Board Meetings: Munchkin
Board Meetings is a series of articles – or blog posts or whatever you want to call it – about my personal experiences with board and card games. These are not intended as formal reviews, but rather a form of opinion piece about the hobby in general and certain games in particular. Starting at the beginning: Boardgaming is awesome, and I want to convince you of this by talking about a game that is not awesome.
I have spent more hours of my life on videogames than probably any other activity. I love them, I love what they do and I love what they could become. Sometimes this causes an issue. Social interaction is usually not at an all-time high while playing Call of Duty. Sure, there are local multiplayer games, but they are more and more becoming the exception, and good luck convincing people with high-speed internet connections that they should bring their computers over to play an online videogame.
This had been bothering me for a while, being a social guy who is not too heavily into the more traditional social activities for 20-somethings. I felt that I needed something new, something that appealed to my nerdy nature while serving as social lubricant. At the time, I had no idea what that would be.
When I got a call from a friend asking me to play a game of something called Munchkin, I had not heard of it before. When he explained it was a card game, I just became more confused. Was this some obscure variant on poker?
At the time, I thought board games were limited to the likes of monopoly. Sure, I knew about Risk, but I thought it was an outlier, a rare exception to the rule. Similarly, I thought all card games were poker variants or collectible money sinks like Magic: The Gathering. Nonetheless I was willing to suffer through whatever it was, in order to hang out with my friends. I accepted the offer.
As it turns out, what awaited me was nothing like poker. Munchkin is a card game parodying Dungeons & Dragons and other “pen and paper” games. You play a character trying to get to level 10, forging and breaking temporary alliances to reach this goal before your “friends.” Using a very simple combat system (Your level + your equipment bonuses vs the monster’s level), you plunge headfirst into combat, looting as much stuff as possible, and trying to save all your best items for the right moment.
The way Munchkin makes each player jealously hoard their treasures, while simultaneously striving to not let any other player get ahead, makes for some very compelling psychology and heated debate within the group. It’s easily the game’s greatest feat; you will lie, and you will cheat. The game demands it, the rulebook itself officially sanctions cheating as long as you don’t get caught. To make things better, most of the cards are funny enough to coax smiles on their own, and great laughs when played in combination. Being forced to fight a group of Stylishly Dressed Undead Cat Bats is laugh-inducing, and even more so is defeating them using graveyard mold and a dead goldfish. However…
The situation which here rears its ugly head is that once each player has figured out the basics, there is not much else to do. Cards do not interact with each others in any terribly interesting manner, and quickly it all falls down into an easy to read pattern; nearly every game of munchkin will play out almost exactly the same, and the player who wins does not do so due to any great strategy, but rather due to luck of the draw. Once the pattern makes itself visible, do not expect to ever feel like you’re in control again.
Similarly, the humour will start to fizzle out eventually. Seeing one player be swarmed by five kinds of bats lured out by other players is hilarious the first two or three times, but sort of loses its appeal on the fourth.
In the long run, Munchkin is at best a party game, and even then not a terribly good one. Despite all this, I can not say I regret purchasing it. While it lasted, I had great fun with this card game.
See, that’s the thing: never in a million years would I recommend Munchkin to a group who is looking for a good game. It is not a good game. What it is, is a demonstration of the thing board and card games do better than video games: Social interaction. Munchkin succeeds at being a fun time with friends, despite the lacking strategy, and should be worth the low price tag for anyone just looking to have a laugh. Just don’t start buying the expansions – they add next to nothing, and is an investment I fully regret.
When I started playing Munchkin, I had no real interest in board gaming. The existence of “designer” board games was a mystery to me. By the time I grew tired of it, I had happened upon sites like boardgamegeek, and was already on the lookout for new things. I had grown an appetite and was ready for more. Much more.
If you are indeed interested in boardgaming, I’d like to point you to a few resources:
- BoardGameGeek is a huge database of pretty much every board game on the planet. It has discussion forums for each game as well as a whole mountain of information, people wanting to trade games, and… well, there’s more to the site than I can possibly list.
- Shut Up & Sit Down is a blog and video review show run by Quintin Smith and Paul… I actually can’t find Paul’s last name anywhere. In any case, you should check them out. Easily the most entertaining people I’ve seen discuss board games so far. I can’t recommend them strongly enough.
- Cardboard Children is a series of blog posts by Robert Florence over at RPS. He recommends a lot of things that are Genuinely Cool, like the amazing Sid Meier’s Civilization board game.
- The boardgames thread on our forum!
- Reddit.com/r/boardgames – If you use reddit, there’s no reason not to subscribe here.