It's a card game. It has numbers. It's been around for a while. With a resume like that, maybe you'll have low expectations from Musketeers, just like I did.
So you can probably well imagine this kind of dialogue going on inside my head:
- A brand new edition in an attractive tin box?
- Still not going to make me excited, sorry. This game is from 1991 isn't it?
- But it has a felt box insert!
- Nope, I'm not swayed that easily!
- Nice new artwork!
- I'm not going to be sucked into a game just because of the artwork.
- But it has theme! Musketeers! One for all and all for one!
- You have to be kidding me, this is Knizia type card game isn't it?
Well having said all that, and despite all my preconceptions about Musketeers being a dud, I have to admit that this game really surprised me - in a good way. This seemingly non-descript and familiar-feeling card game actually turned out to be a nice and quick little filler! So without further ado, let me tell you what it's about, and show you how it looks, so you can figure out if Musketeers might surprise you as well!
I just love the look and feel of the tin box series from Gryphon Games. To my knowledge there's presently six in the series, and Musketeers is the very first. Even though a couple of entries in this series are somewhat mediocre, these games really do look impressive when presented in these lovely looking felt-lined tin boxes. This particular title is no exception, and even the cover artwork looks appealing.
The back of the box describes the theme as follows:
"In the Queen’s service, the Musketeers are trying to acquire three valuable gems. However, the Cardinal and his dreaded Guards are out to sabotage the Musketeers’ mission. Many skirmishes between the Musketeers and the Guards ensue. The most successful Musketeers will be awarded gems. Those who fail will be sent to prison and will remain empty handed.."
But now look how impressive it looks when we open the box!
Inside the box
So what comes inside?
• 3 Gem cards
• 3 Prison cards
• 15 Guard cards
• 55 Musketeer cards
Everything inside the box
It's time to get those cards out of the shrinkwrap and take a closer look at those cards!
Cards in shrinkwrap
The Guard cards are clearly marked with red backs, complete with highly attractive and ornate artwork.
Red-backed Guard cards
The Guards represent the "bad" guys that you need to work together to defeat in combat with the help of your Musketeers. Guards come in values of 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12,15,18,20,25,30,35,40, with one in each value. The larger the number, the harder they are to beat.
All the Guard cards
The artwork on these cards is quite attractive!
Example of the artwork on a Guard card
To defeat the cardinal's Guards, we're going to need the help of our friends the Musketeers, which are represented in the game with blue-backed cards.
Blue-backed Musketeer cards
There's 55 of these altogether, and they come in values of 0 through 10, with five of each. Cards of the same value have either 0-4 swords on the bottom of the card, which is only important for breaking ties.
Musketeer cards in values 0-10
Once again, I really like the artwork on these cards!
Examples of the artwork on Musketeer cards
Players will be getting these cards in hand, and simultaneously selecting them, in order to cooperate in an attempt to defeat the face-up Guard card.
At the start of the game, each player will select three Musketeer cards face-down as his "Pay" cards. As the game progresses, if you earn a Gem card, you can use this to double the value of one of you Pay cards. There are three Gem cards in the game.
All three Gem cards
But if you're not careful, instead of earning Gem cards you could also get Prison cards, which make one of your Pay cards worthless. There are three Prison cards in the game.
All three Prison cards
The rules consist of a double sized single sheet, and are very easy to learn and teach.
You'll need to remove some Guard cards from the game, depending on the amount of players (2 players = 25,30,35,40; 3 players = 4,35,40; 4 players = 4,5,7). Shuffle the rest of the Guard cards and put them face-down in the center of the table, along with the 3 Gem cards and 3 Prison cards.
Shuffle the Musketeer cards and deal 12 to each player. You're now ready to play!
Set-up for a three player game
From their starting hand of 12 Musketeers, each player chooses 3 of these as his "Pay cards" and puts them face-down in front of him - their values represent the relative points that they can potentially earn in the game. They will only be revealed at the end of the game.
Players have chosen their three "Pay cards"
This leaves everyone with a hand of 9 cards, and the game ends when these have all been played.
A sample starting hand
Flow of Play
Fighting a Guard
The game will involve flipping the Guard cards face-up one at a time, and playing Musketeer cards together in an attempt to defeat each one. So after revealing the first Guard card, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses a Musketeer card that they'll use in an effort to defeat this Guard.
Preparing to fight a Guard with a strength of 20
Are we ready? Now all the players simultaneously reveal their cards, and then add their values together.
If the Musketeers total is less than the Guard's. The Musketeers have LOST together, and the player who made the lowest contribution to the fight has to take a Prison card and attach it to one of his three Pay cards. Note: the number of swords on the bottom of the Musketeer cards break ties between players.
A total of 17 is not enough to beat 20, so the player who contributed a 3 gets a Prison card
If the Musketeers total is equal or higher than the Guard's, the Musketeers have WON together. The player who made the highest contribution gets to take a Gem card and attach it to one of his three Pay cards.
A total of 9 is enough to beat 8, so the player who contributed a 7 gets a Gem card
Gems and Prisons
The Gem cards double the value of your Pay card carrying it, while the Prison cards reduce the value of your Pay card to zero. If all the three Prison or Gem cards are already in play when you need another one, you take one from another player instead. If all your players already have Gem cards or Prison cards (they can each only have one), instead of getting a fourth card, you remove one of the existing ones (e.g. you remove a Prison card instead of getting another Gem, or you remove a Gem card instead of getting another Prison).
Mid-way a game
And that's the game! The game continues by revealing a new Guard card and fighting it, until the players have played all 9 Musketeer cards. (The game ends early if a player gets all three Gem cards.) At this point you reveal your Pay cards and score points, with Gems doubling their value and Prisons making them worthless.
A player's score of 6 + 0 + 14 = 20 points
You can play a single round, or play multiple rounds until one player has a score of 100 points.
What do I think?
Simultaneous selection and bluffing. I love games which revolve around simultaneous selection and bluffing, and it works excellent here. There's a real moment of tension and surprise, as you wonder what value cards others are playing. In the case of a win, you'll be wondering whether your musketeer is going to be high enough to earn a Gem, while in the case of a loss, you'll be wondering whether your musketeer can avoid being the lowest and thus end up in Prison. The moment of revealing the cards involves a lot of "gotcha" moments, laughs, and surprises!
Cooperative but competitive. This game has a very interesting mechanic where you're working together but at the same time working against each other. It's a cooperative game with a difference! This semi-cooperative element is thematic and truly fitting for the Musketeer's motto: "One for all, and all for one!" Ultimately you need to work together to defeat the Guards, but in the end it will be the best or worst contributor who gets the reward or penalty. It's a clever concept, the kind of genius we'd expect from game designers like Knizia, although in this case it's designer Franz Lamminger who gets the credit. Because of mechanic, the game is best enjoyed with 3 or 4 players rather than just 2. A four player game probably gives the optimum playing experience.
Choices and decisions. Everyone loves having games with meaningful decisions. And there's definitely choices to make with your hand of cards. Do you turn your your highest cards into Pay cards, at the cost of being able to use them to help win victories over the Guards? Or do you opt to go for lower points, perhaps even using a zero as a Pay card so you can afford to have one musketeer in jail, and then use your best cards to avoid jail-time and to guarantee successes on the battle field? And can you out-guess what your opponents are going to do in a particular conflict? They're light and quick choices, but filled with tension and suspense. It's these light and quick choices, when combined with the simultaneous selection and bluffing that make the game fun for me.
Randomness of card draw. This is a card game, so there is an element of luck-of-the-draw. One real disadvantage of Muskeeteers is that it can be very hard to overcome a bad hand, no matter how you play. If you draw multiple 10s, you're in good shape, but if you have a starting hand full of 0s, 1s and 2s, you're in big trouble. Still, games go very quickly, so this needs to be considered. Some have considered whether the game would be improved by assigning players fixed and identical hands, but this doesn't really work because the very fact that you need a method of tie-breaking means that hands can't be identical. It might make the game more balanced, it could also lead to card counting and make the game more serious than it intends to be. In the end the randomness is just part of the game, and while it can introduce a measure of chaos, it also isn't the only determining element.
Light, quick, and fun. In one respect some elements of randomness is a positive, because it means that children can have a real chance even when playing adults. To some extent the outcome is going to be dictated by the strength of your initial hand, but you still need to play carefully and correctly, and one should not underestimate what bluffing and out-guessing your opponents can accomplish! Each round barely takes 5 minutes, so even a bad hand isn't overly painful, and you can quickly move on to another round. It's this very quick play-time that really makes the game shine, despite its weaknesses. By playing up to 100 points, there's room for a few bad hands anyway, and it will even out.
Quality components. I'm a big fan of the tin box, with its felt-style lining, and the artwork on the cards - altogether it makes for an impressive looking package.
Only just - the only way in a 3 player game to beat a Guard worth 30!
What do others think?
This game just isn't going to please everyone, and the randomness and impact of the initial card draw is the main reason why some gamers weren't too enthusiastic about Musketeers. But even the critics who gave it low ratings conceded that for a 15 minute filler it was still quite good, as is evident from these positive comments from gamers who rated it a 4 or 5:
"Musketeers succeeds at being ultra-light 15-minute filler. The card art is very nice and the bluffing gameplay is mildly interesting. Adult replay value is low but this might be a good kids' choice." - Trip Godel
"A nice, quick, and simple game of hand management, almost a trick-taking game. Durable cards. " - oscari
"Entertaining enough as a light diversion." - C J (elgin_j)
"Nice little card game, semi-cooperative, semi-underhanded. Players stitch each other up quite nicely in this one." - Anthony Simons
If even some of the critics had good things to say about Musketeers, what about some of the fans? Let's hear from them:
"A beautifully produced trick taking game. Players are teaming up against the game itself and whether they can together beat the game's offer for each trick decides whether positive or negative prizes are given. Heavy outguessing included." - Juuso Mattila
"Nice little card game, some take that aspect to it and a bit of bluffing." - Neil Mason
"So light it could almost blow away, but actually there is just enough game here to do the job, simple fun and quick, can be played in just a few minutes." - Stephen Baskerville
"Interesting game the has some elements of cooperative play, bidding, press-your-luck, and backstabbing. Theme is very light, but still appreciated." - Robert Carroll
"Unusual blind-bidding game with some nice twists, including a cooperative element set against individual scoring. Offbeat, fast and interesting." - Terry Egan
"Neat idea - you play against the game system, but also against each other." - David Arnott
"This game probably ISN'T as good as I'm rating it. But when we pull it out just once in a while, it never fails to generate a lot of fun." - Mark Johnson
"Overall, I'd say that a real strength with Musketiere is, above its speed to be played, the real differences in game dynamics you feel with two, three or four players, as it's definitely also about psychology, not only luck. A filler, yes, but a really good one." - Laurent Maerten
You'll find a couple of other positive reviews of the game here, here, and here. Clearly I'm not the only one who finds something to like in Musketeers!
So is Musketeers a game for you? I can appreciate the fact that this kind of game may only frustrate adult gamers looking for a meaty filler, and if that's what you're looking for, this is not it. But Musketeers does have real potential when played with the right audience, particularly families and children, or even as a very light and quick filler for gamers. It's not a children's game as such, but it will have appeal for kids and non-gamers, looking for some quick and light fun. Some pre-teens I taught this game to just loved the game, and given how quickly it flowed, I really enjoyed it as well. Randomness can trump your decision making on occasion, but there's enough decision making that it can trump the randomness too! Given that you can play a round in little more than 5 minutes, you don't have much to lose, given the measure of fun Musketeers can offer in that short length of time! When taken for what it is, it can offer considerable entertainment with the right group and in the right context, and if you enjoy games with bluffing and simultaneous selection, and are looking for something light and quick, this might just fit the bill! Mr Lamminger, thanks for surprising me!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Thu Sep 15, 2011 12:55 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:42 am
This is a great review that has convinced me to put this one on "the list"
...as if I needed more card games. :eyeroll:
Plus, it's $10.61 on Amazon right now!
Rio de Janeiro
Plus, it's $10.61 on Amazon right now!
You mean, $4.65!
Plus, it's $10.61 on Amazon right now!
You mean, $4.65!
Plus $5.96 shipping.
Great review! The game sounds like a shorter, streamlined version of Cutthroat Caverns.
Thank you so much!!
I may have missed this game if it wasn't for you, and while I have only played with 2 players, we have a great time with it! Can't wait to play with a larger group to see how the dynamics play out!
Some of the best $11 I have ever spent!!
Got to finally play this tonight. Loved it.
The review is very good, I had a ball playing this game with my whole family. 6, 9 and 11 years old. Since there is no reading, it give a good alternative to UNO for my 6 years old