The Four Musketeers

by Steve Bowler on February 25, 2008

in board,casual,design,multiplayer

One of the more satisfying results of the Game Design Workshop I took was the elective for the Three Musketeers.  We were asked to come up with an alternative 3 or 4 player version of the game, one where the ruleset would remain consistent, and maintain as much of the “fiction” as possible.

For those who are link-click impaired, I’ll sum up Three Musketeers for you:  It’s a two player game on a 5×5 board, and the player who is the “Musketeers” must take his three black pieces which are aligned on the board in a diagonal and keep them from being “captured” by the Cardinal’s men who will attempt to get them to line up in any row or column.  The Musketeers move by capturing one of the Cardinal’s men (they occupy all other spaces on the board), and the Cardinal moves by moving one of his men into any open space.  All moves are made only vertically or horizontally (no diagonals).

It’s actually a bit of a boring game, and it feels a tad weighted in the Musketeer’s favor.

So, at any rate, my idea for a 2/3/4 player version of the game started with this board layout:

So it begins.

Each player plays one of the Musketeers, and there is no Cardinal.  Same horizontal/vertical moves apply.  Players take turns moving by capturing one of the Cardinal’s men.  If there are no more legal moves left, a Musketeer can “taunt” one of the Cardinal’s men into moving into a space that Musketeer desires (must be a legal one space horizontal/vertical move).  This is how good Musketeers leave traps for their opponents (by forcing them into a legal move which will lead to their defeat at the hands of an awaiting Musketeer).  Capturing a Musketeer counts as a legal move, and the objective is for there to be just one Musketeer left standing.  Screw “One for All and All for One.”  They obviously have a score to settle and are going to find out just who the best Musketeer is. 

The first problem we found was that game boards often ended up looking like this:

Not that great

Everyone just wanted to play defensive; there was little motivation to force them into the middle.  Players saw not being eliminated as a victory condition, even though the only real victory condition was being the only player left standing.  Obviously, we needed to give players some “motivation” to get to the middle and force some more player interaction in order to get a victory condition of just one player being left.

I threw out the idea of a secondary priority move square.  Fiction-wise, we can call them “Parapets.”  The idea is that if there is no legal Cardinal’s soldier or Musketeer for the player to move to, they must move onto one of the Parapets if it is a legal adjacent move before they are allowed to taunt one of the Cardinal’s men.  I put them in a four-square position so they would cover the most real-estate of the board, forcing the most players towards the middle:

Getting better.

This started off a lot better, and got a bit more strategy forced out of the players, as they were forced to move towards the middle, but we found that a lot of games ended in a two player stalemate that often looked like this:

Almost there...

So close!  And yet so far, as we wanted only one person to be the victor!  At this point, the woman from Bioware (I apologize, I can’t remember your name…Caroline?  Candice?  Catherine?) came up with the idea of the Cardinal sending in reinforcements.  The idea is that if there are no pawns left on the table, the Cardinal will send in one reinforcement, in the center square (or in an adjacent square if it is taken), which the Musketeers can then taunt to lure their opponent into a trap.  So the final game board looked like this:

This is it.

Finally, we started having some true excitement.  The majority of the time, we found that there was just the one victor.  The “reinforcement” piece constantly spawning would almost ensure that there could be no stalemate.  Only once did we not wind up with a board that ended similarly to this:

VICTOLY!!!

For the most part, I felt this was a huge success.  The game was fun, can be easily modified for 2 or 3 player play (although 3 player might be awkward due to the board shape inherantly favoring powers of 2), and it was easy for players to understand and get the hang of quickly.  Fiction-wise, I think we pretty much not only captured the idea of Musketeers vs. Cardinals men, but also brought an element of that “morally grey” area that’s prevalent in today’s culture by making the heroes compete with each other.

But more importantly, the dramatic tension was kept as the game gets more and more stressful the more white pieces are removed.  There is even a bit of a denoument as players can easily predict how the final 4 or 5 moves are going to play out, and see in advance that they are going to be trapped and there is no way out of the other player’s successful strategy or their own mistake.

It certainly has its flaws; there are the occassional stalemates, and I imagine if one did some deep analysis on it a “tic-tac-toe” like strategem might form where one player can always win if he counter-moves appropriately and the other player isn’t aware of that strategy.

But for a game that took less than an hour to make (it took longer to write up this analysis), I think it’s a ton of fun.  Give it a try, and if you can think of any improvements, leave ‘em in the comments.

Once again, the rules, in an “official” format:

  • 4 players start in the corners of a 5×5 grid
  • The rest of the grid is populated by non-player pieces
  • Players move horizontally or vertically one square by taking one of the non-palyer pieces.  Other players are considered a legal move and capturing them is the only way to win the game.
  • The middle square is the “reinforcement” square
  • The four squares to the NE, NW, SE, and SW of the “reinforcement” square are considered Parapets.
  • Players must take a non-player piece (or another player piece) if one is available to them.
  • Any player adjacent to a Parapet without a legal capture move must move to the Parapet.
  • If players do not have a legal capture move, or a Parapet move, they may taunt one of the non-player pieces by moving it one space horizontally or vertically.
  • When all non-player pieces are captured, a new one will “spawn” in the reinforcement square (if unoccupied, then it spawns in an adjacent square).  This happens on every player turn if there is no non-player piece left.
  • Last Musketeer standing wins.

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