learn to kill monsters and take treasures in the comfort of your own home

Munchkin, from Steve Jackson Games, is a fairly polarizing game, especially at BGG, where people tend to love it or hate it. I love it, mostly from playing some truly memorable games with my kids over the years.

Nolan was to my right. He kicked in a door and didn't find a monster, so he looked for trouble, playing a level 3 something from his hand. "Does anyone want to mess with me?" He asked, avoiding looking in my direction.

"It's funny you should ask," I said. "That's an illusion. You're actually fighting a level 18 Squidzilla." I played the appropriate cards.

"Oh, okay." Nolan pulled a card from his hand. "It's now enraged, so it gets an additional treasure." He pulled another card from his hand. "And with this Polymorph Potion, it turns into a parrot and flies away." He paused dramatically. "And I take five treasures."

"OHHH!" Ryan and Michael said.

"Man, that's a really great move," I said. "Too bad I'm playing Annihilation on it."

He was forced to discard the potion, and face the Enraged Squidzilla on his own.

"OHHH!" Ryan and Michael said."

"Okay, then." Nolan said. "I guess I'm running away."

We all laughed. Nolan rolled a one. He stopped laughing. We looted his body. There was much rejoicing. (Well, there was 3/4 rejoicing.)

I've talked to lots of people at cons and stuff who haven't played Munchkin, but have read about me playing it, and were curious about it.

The best way to learn a new game, in my extremely humble and unassailably correct opinion, is to jump right in and play it with experienced players (note that this is yet another reason the Friendly Local Gameshop is such an important part of our ecosystem). But sometimes, that just isn't possible or practical … and the webmonkeys and interzombies at SJ Games have created a playable flash demo of Munchkin, based on the Rigged Demo they've been running at cons for years, just for you.

41 thoughts on “learn to kill monsters and take treasures in the comfort of your own home”

  1. I have to agree here. Jumping in with someone that has experience and a good sense of humor is definitely the way to learn Munchkin. A friend showed it to me a few years ago and I loved it. I told a different friend about how much fun it was, so he went out and bought it. Then he tried to figure it out on his own. His reaction to the game was not quite as positive as mine. Poor guy.

  2. I used to go to an RP Club near where I lived, and this was by far my little group’s favourite game to play on a Wednesday night. (We had a tradition of playing the Change Sex curse on my boyfriend at the time, just because he’d then affect a falsetto for a few minutes). Just found out my Friendly Local Gameshop has now got Munchkin and almost all of its variants and expansions in stock.
    Guess where my next set of student loan is going?

  3. I have to confess to falling in to the “no thanks” camp when it comes to Munchkin. It always seem to turn in to a game of kill the leader which goes round and round for far too long before whomever is in the number 2 spot is close enough to the leader that they can go for victory just after everyone else burns all their cards on them.
    When it comes to games with cards, I much prefer Race for the Galaxy, San Juan and Dominion.

  4. I find that I can only take Munchkin in small doses. It’s not that I particularly dislike it, but that the sheer unpredictability makes it hard to feel like my strategies are actually amounting to anything. (In that regard, it’s a pretty good card-based simulation of 1st Edition D&D.)
    In other news, I may just have to being all of my future correspondences with “in my extremely humble and unassailably correct opinion.”

  5. Odd that this comes up now…
    My wife, who is not a gamer, and I went across the street to my DM’s house for a late Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday. While the turkey was still roasting, the four of us sat down to play Munchkin. It was my first time playing, my wife’s first time, and my DM’s wife’s second or third.
    I was happily surprised to find that my wife enjoyed the game. She’s very competitive and she and my DM got right into it, always targeting one another with bad news.
    The experienced DM won the first two games, and I took the third, in which he never got past first level.
    All in all, I’d say I agree with the best means being to jump in and play until you get it all figured out. By the third hand, my wife was a pro.
    And what you needn’t tell people is that it’s a gateway drug to other games that involve elves and swords and monsters. ;]

  6. My wife and I played some Munchkin last night. It was the first time we’ve had a chance to play since our 3 month old daughter was born and we were pretty rusty. My daughter got to sit in her bumbo chair and watch as mommy and daddy laughed themselves silly. Epic game. Epic time.

  7. The trouble with Munchkin I’ve always had is that for every hilarious situation like the one you’ve described, there’s two or three like when a friend purchased Super Munchkin having never played any of them, and we ended up playing two hours of “kill whoever is in the lead” until everyone got bored and quit. Much like the b-movie card games from Z-Man, and a lot of SJG’s card game offerings, you get out of it what you put in, provided that what you put in is good humor and very little competitive spirit.

  8. My main gripe with Munchkin is that games tend to go on and on, especially when you’ve added a few expansions and most players do the “kill the leader” thing rather than trying to overtake the leader.
    However, in a reasonably sized group (not more than 4 players), with reasonably experienced players, Munchkin can be a lot of fun.
    I entirely agree that the best way to learn a new game is when an experienced player can explain it. Printed rules are often only good for looking up specifics after you actually know the game.

  9. Me and my friends have a regular game going after I introduced them to it… I now have a briefcase full of cards because we’ve started mixing sets (Munchkin Cthulhu and Munchkin Fu is a fun combo!).
    If you’re wanting to throw a monkey wrench into your play, pick up the 15 card expansion “Sparkly Good Fairy”. It includes some pretty good cards that you can generally only get by HELPING one another, which for most Munchkin players is a total inversion of their normal strategy… until you start putting people in danger just so you can swoop in and save the day for a Sparkly card :)

  10. We love it, it has sometimes been taken far too seriously leading to arguements and fallouts between spouses in our group. But we’re grown up’s and it gives our GM a night off without us having to stop RPGing. What’s even better I pretty much think out daughter is getting to the age where we can teach her. So we can play during the days at the weekend without her demanding our attention elsewhere. The only problem is our 3 year old son Xander, but hopefully a wooden sword and some cardboard boxes will keep him killing ‘dragons’ and ‘superheroes’ for a good while.

  11. Fair point. Illuminati has similar gameplay, but hidden objectives, which ameliorates the problem.
    It also encourages some creative strategies. Like when we persuaded my ex-girlfriend to play, and she spent an hour griping about how pointless and silly it all was, before eventually flipping her objectives and cackling “By the way – I win, nerds!
    I say ex-girlfriend because I married her. I wasn’t intending to, but resistance was obviously futile.

  12. Munchkin is one of the very few games I’ve learned by playing with an experienced player. List of games I’ve learned cold turkey:
    Dominion
    Cosmic Encounter
    Arkham Horror
    Android
    Dungeons&Dragons

  13. I’m in the “hate it” camp. To me, it’s much less a game than it is an activity to do with others, and I’d just prefer to play a game. Due to the randomness factor, Fluxx falls into this category, too.

  14. My wife has a group of female friends at her office that like to play cards during their lunch break. For a while, cribbage was their game of choice. One week last winter, my wife took our copy of Flux in to work, and I haven’t seen it since. Apparently, they liked it so much, they used the deck to create a new game: CribFlux, in which they incorporate various Flux cards into their cribbage game, causing various weird effects when drawn. A couple weeks ago, my wife came home and said “I told them about Munchkin, and they want to try it.” It, too, has disappeared. I’m now in negotiations to get them to buy their own copy for use at work. I’ve also hidden my Dominion box.

  15. For the record, the first time I played Munchkin was while waiting in line for a panel at Pax a few years ago. It’s a great pickup game.

  16. I’m in the “love it in limited doses” camp, but I really love it when playing with new players who are new to the jokes.
    More importantly, I wanted to give you a big “thank you” for always promoting FLGS. My husband and I just opened one and there’s no better place to learn new games, make new friends and generally be a geek/nerd.
    Maybe we’ll even convince you to travel north a bit and visit Fresno one day.

  17. Thanks for the link. My coworker and I are now going to plan epic Munchkin games on our lunch.
    This is actually more in reply to a Tweet of your from about 1/2 ago (sorry, but I don’t Tweet) about old 70′s Genesis. Yes you are right! I was introduced to this era of Genesis through my husband taking me to tribute band – and they blew me away! I had no idea Genesis ever sounded like that. I can recommend to you their albums Foxtrot and the epic Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and if you ever see The Waiting Room or The Musical Box playing in your area – go see them (esp The Waiting Room)!! It probably the closest you’ll ever get to seeing live (cool) Genesis.

  18. Awww, you’re supposed to wait until he’s Level 9, then you screw with the monsters. :P At least that’s how my friends and I play. Stab your buddy right before he’s about to win to ensure that the game continues for another 15 minutes.
    Munchkin is a great social game. <3

  19. I love Munchkin, and loved the demo game. However, playing through that Demo (which was very cleverly designed!) they said that you start with 4 door and 4 treasure cards. I have always been under the impression that you start with 2 door and 2 treasure, as that is what my original, vanilla Munchkin rules says.
    How does everyone else play?

  20. Did not notice that Penny Arcade and the Guild were referenced near the top (you have to click through the pictures).
    In fact Felicia Day was the second one.

  21. The rules were recently changed, so we get to churn through more cards each game. I think it vastly improved the experience.

  22. I’m in both camps on Munchkin. The game stands on its own the first few times, but once you familiarize yourself with the jokes, it really comes down to who you play with.
    Also, we’re all about playing by the rule that cheating is totally allowed as long as you don’t get caught.

  23. This is a good thing for me, because I often read, ‘he then threw a blop blop blop, which caused great rejoicing’ Now I can see what all the fuss is about, via the video tubes.
    Carry on

  24. I really want to enjoy Munchkin more. I mean its right up my alley, cute cards, easy to learn play style, and interaction with others. My only issue is i can never be as mean as i need to be to win at that game. My first time around i found myself to be an elf, and being such i gain a level every time i help someone, so no one wanted my help. when in reality i was just trying to be nice. all my friends encourage me to be more aggressive and i just keep telling them i cant be a dick :P

  25. You inspired me to try it out several years ago. I got my friends to play, we all sat down with the rules and immediately LOVED it. Even the guys girlfriends who hate all the “geek” games we play liked it (they even won some games) Although I lost out on several sets of games in a break up, I won the friends who like to play. If you like Munchkin, you’ll love Chez Geek too!!

  26. Munchkin has replaced Zombies! as our quick ‘beer ‘n pretzels’ type game. My wife loves both games but we got burned out on Zombies! from the awful endgame ‘bucket of crabs’ style of play. Too much of the Zombies! event deck are penalty/mishap cards and not enough are bonuses so when the helipad appears anyone making a dash for it gets dogpiled with negative cards.
    Munchkin does suffer from this a little but it’s nowhere near as bad and usually you’ll have a couple of players jostling for victory towards the end.

  27. Haha yeah, it’s a love it or hate it game. I hate it, because I generally don’t like “mean” games which tend to become personal sooner or later.

  28. I LOVE love love this game. I haven’t played it in a good long while though but that’s because I haven’t been keeping in contact with the friends I used to play it with. I get why some people don’t like it very much though because there will always be that one player who tries to be “better” than everyone else at it and becomes a constant target and takes it too personally. But it’s all about the attitude you enter the game with and what you aim to do. If you’re in it just to win it you aren’t playing it correctly, IMO.

  29. I ADORE this game but don’t get to play it often since my fellow Munchkin-addicts live out of town. I learned by having my friends’ 8-year-old sit next to me and coaching, “Drop the axe, pick up the ray gun, throw down a wandering monster and take Daddy down!”
    Good times.

  30. It is a fun game to pick up and play. Cute, easy to understand and not something that requires great thinking to play like other games out there so that any sort of person could play it. My husband and I can’t wait to play it with our son when he is older (2.5 now and we hope to have a second child soon so that we will then have a 4 player household) My husband can be quite ruthless when playing and therefore has died twice in one game. However, I believe he still ended up winning in the end. You are going to go after the leader, of course, but don’t you do this in any game anyway? (Catan, etc) It’s just to prolong the game just a bit longer….
    My brother came up with a variant where after you became level 10, you then had to kill off all the remaining players to successfully win the game. We’ve only tried it once…but it was definitely an interesting take.
    It’s always a great hilarious evening with good friends.

  31. I was going to ask what age is appropriate IRL, but Chibirei said an 8 year-old, which means that we have a 4 player household now!

  32. I LOVE Munchkin! I picked up Munchkin Fu a few months ago, and I played it with a friend of mine. I think I need to drag it out again soon. I think if we had more players it might up the fun factor a bit. My wife was less than interested.
    Besides, I picked up some bonus Munchkin cards when I went to W00tstock in Austin several weeks back, and think it would be nice to work those into my game.
    A brief aside on W00tstock: It’s sad that you weren’t at W00tstock in Austin. It would’ve been cool to meet you. But Neil Gaiman was indeed a very worthy replacement.

  33. Munchkin is my favorite game! I have every single version, including the board game. I also have two of the Chibithulhu plushies. :) I love that I become super evil while playing Munchkin.

  34. Thanks Wil! :) Bringing back some memories, and gave me some items for my Christmas list. :) This of course lead me to remember another child-hood favorite….Nuclear War! :) Plenty of “under $50″ items for my list now. :)

  35. I love playing Munchkin (big fan of John Kovalic in general) – best moment, as a real life identical twin, was when I won a game by playing the Evil Twin card.

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