Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Munchkin for Two [SinbadEV Guest Post]


Munchkin is a card game that simultaneously celebrates and lampoons fantasy role playing games. It is best played with three or more players but, on a lazy weekday evenings (until my kids get old enough to read), I really only have my loving wife to play with.

It's not every day that she asks to play a board game with me but, when she does lately, it's been Munchkin that she wants to play. It is competitive and when you have only two players it gets vicious as the only really effective strategy is to stab the other players in the back and try to bluff your opponent into thinking you are only trying to help. Maybe this kind of thing doesn't fit in your idyllic marriage but, in ours, it is a great way to release some pent up stress without causing injury.

The game is one of those where you have to understand the rules and understand the cards that are in your hand and the cards that have been played and the cards that are likely to be drawn and how those all interact with each other. It can be complicated if you let it, but there's enough dumb luck involved that you can win if you just read each card as it comes up. My wife has historically avoided these types of games but has recently come around. It's not hard to figure out, it's just that there is more to figure out.

One thing I think that made it click for her was an episode of Tabletop we watched together featuring the game. Even if you have a "gamer brain", many board games just don't make sense until you've played them with someone who knows the game... Tabletop is great because it simulates this experience without requiring you to go out and find a group of experienced players.

I'm not going to detail the game for you myself so I'd highly recommend you check out the show if you are interested.
The basic idea is that you are a character exploring a dungeon, killing monsters and finding loot to improve your character, all while trying to get to level 10 before the other players... the conceit being that you are doing all the fun stuff from a role playing game without all of that pesky "role playing".

I have three versions of Munchkin and two expansions.

Unfortunately Munchkin Chthulu doesn't actually work with two players due to one of the core mechanics requiring three players to work. So I'll skip talking about that one.

Munchkin works quite well with two players but when started adding expansion cards we found that the size of the deck was resulting in too many cases of nobody getting anything useful. When you have a large game of five people you go through cards a lot faster and the games tend to be longer so this balances out, but with two players we were having too many cases of just not getting any useful cards while the other players plows on to victory unhindered.

The first thing I did to fix this was separate the Treasure and Door in two and pick one of each to play with each game at random. I'll spare you the details but the idea was to get about the same number of each race, class and other type of card in each deck such that you could play a full game with any two. We also upped the starting hand to four cards from each deck to make it more likely for both players to start the game with something useful.

The game plays quite well with two players, their are certain cases where you might want to help your opponent defeat a monster in exchange for treasure and some cases where you'll want to make monsters stronger so your opponent can't defeat them. There are also cases where you might do both of those things.

The level of co-operation has to be a little higher in a two player game otherwise it stalls out but, generally speaking, it plays very smoothly.

Munchkin Zombies has been the one we've been playing the most recently... though I suspect this might be because my wife keeps beating me at it.

While the original Munchkin follows a "Swords and Sorcery Fantasy" theme Munchkin Zombies is, as you'd expect, about zombies. In fact, instead of playing as a hero, you play as a zombie and you are fighting survivors. The zombie genre is a lot more approachable than the Fantasy Role Playing stuff for my wife. It's more mainstream, I suppose, and the humour is a lot more approachable. For example, in Munchkin the Vorpal Blade is +10 against anything starting with J and there is a monster called a Gazebo which you must face alone, which is hilarious if you are the right kind of person; While in Munchkin Zombies the mailbox is a helmet that gives you automatic victory over the Mailman.

For a number of reasons this game plays faster than the original game and my wife and I have found we prefer it for two player games.

You can blend multiple sets together but that tends to complicate things to an extent that my wife is no longer enjoying herself. Fortunately though, if you have gotten bored of the set you have you can get expansions to add some more variety to your games. There is also a variant called "Epic Munchkin" that you can download instructions for from the World of Munchkin site that makes games last longer... which you might want to try if you find that your games are too short. Because there are fewer people to stop you from killing monsters and going up levels it helps to extend the game to level 20 and give you longer to catch up if your opponent get's a string of luck.

On a side note: if you ARE looking for a game to play with your pre-literate children Zombie Dice (from the same company that makes Munchkin) is an excellent choice (it also available for iOS).

If you are not into Fantasy Role Playing or Zombies there are many other kinds of Munchkin games like Vampires and Super Heroes.

(The games I review in this post are games I own and I paid for them myself and all opinions expressed are my own etc... I only say this because benjiesluv often reviews sponsored products and I wanted to make sure that you knew I am making this post for no other reason than that I think the games are cool and that you should check them out.)

1 comment:

  1. I recently bought a copy of Munchkin Deluxe and Munchkin Unnatural Special Edition because I worked at Barnes & Noble. I decided to buy them because my friend recommend them and I had fun watching TableTop video. I enjoyed chuckling at the cards. I have a very limited number of gamer friends and time is not on our side. I was little worried that the least number of players suggested is three but I'm glad to hear that it works for two-players as well.

    I like your blog!