Thursday, January 12, 2012

Game Design: In-class Board Game Experience - Munchkins

This week in class we got the opportunity to play in groups on board games and card games. It was a nice chance to try a new game we had never seen before and I was pleasantly surprised by how fun the experience was.

Our group played the game “Munchkin”, a card game for 3 to 6 players that resembles a simplified RPG game. It contains a witty sense of humour as the overall tone of the game to make it a pretty funny and engaging experience. It does not have all the complications of a super complicated high profile RPG system like Dungeons and Dragons, and allows it to be learned in a much smaller amount of time. Despite the simpler nature of the game, with the 6 people in our group, it still took an hour and a half to play and we weren’t even finished at the time we had to stop.

The basic outline of the rules is, you gain levels by defeating monsters or using treasure cards. You pick up from a “Door” deck of cards which contain monsters, classes to change your characters, spells of various effects. There is a “Treasure” deck of cards you pick from when defeating monsters, which has items to help level up, boost your attack power in battle, allow you to manipulate other players or the monster you are facing, etc. There are many cards I am not even aware of yet since we did not go through the whole deck. The goal of the game is to get to level 10. I won’t go through all the rules but these are essentially the basics. A full read out of all the rules is available here or by trying out the game yourself! It’s actually really fun and easy to get the hang of once you’re into it.

A Class card (left), and items that can be used or sold. (Middle and Right)

Major observations about the game

5 Things I really enjoyed about the game

  • Humorous, the game does not take itself seriously. It uses a variety of jokes in the names of the cards, not to mention the cards themselves can be silly. Such as fighting against lawyers. Most of the cards contain humour in a form like this.
  • Similar to an RPG game. You gain levels, increasing in strength with every level. There are races and classes to become that give you special powers and bonuses and items to help give you more bonuses or change the tide of battles or manipulate other players.
  • Relatively simple system. The system itself is a very simplified version of an RPG system but still retained that same RPG vibe. It makes it really easy to get into after playing once or twice. Where as most RPG systems take numerous hours to fully understand the systems.
  • Very active and fast. Once you’re fully engaged, it won’t be long before it’s your turn to progress. Turns can end very quickly or have you fight a monster suddenly making you make some tough decisions on how you will go about winning, worrying about not only the monster in front of you but other players who might help or harm you. 
  • You can still participate in the game during other peoples turns. Even if you’re not currently in play, there are dozens of different cards that you can use to help or harm other players. You can participate in other peoples battles, helping them but bargaining for the treasures they receive from killing the monster. You can curse or backstab players to make their chases of defeating the monster slim to none.

An example of the humour of Munchkin

5 things I sort of disliked about the game, because no game is perfect

  •    Can take a bit of time to get used to the rules. It’s not the simplest game to get a hang of. While some games you can play the first time I understand almost right away, it can take a few turns before everyone can finally understand fully what they are doing in the game.
  •    Leveling up against monsters. For some monsters it is much to easy to level up, especially when it becomes late game. If there is a level 1 monster that you fight early on, perfectly understandable that you would level up normally. But someone who is level 9 by late game and only has to fight such a weak creature makes it pretty simple for them. But of course other players can still do things to affect their fight and make it harder.
  •    Item system. Though you can sell items, it is only to gain more levels. It makes the concept of gold fairly nonexistant. I am sure there would be a way to incorporate a proper money system without getting too complicated.
  •    A player may fall behind early in the game and never catch up. It seemed very difficult if you were a low level and behind to make your way back up. Due to the nature of the drawing of monsters, it was common for the low level characters to fight monsters that were too high a level. That or you would get screwed over by the other players. The other players can control how you progress so easily if you are a low level that you may never recover if they are unfriendly to you.
  •    Some classes seem a little unbalanced. Such as the thief class, which allows you to backstab other players for only the price of a single card. Many other classes such as the wizard only have a abilities that help you run away, which is for the price of even more cards. Things get particularly crazy when there are 4 thieves playing at once.

The thief, imagine 4 of them at once, all of them backstabbing as you try to combat a monster

One thing I would have designed differently about the game

Since there were things I disliked about the game, there must be something I feel that could be changed for the better, and what I feel they could change is…

Changing the item system

As of right now, the item system works as follows. If you sell items, and they total up at least 1000, you will gain a level. If you have say, 2000, you will gain 2 levels. However if you have any excess money you will lose any of it during the sale. This system is pretty simple and eliminates the need for cards to keep track of money. However I believe there should be more options rather than simply focusing on gaining levels.

What I believe is the best way without having to add chips to count as money for currency, is to add further options in selling. Perhaps if you sell up to 500 gold worth of items, you are allowed to take one treasure card. It makes me feel like I am actually selling items to a store and buying new ones, a pretty important aspect of RPGS. Further options could be incorporated, such as including the cost of gold in cards you pick up, so that you might have to sacrifice cards of greater value to access the benefits of an enormously useful new card. 

An item and it's worth in gold pieces

There are many possibilities they could have pursued with the use of gold but they didn’t really pursue it, which I find to be a missed opportunity. In any case, any excess money that you didn’t use in purchasing items or performing whatever task would be gone once again. This way, you won’t have to keep track of how much gold you currently have, keeping the simplified system while adding new options to help further the dynamic of gold.

Your thoughts...

To anyone reading this, these are my experiences with the game. What I generally liked or didn't like but I am curious of the opinions of those who are familiar with the game or at least the gist of it after having read this.

Do you agree with what I liked about the game? Do you think those are things you actually hate about it? Do the things I dislike feel to you like essential parts of the game? Even if you agree I would like to know since it means another person in this world who likes the game the way I do. Anything and everything, sound off in the comments!


  1. /backstab (-2 to mark) lol. As another player of this wonderful game, I have to agree with you Kevin! It was a very fun, fast paced, and interactive game with all players! The only thing I disagree with is the classes. Everyone had their benefits and weaknesses and with the thief you never actually got a combat bonus, and when backstabbing, you had to decide which cards to sacrifice and if it was worth it. Making enemies in this game is very bad unless you can hold your own, so using backstab often not only drains you of cards, but creates more obstacles then really needed. Overall I have to agree with your assessment, good work.

    1. I see your point, if you backstab too many people, then the other players won't trust you and you will be putting yourself at disadvantage every time you drop a card. However I took a look at the wizard class I had and as I recall the only abilities I had were to help in fleeing, by dropping up to 3 cards at once and even then I wasn't guaranteed to escape for sure. Or I had to drop at least 3 cards for avoiding fighting a monster. Although we probably need more experience testing these classes, my initial impressions are that I have to use way too many cards to achieve any effects as a wizard whereas a class like thief can do something really useful with a minimum number of cards.

  2. Considering I have played the game, I like your comments about what you like about the game. I didn't agree with all your dislikes like the one where it take some time getting used to the rules. There are quick rules that allow for you to play fast paced game. I like the concept that it is an RPG and that you can completely involve yourself. I also agree that the class card thief can be overpowered when you get a whole bunch of them.

    1. The quick rules in the rule book actually don't give a tutorial on a way to get right into the game at first. They are actually just rules to try and decrease the duration of the game. I looked in the rulebook again and I don't see any "Easy start" section in the rules. At least it's not blatantly obvious, which it should be if they want people to easily get into the game.

      But yeah the thief card is quite evil when there are so many of them we had that in our first game. Everyone was afraid to fight a single monster.

  3. I disagree with your point that a player might fall behind and not catch up. We have played several times and the level progression has been fairly even provided people interfere and use negative buffs to halt player progress.

    When we were clerics if we played our cards right we could potentially have won the game in 5 turns, so some classes and races are better, but again, people have to interfere to keep it balanced. If the designer made everything more balanced then the player interfering would be more annoying then fun.

    BUT, there are expansion packs that add other races and classes like pirates, barbarians and what not. They sound fun to play with.

    1. After further playing, I see your point about this but that's also because people left the player alone. You could still actually halt that player who is far behind by targeting them more. It's all a matter of perspective, but if ignored they can catch up.

      There was little the other players could have done to actually stop us when were clerics though, we practically chose to stop using the card to level up. I am sure there are ways to balance the game without making it less fun.

      As for the expansion packs, not sure what those new classes might do but I agree any new classes added will probably make it much more fun and add much needed variety.

  4. This can also be a player problem. The game needs to be played with 6 people to be enjoyed, the fewer players add more balance issues. We have played the game with 6 and 4 players. When it was 6 the chances of being countered were high and level progression was slow. When it was 4 players, there were fewer counters, but when they came they would completely demoralize you, however the level progression was fairly fast.

    The expansion packs are good, but the cost of the game is around $30 bucks (170 cards), then each pack is another $20 (~100 cards). In terms of bang for your buck, there really isn't any.

    1. You have a very good point actually, I noticed this as well. The amount of players means more potential for backstabbing and help, though mostly more backstabbing. I actually think it could become more of a problem to finish the game with 6 players if they the other 5 are all trying to backstab you at once, because obviously no one is going to help you if you are about to get the winning monster kill.

      Completely agreed about the expansions, it's really expensive to get the "full" experience. Though I am not sure how much it would change the experience, it would at least mean you don't run through the deck that fast.

  5. I think it would extend the experience though. New cards would have new strategies. The Thief class was the one that was annoying because of backstabbing, think about maybe a Pirate class that instead steals you equipped item.

    The expansion packs might be a worthwhile investment because you would be either playing with the original deck or the expansion, maybe even both. This would lead to new strategies and completely different gameplay depending on what cards are in the deck.

    1. True true, there has to be new classes for sure and most likely new cards with different effects, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a change. But nevertheless I hope that the purchase of an expansion would be worth the purchase. I can imagine having a few expansions but no way would I invest in getting all of them.

  6. Honestly, the game is deeply unbalanced, the rules are not detailed enough, and so many times within our group of players who get together to play, we are left having to constantly google search to find a better explanation. I mean, how does a game like Monopoly end up with easier rules?

    Now, let us move on, the thief class is definitely overpowered, and I'm not talking about backstab, which is a waste. Look, our group is seriously considering house rules to change this class, because it's destroying the game.

    So, this is the last few times I have played the game, I don't care about levelling up, there is no point, you go for items, get as much stuff down onto the table as possible. Now, just as your opponents are hitting level 7 each or so, have full tables, full hands of cards, this is when you do something that will piss them so badly off that you'll get arguments, people throwing their cards on the table.

    You drop the thief card, and you begin to spam dice rolls to steal their cards. I'm serious, you steal cards just to steal more cards, you don't stop until they have absolutely nothing yet. Your level 1 so they have to discard cards to you if over 5 cards in hand, so you drain them of cards, and you lock the game up so hardcore it's not funny.

    If you can get some dice roll bonus cards on the table all the better. But, I steal a card and then use that card to steal another card. Hell, most the cards I steal are just to perpetuate stealing the next, and then the next.

    Thing is, the game is fun until someone at the table works out that stealing cards is damn effective at level 1, it still works all the way up to level 9, because if you can get the right bonus to dice rolls, your bound to succeed.