“Kill the Monsters. Steal the Treasure. Stab Your Buddy.” That’s Munchkin in a nutshell, and most of what you need to know about the game right there. This game distills the dungeon-crawling RPG experience down to the basics, kill a monster, get its loot, and level up, all with extreme snark and pun appropriate to a game satirizing pen-and-paper role playing games! Munchkin is a card game, and the gameplay is fairly simple.
The premise is that all the players are part of a team of dungeon-delvers, out to earn treasure and glory, and do so before their fellow adventurers! So your group goes down into the dungeon and BAM!, kicks open the door of the first room (you gotta say “bam,” I’m sure that’s in the rules somewhere). This is accomplished by drawing from the Door deck, from which you may get a monster, a curse, a race (such as elf) or class (such as warrior) card, or some other game modifying event. Each player begins at experience level 1 and has as a goal to reach level 10 first. Experience levels are gained (mainly) by defeating terrifying monsters such as the deadly Potted Plant (level 1) or the fearsome Hippogriff (level 16), each with abilities, “Bad Stuff” that happens if you are defeated, and some number of Treasure cards that are gained if you succeed.
Treasure cards can be weapons, armor, potions and other items that can boost your combat level up to a point where you have a chance at the higher level monsters. Combat itself plays out in a fairly straightforward manner. In short, you compare your level to the monster’s level, and the winner is the one whose level is the highest. The complexity comes in when you calculating your combat level: you’ll need to add your experience level together with whatever character modifiers you have from treasures and such, then compare it to the creature’s level, which may be modified as well (especially by other players). So, if a monster is revealed and defeated, an experience level and the beast’s treasure are your rewards.
But if it’s a particularly nasty monster, either naturally or through your fellow players’ modification cards, you may have to try to run away by rolling a 5 or 6 on the dice. However, you may be able to get help from your fellow adventurers! When facing nasty monsters (the ones you’re more likely to be defeated by anyway), most will have multiple treasures, and so you are free to bribe another player to add their combat value to yours, usually by offering some number of treasures upon victory.
If you don’t get away, or you can’t get help, though, the “Bad Stuff” will happen to you! If your initial door card doesn’t reveal a monster, you may “loot the room,” drawing another door card to put into your hand to use immediately (if possible and desired) or save for later. Alternately, if you have a monster card in your hand, you can choose to fight it instead of looting the room, possibly gaining a level and some number of Treasure cards, as above. At the end of your turn, you can only have five cards, so when that time comes, you’ll choose cards from your hand to get rid of until you are at five. You must divide those cards among the other players who hold lowest level. If YOU are the lowest level player, these cards are discarded.
Components The game of Munchkin is a card game, and thus cards make up nearly the entirety of the game. However, a bit more is required than cards: there are a few dice rolls in the game as well, and a scorekeeping method is also needed. The edition of the base game which we purchased is Munchkin Deluxe, which in addition to the Door and Treasure cards also includes a game board and player tokens used for scoring, as they move along the track from levels 1 to 10. The cards are all standard-sized glossy card stock, and even though they aren’t particularly flimsy, you may want to sleeve them. They get a lot of use, and as the cards ARE the game, you’ll want to protect them.
The text on the cards themselves is easily readable, and are largely hilarious! The illustrations go along with the text, and while aren’t elaborate and realistic, go along perfectly with the game in their whimsy and silliness. When we first played Munchkin at a hobby store, we played it without the Deluxe set items; in other words, just the cards and dice. We found that the extras in the Deluxe set were well worth it, letting us easily keep up with the levels as they move up (and sometimes down). The scoring track game board is thick board-game cardboard which folds in half for storage in the game box. A minor component complaint I do have concerns the stand-up character tokens included in the Deluxe edition, and in particular the plastic stands themselves.
These stands’ design have them pinch the bottom of the thick cardboard tokens, giving them a base to support their vertical position. However, the stands in my set don’t adequately grab the tokens, holding them very loosely and more as a prop than a pinch. This may be fixable, though, by heating the stands with a hair dryer or hot water to soften the plastic and squeezing it tighter. As I said, it’s a minor issue and insignificant to the gameplay.
Our Experiences The Munchkin card game box predicts the game will last one to two hours. When we play, usually three or four of us, our games seem to last about two to three hours, however. When reading the rules, or my summary of them above, it may seem like a game that would be over faster than that, but there is a lot more player interaction than you might think, especially as someone gets close to level ten! That interaction comes largely in the form of monster enhancers, such as the “Mate” card, which has the effect of making the monster’s mate show up and add to the fight, doubling the combat score of the monster, or the “Intelligent” card, which adds +5 to the monster’s score.
These are usually played one at a time, as needed, and do stack. Players often hold the best of these cards until the end, which makes for a very climactic battle when the person who thinks they are about to make level ten against a level two monster suddenly sees it morph into something quite a lot more powerful and nasty than he thought! There are a ton of expansions for this game, and there have also been some spinoffs (Space Munchkin, Zombie Munchkin, and others) which play off of other genres and themes. All of the different Munchkin sets are compatible with the others, so they can be mixed and matched. We, so far, have bought several of the original set expansions, and have them all mixed together, playing with all of them whenever we play.
We find this game to be a lot of fun to play, and the cleverness of the cards to keep us entertained. Most of the jokes are over the heads of my kids, but they understand the effects of the cards (with help, sometimes). Overall, this game makes a fun and competitive game night. Family Friendliness But, some concerns that gave me pause, and may for you as well. The Munchkin card game, being a spoof of more serious role-playing games and fantasy tropes, contains some cards with cartoony illustrations making reference to them, particularly of busty women in chain-mail bikinis. It’s all very simplistically and cartoony in illustration, but caused me a bit of concern as a father who has concerns about the degrading effect this sort of thing has on women, and the messages that it conveys or reinforces to my children.
It’s a very minor thing in a larger game, and is mostly (but not entirely) overlooked by my kids. A bit more obvious are the use of words and innuendo which I, and perhaps you as well, prefer not to subject my kids to. The use of these phrases are not gratuitous, but serve as a punch line or a funny reference to a RPG element. Some are very mild, such as the “Boots of Butt-Kicking” and others which you may find a bit more uncomfortable, like the “Sneaky Bastard Sword” or references to something awful “from Hell.” None of the “grand-daddy” swear words appear, and most, if not all, serve a pun and/or jab at a reference.
You’ll also find on some cards, this being a (satirical) game about fighting and killing, some bit of violent, if cartoony, illustrations. They’re pretty mild, but you may want to take that into consideration. Content Ratings Strategy Avoid level 9!
Except for in your initial hand, hold Go Up A Level cards until level 8 combat (or earlier, if you have enough) to push into level 10 when you kill the monster. Level 9 puts a great big target on your back, but level 7 or 8 may keep you out of the other players’ crosshairs. Let someone else hold the lead so that they remain the target. Hopefully, By the time you get ready to make your move for the win, the others will be out of monster enhancers and other win-foiling cards. By keeping low, you’ll also get others’ discards if you’re in last place.
If not, try to use or sell cards in your hand instead of giving then to another player. If you must give to them, make sure the cards aren’t helpful.