Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Science Fiction Month! Star Munchkin

In the role playing crowd a "munchkin" is someone who plays in a ridiculously aggressive fashion. Munchkins try and amass as much loot, magic items, and super weapons as possible, willfully ignoring the role playing aspect of the game. Steve Jackson Games satirizes this type of player with their bestselling line of Munchkin products. Lets talk about Star Munchkin today.

Star Munchkin is a card game. Players draw and play cards from a deck with the goal of killing as many monsters as possible and stealing all of their treasure. Players may also help or (more likely) hinder other players who are trying to do the same thing. In a given turn a player draws a card from the "encounter deck." This card may have an illustration of a silly space creature similar to the ones pictured at the left. Through a very simple mechanism the player can kill the monster and then "steal its treasure" by drawing a card from the "treasure deck." Each time a player kills a monster the player goes up a "level," becoming more powerful. If you reach tenth level (ie. kill ten monsters) then you win.

The challenge and fun of Star Munchkin comes from several elements. For one, the treasures, weapons, and monsters are all pretty silly. You can have a laser or a bazer or a bananafanafofazer as a weapon. I think there is a "fart grenade" but if there isn't it's probably oversight on the author's part. Monsters include space goats and space vampires. I'm not sure it's a funny game per se, but it is silly.

Players in Star Munchkin may work together, or they may try and sabotage each other's efforts. Say the monster you're facing is too tough. You may ask a friend for help and promise her half the treasure as a reward. Or say the monster you're facing is very weak. Another player may suddenly play a card that makes the creature "radioactive" and causes it to be much more fierce. You can imagine that if five people are playing a given encounter could get pretty crazy as some players act to help and others throw in additional challenges and difficulties. I like this element. It keeps people from getting bored as other players take turns. Further, an attentive parent can subtly step in and aid a child who's doing poorly.

Finally, Star Munchkin is simple. It has two pages of rules and you can learn the game in minutes. This is not a "minutes to learn, lifetime to master" game. It's a "minutes to learn, minutes to master" game. For some purposes this is a nice feature. A casual group of players can sit down and be rolling in minutes. If the group includes children or childlike adults who enjoy silly science fiction references and cartoons then all the better.

Of course, this is also a potential bug in that there are no "expert" Munchkin players. This is a light game at best. Further it has some non-pc issues, amongst them being the fact that you are killing monsters as opposed to reasoning with them. And then stealing their treasure. So folks bothered by that should steer clear. Finally, it uses the word "bimbo" on occasion which bothers me because it's such a dated, dreary concept. I've met foolish and good looking people of both sexes and I'm waiting for a pejorative term that's gender neutral.
In summary, parents looking for a light game that's good for a group may be very happy with Star Munchkin. Each time I've run the game I've had players announce plans to buy their own copies and that's always a positive sign. I got my copy at Hobby Bunker in Malden.

Pros: simple, fun, interactive

Cons: pretty non-politically correct.

Beyond the Basics: this is a pretty basic game. You can buy fantasy, Cthulhu, and pirate variants, as well as a board game and role playing game, but it's all basically Munchkin.

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