Munchkin Review – Kicking Down the Door
Munchkin is an institution. Created by Steve Jackson Games, Munchkin was first released in 2001 and has since spread out and encapsulated the board game scene with tens of variations. As board gamers, Munchkin was actually the game that convinced us that board games were more than Monopoly and Scrabble. It introduced us to this world.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight and having played hundreds of games since, we are going to look at the original Munchkin (simply known as “Munchkin”) and what it offered games in 2001. Does it hold up today? Well – let’s take an objective look.
What is Munchkin?
Munchkin is a 3 to 5 player take-that style card game designed by veteran game designer Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games (the designer behind GURPS). It is, as a game, designed to emulate the action portions of a dungeon crawl. Players fight monsters, find loot, and level up to be crowned the winner. In order to win the game the goal is simple – you must get to Level 10.
As a take-that game, players will play their own cards to help them progress; however, they will also play cards on their opponents to make life more difficult for them. Munchkin is about as simple as take-that style games get.
The artwork for Munchkin was done by John Kovalic, who also did the artwork for Cash$Guns.
How do you play Munchkin
Part of the appeal of Munchkin comes in how simple it is. It is a good game to teach beginners, after all, that is how we got into it.
Essentially, you start as an unarmoured adventurer at Level 1. You have no class (insert the quip they put in the rules here), and you count as human. On your turn, you then proceed down a three step process.
- Kick open the Door – if it is a monster you have to fight it – if it is a curse you have to apply the effect. If it is any other type of card you can keep it.
- Look for Trouble or Loot the Room – you can do either one of these options. You can either fight a monster from your hand, if you didn’t fight a monster in the kicking down of the door phase. Otherwise, you can loot the room and draw a tile.
- Charity – if you have more than 5 cards in your hand at the end of your turn, you can play cards to get to the 5 card hand limit, or you can give cards to the player with the lowest level. If that is you – you just discard the card.
Combat is easy as well. What you do is add up your level plus all of your equipment, and you are aiming to beat the level of the monster. If you defeat a monster you go up a level and get loot/treasure/items based on the creature. If you lose you have to attempt to run away by rolling a 5 or 6 on a 6 sided dice that is supplied with the game. If you fail to run away then each monster in Munchkin has their own negative side effect.
Sounds easy so far, eh? Well, this is where it changes. Players can actually intervene with each other by playing curses, monsters, or bolstering bad guys. This can get pretty brutal, and incredibly funny, as players literally play cards to scupper plans.
The opposite also applies, you can barter with players for their help, offering loot/treasures or future favours.
The first player who makes it to level 10 wins.
What is Munchkin like to play?
If you want to play Munchkin you need to know two things for certain. Firstly, your friends are secretly barbaric and planning your demise. That much is true and it comes out when playing. The second is that Munchkin is not a game that can be min/maxed. If you run to win, the odds are the other players will team up together to beat you down as you arrive, arms wide, to Level 9. If you try to min/max Munchkin you will have a bad time.
Depending on how you respond to that paragraph will probably determine whether Munchkin is for you.
Munchkin is more or less as classic as take-that games get. It isn’t complex. It doesn’t have much to it when it comes to theme or story; however, instead, it has a concept that is oddly addictive. All you want to do is reach Level 10. How you do that is incredibly creative, and the art by John Kovalic really helps add humour to the game. That being said, at no point in Munchkin do you feel an overt feeling of being in control. There is a lot of randomness built into the game, meaning that the best way to play Munchkin is just to go along with the flow.
You know, for a game that we have had so long, Munchkin is really difficult to write about, and I think that is due to how inconsistent our play throughs have been based on the reactions of the people we have played with. When we played with people who weren’t serious gamers, we have found that we have had some of the best gaming experiences we have ever had. We once spent over an hour trying to figure out how we could stop one player winning, with all of us teaming up, and to this day we remember that gaming session. It was hilarious and really enjoyable.
Then, as we became more serious gamers, as we joined a gaming group, we tried the same thing. We got to Level 9, and it all came round to stopping the player winning. That second time, the magic was gone. It was a long slog of a game.
Now, naturally, those were two different scenarios. The first was early on in our gaming career. The second was much later on, and they were with different groups – but I don’t know. I think there is some reflection of the game in there.
If you are new to gaming, if you are developing your tastes as a gamer, and if you want to have something light that will give you an experience of what gaming can really be, then Munchkin is a good shout. It is a good game, and it will give you some really funny moments. What is more, Munchkin, as mentioned earlier, is pure and classic take-that. If you want to try a good take-that game, something a bit more complex than Uno, then Munchkin is a good place to start.
That being said, I think it has a lifespan. It is game where, as your taste evolves, unfortunately Munchkin will not. It will always be the same game (we own more than one version and I stand by that statement). It can thus grow old and be replaced by bigger and better games. It will always be there, for nostalgia purposes and for that night you want a classic take-that game, but it will not evolve beyond that.
And you know what…that’s okay. Munchkin is a fine game, and it is an excellent game if you want a very simple and funny experience. If you want something grittier though, if you want to get super competitive, then maybe don’t play Munchkin. It is a competitive game, yes, but it is not meant to be taken seriously. Take it for what it is – good, innocent, simplistic fun and you’ll have a good time.
You know what, I was going to leave the review on that note but actually there is one other thing worth talking about. I think one of the reasons Munchkin works as an entry level game is because there is a lot of player interaction. The asking for help and being able to team up, the ability to barter for your own price, is really neat. It works incredibly well. That needs to be taken into account.
There are quite a few negative Munchkin reviews online, but I have to admit, for me Munchkin isn’t a negative experience. I’ve had some good times playing it, some very good times. That being said, I wouldn’t choose to play it now. It was great for me, but now, for me personally (and I fully accept it may not have for you) it is past its prime. I recommend it as a stepping stone to other games.
When you think about it – kicking down the door is a great metaphor for Munchkin. It will kick down the door to gaming for you, but it won’t necessarily take you deeper in.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin
Okay, so what are the good, bad, and neutral points about Munchkin as a game?
- Munchkin is a good entry level game. It is a simple take-that game that can help introduce players to the genre.
- The artwork by John Kovalic is superb. It goes really well with the game.
- If not taken too seriously, Munchkin can lead to some of the funniest moments around the table.
- The bartering and asking for help system works well within the game.
- The running away mechanic isn’t really needed. It just adds more luck to the situation when realistically you don’t need it.
- The final round can drag. It can become a slog.
- Munchkin will be too simple for a lot of gamers who want something deeper to sink their teeth into.
- There is a lot of randomness.
- Don’t get me started on the other editions. I will comment on them in another article, but our experience has been VERY mixed. We have three editions, and have played four editions in total. Original Munchkin is the best so far.
Conclusion: Munchkin Review
So, what can be said about Munchkin? Well, for me it is a fine game. It serves a purpose, and I would still break it out for nostalgic reasons. If you are new to gaming, then I don’t think you can go wrong playing Munchkin. If you are not new to gaming then whether Munchkin scratches that take-that itch will depend on whether you like the idea of ganging up for the sake of stopping a player reaching Level 10.
So, there we have it. A Munchkin review. What are your thoughts? Do you like Munchkin? Do you dislike Munchkin? Let me know in the comments below.