13 August 2018
Lie, cheat and sneak your way to victory in this madcap CCG offshoot
There are few things in this world I genuinely hate: things like fascism, inequality, techno music and whoever decided that store-bought sandwiches would benefit from the addition of mayonnaise. Then there’s Munchkin.
A card game lamentably released in 2001, it lampoons the approach taken by some players to roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons – concerning themselves more with acquiring treasure than with plot or character development. It’s long, tedious, minimally reliant on skill and comes with a dose of humour that starts out lacklustre and gets worse with each repeat play. Faced with a choice between a friendly game and a bareknuckle brawl with Anthony Joshua, I would choose the latter, because at least it would be over more quickly.
Inexplicably, though, some people disagree. In the years since it was first published, the game and its endless succession of expansions have sold millions of copies. Now a new addition to the line-up aims to combine the original’s backstabbing dungeon-crawl premise with the competitive complexity of card games like Android: Netrunner and Magic: The Gathering.
The Munchkin Collectible Card Game may be rooted in its predecessor’s nerdy sense of humour, but it comes with much more actual game attached. Players take on the roles of rival fantasy heroes, assaulting one another with hired monsters, improvised weapons and underhanded tricks. Before you play you’ll assemble a customised deck, carefully selecting cards that work well together and forming a strategy to pound your opponent into a sticky mess on the dungeon floor.
What sets the Munchkin CCG apart from other tactical card games, though, is its pronounced element of bluffing. You’ll play cards from your hand to launch attacks on your opponent – but you’ll play them facedown, with no way for your rival to be sure whether they’re dealing with a rampaging plutonium dragon or a goblin with a pointy stick.
You’ll only reveal your attacking monster once your rival has decided whether to flee from the fight, or hang around and duke it out. It means you’ll be able to trick your opponent, playing an unthreatening card, tempting them into using up their defences, then unleashing a bigger threat that they’re unable to do anything about.
It’s all very much in the spirit of Munchkin, but mechanically it’s far more rewarding than its big sibling. It uses a Hearthstone-like resource system, giving players steadily increasing amounts of gold, rather than relying on Magic-style mana cards. It boasts an array of tactical options, with decks that can be fine-tuned for aggression, healing, card-draw or interfering with your opponent’s plans. And, while its quickstart guide could be clearer, its rules become second nature after you’ve played a few games.
Ultimately, whether it appeals to you is likely to depend on your fondness for bluffing. While it has plenty of clever tactical bits to consider, it boils down to a running series of standoffs where you’ll look your opponent in the eye and try to read their intentions – a bit like poker if it had been invented by the cast of Monty Python.
Munchkin CCG offers a sizeable serving of humour but, unlike the original Munchkin, it also remembers to include a game that doesn’t suck. Its reliance on bluffing might be offputting for some, but it offers intriguing ways to be unspeakably devious. Its creators’ biggest challenge now will be to keep the laughs from getting stale as new sets roll out.
Buy your copy here
Designer: Eric M. Lang, Kevin Wilson
Time: 20-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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