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Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: Munchkin - Stab your Friends!


As I posted previously, Munchkin is one of the more underrated games that I've played.  Munchkin is thematically light hearted.  Every card is humorous, and most play off of recognizable monsters and spells for the D&D player.  One quick example is the monster that a player may face: The Grassy Gnoll.  If that got a chuckle out of you, then this game may be right up your alley.

But be warned, Munchkin is all about screwing over the other players while you try to climb to the top.  If your group can take it in good fun, then this will be a fabulous endeavor.  If your players tend to take assaults personally, then Munchkin is the perfect way to breed mistrust, hatred, and loathing where once was camaraderie.

The Basics.  In Munchkin, each player is an adventurer traveling through the dungeon.  There are two types of cards: treasure cards and door cards.  Treasures are items that can be equipped, used, or otherwise help your character out (or hurt other characters).  Doors contain monsters, curses, monster enhancers, classes, races, and anything else that isn't strictly a treasure.

Each turn, the player kicks open the door to a room of the dungeon and draws a card face up.  If it's a monster, he has to fight it.  Otherwise, he gets the card, then can either 'go looking for trouble' and fight a monster from his hand, or simply take another door card face down as he loots the room.

Fighting a monster means that if you win, you get a level and a certain number of treasures.  If you're not quite strong enough to kill a monster, you might be able to use items to help you.  Of course, the other players can play cards to make the monster much more difficult to kill.  You can also allow one player to help you fight the monster together - though they usually want to share in the treasure.  If you can't kill the monster, then you have to run away, lest its bad stuff happen to you.

In this way, the players try to kill their own monsters to level up and get treasure, and try to throw their negative cards at other players to prevent them from doing the same.  Becoming special races or classes give the players additional powers.  The first munchkin to level 10 is the winner.

Components: 3.5 of 5. The cards are a good size which allows for ease of shuffling.  The artwork is quite hilarious and is reminiscent of other Steve Jackson games, including Chez Geek.  However, after repeated plays (and I've played this a few dozen times), the cards do start to show a little wear.  Also, the cards are done in a semi-sepia tone and some color artwork would have advanced the look of the game. 

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5.  As a card game, there is a significant luck aspect.  If you draw the potted plant as your monster to fight, you'll have a much easier time than fighting the Plutonium Dragon.  However, over the course of play, you can expect to see some high points and low points.  The luck element doesn't unbalance the game.  In fact, towards the end, there are often two or three players who are close to getting their last level and it becomes a dog-pile match to prevent everyone from winning until you can do so.  Striking after the other players' spite cards have been used is key.  There is also excellent strategy in deciding who to help and who to have help you. 

Mechanics: 4 of 5.  For the most part, the rules are very simple and laid out clearly.  The game progresses quickly.  Even during other players' turns, everyone is still involved as they need to decide whether to use their cards to hamper the acting player, or save them for a better moment.  However, not all of the cards are self-explanatory.  More than one session of Munchkin has devolved into rules arguments and my particular group has removed the "Cursed Thingy" card because leaving it in caused too many debates that side tracked the game entirely. 

Replayability: 2.5 of 5.  The random nature of the cards and the ability to help or hurt other players helps the replayability of this game.  It's never quite the same twice.  However, the whole of the game is very similar.  You hope for small monsters, you beg for help on larger ones, and you try to get good treasures that will help you get to level 10.  Plus, there's the strong incentive to screw over your friends.  So, while the particulars change from game to game, the broad strokes remain very much the same.  It loses its initial appeal after a few plays, but it will hit the table every so often - especially when there's a mood to throw spite at one another.

Spite: 5 of 5.  Munchkin is probably one of the spite-ie-est (most spitey?) games out there.  One of the central components of the game is in throwing hateful cards at your friends.  If you failed to do so, not only would you likely lose the game, but about half the cards in your hand would be worthless.  It's important to play this game with the right group of people.  If your friends can have fun as they prevent one another from winning or getting treasure, then this is great fun.  But if they take the loss of treasure and levels too seriously, play with caution!

Overall: 4 of 5.  As long as your friends can handle the spite, this is an excellent gem of a game.  This is especially true if you've played your fair share of D&D stories and can relate to many of the references.  If so, you will be laughing as you read each card and view the artwork.  When I first bought Munchkin, my friends and I played it probably ten or twelve weeks in a row, every week.  It's the kind of game that always allows for a good time - even if you hate your friends just a little by the end. 

You can pick up your copy from boards and bits here

Or from FunAgain here.


  1. I'll definitely check it out! Sounds interesting, and I like the idea of a time limit. That helps when teaching non-gamers.

    I actually like the 'bash the leader' fest at the end. It's a little bit of a reprieve from the alliances that sometimes get made early.

    And a number of people have mentioned Munchkin's length. For me, once two or three people hit level 9, I've never seen it go more than two or three turns. Everyone just sort of runs out of spite cards and then the next player wins.

  2. Munchkin is great for the humor but comes up quite short in gameplay. The mechanics themselves aren't bad but the game drags on far too long for the amount of fun to be had. All of the leader bashing seriously drags out the end game and drains any potential fun.

    I now enjoy Cutthroat Caverns as my "take that" game of choice. It has all of the fun backstabby goodness of Munchkin and similar fantasy humor but has a built-in time limit, lasting no more than ten rounds. Highly recommended if you haven't played it yet!

  3. Thanks for the great review. One thing you should know is that, starting in 2010, the fantasy sets now have full-color art (all the other sets already did).

    Andrew Hackard
    Munchkin Czar, SJ Games

  4. Thanks for the tip! I'm a bit of a Munchkin fan, so I have the first four expansions, and between a friend of mine and I, three additional variants (Star, Cthulhu, & Fu).

    The humor and puns is exactly the kind that tickles me, and maybe I'm simple, but cards like Maul Rat, Resident Weevil, and Bipolar Bear make me smile every time I see them.

    Thanks for the many hours of Munchkiny goodness, and for making me hate my friends just a little. They deserved it.