Review: Munchkin

Every game can clearly fall into at least one distinct category: roleplaying game, strategy, action/adventure, etc. Other games need their own categories, like “mercilessly stab your friends in the back at the most opportune moment for you to win the game.” I feel that this very accurately describes the category that Munchkin belongs to. Here is my review.

Game: Munchkin Munchkin
Design: Steve Jackson
Illustrations: John Kovalic
Published: Steve Jackson Games
Players: 3-6+
Time: 1-2 hours

Munchkin is a Living Card Game that takes players deep into the depths of fantastic, magical dungeons filled with strange and frightening monsters for you to fight. The feeling of the game can probably best be summed up by its tag line:

“Go down in the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run.” – Munchkin Website

Munchkin takes the feeling and setting of a traditional high fantasy role playing game without the role play, large books, character sheets, or anything else typically associated with RPGs. Honestly, Munchkin was my gateway drug into the world of roleplaying because of the light-hearted and hilarious tone it takes. The game frequently makes fun of itself and typical RPGs or their players. Even with this light-hearted tone, Munchkin is one of those games where you can’t take things too personally, as you WILL frustrate your friends by the end.

“It’s a Gazebo”

Set Up:
Munchkin takes place in a series of rounds with each player taking their turn around the table in clockwise order. There are two decks of cards (unless you have some of the expansions that add additional decks), one for Doors and one for Treasures. Players start the game with two of each and lay down what they can (if anything) on the table in front of them. This makes up their “character sheet”, with cards representing races, classes, weapons, magic items, armor and other clothing, etc. This area will change through out the game, so don’t become overly attached to any single item you own. One of the other players may notice!

The goal of the game is be the first player to reach Level 10. On a player’s turn, they will first “kick down the door” to the next room of the dungeon. They flip over a Door card (any Door card) and resolve the card. If it is a Monster card, they can either fight it or run away from it (if the Monster allows them to). Fighting Monsters will be explained later. If the card is a curse, race, class, weapon, item, Monster Enhancer, etc., then they can place it in their hand or on their character. If a non-Monster card was drawn, they may either “loot the room” or “go searching for trouble”; they can draw a second Door card face-down straight into their hand or play and fight a Monster from their hand respectively. After the room has been looted and all card effects resolved, play moves to the next person.

The winner of a fight is the side with the highest cumulative Level between the player(s) and the Monster(s). For the player, this means they add their current level (from 1-9) + bonuses from their weapons + bonuses from items + “other bonuses” (discussed later) +/- any Monster-specific traits (i.e. male characters are -2 vs a Monster) + all of the above for any player that helps them fight. For the Monster, it is the total number of levels of ALL Monsters in the fight +/- any Monster Enhancers +/- any bonus items played.  Only  one player may assist in a fight directly, but everyone at the table may spend Monster Enhancers and items to help either side. This tends to be the main source of player tension later in the game as allies turn on each other, players create super-monsters, and curses are played which steal the active player’s favorite three-handed sword (yes, that’s a thing).

Whining at the GM
Poking fun at traditional RPGs.

If the players defeat the Monster, the active player gains a level (or more depending on the Monster) and the number of treasure cards shown on the Monster’s card. Any assisting players must negotiate ahead of time what they are willing to do for their aid (how many treasures they want from it, etc). However, if the Monster wins, all players that took part in the combat must try to run away. This means that they roll a d6 and succeed on a 5 or 6. If they roll a 1-4, they suffer any “Bad Stuff” listed on the Monster card. Most of these bad things include losing levels, items, changing gender, etc. You know, little things.

Occasionally the Bad Stuff includes death. Luckily death isn’t an instant “game over” for the player. Instead, they lose all of their gear (which is evenly distributed to the rest of the players at the table because, of course, they looted your dead body) and get to keep their race, class, and level. On their next turn they draw two Doors and two Treasures like they did at the beginning of the game. This makes it so that death is bad but not the end of the world.

First off, I love Munchkin. Like I mentioned before, it is probably the reason that I started looking into non-traditional games and RPGs in the first place. But it is definitely not one of those games that I would play over and over with my closest friends without some sort of cooperative or “feel good” game in between.

Toward the end of the game (levels 7-9), deep ties have been sown between allies and form deep rifts with other players, causing players to throw in all of their Monster Enhancers, extra potions and items, etc to try and defeat the active player and gain the victory for themselves. It’s all a part of the game, but it can really bring down the mood of your group if you play too often.

Now, I will say that some of the cards in this game are… say, not suitable for all Munchkin Curse of Duckages. You have to be the final decision as to what is and isn’t appropriate for the younglings in your life, but for me and my family, some of the art and names of the different cards will bring too many unwanted questions. Now, none of the cards are on the level of Cards Against Humanity, nor would they be considered R rated, but use your own discretion.

There are a ton of expansions and extensions for the game that make it a lot more usable. For example, I purchased six d10s and put them in my Boxes of Holding to use to keep track of levels. You can also go and download the Level Counter app for your Android or Apple device. There are other extensions too (including t-shirts, bookmarks, tattoos, and much more) that all add boons and cards to the deck for the specific user of those boons. All of these together make your Munchkin experience unique and potentially very powerful.

One final thing to consider is that this review only covers the original game and its immediate expansions. There are many different versions of Munchkin that all work together, like a James Bond version, a Space version, Call of Cthulhu, and many more. I encourage you to check those out on your own. And let me know how they are compared to the original! Do you like them more, less, same?

Kyle Blomgren is the founder of Flat Top Gaming. He loves tabletop gaming, watching others play tabletop games, singing, and spending time with his wife and daughter.

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