Munchkin Capsule Review by Shannon Appelcline on 20/01/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
A very funny game which ultimately has limited replay because of troublesome gameplay.
Author: Steve Jackson
Category: Card Game
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: n/a
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Shannon Appelcline on 20/01/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
Munchkin is a damned funny game. There's absolutely no denying that fact. It's obvious from the premise--hack and slash gaming as it was meant to be player--and Steve Jackson carries the humor well through the game.
You play a typical munchkin FRPG player, delving through dungeons, defeating monsters, and taking their loot. Your ultimate goal is to make 10th level, which you can do by defeating 9 monsters. Each turn you open a new door by drawing a dungeon card. If it's a monster, you try and defeat it; if you win, you get to draw loot. If there's no monster, you search the seemingly empty room or else fight a monster from your hand.
There's a little bit of strategy, as you can hoard low-level monsters to fight late in the game for levels, or hold on to cards to prevent other people from winning, or save up items to sell to gain levels, but it's limited.
It's really in the humor that the game excels. The rules themselves are funny. The cards include great items like the "Buckler of Swashing", the "Tuba of Charm", and the "Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment". Monsters run the gamut from "Lawyers" to "Plutonium Dragons". It's a pretty good send-up of the whole hack-and-slash genre (and the whole RPG industry), and the humor is contagious, as witnessed by the following comments from my local groups' recent play of it:
"It's a humongous gazebo!"
Unfortunately where the game falls down is in the actual gameplay. The mechanics are fairly tidy, though card interaction can get confusing. However, there are two areas where it tends to fail: randomness and endgame.
The randomness is my single biggest complaint. It's big. Based on random draws you can easily never draw good items in a game, and thus not be able to excel. Or, you can continually draw medium or big monsters early in the game, and not be able to get started. I've played the game a few times down, and the ultimate winner tended to come down to who was helped out by and who was harmed by random draws at the end of the game. (I lost today after losing 9th level to a random draw, but there are no sour grapes because I won last time on some equally arbitrary event.)
The endgame is also pretty troublesome, because there are a lot of cards that can be used to stop someone from winning the game. Some of this is clearly a good and necessary thing, but when you have too much of it you tend to elongate the game considerably and also increase the randomness of the final win. In the games of Munchkin I've played, every one was reaching level 9 at about the same time. At that point there was a flurry of stop-the-game-from-ending cards, and eventually everyone ran out ... and then the next person won. A sort of win-by-exhaustion strategy that I've noticed in other SJG products, like the classic Illuminatus!
Presentation of the game is unfortunately only average. The game uses beautiful, funny John Kovalic artwork, but the grayish art doesn't stand out too well on the two-colored cards. It's actually a pretty huge surprise seeing black and white art on a SJG product, since they tend to be the masters of computer colorization. SJG also makes the minor mistake of creating two decks of cards (the loot cards and the dungeon cards), but making them indistinguishable from the front, so that you never quite know what to put in what pile.
You'll probably really enjoy this game the first few times you play it, and if you don't mind your games having a pretty low strategy quotient, you might never object. But, if high random factors and annoying endgames tend to cheese you off, you'll probably be done with Munchkin after a few tries, though you'll enjoy some good laughs in the meantime.