crews, also coloured according to side (Red Spain, Black Pirate); there are also a number of Yellow control marker blocks that are usable by both sides. In each of the ship sections facing them the players put two of their own crew with the Captains being positioned on the section where their Flags fly. There are 12 Action cards that each have a Title, a Number (1, 2 and 3 in Red and 4, 5 and 6 in Green) and an Action, shown by pictogram - often several layers of pictograms - which, with the full card facing are described in full on the flip side of the single Rules sheet. Basically the Action card numbers are Red for Offensive and Green for Defensive so being picky, I am not sure why the designers chose to use Red numbers on these cards having already determined that Red is the colour for the Spanish and yet the cards are decidedly meant to be advantageous to the side that plays them; Blue (and Green) would have sufficed and prevented any possible (though short-lived) early confusion.
The 12 Action cards are shuffled and five dealt to each player, the other two are put aside unseen and thus ensuring that not all cards are involved in the play and neither player has complete knowledge of what hand the other is holding. As there are only 10 cards in play it is possible that one player could be dealt five Offensive cards and the other five Defensive cards and to combat this after selecting one card and playing it face down the remaining cards are passed to the other player; this continues until all cards have been placed. As the players have to play each card directly opposite the card played by their opponent there is a nifty little mechanic that says that during the odd turns (1,3 5) the initiative goes to the Pirate player and the game is played from Prow to Stern (Front to Back) and this is reversed on the even turns. Thus each player plays one card to each section of ship, even if they no longer have any crew there unless the section has been flipped after being conquered in which case no cards are played on that section.
To screw with each other's minds the players are then allowed to swap the positions of two of their played cards and, if they wish, they may also move their Captain to any adjacent section of a ship as long as they control or at least have crew members in that section. These adjustments introduce a modicum of Bluff and Double-Bluff though of course you will only ever know with any certainty the last card played by each player.
The Rules then say that all cards are flipped over and resolved by number, from 1 to 6, but this isn't strictly true because two of the Green cards, numbers 4 and 5, actually cancel out 2 of the Red cards; #2 "Boarding" is canceled by #4 "Repel!" and #3 "Fire" is canceled by #5 "Take Cover" thus you cannot resolve the cards in order otherwise #2 would already have been resolved before #4 came into effect. Basically what happens is that after the cards are turned over you go along the line and resolve each pair of cards that directly face each other across the deck.
Once the resolutions begin the game speeds up resoundingly. One round of unfortunately played cards can almost totally disadvantage a player and as some of the attack cards can be quite vicious - crew pieces being removed as the first effect for example - it isn't hard to lose half your crew in the blink of an eye. If after the end of a Round you have less crew left than there are active sections of ship (colour side up) you lose and it is quite easy for this to occur, possibly after only two Rounds of play.
The Green cards each offer you an either/or situation so that if you have played them against the wrong Red cards they at least may give you some small respite, such as moving crew members to adjacent sections (two sections with a conquered section between them now count as adjacent) and bringing a new crew member from your reserve, but generally once you are on the slippery slope heading towards defeat you rarely can pull yourself up.
Also, and I'm being picky again, why are conquered sections treated as if they weren't there ? and from where do you find this supply of new Crew members ? If you had more men on your ship they would/should be fighting alongside their comrades already they wouldn't be sitting around waiting for the friends to die and then moving into a sticky situation.
My personal take on ENTERN!/BOARDING! is that it hasn't been thought through with any actual logic or played through by experienced games players. The artwork and card quality is excellent, the 5 card ship(s) is a brilliant idea and trying to keep the rules down to a single page with large text and many illustrations is admirable, but given a little more thought it could have been so much more fun. I played it with many regular games playing friends so I could review it but not one of them, not even members of my own family, wanted to play a second time, well a few did say they would play it again but only if I promised beer and bacon sandwiches. For me, this is a game that has so much promise and not enough substance. My only hope is that something has been lost in the translation.