So, What is it?
Munchkin is a humourous card game made by Steve Jackson, most famous for being the creator of GURPS (not to be confused with the other Steve Jackson, co-creator of Games workshop and the Fighting Fantasy books), and illustrated by John Kovalic. The game is based on the concept of 'munchkins', the term referring to role-players who 'play to win'. The game contains a multitude of references to D&D, Monty Python, and all the various stereotypes that have been built up by gamers over the years; all with copious amounts of puns. You don't need to be a multi-genre geek to play, but it helps (especially with the expansions).
How do I Play?
The aim of the game is to reach level 10 (unless using 'epic' rules) before any other player. This is accomplished by killing monsters, randomly drawn from a deck. In order to kill higher level monsters you need to loot rooms of their treasure, perhaps pick up a randomly assigned race/class, and maybe even enlist the help of other players- though they will expect rewards. Conversely, if the other players think you're pulling ahead too far then they can choose to use cards to give bonuses to the monster you're fighting. One of the things that makes this game interesting is the fact that, in true munchkin style, cheating is encouraged. If you're caught, it's up to the players to decide your punishment.
What do I need to play?
All you need are 3-6 players, the treasure/door cards included in the game, tokens to count how many levels each player has, and a die (The implication is that it's a 6-sided die, though cunning players could use their polyhedral dice instead- if the GM (i.e guy who owns the game) will let you get away with it). There are many other decks available, most usable as standalone games themselves but all are possible to integrate into the base game- if you find yourself in possession of many decks you may want to look into using the epic rules (available from the official website) for a more balanced and longer game that will get you through earlier levels much quicker.
Example of Play:
It should be noted that I have all the expansions to the base game, which have all been mixed in together. As such some cards I describe here may not be included in the base game. For this example I'm going to assume there are 3 players (in practise you'd want closer to 6 though), and the game will be seen from the perspective of player 1.
Each player draws 2 Door cards and 2 Treasure cards. Player 1 has 2 monster cards, a piece of armour, and a special card.
"Anything anyone wants to play now?"
Player 1 reveals his armour; a +1 Paper Plate Mail. He also reveals his special card: A 'Go Up A Level' card with the description 'Promise the GM you'll stop telling him about your character.'
"Level 2 already", player 1 smirks.
"Can you do that?" asks player 2, "If you're technically the GM then you can't stop telling yourself about your own character!"
"Nice try," says player 1. Arguments are encouraged by this game, and some card rules rely specifically on actions taken by players; In some games player 2's argument could be seen as perfectly valid, especially if player 1 had a significant lead.
Player 2 has nothing she can play now. Player 3 reveals his 'Wizard' card; a class card. Races and Classes are only obtainable from randomly drawn cards, and each have benefits and drawbacks. In the case of the wizard, he gains 'Flight Spell' enabling him to discard cards to help him run away from battle, and 'Charm Spell' enabling him to discard all the cards in his hand to pacify a monster, allowing him to sneak off with its treasure.
"Time to start"
Everyone rolls a die, the player with the highest roll goes first; Player 3 rolls a 6, he goes first.
One card is drawn from the Doors and placed face-up; it's 'Monsters Are Busy' which has no immediate effect, so he can have it in his hand. Because he has a card on the table- his Wizard card- his hand consists of the 3 other cards from the start of the game and the card he just drew. Because a monster wasn't encountered, he may now fight a monster in his hand or draw another Door card as he 'loots the room'. He draws a Door into his hand, giving him a total of 5 cards.
Player 1 draws a face-up Door: It's a monster! A level 3 'Psycho Squirrel'. The description reads 'Will not attack females'.
"Aha, I'm a girl!"
"No you're not!"- unless stated before the game starts, an adventurer is the same gender as their player.
Combat: The monster is level 3, meaning the adventurer's combined level and item bonuses must be 4 or more. He is level 2, and has +1 armour giving him a total of 3; not enough to defeat the squirrel.
"Anyone want to help?"
"Nah, we're good"
"Then I'm going to have to run..."
Player 1 rolls the die; he needs 5 or more to escape. He rolls 4.
"Oooh- too bad! What's the bad stuff?" Each monster has 'bad stuff' associated with it, which takes effect if you can't escape. In this case: "Lose 1 level. Speak with a squeaky voice until your next turn."
"Stupid squirrel... sorry, 'stupid squirrel!'"
Because he failed to defeat the monster, he doesn't have the option of looting the room- his turn ends.
Player 2 reveals a Door: 'Half-Breed' which is only applicable if she has a race card. As she doesn't, it goes into her hand and she chooses to draw another card. She now has 6 cards in her hand so has to donate a card to the lowest level player. As all players are tied for lowest level, a card is discarded- the 'Joy Buzzer' which was usable by Gnomes only.
Player 3 reveals a Door: A monster! "Level 5; Ghost in the Shell. +2 vs Wizards! I've got no chance... but I can use my 'Monsters are Busy' card- 'Play during combat, the monsters are busy with their own game; they won't fight and will slam the door if attacked'." That's considered running away, so no option to loot the room.
Player 1 can talk normally again, and reveals a Door: A Curse! "Clerical Error- the most recent monster in the discard pile is reanimated as Undead... Oh no! That means..."
"The Psycho Squirrel's back!"
"Aww man, please help someone?"
"Oh all right... What do you need?"
"I've got 2- one for level, one for armour."
"I can help, but I want its treasure"
Player 2 reveals her 'Nasty Tasting Sports Drink: Use during combat, gives +2 to either side'.
"Then it's defeated! Unless you object?"
Player 3 shrugs. The Psycho Squirrel is defeated. It drops one treasure- drawn face-up because Player 1 received help. It's '+2 Holy Rollers' which give further bonuses vs undead. Player 1 gains 1 level for defeating a monster.
...And that's how this plays. In the early game it will take a while to build up levels because every monster will be stronger than you, meaning you need to work as a party- but as encounters become easier and treasure is dropped more often, players will start storming ahead. That's when the others will reveal the potions, curses, and wandering monsters that they've got stored in their hands, and you'll find you can drop from level 9 to 4 whilst someone else takes the chance to go from 1 to 8 in the space of a turn.
Munchkin is an extremely fun and addictive game; the only problem is finding the time and people to play it. The rules seem simple, but when other expansions get added in then it can get needlessly complicated; especially if you have other base games mixed in. It could lead to combinations like a half-orc half-werewolf investigator with a steed, 6 items, a hireling and a duck of many things- which could take a few minutes just to read every card to remind yourself what you're capable of. Then you draw a Cultist card from a Cthulu deck that will rewrite half of those rules...
Ultimately the game is what you make it. It's most fun if you incorporate some form of role play into it, but to get the truly bizarre characters you'll need a mixture of decks which means more complicated rules. Just remember the number one rule is to have fun, even if that means ignoring half the other rules.
The next Spotlight will be looking at some of the expansions, and how they shape up in terms of humour, what they add to the game, and how game-breaking they are.