Thursday, 4 April 2013

We play Munchkin!

It's holiday time, and children need entertaining, as the weather in England is still dogged by the Foul Awfulness of winter. Luckily, we've had the chance to break out some Munchkin, a game I once played at UK Games Expo in Birmingham, but didn't completely understand. I've now had a chance to give it another go, and it does make sense now.

Munchkin is arguably the most successful product, in terms of raw sales, that Steve Jackson Games has ever come up with. It is a multi-player card game that is more than reminiscent of the sort of games the characters play in Dork Tower. To win, you need to get your character to 10th level. You do this by kicking down doors and killing monsters. Simples.

The best way to explain Munchkin is by types of cards used. These break down into:

  • Monsters - rated by level, these range from easy to kill critters like the 1st level Pot Plant all the way up to bigger bads. Many of them riff off established gaming stereotypes (the vampire, for example, is a nod in the direction of a certain White Wolf RPG).
  • Items - these let you buff your character, but many of them can only be used by male or female characters, or by specific classes or races. Items are also limited by slots - e.g. you only have two hands, can only wear one piece of headgear, etc. You can trade items with other players anytime you want.
  • Curses - these can be encountered in the course of your adventures, but can also be played on other players from your hand.
  • Races / Classes - these bring special abilities (e.g. Halflings are better at running away, and selling equipment, Elves get level bonuses for helping other players win fights). Ordinarily, you can only have one class and one race in play at any one time, but cards like Super Munchkin and Half Breed represent exceptions.
  • Events - these are cards which can help you to level up (e.g. Bribe GM) or bring down further badness on your opponents (e.g. Wandering Monster). They can help you to take items from other players, buff monsters they are facing, take them down a few levels, you name it.
Munchkin needs to be played quickly. We only allow Curses to be played on a player in his turn, and if he encounters a monster, he has to count to three before proceeding with the fight. This allows other players time to play cards on the encounter, but also sets a time limit to do so. It means you can waste cards, but that's the risk you have to take.

In each turn of Munchkin, you decide whether to sell equipment (1000 GP of equipment sold lets you level up), then kick the door down to a room and encounter the creature inside, sustain the curse, or take whatever other adventure card is waiting for you (e.g. Class cards are in the room deck). If you defeat a monster, by having a better strength than it does (based on your level plus any items in play and other buffs like magic potions), your draw Treasure cards based on how much treasure it has (bigger, badder monsters have more loot). If you don't defeat the monster, you have to run away (roll 5+ on a d6 or suffer Bad Stuff).

If there is no monster, you also have the options of looting the room (draw an extra adventure card which you keep in your hand), or looking for trouble (play a monster from your hand to fight and defeat). Hence, it can be advantageous to keep weaker monsters in your hand, like the Angry Duck, to play against yourself, as they still let you level up.

I have found that it takes a while for players to get up to level 3, but after that the game accelerates quickly, as the adventurers become more powerful, and can kill more monsters (hence leveling quicker). After about level 6, it becomes something of a foot race, although players will gang up on a clear leader. I also like the fact that you're forced to reduce your hand (cards in hand, not equipped and in play on the table) to five cards at the end of your turn by discarding to the lowest level player, rather than onto the discard pile.

Overall, after a couple of games of this over Easter, I'm quite taken with it and the kids seem to love it. Munchkin requires fairly aggressive play - you can't be afraid to shaft the competition and there are often threats and counter-threats issued around the table, with players bluffing that they have Wandering Monster or dangerous curses. Ha! I've also found the board and pieces that some with the deluxe version of the game to be very useful in keeping track of where everyone is in terms of level, although you don't really need this.

I'll give this an 8/10. It is fun, it is easier to wedge it into a longer gaming evening, and 3-4 players who know what they're doing can play this in an hour. Heck, I've ordered Munchkin Cthulhu as well!

1 comment:

  1. I like Munchkin - mainly because of the deeply silly cards. I think Andy had a couple of the alternative/expansion sets, or Pete does, and they're not as fun/silly as the original.