I’d like to tell you I’m new to tabletop gaming. I really would, but I’m going to have to lose some of my hard-earned street cred and tell you that isn’t true. I’ve incinerated foes in Magic: The Gathering, I’ve forced tiny animals to battle while playing the Pokemon CCG and I’ve played that odd board game with the capitalistic hats and dogs. Exclusive Possession, I think it’s called. I’ve been wanting to delve a little more into the tabletop scene and it was Munchkin I chose to start with. I also started with some friends. I’m not sure I have the latter any more.
Munchkin is a hateful game. It’s a card game crafted from paper recycled from Satan’s own trash-can. It crushes friendships in its mighty maw and masticates love into an indistinguishable gobbet of broken promises and betrayal. Do not be confused by its mere paper shell, it’s a formidable beast. You need to reach level 10, scaling from the tiny levels of one and two through to the majesty of ten through defeating foes or using certain magical items. It’s a simple enough goal.
Your character is built through race and class cards, doled out as treasures or given as part of your starting hand. Each has their own advantages and cards specifically aimed at destroying them; elves will gain levels for assisting other players in combat, whereas a warrior can discard cards for bonuses in combat. Combat itself is a simple enough affair. If your effective level is higher than a monster’s effective level, you win. Items, infused with the Munchkin sense of humour that is prevalent throughout the game, add to your effective level so that a dwarf at level 4 with the Boots of Butt-Kicking is kicking level 6 ass. These are simple concepts. It’s an easy game on paper. If you’re playing alone, that is.
The stated goal of Munchkin is to reach level 10. The unstated goal of Munchkin is to screw over your friends in every possible way, even if it doesn’t directly help you win. The thief class, as an example, has a special ability that allows you to backstab other players when they’re fighting, lowering their effective level by 2 and leaving them as fresh prey for the dreaded Gazebo. There are cards that will lower other player’s levels, increase the levels of monsters, swap monsters out for infinitely more dangerous monsters and break other player’s equipment. It’s a game that actively pushes for you to wait until your friend’s moment of triumph to cast them down into a pit of card-based doom.
My first real game of Munchkin was a few months back in a cosy converted church a little while outside of town. Myself and a few friends had gathered to take our first initial steps into Dungeons and Dragons and as time dwindled away, the sun slowly piercing the dark of night, we used our downtime to play a few games of Munchkin. It was a steady battle of wills, with characters thrown to the Gelatinous Octahedrons and cursed to bear a head-based chicken for the rest of their lives. Levels rose and fell as cards were flung from player to player until the denouement, when I reached level 9 and was facing the last creature I needed to defeat to win the game.
As is customary for a game of Munchkin, by rising so far I had painted a large target on my character’s skull and every player came gunning for me. The creature I was locked in battle with grew several levels from the spells my adversaries/friends were throwing towards it, while my counter-spells would lower its level. It was level 8, I was 9. Our positions reversed and I found myself outclassed until I used my warrior ability to discard cards, gaining strength from my fallen hireling and pretty balloons. My foes/friends/dreaded assassins/best buds searched aimlessly through their hands, looking for that final blow to strike against me. They had no more force to throw my way. I ascended a level and ascended into godhood. I had won.
The relief and bitter disappointment on all sides of an hour-long match of Munchkin was palpable and the latter doubled when a frenemy realised they failed to use their backstabbing ability against me, but it was a sort of loathsome team-building event. By spending an hour playing Judas to each other, we had grown closer together. That’s the success of Munchkin, really. It’s a unifying sort of mutual hate and it’s the most fun I’ve had actively planning the doom of close friends, without being later charged by the police. It’s not too expensive and if you can get a group of willing people you love or hate, it’s just excellent fun; drop past your local tabletop gaming store and pick up a copy. Then beat your friends with the box. It’ll save time.