Steve Jackson Games made its name with the card game Munchkin way back in 2001, and the company has gone on to earn itself a reputation for making wacky and satirical games with a swarm of further Munchkin releases, as well as various other, fairly alternative, games. Game designer Steve Jackson, no stranger to the concept of making a successful game model, first became famous along with fellow creator Ian Livingston, for their series of Fighting Fantasy game books, and he certainly used that experience to make a structured, yet wildly chaotic card game in the form of Munchkin. The game is so well designed in fact, that it even has rules for cheating, and encourages players to “stab each other in the back” to make the game more fun and exciting (but in an entertaining kind of way, this isn’t a Monopoly style friendship ending kind of game!).
But what is Munchkin all about? The term “munchkin” was coined by role-players in games like D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) to describe a player who looks for whatever loopholes and grey areas within the rules exist which they can exploit in order to make the most overpowered character as possible. Whereas in a role-playing game, playing with a munchkin can make other players feel that their characters are very weak and ineffectual, often making them annoyed or frustrated, in the Munchkin card game, everyone is trying to make the most overpowered and unbeatable character, in order to beat your opponents to level 10 and get all the loot for yourself. How do you do that? By grabbing all the crazy gear you can find, like the magical Boots of Butt-Kicking or the Sneaky [censored] Sword, and by sending nasty monsters filled with spoof jokes and malice, to crush your enemies!
In the Munchkin game, players take turns in which they try to advance their character to level 10, while the other players attempt to thwart their efforts. The premise behind the game is that the players are adventurers exploring a dungeon and chasing XP (Experience Points), as a power-hungry player would be doing in a role-playing game. At the start of a player’s turn they “kick down a door”, revealing the top card of the main deck, and they then encounter the room. If the card revealed is a monster card, the player must fight it by adding up the values of his current level plus all his gear, versus the monster’s level. Other players can choose to make a bargain with the fighting player to assist them, or they can aid the monster, or they can keep their cards to help or hinder for another encounter and just watch events unfold. Once the combat is over, the player whose turn it is either gets to loot the monster’s treasure, or has some bad stuff happen to them (like the monster eating them, or stealing their underwear, or something equally horrifying). Then the next player takes his turn, and sees if the gods, and his friends, will let him survive his next encounter. The first player to reach level 10 is the winner.
Besides quirky card names and hilarious jokes packed full of satire and stupidity, Munchkin also boasts some incredibly amusing artwork. Artist John Kovalic uses simple illustrations with attention to expressions and exaggerations to make the humour involved in each specific card really come to life, which gives Munchkin as much of its wacky character and reputation as any of its other unique traits. Steve Jackson Games has also released various “Guest Artist Editions” for the different Munchkin base games, each showcasing another popular artist’s style on the comical Munchkin cards.
The original Munchkin was packed full of D&D and other fantasy genre jokes and puns, but since then Steve Jackson Games have made many more base games of Munchkin, each centred on a different theme, so that the game can be more accessible to those who are not necessarily D&D players. This is an excellent idea, as Munchkin is a great game to introduce new players, or people who have only played older board games like Monopoly or Clue, or traditional card games like Poker, to the vast new world of offline gaming, and to all the hundreds of kinds of games available these days. For those who haven’t played much more than those original family board games, playing a game like Munchkin can open up a whole new universe of possibilities in board and card games. And Munchkin, with its tailor-made themes, can appeal even more directly to new comers. Whether you’re into Kung-Fu or Science Fiction movies, an undercover secret agent, a cultist who worships Cthulhu, or even a Cowboy fan, Munchkin has a themed base game which will appeal to you.
But the problem in making a simple and silly game, is that it’s simple (and silly for that matter), which means that experienced gamers often soon tire of the immature one-liners and the basic strategy involved in stomping your friends into the dust so that you can rise victorious. But what game, electronic or otherwise, can you really keep playing forever. Sooner or later you will tire of the mechanics, or theme, or just want to try something new. Card and board games are no exception, so while Munchkin remains a light and fun game with a fair amount of re-play value with its random decks which give every game a vast amount of different possibilities, like 99% of other games out there, you will get tired of it eventually or just want to have some variety.
On the other hand, even experienced gamers who can embrace the game for what it is, an easy and fun way to pass a bit of time with a group of mates, can still find Munchkin to be an excellent filler game in between playing other games, or waiting for people to arrive for their weekly sessions. So keeping it as a light-hearted bit of entertainment, and mixing it in with other games, is much more likely to keep it fresh and fun and crazy, which is kind of the whole point of Munchkin.
Therefore, initially in a gamer’s exposure to offline gaming, I don’t think there are many people who would not find Munchkin an enjoyable, insane, and slightly wobbly stepping stone on their journey into serious gaming. But years down the line, it will become a matter of personal preference whether Munchkin still holds a place in your heart, and on your games shelf.
Boardgame and graphic novel enthusiast. Marvel or DC? Image. Old-school gamer. Avid role-player. Kermit for president. I believe that werewolves will rule the world one day.
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