Monday, August 15, 2011

Board game review: Munchkin

What is it and what's in the box?

Munchkin is a card game for 3 or more players and is described as a role-playing game without all the tedious role-playing.  That's the bold statement made by Steve Jackson games, producer of the Munchkin card game, first published in 2001.  The tagline for Munchkin is 'Kill The Monsters, Steal The Treasure, Stab Your Buddy' and this gives you a sense of the humour that underpins the game as well as pretty much summing up the rules.

Inside the box is a deck of 168 cards and a rules 'pamphlet' that stretches to only 4 A4-sides of paper.  There is a single, solitary dice.  That's yer lot.

How to Play

To play, the 168 cards are split into two stacks, 100 door cards and 68 treasure cards, denoted by the symbols on the reverse of the cards.  In keeping with the RPG parlance, each player starts their turn by turning over a door card and depending on what is on this card, they can either fight a monster, react to a curse or put the card in their hand.  The objective of Munchkin is to be the first to reach level ten which can be done through combat, level-up cards or buying levels (by selling items).  The game can only be won in combat though.

The order in a turn is thus:

  • Draw a door card, face up.
  • If it's a monster, fight it and collect the treasure (or run away, as the case may be).  Go to Charity, below.
  • If it's a curse, apply whatever effect the curse may have (such as 'Chicken on the Head')
  • If you have a monster in your hand, you may 'look for trouble' and fight it.
  • Charity.  If you have more than 5 cards (6 for a dwarf) in your hand, you must get rid of any excess.  They go to either the lowest-level player or the discard pile.

The rules are easy enough to follow and after a couple of games, become second nature.  Really, it's what's on the cards that make the game so fun.  A big part of the appeal of the game is trying to 'bend' the cards (not literally) to suit your own, selfish, nefarious needs.  Steve Jackson, in a flash of inspired brilliance, defers any conflict of the rules to the owner of the game. 

An example:

"Ha ha I defeat the Plutonium Dragon and I've won the game."

"Ha ha but I'm going to play my instant escape card that allows you to escape from any combat."

"But I don't want to escape, I want to fight it and win the game."


"But ... but ... you can't do that."

"Yes I can, it says I can play this card in _any_ combat so I'm playing it in your combat. You escape, you haven't won. My turn."

"Grr, just you wait ..."

Etc, etc.


Combat is very simple.  Each monster has a level and by comparing your own level together with any bonuses you may have acquired such as armour, weapons, curses and such-like, it's easy to see if the monster is beaten or not.  Other players can join in the combat either by re-inforcing the monster to make it harder to beat or yourself for a share of the monsters booty.


Wearable and usable item cards are placed on the table in front of the player.  These items typically follow standard dungeon-trawling fayre such as axes, swords, armour and leather codpieces.  You may find yourself in possession of the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment, fighting a vicious Potted Plant while another player throws in a Cotion of Ponfusion (sic) and curses you with a Duck of Doom to disrupt your plans. (All these things are real, actual items and monsters as featured in the game.  You can't make it up, really you can't).) 

Humour? In a RPG? Off with their head!

It's a very fun game to play and appeals to adults as much to kids.  The humour is quite irreverant and never fails to amuse, even on repeated plays.  The illustrations on each of the cards, so expertly done by artist John Kovalic, are genuinely funny and give the game an added dimension, particularly with the absence of a 'proper' board to play it on. 

Shhh, you might even learn something ...

In a whispered, hushed tone, well away from kids' ears, Munchkin could also be construed as an (almost) educational game.  With elements of counting and simple arithmetic, reading quite complex pieces of text and following rules and regulations, it's not a big jump to think of it in educational terms.  Just try and draw a veil over the stabbing buddies and cheating that goes on.

There must be a catch?

  • There are a few downsides to Munchkin, but not many.  While the rules are fairly simple, some of the actions upon the cards can be quite confusing for younger players, particularly when modifications to items are involved. 
  • The class and race cards also proved to be a bit of a sticking point, even with repeated plays.  Classes and Races allow players to use different skills and have different abilities.  Also, certain items are only usable by certain classes or races.  For an experienced dungeoneer, this would prove no problem but for a family only used to Monopoly, it could get confusing.
  • With 4 or more players, games can become one-sided and every so often, we will have a game where one or two players just don't seem to be able to get started.  It's all down to the luck of the draw obviously, but it's still very frustrating not being able to do anything.
  • It's worth noting there are no score sheets included with the game.  You can download some pretty ones from the Steve Jackson Games website ( or make your own by drawing 10 circles on a piece of paper.  Either works. 
  • It does work best with 3 or more players.  I have played with only 2 players but an important element of the game, helping other players in combat, is obviously missed.  Over 5 players and there are large gaps of doing nothing between turns.

Expansion Sets

One of the beauties of a game system such as this is the ability to expand it with extra sets, thus prolonging the life of the game.  Munchkin is no different and there is a vast array of expansion sets and even whole new games within the game system.  SJ Games are very prolific and there are regular new releases to the Munchkin series.  Also, all the different stand alone games can be combined together to make one huge game of Munchkin.

Expansions for Munchkin include (but is not limited to and correct at time of writing [Jan 2011])
  • Munchkin 2: Unnatural Axe
  • Munchkin 3: Clerical Errors
  • Munchkin 4: Need for Steed
  • Munchkin 5: De-ranged
  • Munchkin 6: Demented Dungeons
  • Munchkin 7: Cheat with both hands
  • Munchkin Reloaded
  • Munchkinomicon
  • Munchkin Monster Enhancers
  • Munchkin Go Up A Level

Stand-Alone games in the Munchkin series:
  • Star Munchkin 1 and 2 (Space and Clowns in Space))
  • Munchkin Fu 1 and 2 (1970's Hong Kong martial arts films)
  • Munckin Booty (Pirates)
  • Munckin Bites 1 and 2 (Horror films)
  • Super Munchkin
  • Munchkin Impossible (Spies)
  • Munchkin Cthulhu 1,2,3 and 4 (Lovecraft-an)
  • The Good, The Bad and The Munchkin (Cowboys)
  • Munchkin Zombies (Erm, zombies)

And probably a whole load more.


Overall, Munchkin the card game, is a marvelous fun-filled family game.  It has wonderfully witty humour that never grows stale, great artwork and coherent gameplay.  Also, being a card game, is quite transportable so would be easy to carry on a vacation or day-trip and doesn't require a huge amount of table-space to play.  Munchkin is also supplemented by a range of add-ons to the base game allowing a myriad of possibilities, all of which can be blended together to create a super Munchkin game.

Munchkn the Card Game is published by Steve Jackson Games and is available from good toy stockists or online.  Here in the UK, it retails for £19.99 at Travelling Man.

In our experience, one game can take up to an hour and a half to play through to its conclusion.

I have played this with people of several age levels and all seem to 'get it'.  My daughter, aged ten and her friends of the same age played without too many problems (except for some of the more complicated cards). 


To clear something up, Steve Jackson is an American games designer who in the past has designed and created fantasy role-playing games.  There is also another Steve Jackson, an _English_ games designer who in the past has designed and created fantasy role-playing games.  Munchkin is produced by the American version, not the English one.  Follow that?  Thought not ...

No comments:

Post a Comment