Friday, March 26, 2010

Munchkin – Proof That Steve Jackson Loves The Mentally Challenged

Let me start off by saying this – Steve Jackson has a tremendous sense of humor. Most of his games, including the Munchkin “brand” of games, are laced with great humor, and the art within his games truly make you laugh. Well, the first or second time, maybe even the third. That being said, after the laughing wears off and the “new game smell” has evaporated, you’re left with another smell. This smell is reminiscent of the smell at Gencon before the “Hygiene Warnings” went up: unwiped asshole, 2-day old pit-sweat, and dirty feet in well-worn rubber flip flops. In fact, you may actually believe that you are about to be attacked by “The Predator” until you realize that the mirage behind the box is simply the raw sewage vapor that’s being released by the game, causing optical distortion directly above it.

I bought this game due to the “buzz” around it many moons ago, and since I’ve written quite a few positive reviews lately, to show that I’m not just a game whore (even though I have bought every single game I own) who loves any game I get to play, I figured I’d break out a game that I wished I could go back in time and unbuy. Munchkin is that game, hands down.

When I cracked the box I was saddened to see that although it had a very nice manual and nice grey-scale hand-illustrated cards, the game had no “counters” for levels. The only “hard” component in the box is a single, solitary D6. The problem with this is that you need to keep track of your levels, and this requires a pen and paper, or ideally, a D10. I have ample D10 dice lying around, so it wasn’t a big deal, but seriously, why would a major game publisher not include an item that’s integral to gameplay? Especially since the box has almost nothing but cards in it? Seriously? Old Jacko couldn’t break me off 4 D10 dice? This is just the first of many disappointments.

When we first got it, we read the rules, which were quite humorous, and the premise is that you and your opponents are adventurers that are in a dungeon of sorts, felling foul beasts and collecting goodies and treasures that make your character more powerful and death-dealing, allowing you to defeat more powerful nemeses and, finally, get to the pinnacle of the game, Level 10, where you are crowned the champion and master of all you survey. The mechanic is simple – take a “room card”, see what’s there, and kill the baddie if you can. The combat essentially boils down to taking the level of the monster and comparing it to your character’s level, plus any enhancements that you have won or stolen along the way, such as the “+3 Bad-Ass Bandana”, the “+2 Buckler of Swashing”, and my personal favorite, the “+3 Really Impressive Title”. All of these enhancements give you “virtual levels” which make you more able to take on the really tough monsters such as the “Level 10 Floating Nose” and the “Level 12 Wannabe Vampire”.

If you can’t defeat the monsters due to too low a level, you can ask for help from your opponents, who will then hit you up for all manner of payment for their services, and there is no limit on what they can ask for, be it a card that you have in hand or a promise to watch their kids so they can have a date night later in the week. Once you’ve gotten any allies, provided they’re game, then you combine your respective levels and if it’s enough, you defeat the monster and take the amount of treasure cards listed on the monster description. If you cannot defeat the monster, alone or with allies, “Bad Stuff” happens. I’m not making that “Bad Stuff” up, it’s on the card. This can vary from losing levels, losing treasure, changing sexes, or instantaneous death. The cards are amusing, clever, and some are downright hilarious, but again, only the first few times you encounter them. The joviality soon wears thin, though, as you realize how completely retarded the gameplay itself is. It amounts to “Take a card, Resolve the card, End Your Turn”. That would be totally acceptable if this game were more fun. It’s as if Steve Jackson games wanted to make a comic strip in boardgame format, but the jokes, while funny, do not have much staying power.

Once a player has sold enough stuff or beaten enough monsters to get to Level 10, the game ends (mercifully) and you go off and take a shower to wash away the memories of such a boring game. It all sounded fun, and it was fun, the first time I played. The second time was less fun, but still passable, and the third and every other time I played, I was wishing to be doing something more fun, like sleeping, or going back to work. The randomness of the card draws is such that a game can last 20 minutes or an hour and a half, and the sheer repetitiveness of turns and lack of any significant decisions makes this like a “dirty” version of Old Maid or Go Fish. It’s just not that much fun, and that’s all I can say about it.

The jokes really carry the game, and as I stated before, but that wears off quickly. I am guessing that the endless expansions and variations on this game that have been published show that this is true, and that Steve Jackson may be a genius in marketing. By expanding the card selection, it expands the potential in-jokes and one-liners with every new card, like a comedian who changes his routine every night to keep his regulars coming back in. My only problem with that, in the context of that analogy, is that while the jokes are funny, the delivery is horrible, and it ‘s just a fact that for the $20.00 cover charge per show there’s not enough of a fun time to be had for me to want to come back.

Things I liked:
*There is a substantial amount of “funny” in this game
*The art on the cards, while not full color, is well drawn and appropriate
*There is a good amount of negotiation and backstabbery, which is the only saving grace of Munchkin
*The rulebook is really funny

Things I detested:
*It is an unforgivable sin to not include level counters in this game
*The repetitive nature of the gameplay mechanics makes it a real effort to get it off the shelf
*There are a lot of cards, yes, but not enough to play it 3 times without seeing many of the same cards again
*The cards should’ve been a hair wider so that they could at least be used as disposable coasters for drinks while you’re playing games you actually like

Overall:
This game is a one-shot wonder, playable only a few times before boredom sets in. It's the Tabletop Gaming equivalent of “The Divinyls” in music. I would recommend this game only to people who are in prison and have absolutely nothing better to do, or to the mentally handicapped who might forget that they just played this game and it would seem new, or would at least not realize how dumb of a game this is.

Rating:
1/5 Stars

5 comments:

Greyweather said...

"The problem with this is that you need to keep track of your levels, and this requires a pen and paper, or ideally, a D10. I have ample D10 dice lying around, so it wasn’t a big deal, but seriously, why would a major game publisher not include an item that’s integral to gameplay? Especially since the box has almost nothing but cards in it? Seriously? Old Jacko couldn’t break me off 4 D10 dice?"

My best friend loves this game, so I have played a rather unhealthy amount of it. This observation is spot on. In point of fact, each player in our games uses three D10, one big one to track level and two smaller ones to track power. There is no other sane way to do it.

"I am guessing that the endless expansions and variations on this game that have been published show that this is true, and that Steve Jackson may be a genius in marketing."

Word or warning to your readers: just because the rulebook says you can mix expansions, doesn't mean you should. For every theme you mix together, playtime typically doubles. Also, those insanely powerful Munchkin bookmarks are funny exactly one time, because everyone quickly notices that the bookmark is the reason the game didn't end half an hour earlier. Triple themed games with bookmarks can regularly go over an hour per player. Those games typically end when everyone just gets so tired of playing that they stop trying to prevent others from winning just so the damned game will end.

"Things I detested:"

I'll add one. This game encourages rules lawyering at levels I haven't seen since I played Magic: The Gathering.

Overall, a very good review of a very bad game.

new said...

Agree:

1. No counters?!
Problem, yes, but I have played other games, which state for you to keep score on paper, etc. Which is annoying, but happens. Dice dont work here as they often get knocked over. You can now buy counters. $

2. It's just boiled/dumbed down D&D to an extreme.

Disagree

1. The jokes while maybe not as sharp in multiple uses, is always funny, because it always points to the fact that D&D (as it is played) is funny.
How many games have humor as their key gameplay. The same goes for fighting over what card trumps what, it gets people talking.

2. Yes! It's just boiled/dumbed down D&D to an extreme!

I have played D&D, you confer with the books about the monsters, then check the spreadsheets, character sheets, and then finally the dice, which brings in all the math, and then DM checks the spreadsheets, character sheets, monster sheet and then tell you the outcome, which usually means at the most you have done some damage. My turn: 5 minutes.

-VS-

I am ____ and the monster is ______, well, then I'll use _____ cards, LOL, and I win and get ______treasure cards, LOL. My turn: 1 minute.

The time here takes forever in traditional D&D.

My personal issue: The cost/material used.
What you get especially for the price is a bit unfair. And why a big box for 2 decks of cards, a die, and an instruction sheet? Waste that could have been cut to pass along a price cut to consumers. Expansions are an even bigger problem, about the same price for much less.

The issues you brought up are taken care of in Munchkin Deluxe. I would also ask you to take a look at Munchkin quest.

For me, fun and worth it...on sale.

Anonymous said...

First off, I love this game, so I suppose my opinion is a little biased, but ummm....

There are somewhere around 10 or 12 expansions for this game. If you're getting bored with the set you have, buy one. And if those expansions aren't enough, you can buy sets of blank cards and personalize it yourself.

And after those 10 or 12 expansions are purchased, there are ten separate versions of the same game. Buy a Star Munchkin. Or Munchkin Fu. Or Super Munchkin. New jokes. New abilities. Different spin on the rules. Most of them have their own expansions themselves.

And after that, you can go to any number of gaming conventions and play tournaments of this game to really put your muscle on the table.

Honestly, your enjoyment of this game is what you make it. I feel Steve Jackson has done everything he can to make a pretty kick ass game.

=+=SuperflyTNT=+= said...

I love opinions, and thanks for speaking up.

HAve to say, what you just said reinforced my review.

I need to buy a 20$ expansion every third game? And there's 12? So I'd be paying 25+(20x12=240$) for a game that's not even good enough to play 3 times without buying something else?


Steve may have done his best, but his best isn't good enough for me. I'd play Ogre in a minute. Awful green things? Hell yeah. Munchkin, and all of its devil-spawn are suckage at its finest.

Drinniol said...

I bought the Zombie one, and while it's probably not your target audience for you're blog, my missus doesn't like to play anything more complicated than scrabble but she's really into it. It is way pricey though ($50aud at my flgs)