Reviewed by James Lynch

The roleplaying gaming community contains a noxious breed of player known as a munchkin. These players are absolutely self-centered, doing everything possible to advance themselves. Munchkins argue passionately for any rule that helps them while protesting anything that hurts them. Munchkins may kill any creature, or even player, that they thinks will help reach them reach the next level. They steal from and betray their teammates to get ahead. And thanks to the wonderful folks at Steve Jackson Games, they have their own hysterical series of games: Munchkin (for the D&D genre), Star Munchkin (for outer space), Munchkin Fu (for kung fu and gun-fu), Munchkin Bites (for the Goth/World of Darkness fans) and Super Munchkin (for superheroes). I’ll start by reviewing the original Munchkin, and then discuss the other versions of this game.

At the start of Munchkin, you’re a level 1 human, with no race or class, out to beat the other players by reaching level 10. You start with four cards – two Door cards (which include monsters, monster enhancers, race cards, class cards) and two Treasure cards (these include items, cards to go up a level immediately, and others) – and you can play whatever you can to improve yourself. Items often have a bonus to combat, but you can only use one set of headgear, two hands’ worth of items, one set of armor, and one set of footgear at a time; anything you can’t use is carried (though you can only carry one Big item at a time), and some items can only be used by certain races. Players can sell 1,000 gold pieces’ worth of items to go up a level. Races have benefits (Dwarves can carry any number of big items) and sometimes penalties (Halflings have a penalty to run away). Classes have quite different benefits for players: Thieves can steal small items from other players and backstab them, while Fighters can win ties and discard cards for a bonus in combat. Unless a card says otherwise, players can only have one Race and Class at a time; they can switch cards at any time (“I don’t wanna be an Elf anymore), even during combat. You may also have a hireling, who provide benefits (and can wind up getting killed for a level.)

Each turn, a player kicks down the door to face the top card from the Door deck. If it’s a monster, combat begins. (I describe combat below.) If it’s a Curse, it affects the player if it can and then gets discarded. If it’s a Race or Class card, they go into the player’s hand. If no monster was encountered, players can either Loot The Room (draw another Door card face down) or Look For Trouble (play and fight a monster from their hand).

On the surface, combat is pretty simple. The player adds up their level and bonuses from items and compares that to the monster’s level (plus bonuses or penalties the monster has). If they player’s total is higher, the player kills the monster, goes up a level (or two for tougher monsters), and gets a number of treasures on the monster card. If the monster is higher, the player can invite one other player to help them. If the monster is still stronger, the player(s) can try and run away by rolling a 5 or 6 on a die. If the player escapes, the turn ends. If the player doesn’t escape, the player suffers the Bad Stuff on the monster card; this can range from losing levels or items, to dying (which lets other players loot the body and costs the deceased player everything but their level, race, and class).

Combat is seldom simple because of the other players. They can play any number of monster enhancers to make a monster tougher. (Someone may be able to beat the Lame Goblin, but an Ancient Enraged Undead Lame Goblin is quite a bit tougher.) They can play Curses from their hands to cost a player levels or items during combat. Thieves can backstab a player by discarding cards to penalize the fighting player. And the dreaded Wandering Monster cards can add other monsters to the combat! And to get another player to help you is a process of negotiation, as potential helpers will probably want some (if not all) of the treasures in exchange for assistance (except Elves, who go up a level when they help someone win a combat).

The different versions of Munchkin follow these basic rules, but with their own additions. Star Munchkin had Rooms, Sidekicks (Hirelings than can be sacrificed to automatically escape a combat), and the devastating –aser multi-part weapon. Munchkin Fu introduces Styles to the mix, and Munchkin Bites and Super Munchkin have Powers to help combat. Expansions provide new monsters, cards, and rules. (So far Super Munchkin is the only game without an expansion, but that’s expected in the fall.) Epic Rules let players play to level 20 and become far more powerful from levels 11-19. And all the games can be mixed together (the Munchkin Blender expansion facilitates this), which can lead to a Third-Breed Cyborg Halfling Werewolf Yakuza with a Monkey With A Costume Like Yours and Pantyhose of Giant Strength. And more!

All of the Munchkin games are tremendous fun. The goofy cards are a great parody of their genres, supplemented by the wondrous artwork of John Kovalic (or, for Munchkin Fu, the art of Greg Hyland). The rush to level 10 can get quite cutthroat, and no combination can guarantee victory. One game, three of us were at level 9 for several rounds, and the player who was at level 6 wound up winning!

I recommend getting the Munchkin game and expansions for your favorite genre, get a few friends together, and prepare to race to that wonderful level 10!

Overall Grade: A+

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