Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Today I introduced Sunny and my Parents to ‘Munchkin’ the card game.

I love Munchkin, but hadn’t played it since college.

In case you’ve never heard of it, let me give you a quick rundown. It’s basically a parody of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’. The tagline for the game is “Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your buddies.”

It’s deceptively simple. You have two stacks of cards, the ‘door’ cards and ‘treasure’ cards. You start by taking two of each and then taking turns to turn over a ‘door’ card. It might be a ‘harmful’ card, a helpful card or a monster. If it’s a monster, you have to ‘fight’ it, which is a simple case of taking your character’s level, adding any bonuses from the cards in your hand and seeing if the total is higher than the monster’s level.

The cards are all humorously named, like you might fight a ‘Screaming Geek’, using the ‘Boots of Butt-kicking’ and the ‘Horny Helmet’. You win by being the first to get your character to level 10 before everyone else.

The main thing to understand before you play Munchkin is that you can’t take it seriously. The real point of the game (which makes the game so much fun) is screwing over the other players.

In other words, if you don’t want victory snatched from your fingers by a cackling player who swore they’d help you out after you used three of your best cards to bail them out of a sticky situation two rounds ago…or you’re not evil enough to totally screw someone else over…this game isn’t for you.

It’s a game about forming alliances, breaking promises and stabbing your friends in the back. In other words, it’s awesome.

For example, one player is pulling ahead and they take a card from the door deck (They ‘open a door’ in the ‘dungeon’) the card is a low-level monster they can easily kill.

Then just as they’re gloating how killing it will put them within one level of victory, you play a card that makes the monster ‘ancient’, doubling its level, then someone else makes it extra intelligent giving it +10…and then another player plays a ‘wandering monster’ card, adding another monster to fight.

That player gets killed, loses two levels and half their cards…and swears vengeance on you the next time it’s your turn.

The weirdest thing about Munchkin is that, in my experience, it’s one of those games that you have to persuade, cajole or beg other people to actually play it. You explain the concept and no-one’s really interested. Then you get them to play, explain the rules, and they think it’s really complicated. (It is hard to explain and does sound complicated, but when you’re actually playing, you can pick it up in 10 minutes).

Basically people hear ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and think they’ll be spending hours working out stats and poring over instruction manuals.

To me, though, that’s a lot of this game’s charm. I finally cornered my parents and Sunny and convinced them to try a game. I explained how to play and my Mum’s eyes started to glaze over…Sunny just sat there with a dubious expression on her face. My dad seemed a little more interested, so I played through a few rounds with him while Sunny and Mum watched so they could get the idea.

After a few rounds, my Mum said “This sounds to complicated for me.” Sunny just showed no interest whatsoever in playing…which forced me to use my “Just play one game with me, and if you don’t like it, I’ll never ask you to play again.” Gambit.

Fast forward half an hour and everyone’s cracking up. Mum’s threatening to disown me because I added a Level 20 ‘Plutonium Dragon’ as a partner to the Level 1 ‘Small Potted Plant’ she was fighting. Then I was bargaining with my Dad over the monster he couldn’t defeat (“Look, you get 4 treasure cards and you’ll go up a level for beating it…if I’m going to use my ‘Pantyhose of Giant’s Strength’ to help you out, I think I should get three of those four treasure cards!”)…and then my Mum delivered one of the most vicious, unprovoked screw-overs I’d ever seen.

Basically, the game followed the same pattern that games of Munchkin with brand new players usually follows. It takes forever to convince them to play, more effort to convince them to keep playing after the first five minutes…followed by everyone cracking up laughing and having a great time at the ten minute mark.

Sunny went from acting dubious to making excuses not to play, wanting to stop shortly after starting…to telling me how awesome it was when we actually finished.

One of my favorite moments was when my Mum started to pull way ahead and I totally ruined her streak by buffing up the monster she was fighting. I said “Hey, I warned you before we started. This is the real game. If you’re a ‘nice guy’ you’re going to lose. You’ve gotta be ruthless…feel free to screw me on my turn.”

I started my turn and Sunny turned to me and said in an incredulous tone of voice “Will you do that to me if I start pulling ahead?”

“Damn right I will.” I said, with a grin.

“Right then.” She said.

With a flick of a few of her cards the Demon Tongue Monster I was fighting (that I could easily beat thanks to a run of powerful treasure cards) became two Ancient, Super-intelligent Demon Tongue Monsters...with a potion of Halitosis to back it up.

I was so proud. She really gets Munchkin.


rayray said...

I've played Munchkin and enjoyed it.
Have you played "Inn Fighting"?
THAT can be fun with a small group as well.

Kato said...

Best card in the games has to be the "Duck of Doom". You never pick up a duck in a dungeon. Never.