Taking The Good With The Bad ~An In-Depth Look at Munchkin~

                Throughout the gaming community, one game in particular has received a bad rap. No, I’m not talking about Settlers of Catan(that is an article for another day.) No, today, dear reader, I would like to talk to you about a fantastically successful series of games that strangely enough, most gaming aficionados will groan and roll their eyes at if you attempt to bring it to the table: Munchkin.
So many possibilities…
                The Munchkin series is one that has become incredibly successful since it was launched in 2001 by Steve Jackson Games. In the years since, it has spawned fifteendifferent standalone themes (each with a myriad of expansions) and also, it’s very own board game variant: Munchkin Quest (which has its own expansions.) So, why is it that despite it being so popular, so many gamers despise it? While I think that part of the equation may be the resentment that some people feel towards anything that gains a certain amount of widespread popularity, I believe there are two legitimate reasons at the core of many gamer’s intense disliking of this game.
Kick down a door or wrench open a chest to see what awaits you
~#1- Reliance on Luck~
                For those of us who have played Munchkinseveral times, I think that we have all experienced the following at one time or another:
You and your friend have just started a game of Munchkin. Your friend has drawn off the treasure deck a starting collection of incredibly powerful (and rather useful) equipment- a nice array of weapons and armor. You, on the other hand have some rings and a pair of smelly galoshes. To make matters worse, every door you kick down reveals either an incredibly high level monster, or some sort of curse, whereas your opponent reveals easy monster after easy monster (and subsequently racks up the levels and loot.) The game has just begun and already you know that there is no way you are going to win.
Sadly, when you deal with a game that relies so heavily on randomly shuffled cards, scenes like the above are bound to happen. What’s worse is if the above occurs when you are trying to introduce someone to Munchkin for the first time (or gaming as a whole.) If your friend is on this bad end of the losing stick, they may refuse to play again (trust me, dear reader- it has happened to me.)
The Cthulhu theme is the only one I have purchased expansions for
~#2- “Take that!” Mechanic (or “I don’t think so!”)~
                Tell me if this doesn’t seem familiar:
You’ve been watching and waiting patiently as your opponent has been climbing closer and closer to level ten. You now have in your possession two really awful cards to lob at your opponent. One really nasty spell and a backup if the first one fails. You launch your first attack- no luck, your opponent had a card that countered it. No problem, this is why you saved your backup- oh no, they countered that one too. Looks like your opponent is untouchable and there is nothing you can do to stop them from winning. Well that’s pretty wizard, I guess.
Sure, this is a worst-case scenario, but anyone who has played Munchkinfor a given length of time will tell you that it can happen. The best games out there give players a sense of agency and make them feel that the choices that they make matter. The worst games out there make players feel helpless, or that it doesn’t matter what they do- they still won’t win.
Want to be a Spanish Outlaw Thieving Cultist? Go right ahead
                With all its flaws, however- Munchkin will always have a place in my cynical gamer heart. Why? Well, there are three reasons. First, Munchkin is incredibly easy to learn. There are really only a few phases to each turn, the scoring is easy to comprehend and the end-game goal is rather straightforward: get to ten levels before the other guy. Second, with the sheer amount of different Munchkin themes out there, anyone who likes Munchkin can find a theme that feels personal to them. Do you prefer pilfering pirates or night-stalking ninjas? Lovecraftian horrors or science fiction blasters? Rootin’-tootin’ cowboys or gothic vampires? Why not mix and match? What’s more, with the exceptions of a few rules unique to certain themes, each theme is relatively interchangeable with another. This means that although you and your friends might play with different themes, it is really easy for you all to sit down and play a game together. Finally, I’ll always like Munchkinbecause it was the game that introduced me to this amazing hobby of ours. Munchkin was the first game that I played with friends when I got to college and it was the first game I bought from my local game store. (For those of you curious, my first theme was Munchkin Cthulhu.) Despite these worst-case scenarios, Munchkin is a game that many people use to introduce other people to the hobby (as I have on several occasions.) Munchkin is an incredibly valuable door-opener for many gamers and it is because of this that the Munchkinfan club is ever growing- making it a staple of any gamer’s collection (and one that I am happy to have in my own.)
                So, what do you think about Munchkin? Is it “all that and a sack of gold”, or is it overhyped? Do you use any house rules to fix some of its flaws or do you love to play it as-is? Do you have any great memories of playing Munchkin? Why not share your thoughts in the comments below? Furthermore, you can find many Munchkin themes at The Game Preserve here in Bloomington. Not in the Bloomington area? Then check it out at your local game store. Support local game stores!

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