Wednesday 9 January 2013

Review - Musketeers

Recently, I haven't been updating this blog nearly as much as I should do. I would like to say this is because I have been working hard and promoting my books; but the truth is I've spent an unhealthy amount of time playing Batman: Arkham City on the Playstation.

In an attempt to prevent a serious case of RSI, I have torn myself from the games console to upload and old review that I originally posted on back in March 2010. I've even taken the time to tidy it up a bit. Enjoy.

Published by Gryphon Games
Designed by Franz Josef Lamminger
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult

Musketeers card game
"En garde!" (Oops, wrong game.)

As Christmas 2009 loomed, I discovered that my wife would be working on Christmas day. This meant I would be spending Christmas day with my elderly parents. As such, I started looking around for a few easy-to-play games that they would be able to pick up easily. One such game was Musketeers, which I didn't have high hopes for; but as I thought it had to be better than watching the Queen's speech I took the plunge.

Musketeers is a card game (an incredibly simple card game). It is presented in a rather nice tin that has two compartments, allowing you to separate out the main deck and all of the special cards into two piles for easy set-up. The cards are of good quality and the artwork is very cool in a slightly cartoonish sort of way. Generally speaking, for the price, it is a very nicely presented game. The instructions come on a single folded sheet of paper and can be picked up in about three minutes.

The cards you get are:

55 musketeer cards. These are the cards that players will be using to win special cards throughout the game. They show the musketeers in various poses and are numbered 0 - 10. They also have symbols showing a number of swords which are used in tie-break situations (for example, a 3 with one sword is not as good as a 3 with two swords).

15 guard cards. These represent the enemies you will be fighting. You draw one of these in each round and then everybody pitches in to "fight" it.

Three prison cards and three gem cards. These represent a prize for winning a fight, or a penalty for losing a fight.

The rules are very straight forward, and I would be surprised if anybody needed the rule sheet after the first hand had been played.

To start with everybody is dealt 12 musketeer cards. Of these 12 you pick three and play them face down in front of you - these three cards will equate to points at the end of the game. A nice touch with the artwork on the cards is that the higher the number, the better armed (and the more numerous) the musketeers in the picture are.

Musketeers card game
The valiant Muskahounds... I mean Musketeers.

You then draw one guard card and play it face up. The guard card has a number on it which all the players collectively are trying to beat (although in some cases you will be playing a card that will result in a loss, just to screw over someone else). As with the musketeer cards, guard cards with a low value have an illustration of fewer enemies, while guard cards with high values show a whole army to be vanquished.

Each player picks one of his or her remaining musketeer cards (not one selected for points) and plays it face down. Everyone then reveals their selected card together.

If collectively, the musketeer cards add up to equal to or greater than the guard card, then the musketeers win the fight and the player who played the HIGHEST card gets a gem card. That player places the gem card on top of one of the three cards set aside for points. A gem will double the value of the associated card at the end of the game.

If the musketeer cards add up to less than the guard card, the musketeers lose and the player who played the LOWEST card gets a prison card. (Note: in the case of a tie for the lowest card, the lowest card with the LEAST amount of sword icons is considered the loser.)

A prison card is placed on top of one of the points cards and if it is still there at the end of the game then that points card will score 0 regardless of its face value.

You then discard the guard card and draw a fresh one, and repeat the whole process (a total of nine times, until everyone has used all of their remaining musketeer cards).

If at any point you need to take a gem card or a prison card but there are none left in the supply, you can pick the relevant card from any other player. If you win a fight but you don't have any bare points cards (for example, you have two gems and one prison) then you can discard a prison card. If you lose a fight but don't have bare points cards then you discard a gem card.

That's it. That simple.

At the end of nine rounds, everyone reveals their three points cards. Cards with a prison on them score 0, cards with a gem on them are worth double the face value, and bare cards are worth face value. Highest total wins.

Musketeers card game
A gem, and a room with a view.

As you can probably tell from this description, the theme is entirely lacking from this game (it's a card game, after all). At no point will you feel like a team of musketeers fighting off villainous enemies, breaking out of prison, or anything like that. I love games with a good theme (and a dragon or two), but I don't really expect a thematic experience from a card game like this. At least the tacked on theme means you get some nice illustrations - much better than plain old numbers or icons.

The game is also (obviously) not very deep. There is little in the way of strategy, and most of your decisions are based on bluffing. Not all of the cards are used in every game (only a maximum of 48 of the 55 available musketeer cards and nine of the available guard cards), so you can't do a lot of card counting because you will not know how many of each card is in play during the game.

Not using all the cards can also mean you get royally screwed in your initial hand. The 12 cards you are dealt are your points and also your way of winning points. If you get dealt a hand with four or five 0 cards, then you are not likely to do well in the game and at best you are playing damage limitation. Similarly, if you get a hand with lots of 9s and 10s, then you will get a runaway victory in most cases. Really, it should have been the case that everyone gets the same starting hand, but then I don't think this game is supposed to be the kind of game you play for deep strategy - it is a stupid, quick game you play between games of something else (or between Christmas dinner and the Queen's speech).

There are a few decisions to make in the game. The most important is selecting your three points cards, which is a big deal if you have a mixed hand rather than a generally good or generally bad hand. You can put down three low value cards to ensure you have high points cards to play with, but in this case, even if you win the most rounds you are likely to have less points than another player at the end of the game. If you put down lots of high value cards, you run the risk of not having enough good cards in your hand to win any gems, and will therefore be beaten by another player. Getting the balance just right can be quite tricky, especially as the cards in your hand will not give you complete knowledge of the cards your opponents have.

Once the game is underway, it all comes down to bluffing and card management. If a low value guard card comes out, everybody will expect everybody else to put down low value musketeer cards hoping they will add up to just enough to win the card; so if you throw down a 0 value card you can really upset the group and lose an "easy" guard card. If a high value guard card hits the table people might try to play high cards to beat it, but you might want to save your last high value musketeer for a situation where you are sure you can win. Trying to figure out when to ditch your 0 cards, and when to play your 10 cards is a lot of fun in a shallow "I don't want to play this for more than 10 minutes" kind of way.

Guards! Guards!

The tin says this game plays in 20-40 minutes. This takes into account playing several games (until someone scores 100 points). I assume the reason for playing multiple games is to mitigate the problems that can arise from being dealt 12 terrible cards at the start: Over the course of several games, you should get a mix of decent cards heading your way. However, I have never played more than three games in a row, because there just isn't enough going on here to keep me interested that long. Compare this to other card games like Archaeology or Lost Cities which I can play for hours, and it just doesn't stand up.

I like the game enough to break it out for 10-15 minutes every now and again, and it is worth playing at least two games because of the chance of getting bad cards.

It absolutely succeeded in its original purpose: My parents played it and enjoyed it, and it helped to pad out Christmas day. It also wasn't too expensive, so overall I am happy to have bought it.

One last thing to note: It only plays 2-4 people. It feels like the kind of game that could have been played with more people, or which could have had a team variant in the rules, but this isn't present. Don't purchase it expecting to be able to break it out at larger game groups or social events.

Overall, a solid but light-weight bluffing game that will get a few laughs but will infuriate people looking for something more strategic or tactical. 

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