Anyone who has ever played an RPG (role-playing game), video or otherwise, will recognize the basic elements of Munchkin: monsters, treasure, and peril. Oh, and treacherous backstabbing of your friends — but that part is new.
Munchkin is not merely a game, but the flagship in a series from publisher Steve Jackson Games that includes stand-alone games Star Munchkin; Munchkin Cthulhu; Munchkin Bites; Munchkin Impossible; Munchkin Fu; The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin; Munchkin Booty; and Munchkin Blender. Many of the games can also be expanded with additional cards featuring new treasure, more monsters, and rule tweaks.
The most important thing to realize about Munchkin is that it is a very funny parody, based on an affectionate skewering of the characters and conventions of the classic RPG: the heroes, the weapons, the situations, and the monsters. It has a ridiculous, rather Python-esque, sense of humour — how could it be otherwise when the monsters include the Potted Plant (not much of a challenge, as “Escape is automatic”), and the Large Angry Chicken (“Fried chicken is delicious. Gain 1 extra level instantly if you defeat it with fire or flame”).
Game play is simple: on his turn, a player Opens a Door, by drawing a card from the Door deck and turning it over. If it’s a Monster, he fights it. If the card is a Curse, it is applied to the player immediately. Any other card may be held in the player’s hand or played immediately. The player can then Loot the Room (assuming that he managed to kill the monster) by taking the number of treasures shown on the Monster’s card. The final turn phase for the player is to discard (Charity) so that he holds no more than 5 cards (6 if he’s a Dwarf) by giving the excess to the player with the lowest level.
Players also have the opportunity to “help” other players in ways that cost their opponents treasure, or to gang up on other players, or to backstab (if they are playing as a Thief). Rule disputes are dealt with through the simple method of loud arguments among the players, with the owner of the game having the last word.
I have worked in offices like this. Honestly.
And that’s part of what makes Munchkin so much fun. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to behave badly (very badly)? To wield a weapon such as the Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment? To force a friend to suffer the curse of “Chicken Upon Your Head?”
3 to 6 players, suitable for ages 13+ (or just for “those stuck permanently at a mental age of 13”, I guess. Nothing wrong with that, either.) Game duration about one hour. Weakness from laughter will last much longer than that.