Designer: Steve Jackson
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Date Released: 2001
Number of Players: 3-6
Age Range: 10 and up
Setup Time: 5-10 minutes
Play Time: about 90 minutes
Steve Jackson Games describes Munchkin in four short sentences: Go down in the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run.
That’s the premise. Based on role playing game clichés, this satirical card game starts its players off as level 1 humans with no class—class as in job or vocation, I’m sure its players have plenty of class. The first player to level 10 wins.
There are only two types of cards: treasure and encounters. Each turn the player whose turn it is “kicks down the door” by drawing from the encounter deck. You’ll usually find a monster. These monsters will have their own levels, and players must defeat them by combining their current level, bonuses from items (usually from the treasure deck), and help from other players. If you can’t beat the monster, you have the option of running away, but sometimes this comes at a price.
If you beat the monster, you gain a level and the number of treasure cards indicated on the monster card. Players keep all the treasure cards if they beat the monster by themselves, but they have to share the earned treasure with the other player who helped them—the treasure card distribution is usually worked out between the two players before the second player agrees to help.
The cards themselves are hilarious. You can use weapons like the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment or the Staff of Napalm and wear outrageous gear like the Boots of Butt-Kicking and the Horny Helmet. One moment you’re a human, male. The next, you can be an elven, female. Yes, there are sex changes in this game as well as Plutonium Dragons.
Luck plays a big part in Munchkin, and the main strategy is backstabbing your friends. This isn’t a game to play if you have thin skin, and you never want to be in first place. Once players realize that someone has a decided advantage, they’ll crap on first place until they’re last place. I’ve even seen some folks take revenge on someone else during the game for ticking them off earlier in the day. This is definitely not a game to play if someone holds a grudge.
I find Munchkin fun enough, but it can get tedious fast, and luck plays too much of a role in determining a winner. You also have to be in the right headspace for it too. Everyone has to be in a decent mood and not be quibbling with each other. There’s a reason the word backstab was used by the publisher.
Note: Steve Jackson Games rereleased the game four years ago after The Great 2010 Munchkin Changeover. They reintroduced cards like The Kneepads of Allure so they won’t be as powerful, but I still have the original game, and those kneepads rock. I wonder if Zapp Brannigan’s kneepads would be made of velour.
Verdict: An uneven but fun thematic card game that leans too much on luck and has limited, spotty replayability.