Saturday, August 2, 2008

Munchkin Quest

I just read a review for the forthcoming Munchkin Quest board game by Steve Jackson Games.

For those that don't know, this game is, in essence, converting their popular Munchkin series of games into a board game. The Munchkin games started with the first Munchkin set, and was supplemented by six expansions, all of these being set in a typical fantasy setting. The idea is that it's making fun of the standard D&D game, which is a bunch of power gamers and/or butt kickers running around a dungeon killing monsters and taking their treasure. The cliché is "Open door, insert sword, collect treasure." And Munchkin trades heavily on that cliché.

The game consists of two decks of cards: the first is the "Door" cards. Your turn consists of "kicking down a door" (drawing a door card). Most of these are monsters, which you fight by comparing your level to the monster's level; the higher level wins. If you win, you are rewarded with an increase to your level and a number of "Treasure" cards (the other deck). If you lose, you have a chance to run away, and if you blow that as well, then "Bad Stuff" happens (exactly what Bad Stuff depends on the monster you're fighting). If the door card is not a monster, it will serve as a "game effects" card, allowing you to affect the game play in some way.For the record, there are many side games (just a few examples: Star Munchkin - the same game in a sci-fi space setting; Munchkin Fu - a martial arts setting; Munchkin Bites - a horror setting; and Super Munchkin - a four colour superhero comic setting), some of which have expansions of their own. All these spin-offs are compatible, so you can mix your Munchkin sets together and end up with a vampire half-elf/half-dwarf cleric with x-ray vision that knows kung-fu and has a laser pistol, a shoe phone, and a suit of power armour fighting cute fluffy tentacled monsters from outer space who are hanging out in a dungeon with their serape-wearing companions... you get the idea.

So it seems that this is a natural leap to board game format. Munchkin Quest consists of a series of dungeon room tiles, connected by doors, and on your turn, you can move about the dungeon exploring new rooms and fighting the monsters within to gain levels. As in the card game, you can bribe the other players to help you, and the other players can choose to help, or even to help the monster instead.

It seems to me that the humour in the game (it is meant to be a comedic game) is based mostly on the silly nature of the cards (the horror edition, for example, has a card called the Schadenfreudian Slip, which is an underdress that gives you a bonus when Bad Stuff happens to other players), but is intended to be funny in the way that the cards interact and the players are constantly backstabbing each other.

Which leads to one of the biggest complaints of the game (my own, as well as the reviewers): the game ends up being a sort of "Who's closest to winning? Let's all team up against him!" And of course, once a new player is closest to winning, the players team up against him, and so forth, until the players have run out of cards that they can use to stop the other players from winning, and whoever happens to be in the lead then becomes the winner. The reviewer calls this the "4th Player Wins" scenario (and by the way, is the same reason I didn't like the game Kill Dr. Lucky, which I'll tell you about at some other time).

For me, though, in addition to the 4th Player Wins problem, there's the fact that the people who love Munchkin tend to be power-gamers and butt-kickers, who love the game not because it's funny, but because it's another venue for them to engage in their oh-so-beloved activity of opening doors, inserting swords, and collecting treasure. This means that the game takes hours to play, with very little return on investment (for my taste, that means humour), and the reviewer says that the board game takes twice as long to play. Which means that I'll be sad to have to pass on Munchkin Quest, but unfortunately, that's the way it looks at the moment.

I don't normally pass on a game before I've tried it, but given my experience with Munchkin in the past, and the review I just read, I think I may have to. If ever I find myself in a situation where someone has a set and is offering to let me play with him, I may give it a try. But don't let that stop you from trying it. My goal in writing this blog is always objective reviews, so you should never just take my word for it.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking based on what I just read. But whatever you think of this game, and whatever games you decide to play, don't forget to

Game on!

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