Sunday, February 13, 2011

Board Game Review: The Three Musketeers

I know it's been ages again. Life has been so amazingly busy and stressful. Hopefully, in a month or two more, things will settle down and I can resume my usual every-week-or-two posting schedule.

In the meantime, I would like to review for you the board game 'The Three Musketeers: The Queen's Pendants.' I stumbled across this game in my local game shop and decided it would make a perfect birthday present for my wife. She is, after all, a major fan of Alexander Dumas. So, without further ado: the system.

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None.
Attractiveness: Average
Expected Length of Game Play: 30 minutes to an hour

This game reminds me a bit of a cross between the Lord of the Rings board game by Reiner Knizia and Scotland Yard from Milton Bradley. It accommodates between two and five players, one of whom plays the Cardinal Richelieu. The remaining player(s) take on the roles of the musketeers (D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis). The fewer the players, the more musketeers each player controls.

At the start of the game, each musketeer character is given a pendants token; one of these tokens represents the Queen's pendants, whilst the other three are decoys. All the musketeers are placed on the edge of the board that represents the Quai d' Louvre. The board itself represents the palace of the Louvre, with the Queen in the ballroom at the other end. The object for the musketeers is to get the real pendants to the Queen before she meets with the King.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal is using his minions (palace guards, Rochefort, and Milady d'Winter) to delay the musketeers until the Queen meets with the King, or else to capture the real pendants.

One of the most innovative things about this game is the turn system. Rather than players taking turns in the same order every round, there is a stack of cards which describes the order in which the players go. You draw a new one each round, so it's harder to prepare for upcoming events because you don't know who's going when.

On a musketeer's turn, he can move up to two rooms, pick up and use equipment, trade equipment or pendant tokens with other musketeers in the same room, or attack the Cardinal's minions. The Cardinal, on the other hand, receives a certain number of 'action points' (determined by the current turn card) to use. These action points can be spent to summon minions, move those minions through the palace, or play his special cards.

There are a lot of little details, such as the portcullis and the musketeer's individual special abilities, but for the most part, they're not really important for this review. What is important is: duelling.

Duels are the main way that the Cardinal has of attempting to defeat the musketeers. Each time Rochefort or any Palace Guards are in the same room as one or more musketeers (Milady cannot duel at all), all present characters engage in duel. Richelieu's minions roll a collective pool of dice and distribute all successful hits evenly between the musketeers present in the duel. When a musketeer has lost all three life points (four, in the case of Porthos), he is stunned and must wait for his next turn to recover. The musketeers roll their dice separately, with each successful hit eliminating a guard (or, if no guards are present, Rochefort). If all the musketeers in a duel are stunned and there are any of the Cardinal's henchmen (including Milady) still present, they can look at those musketeers' pendant tokens. If any of them are the real pendants, the Cardinal wins.

Now here's where things get interesting: the guards each roll one die, while Rochefort rolls two. Rochefort also gets to fire a single shot from his pistol before the start of the battle. In any case, a roll of 5 or 6 is a successful hit. The Musketeers, on the other hand, roll two dice each (D'Artagnan's special ability is that he rolls a number of dice equal to the number of minions he's fighting, with 2 dice a minimum). They score successful hits on a 4 or higher. So it's obvious that the musketeers are are more likely to win in any given duel. The only real chance the Cardinal has of winning a duel is by seriously outnumbering the musketeers. This can often be hard to do, especially if he has a small number of action points in a round.

That's where Milady comes in. She cannot engage in a duel, nor be attacked. What she can do, however, is to seduce the musketeers. Whenever she's in a room with one or more musketeers, she can roll a die to attempt to seduce one of them. On a roll of 4 or more, she gets to look at that musketeer's pendants token. If she finds the real one, it doesn't end the game, but the Cardinal now knows who has the real pendants, and can focus his forces accordingly. At least, until the musketeers exchange pendants tokens...

All in all, I thought it was a very fun game. If you like suspense and intrigue, with players trying to outwit their opponents through bluffing and trickery, then you'll likely enjoy this game.