Francois Combe &
Gilles Lehmann



No. of Players:
1 - 5 (6)



Whereas the name of both the French and English version of the new YSTARI game remains the same, the German version has been named Mylady und die Musketiere, and name which will probably appeal more to the German buyers than the use of the original French name. While it is true that Germany and France are neighbouring countries in central Europe, it is still surprising that the French language is treated rather stepmotherly in German schools. English is predominant, and it's popularity is followed by ancient Latin, and so it is no wonder that ASMODEE has made the move to give the game a German title. But let this be enough about schools - let's go for some action…

The new game is focused on the story The three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and up to four players can cooperate to take up the roles of the musketeers who embark on a mission to return some diamond jewellery to the Queen of France. The Queen had given this piece of jewellery to her English suitor as a token of her love, and now the sinister Cardinal Richelieu is trading to compromise the Queen by inviting the Queen to a Royal reception where she is supposed to wear that jewellery. So, the musketeers have been sent to recover the jewellery from England, but to make the whole mission a real challenge a fifth player is joining the game on side of the Cardinal - his alluring and dangerous agent Mylady de Winter.

Okay, we have seen some rather successful cooperative games in the last years, sometimes with all players teaming up on the same side like Knizia's classic Lord of the Rings or the beautiful Shadows over Camelot. On the other hand, there were some games where of the players had to stop the others from reaching their goal, and here an example is the Sauron expansion for Lord of the Rings or a plethora of older RPG games like Heroquest where only player has to take the role of the gamemaster. However, many of these games actually failed to provide the role of the mugwump with real tension. Actually, those players needed to enjoy the position of a "game manager" instead of real participation, and only a few games actually succeeded to involve the maverick on a real gaming level.

The position of Mylady de Winter in Mousquetaires du Roy actually seems to be one of the rare examples where the fusion between cooperative gaming on the one hand and a sinister loner on the other hand does work, providing the Mylady player with enough powers and playing to move him from the manager's seat to a real participant. During the game, Mylady will secretly move around the different locations on the gameboard, being revealed either after the musketeers have moved or when being discovered by a musketeer visiting the same place. For this mechanism to work, Mylady has to envision which moves the musketeer players possibly will make, and she has to play a secret card which will name her whereabouts for the current turn.

Locations on the gameboard are Mylady's House, the Musketeers quarters, Richelieu's office, the Bastille (prison), Paris, the Louvre and the beleaguered city of La Rochelle. Furthermore, one space is reserved for the current stage of the musketeer's quest to recover the Queen's lost jewellery, and if the musketeers should succeed in solving all four stages of this quest the musketeer players will have won the game. However, time is running against the musketeers, and so Mylady will mark the beginning of each new turn on a corresponding track, and if 12 turns have passed without the musketeers successfully solving the last stage of the jewellery quest their delay has become to great and Mylady will have won the game.

The musketeers players are equipped with a nice character sheet showing their character and his statistical values, going from classic life points over to ratings for the following four attributes: Education, Nobility, Gallantry and Verve. In addition, each character has a rating how many dice he will roll in combat, a special dice combination showing the character's secret blow, and a special ability which will be unique to the character. Many of the quest cards which are revealed during the game require the musketeers either to pass a challenge for one of their attributes or a combat, and here the Adventure cards which the players can earn during the course of the game come in quite handy. Using these cards they can get a temporary increase of a specific attribute in order to pass an attribute test (note: no dice are rolled here!), or they can increase the number of dice they roll in combat up to a maximum of six.

Combat is dealt with in a streamlined but efficient way. The player rolls a set of combat dice for his musketeer, whereas Mylady rolls a dice for the adversary which she has placed against the musketeer. The players need to roll "Sword" symbols in order to inflict a wound on their enemy, but each rolled "Shield" will cancel out a "Sword" rolled by the opposing player. Under normal circumstances the combat ends after one player has inflicted at least one wound (most of Mylady's henchmen only have one Lifepoint), and if the musketeer player has been successful the challenge will be considered to be solved.

Challenges can be found everywhere on the board, and it will be the task of the Mylady player to use her henchmen and traps to the best possible extend and to acquire additional treachery cards which will make the life of the musketeers even harder. Thus, The Mylady player will use his action to do some mischief on the gameboard, and if he should have matching cards he is also allowed to make some new missions even harder for the musketeers by adding a trap of some henchmen from her hand. The musketeers on the other hand will have to use their three actions per player wisely to prevent any catastrophe which will lead to a victory of Mylady. Thus, they will not only face the task of returning the jewellery to the Queen within the set timeframe, but they will also need to prevent other disastrous events from happening. Thus, they need to keep an eye on the Louvre since the missions there - if not solved in time - will lead to a stepwise dishonouring of the Queen. At the same time they will need to keep an eye on Paris, where D'Artagnan's lover Constance is under a constant threat that Mylady might kill her. As if this should not be enough, the battle at the city of Le Havre is threatening to end with a victory if the rebellious Huguenots, and so the musketeers need to keep the balance of power token at this city to sink too deep for the Cardinal's favour (a bit similar to the Grail-quest in Shadows over Camelot).

Mylady is in the middle of this, moving secretly from place to place to spread her dangerous intrigues. If a musketeer visits the same location, Mylady is revealed, but in most circumstances this discovery only will cause additional trouble for the musketeer trying to solve a task. Thus, a meeting at Paris or the Louvre will force the musketeer to fight the formidable Rochefort, Mylady's bodyguard. Despite Mylady's Lara Croft-like look on the gameboard Mylady does not go into combat herself, and so she sends Rochefort in, and in difference to some of Mylady's other henchmen Rochefort is a skilled swordsman (more combat dice) and he possesses five lifepoints, making him a dangerous foe to deal with. Only at Richelieu's office will the musketeers appearance prevent greater mischief, since the musketeer's presence will prevent Mylady from drawing additional treachery cards which she otherwise would have been entitled to. However, if the musketeer's speculation on Mylady's current location was wrong, Richelieu will send the musketeer to the Bastille where he has to spend the rest of his turn.

As indicated, the musketeer players need to fight their way through all four stages of the quest for the jewellery to win the game, but apart from the numerous challenges the players will have to solve Mylady also a possibility to appear at the current quest location to position Rochefort to delay the musketeers even further. To make a bit up for this sinister character, the musketeers have the possibility to use an action to visit the Arsenal. Money can be earned especially by preventing some grave danger at the Louvre, and so the musketeers can use this money to by equipment like a musket, a stallion or a healing salve which all will have some helpful effect. In addition, a musketeer also may opt to train at the arsenal, thus increasing one of his attribute ratings by one.

When I saw the first images of Mousquetaires du Roy while preparing for the SPIEL '10 convention I was getting rather impatiently to give this new game a try. I like the comic-like artwork in the game (which is clearly a tribute to France's great tradition of comic drawing). And indeed, the game did not disappoint Nicole and me! As indicated above, authors François Combe and Gilles Lehman did a great job transforming Dumas' novel into a challenging boardgame, and my praise falls even higher due to the manifold options available to Mylady to interact with the other players. The Mylady player faces a difficult task of timing, moving on the board and trying to speculate the next moves of the musketeers. The musketeer players are allowed to talk to each other and make up their plans, but to symbolize Mylady's spy network all talk must be made openly, and any cards revealed must be shown to Mylady as well. Thus, in clear contrast to many older games, the position of Mylady in Mousquetaires du Roy indeed moves the fifth player from the position of the mystical gamemaster to a real player, and so a great degree of tension and even some nice-roleplaying elements can be found in this game.

As a sidenote, I should also mention that people buying the game here at the SPIEL '10 received a fifth musketeer miniature and playing sheet as a special convention goodie, increasing the number of possible players to a total of six. However, those of you unable to attend should be at ease - I have read a comment of one of the game designer's somewhere in the net, telling that the RIO GRANDE version of the game actually will include the character sheet of the fifth musketeer as well.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany