Munchkin: Get Your Geek On
I have a confession to make: I am a geek. Now let’s be clear: I am not a geek for everything. I am a movie geek, a board game geek, a Star Wars and Lord of the Rings geek. But even though I’m only a part of a few different realms, I have a certain knowledge base and affinity for other realms of geekdom. One of these is role playing games. I have never been involved in an RPG myself, but I do have some tangential knowledge of the subculture, and therefore I am able to appreciate the references and humour of the DnD spoofing Munchkin.
Loved by some, despised by others, Munchkin is a game which divides the gaming community. There are fans of the dungeon crawler genre who enjoy the parody, while others believe the game to be messy and stupid. Where do I stand? Well, I see the flaws in the game, but they are miniscule in comparison to the fun it provides. I like the humour, I like the gameplay, and I like the rambunctious interaction it provides with all those other geeks sitting around the table with me. But let’s take a closer look…
Gameplay of Munchkin is pretty basic. You have a hand of cards. If you have a race or class card in your hand, this is set down and this is your character. On your turn, you draw a card. If it’s a monster, you try to fight it. If you win, you get treasure. If you lose, you get laughed at.
The goal of the game is to reach level 10. You gain levels through defeating monsters. However, some monsters are stronger than others, and your strength depends on your level, whatever weapons or armour you have, and if you can suck up enough to the other players in the game to see if they might be able to lend you a hand. But those same players can also turn against you!
They play curses on you, or send their own monsters your way to make you fight them. Such mean people! And in fact, one of the biggest criticism of the game is they difficulty of getting that tenth and final point, since everyone will throw whatever they can to stop that person. So the ending of the game can really be dragged out and the winner ends up being whoever fights the monster after everyone else is tapped out of evil goodies.
This seemingly never-ending ending is certainly a detriment to the game, but in my opinion the biggest strength of the game trumps the biggest problem with it. And that strength is the character building aspect. There is a very similar card game to Munchkin called Killer Bunnies, both of which have similar humour and gameplay. Yet I don’t like Killer Bunnies very much, whereas I adore Munchkin, and the reason is that Munchkin allows you to create and build up your own character in a goofy way.
Not only can you be a specific race (elf, dwarf, etc) and class (wizard, cleric, etc) but you can gain armour and weapons. The cool part is that the armour is specific to body parts, so you can have Boots of Butt-Kicking on your feet, Spiky Knees on your knees, and Horny Helmet on your head. And you can only have as many weapons as you can carry. But you can also have hireling to carry stuff for you! And so creating this character out of the cards you get can really be a lot of fun.
Munchkin has… cards. Lots of cards. So let’s talk about the cards! Each card has all the information you need, including what kind of card, what level for monster cards, and any other descriptions. But who cares about all that. The best thing about the cards is the humour. The deck is full of goofy monsters with silly geek references like the Net Troll, the Wight Brothers and the Stoned Golem, and funny curses like having a chicken on your head. Sure this humour may be lost or worn out on some, but if you have just the right level of geekiness inside you, you should appreciate it.
Each card also comes with cute artwork which lends much to the humour of the game. The art style is very distinctive as being “Munchkin art’, and in newer editions of the game these cards are also fully coloured. All in all, the cards are a big part of the game’s success.
I have purchased the deluxe edition of Munchkin, which also comes with a board and six wonderfully sculpted plastic figures which allow players to keep track of their levels (which they otherwise would have to devise their own method of doing). The board is pretty simple and has spots for each level and spaces for the card decks and discard piles, but it is designed as a dungeon and looks very Munchinesque.
Munchkin can be enraging for some people. There can be a lot of backstabbery which often leads to a drawn-out ending where the one person still left with a singing & dancing sword in hand will win. But there is also a certain chaotic charm in all that where the ending may be frustrating, but its also climactic and no-holds barred, which can be a lot of fun.
The great thing about Munchkin is how you can build up your character, tapping into the RPG geek inside you even if you’ve never RPGed in your life. But you can give him classes, half-breed races, and lots of goofy, silly weapons, potions, and anything else. Its chock-full of nerdy humour, fun artwork, and it really allows you to embrace your inner (or perhaps outer) geek.