Munchkin is one of those games that you either love or hate.
If you’ve ever so much as stepped foot in a game store, chances are that you’ve seen a copy of the game. There may have even been an entire shelf dedicated to it, and to its dozens of variants. Perhaps the store’s gaming schedule included open play or tournaments every once in a while.
It isn’t an RPG, or a deck builder, but somehow, over the years, Munchkin has become a cult favorite collectible.
For long-term fans of tabletop games and (often) various geek media, Munchkin is a hilarious satire of power-gamers and genre tropes of all kinds. For those who aren’t so interested, or who take their media terribly seriously, it can be dull and repetitive, or worse, downright irritating.
Personally, I love the game. I’ve been playing it with my family ever since I was young, in all sorts of iterations. Some, even, that were never released, nor even conceived by Steve Jackson Games.
The game was first published in 2001 by Steve Jackson games, with art by John Kovalic (a truly unique and now easily recognizable style - if you’re a fan, you can get dice bags with art by Kovalic here at D20 Collective).
The original game (and its name) is a riff on the concept of powergamers (often called ‘munchkins’ by the gaming community), who play only to make the most powerful character that they can, often at the expense of others’ fun. Stealing loot, killing allies, and demanding reward for basic aid to the party - those are the behaviors of a munchkin, and the core elements of the Munchkin game.
Play begins with each player being dealt a hand of cards - a few ‘door’ cards (on which are monsters, one-off abilities, and traps) and a few ‘treasure’ cards (on which are traits and equipment). Traits and equipment are immediately applied to your character, and give you various bonuses, which come into play later.
When you start your turn, you “kick down the door”, flipping over a ‘door’ card.
If its a monster, you fight it - adding your level (you start at 1) and the various bonuses that you have. If you defeat the monster (by having a total score of at least 1 more than its level) you take your reward of treasure and levels, and the next player takes their turn. During the combat, players can add bonuses to the monster, or add their level and bonuses to the fight if you can convince them to help you.
If it isn’t a monster (it might be a trap, for instance) and you don’t get to fight anything, you can either “loot the room” or “go looking for trouble”. Looting the room allows you to take a single ‘door’ card and add it to your hand, and looking for trouble allows you to fight a monster that’s already in your hand, potentially taking its treasure and level rewards.
If you have equipment you can’t use, you can sell it and go up a level, or barter with other players for better cards or help in fights. You’ll want to do it soon, though. The game ends when someone reaches level 10 and wins - few will be willing to help you when you start getting close!
I’ve always found that I have the most fun playing Munchkin with people who I am comfortable with. Reading cards out loud as they are played, willingness to completely mess others over (without fear of being rude) but also give aid to those who are struggling, falling into fits of giggles over the truly ridiculous gear that you are equipping - its the company and the atmosphere that makes Munchkin so much fun.
If your group is into serious adventure and power gaming, maybe give it a miss.
But if you’re looking for a lighthearted romp through a ridiculous dungeon, Munchkin is an easy game to pick up and entertain yourself with.
Munchkin Expansions and Accessories
One of the great draws of Munchkin is the great variety of expansions and alternate titles, covering a vast variety of genres, shows, and games.
The original Munchkin parodies Dungeons and Dragons, and other fantasy tabletop rpgs, and there are several expansions (such as Clerical Errors, Half Horse, Will Travel, and Demented Dungeons) that continue on the fantasy fun. Other variants, like Star Munchkin, Munchkin Fu, and The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin parody different genres, and even have expansions of their own.
More specific are variants such as Munchkin Harry Potter, Munchkin RIck and Morty, and Munchkin Marvel, parody or merely allow one to play the game in the realm of specific properties and universes.
There is also more generic merchandise for the game series. Plushes, apparel, and other toys and household items (such as those dice bags I mentioned) are often sold with special cards that can be used in the game.
Mixing Munchkin Editions
Obviously, you can expand your Munchkin deck to accommodate more players with the associated expansion decks. And, if you enjoy the game, you absolutely should! But there are more ways to get creative with your sets than you may even think.
Aside from just the intended expansions, most Munchkin games (with a few exceptions) are fully compatible with one another, and may come with a few blank cards to make custom items, monsters, and traps. This allows players to mix and match as they please.
I, for instance, have permanently mixed my Munchkin Marvel and Munchkin X-Men sets (alongside the Munchkin X-Men expansion Munchkin Deadpool). This makes the game playable by double the number of players, and brings even more of the comic canon into each game. These particular sets have “dungeon” mechanics (locations with special rules which can change at any time during the game) that keeps them from fully integrating with other, older variants, but you can always leave out the dungeon mechanic if you want to mix it up with, say, Munchkin Zombies.
A personal favorite that I’ve seen, and that family members of mine often play at comic conventions (when they hold game rooms with open play hours) is Munchkin Firefly. There’s never actually been a release of a Firefly-themed Munchkin game (the Whedon sci-fi cult classic), but by combining Western and Space editions (The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin and Star Munchkin), and creating a few custom cards for Vera, Reavers, and the like, a completely new edition was made!
You could use the same combination of editions to create a Munchkin Cowboy Bebop or Munchkin Trigun if you’re more into anime, or replace the Western edition with Fantasy for Munchkin Star Wars, if you want something more fully appropriate for the genre.
If you want a campaign-specific game to play with your group, you could combine classic Munchkin with Munchkin Bites (horror-movie themed) for Curse of Strahd or Munchkin Booty (swashbuckler-movie themed) for Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
You can even make cards for the in-jokes and magic items that you have in your own particular campaign!
It just takes a little creativity, and you can come up with endless possibilities.