Munchkin

Signs you might be a munchkin:

1. If your GM saves your character sheet for the next Big Bad Evil Guy.

2. If, when looting the bodies, you didn’t notice one of them was your teammate.

3. If you have more minions under your command in the dungeon than your GM.

4. If you specialize in two classes that absolutely despise one another, just because the skills stack well.

5. If your level 3 character is capable of killing a demigod, but they will die if they trip going up a flight of stairs.

6. If an entire region’s economy is based on your spending habits.

 

The Premise

Players in Munchkin get to experience all of the exciting dungeon exploring, monster slaying, loot hoarding, trap evading antics of a traditional role-playing game – just without the peskiness of actually putting effort into character or world creation. Players take turns marauding through various monster encounters until they have enough loot skill to reach level 10 and win.

 

The Rules:

As Munchkin is a fairly light card game, there is very little set up involved. The game’s 168 cards belong to either the Door deck (generally representing monsters, curses, or other maladies) or the Treasure deck (representing items and equipment to use). Each deck is shuffled, and players are dealt a starting hand of four cards from each deck. In addition, players will need a means of keeping track of their level throughout the course of the game. Anything will suffice, but usually d10’s or a piece of paper are easiest. Each player starts the game at level 1. Players then roll to see who goes first.

 

It’s simple enough for a flow chart.

Each player’s turn is handled the same way. First, the player reveals the top card of the Door deck. If the revealed card is a Curse card, that curse takes effect.

If the revealed card is a Monster, then the player must either face that monster or attempt to run away. If they defeat the monster (by themselves or with other player’s assistance), then they draw cards from the Treasure deck, and they go up a level.

If the card is neither a curse of a monster, the player instead draws it. They then have the option to play a creature from their hand and fight it, or draw another card from the Door deck. The player then discards down to their maximum hand size (either to the discard pile or to other players), and it’s the next player’s turn.

The cards players have fall into two types. The first are various races, classes, and items that can be put into play to give a player additional abilities and combat bonuses. These can be played during your turn if you are not currently fighting. The second are one-shot cards that can be used during anyone’s combat.

Turns continue until a player overcomes the interference of others  and defeats a monster to reach level 10.

 

Door Kicking!

Munchkin, by its very nature, is full of slapdash gaming humor. The name sort of gives that away. Munchkin is a¬†pejorative term, bestowed upon certain players in the tabletop community who have a penchant for trying to maximize their own enjoyment, regardless of how it affects other players. Also known as Min/Maxers or Power Gamers, Munchkins are those who will always try to reap the biggest reward for themselves in order to “win”, be it in loot piles, character stats, kill count, or anything in between, and this can come at the expense of the egalitarian nature of most tabletop groups. They’ll do this for their own entertainment, often bypassing even the role-playing part of a role-playing game. Whether this behavior is done intentionally or not, enough players have succumb to the “munchkin” traits over the last few decades that the term stuck.

Actual Munchkin Monster

The game Munchkin is a parody of this behavior. Released in 2001, Munchkin has attracted many players over the years for a variety of reasons. For one, it is very accessible to everyone – you don’t have to be a tabletop veteran to get a lot of the humor in the game.

And humor is plentiful. From monsters like the dreaded Gazebo to weapons such as the Staff of Napalm, the game aims to never takes itself too seriously. The amount of oddball card interactions in the game approaches Monty Python proportions. This is reinforced in the cartoony artwork of the cards, which really do sell the jokes. Granted, there are a lot of inside joke nods for the pen-and-paper crowd, but that part was wisely designed more as a bonus for them rather than a negative for everyone else. Because of that, Munchkin’s atmosphere of lighthearted antics stays friendly to all gamers.

 

Destroy Your Enemies – Then Destroy Your Friends

So, you have the chance for finding humorous magic items, face unpredictable monsters, has the potential for lots of mayhem, and that’s every single turn?!?

In a word, yes.

Daredevils, step right up. This is your kind of game. There are lots of different ways a game can progress, but one thing for certain is that you simply can’t predict what turns the game will take. For a Daredevil, their acumen plays right into this. They can let their maverick flag fly. Here, they are free to try any eccentric card combinations that wish to see what happens. And they will. Usually with ridiculous results.

Strikers are in a similar position. They’ll enjoy that your only actual intent is to win. The humor is sort of an afterthought. Sometimes you can do this peaceably, but usually it’s more of a slugfest, as everyone is trying to prevent everyone else from reaching level 10. Their only real reservation will likely be how prevalent it is for someone to try to win, have the board gang up to stop them, and then have another player slip in and claim victory because everyone is out of cards. Unless they’re the ones to pull that off.

For a game that involves a lot of action with other players and doesn’t have deep complexity, you’d expect Socializers to also take a liking to this game instinctively. While largely true, however, it isn’t guaranteed. Their issue isn’t in the complexity of the game, but rather the length. You would (rightly) assume that a game like Munchkin screams “short!”, but often that’s not the case if you have more than a couple players. Some turns are exceedingly quick if all you are doing is Opening the Door and then Looting the Room. Other turns, especially those near the end of the game, can last a few minutes each – especially if you are trying to win. People at that point will throw the kitchen sink at you (which is, oddly, not a card) to stop you from winning. If they succeed, this not only prevents you from victory, but it extends the life of the game as you have to regroup and (hopefully) try again. Generally, it should be a game they can get behind, but it comes with the caveat that Socializers whose early experiences with Munchkin are of the more drawn out variety may be soured by it and not be inclined to return.

With Munchkin, not only will Architects not return: don’t expect them to show up at all. There is very little for to Architects to enjoy here beyond amassing items, but with a limited hand size, putting them into play is their only option. However, in a game as provocative as Munchkin, sitting on a large pile of items is just inviting others to steal, destroy, or otherwise disrupt your hoard of goods. Munchkin is random, combative, and lacks a lot of the mechanics that Architects gravitate towards. They are wise to skip this game.

You may need a friendship potion after some games.

Tacticians are the real wild card with Munchkin. This is, clearly, a game that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of heavy planning. By its nature Munchkin is a whirling storm of goofy combat antics, and that’s not ideal for Tacticians who focus on the long game. There isn’t a war in Munchkin; instead, it’s more like a thousand little skirmishes.

The game isn’t entirely devoid of strategy, such as knowing when to play monster cards on another player and when it’s best to hold on to it instead. In that, a Tactician can put at least some of their skills to use, though for some it won’t be enough. Munchkin is a game that a Tactician will probably play, but it’s not something they’ll be regularly pulling off the game shelf, and they could lose interest over time if they never feel like their efforts will result in a win due to the amount of luck involved.

 

As for Immersionists…well, there is no concrete world here for them to deal with is there? Rather, it’s a send-up of all those worlds they enjoy. For those who don’t take the subject matter too seriously, they’ll probably be entertained by all the references and situational comedy. They’ll probably be amused to pull this out from time to time. But don’t expect them to start preferring this over the real stuff.

 

The Takeaway

Munchkin is, in may ways, a great piece of gaming satire. It distills poor role-playing habits down to a comedic card game where players are jockeying to be the best darn munchkin they can be. Now in its 19th printing, Steve Jackson’s Munchkin has reached quite a wide and receptive audience in its existence. Indeed, people particularly enjoy the game’s innate wackiness, ease of play, and unpredictable interactions from session to session. The game is rules lite, preferring to let the cards speak for themselves. This makes it easy to learn and engages players while still very much being tongue-in-cheek on everything dungeon-crawl. Those who appreciate a filler game with a wide range of silliness will appreciate Munchkin.

It is not a game for everyone, however. Luck plays a large factor, as the game can be very swingy with its outcomes or drag on a little too long, depending on how the cards (and players) behave. Others may not like that the game is rather combative for one presented as lighthearted fun, as players sabotage one another continually in a race to the finish line. Still, Munchkin succeeds in being a funny and entertaining game for when you want something you can play with new and experienced gamers alike, without all those annoyin rules getting in the way.

 

Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Artwork: 4
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 3
Physical Quality 3
Overall Score: 3.5

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