My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Munchkin - The Cure for Stress?

It looks like I am getting close to two milestones: my 100th reader and my 250th blog post. Hopefully I will hit both of those soon. For now let me welcome new readers Michael (a.k.a Angel Barracks) and Carpet General (I like the sound of how you game, Sir). I hope you enjoy what you read, and as always I encourage comments, even though the blogging medium is not really conducive to a conversation.

A little news: Ralph (Bowman) and I continue to plug away at "A Mesoamerican Saga", my Saga variant for Aztecs and their enemies. I played one test game (partially written up on my Solo Battles blog) and have come back with some changes and new ideas. Ralph had a good idea for the Flower Wars, based on a Skraeling ability. You can find out more on my Saga Variants forum (see the link below this post).

I have started writing up a new science fiction variant of Command and Colors that I call C4ISR. I already have a few ideas brewing that will make this a little unique from other variants in the family. It will also be at a lower scale than the others, probably a squad or platoon for each unit. I already have my 6mm Science Fiction figures based (but not painted) for a game. Now all I need to do is created the card deck.


Today, for the first time, we tried Munchkin, a card game from Steve Jackson Games that parodies fantasy role-playing games, particularly those with power-gaming players and "Monty Haul" style dungeon masters. It is well know for funny art and bad puns.

I purchased a copy of Munchkin Fu – a Kung Fu/Chop Socky themed version of Munchkin –  probably four years ago at an annual 50% off sale at a local gaming store, and it sat on my shelf read, but unplayed. Although I was interested in Hong Kong action/martial arts films, the game mechanics just did not grab me. I could see they were relatively easy to play, but somehow that simplicity was lost on me. I then got a copy of The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin – a Western-themed Munchkin game – for free, from someone who no longer wanted it, about a year ago and it too sat there read, but unplayed.

Then one day I was scrolling through the gaming podcasts in the iTunes Store, looking for some interesting material to listen to while I paint or commute to work when I came upon a podcast called Munchkin Land. I have always wondered what gave Munchkin such staying power, enough to give Steve Jackson Games reason to make a dozen variants and probably two dozen expansions. So I downloaded a single episode, the first, which promised to explain the rules. After downloading it and listening to the first part of it, I realized that these guys were going to actually play a game as the podcast. (Apparently this is a new sort of podcast where people record their gaming sessions – usually role-playing though – and other people are duped into listening to them. Count me in as duped!) I was pretty sure that I was going to dislike listening to people play a card game, but I figured at least I would get a better idea of how the game played and what was fun about it.

Don't get me wrong, I had two different variants of the game and I could see the cards were funny – jokes, puns, and funny pictures – but I figured that would wear thin pretty quickly. There had to be more to it than that. No one is going to play a $25 game three times or so (or until the jokes become stale), then buy the next one for another $25 worth of jokes.

So I listened to the podcast, laughed a lot, downloaded all the rest, and decided I needed to get the original Munchkin. (Actually, I bought the Deluxe version, which contains a board, six miniatures, and all the rest of the stuff that comes in the normal Munchkin set. As it is only $5 more for the Deluxe treatment, it seemed like a deal. (It is.) You get a game board and miniatures for the players, which is really a large, visual way to easily see what level everyone is at (very important in the game), plus a big box to carry the cards and expansions you are sure to buy.

The game itself is pretty simple. The goal for the player is to be the first to reach 10th Level. Each turn the player plays their cards, kicks in the door (to see if their are monsters or traps in the room), kills any monsters he finds there, loots the treasure from the dead monster, or loots the room if there isn't one. Every time you kill a monster, you go up a level (some big ones are worth more). You must win your 10th level by killing a monster; you cannot go up by buying a level or playing a level up card.

That description above is why it did not sound all that interesting to me. But this is a game about playing interaction, card combinations, working together with other players when it makes sense, and turning on them when it does not. The tremendous variety of cards available in the series is what makes these interactions interesting. It really is hard to describe it all in short, simple terms.

I strongly recommend the Munchkin Land podcast. They play each of the base sets, so you get an idea of what each is like, and they use some of the expansions so you can see how, well, it expands the game. As time goes on they promise to mix games (i.e. use more than one base set, such as Munchkin Fu and Munchkin Impossible to get a martial arts spy game, or Space Munchkin and Munchkin Cthulhu for Cthulhu in Space, etc.) so you can see what that is like. I honestly did not think I was going to like listening to other people game, but these guys are funny, and for the most part remember that we cannot see what they are doing, so explain the cards they play and read the text off of them.

The good thing about this game is that I was able to drag in a buddy that I used to play role-playing games with, about 20 years ago, away from his MMORPG computer games and I could see that with eye rolls, laughs, and cackles, he was starting to have some fun. In fact, I sense another game when we can get four (or more) people again. Things have been getting a little frustrating at work of late, and some good back-stabbing fun with a lot of laughs was pretty much what I needed. I am strongly considering inviting co-workers next weekend for a pizza party and some "blowing off steam" fun. That will help me see how much fun it remains, after a couple of plays.

All that said, I am still unsure about playing the game with people you do not really know, or have not gamed with. At its heart it is a game of ganging up on the leader and backstabbing people so you can win, and I think that goes down better with people you know and like than with those you don't know at all. If you have played Munchkin in such a setting, or even at all, I would like to hear your thoughts and comments.

Samurai Battles

I am involved in a tournament in Samurai Battles using Vassal to play online and I have to say that the game has some interesting new ideas. As part of the Command and Colors family it is probably closest to BattleLore. It allows the player to collect tokens from die rolls (Honor instead of Lore, however) and use them to play special cards (Dragon instead of Lore) which affect the battle. What differs in Samurai Battles is that Honor is spent on one more thing: retreating units. When units retreat, it costs you Honor tokens. If you do not have enough Honor to pay the cost, you take four dice in damage to your force.

This one little fact makes for quite a different game. You cannot spend Honor without worrying about whether you will run out after a particularly bad roll. This is further exacerbated by the fact that leaders can spend an Honor to add a battle die to an attack (or battle back), so you have that much more of a reason to run low on Honor.

In the practice games and tournament round I found my opponent liked to play it very close to zero, so it prompted me to press the attack hard in order to roll those Flags, force a retreat, and cause a catastrophic loss of Honor. In two games, in particular, my opponent had to have his leader commit seppuku in order to avoid the Honor loss.

All in all, a very flavorful game.


  1. I've only played Munchkin once, but it didn't really do it for me.

    I'm keen to try Samurai Battles myself, and am curious about your C4ISR rules!

  2. Great link. Played Munchkin just yesterday and have played it before but I am looking forward to seeing what is in the expansions

  3. I still have to go and give Munchkin Land a listen. The Samurai battles sound interesting, I need to download the Borg titles for vassal.

  4. Good piece.

    To me, Munchkin plays a lot like a card-based version of Mario Kart. The idea is not just to win by reaching the finish line first (10th level) but also in the many ways you can screw your buddies over to keep them from prevailing.

    Puns, back stabbing, and secret deals. Makes for an awesome experience!


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").