Munchkin.

I promised a few friends I’d put together some tabletop game reviews – the same friends who were kind enough to suggest to me family-suitable games, particularly now that my bride and I aren’t working evenings.

The first such game is an award-winning card game called Munchkin, and was developed by Steve Jackson of Austin, TX.  Munchkin is a role-playing game without the role-playing.  Essentially, it’s all about the action.  You know, the opening of doors, the killing of monsters, and the taking of treasure.  There’s one major point of the game that’s different.  While it’s a “collaborative game”, players are encouraged, from time to time, to (within the context of the game) “stab your buddy.”

The rules of the game can be found here in PDF format.  I’,ll not spend time explaining them.  The goal of the game is simple: to get to level 10.  All players start at level 1.  It’s a pretty basic race.  If you want to see game play in action, check out Wil Wheaton’s TableTop episode.

Just like a full-on role-playing adventure game (a la Dungeons & Dragons), players come in various genders, races, and classes.  Only in Munchkin, all player-characters start as humans with no class and with whatever sex their players were born.  Thus, mine is the only male character to start the game in our family.

The game itself comes with a single 6-sided die (d6 for you gamers) and two decks of cards – doors and treasures.  Oh, and the rules.  There is no board (you can make one – like my younger Princess did!) and there are no tokens to count character levels.  In the TableTop episode, they have a board (from the Deluxe version of the game) and tokens to move on the board through the levels.  Another YouTube video shows players using 10-sided dice (d10) to count their levels.  For the uninitated, the d10 counts from 0-9, and, well, the game doesn’t require a 10 because that just means that it’s over and the winner is declared.

The whole game is so tongue-in-cheek from the rules, to the artwork, to the names of the monsters, and even the game mechanics.  Even determining who starts the game is snarky. “Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect.”  The point is, it really doesn’t matter.

Player-characters take turns “kicking open doors” – that is, taking a door card.  If there’s a monster, they need to fight it or run.  If not, then they are subject to a curse or get to keep whatever card they get and add it to their hand.  If they want, they can fight a monster from within their hands, or do what’s called “looting the room”.  This is simply taking (without showing the other players) another door card to play later.

Play rotates around the table with various activities that earn levels, and some that lose levels.  All monsters have something called “bad stuff” that happens if the player-character is unable to run away.  Not all monsters will actually kill the player-character.  Regardless, characters don’t completely die.  They just start over.  This is better than someone having to leave the game table.

The game mechanics are impressive.  For example, there are Big and Small Items.  Big Items are the only item that a character may hold at a time.  However, an infinite number of Big or Small items may be held in the character’s pack.  And characters (whether elf, halfling, human or other) all only have 2 hands, 2 feet, and 1 head.  So a character may not employ 2 items of headgear or combinations of items that require or more hands.  This just makes sense in the Munchkin world.

One of the awesome mechanics of actual gameplay is that players can bargain for help fighting monsters.  Combat strength of a single character may not happen to be more than that of a particular monster during a turn, so the player may offer some of the monster’s treasure for help.  This might be done with offering any number of treasure items and even to the point of giving the other player the choice of which treasures to receive.  It should be noted that once a character is committed to battle, another player may add difficulty to the monster or decrease combat strength for the character fighting.  No, this is not your average 10 minute card game.

In fact, the game might take an 60-90 minutes or so with characters helping and harming each other.  In fact, I don’t think we actually ever needed to shuffle the cards yet in the middle of a game.  With the Princesses being 14 and 12, there’s been a lot of laughter and fun.  That’s why I chose it – that and the awesome encouragement from several game players I’ve “met” online.  It’s a fun and snarky way to enjoy some quality family time.

I’ll add this.  The game developer recommends ages 10+.  User feedback via BoardGameGeek.com suggests 12+ with 10+ being a close second in the poll.  And it’s suitable for 3-6 players with 4-6 being recommended.  Because it’s hard to gang up on someone when there are only 2 of you.

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