Over the weekend, I attended my first official event of 2018: a Munchkin CCG launch event. For those unaware, Munchkin CCG is the collectible card game version of the immensely popular line of games by Steve Jackson Games. Unveiled at a past GAMMA event, the game has finally released at retail stores across the country. Is the game a smash hit, or just another fly by trading card game? Lets find out.
Announced in 2016, the Munchkin CCG is a new game based on the Munchkin franchise. In the original series of games, players take turns exploring dungeons, fighting monsters and scoring loot, all while potentially stabbing one another in the back. The CCG removes the dungeon exploring aspect and replaces it with the heroes now hiring the monsters they once defeated to defeat other heroes instead.
To begin with, each player needs to have a deck of 40 cards and 1 hero. Like all trading card games, Steve Jackson Games released three 2-player starter decks for its initial launch. The three are Cleric vs Thief, Ranger vs Warrior and Wizard vs Bard. For their first print run, all 2-player starters include a free booster pack.
Aside from the hero card, there are five additional types of cards found in the game’s booster packs:
– Ally: These are sidekick type characters who aid you with special abilities and can take the brunt of your damage.
– Loot: Loot comes in several forms, mostly armor and weapons. These will help you fight your opponents’ hired monsters.
– Locations: Cards that effect the entire field.
– Mischief: These cards are played like Instances and Sorceries.
– Monsters: These are your creatures that you hire during your turns to damage your opponent.
The initial launch booster set, simply titled Munchkin Collectible Card Game. Combined with the starter cards, the Core of Set 1 contains an astounding 319 cards. Something that Steve Jackson Games did a fantastic job on is that most of your rarer cards are simply extended art cards of existing cards. On the other hand, something that they are doing poorly with, is that the booster packs are extremely limited with the first wave. After that, the plans for reprint are slim to none. This is creating an artificial demand for an untested collectible card game, one that may not survive its first year.
Each player takes alternating turns playing out three phases: Warmup, the aptly named Munchkining, and then the Cooldown.
Your Warmup phase is your standard fare beginning of turn/up keep mechanics. You unclip your “Run Away” token, stand any committed cards (called “zap” and “unzap”), collect your stash and draw a card. The Stash is an interesting mechanic in that any monsters that were not destroyed in your previous attacks go to a sort of waiting room. In this zone, during your opponent’s turn, they can play cards that can potentially destroy said monsters. Any monsters that are not destroyed then get added to your hand for another round of monster fights.
During the Munchkining phase is were the bulk of the action is. Utilizing a fairing interesting cheating system, players lay a card face down in the Dangerous Monster Zone (or DMZ) as well as commit a certain amount of gold (the game’s currency/resource) to the face down card. The key here is that you don’t necessarily have to even lay down a monster here, you could bluff your way to make your opponent run away. They do so by flipping a Run Away token, it’d now show a Limp Away icon. If they don’t call your bluff and decide to fight it, the face down card is moved to the Stash and your gold is returned to your pile. Should they call your bluff and you were cheating, you lose take a point of damage and the card is placed in the Stash face down while the gold returns to your pile.
Should you not cheat and it is a monster, then a fight plays out. Each monster has an Attack and Defense, while some will also have an ability or effect. Before any cards are revealed, however, your opponent has the option to commit any weapons or allies to the fight. Allies can take the brunt of the damage while the weapons help destroy the monster. If the monster survives, it is moved to the Stash face up with all damage in tact. All committed allies and weapons return to your opponent’s side of the board, also called their Horde.
These steps are repeated over and over until the active player is done Also, during the Munchkining phase is when players would equip any loot, such as weapons and armor, or recruit allies, as well as play new locations. Every loot card has a star featuring a number. The total of all these numbers cannot exceed your current level, either.
The final step is called Cooldown. During this phase, the active player only performs two steps outside of any effects that may trigger during this phase. First they Level Up. You start the game on Level 1, but each turn you go up a Level. Like in the main game of Munchkin, players go to Level 10. However, you cannot pass this level, nor is their a victory condition for achieving this level. Then players collect gold equal to their current level. You may never collect more gold than what your level is.
Having the resource gathering step at the end of the turn presents an interesting and strategic element to the game. Do you use all your resources playing Mischief and other cards to defend against your opponents onslaught? If you do, you’re left with fewer gold coins in which to hire monsters on your turn. Do you save the gold then? Save the gold and hope they use all their resources so they have nothing to defend with.
The art in the game is what one would expect from the likes of a Munchkin game. That isn’t to say it is bad by any means, it can just be an acquired taste. That being said, the alternate full art cards can be rather gorgeous looking. The over all designs, however, look amateurish. I suspect this is by design, though. A personal nitpick I have is the lack of any foiling. While I get that that may not bother a lot of people, foiling has always been a quick look way of telling a card’s rarity. The current set of the cards have only two ways to tell a rarity: art or a tiny letter in the middle of the card, at the very bottom, with the card’s set number.
The additional components included in the starter are generic looking tokens marked 1 or 5. These are to represent your gold, as well as keep track of your Hero’s damage. Also included is a single, black d6 for the random cards that require a die rolls. There are two larger tokens, marked Run Away and Limp Away. The art is cute and easily distinguishable at a glance. Finally, there are two level counters featuring a Munchkin dragon. Again, nothing fancy or special, but gets the job done. At the tournament I attended, and even in my own home games, the use of other counters and dice have made their way to replace the cardboard components.
One thing I’ve always loved about the Munchkin franchise is their love of parodying other games. This is even more true with the CCG as they take great care in poking fun and parodying the whole trading card game genre as a whole. The rarity system has your normal fare of Commons (C), Uncommon (UC) and Rares (R). However, they also have: Very Rare (V), Promo (FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out), We Destroyed Most of These and These Don’t Really Exist (T). Since Tapped is a copyrighted term by Wizards of the Cost for Magic the Gathering, they use Zap and Unzap. Then borrowing a certain game winning card set from the popular Yu-Gi-Oh! game, they have their own in “Explodia, the Trademarked One”.
Organized Play and the Game’s Future:
Currently, the game has drafted and constructed format play for local game shops, with special limited edition prize cards. Three out of the four are merely alternate art, neutral monsters that any player can use regardless of their hero. The fourth card is a draft exclusive Hero card, Goldfish Wanderer. The card has an interesting effect, but over all it isn’t nearly as powerful as the main set heroes. I’m never going to complain about tournament prize cards, especially ones that are just alternate art cards. However, there isn’t anything special about them to make actual participation worth it. The art isn’t fantastic, nor are they full art.
As far as the future of the game is concerned, it looks as though they have at least a year’s worth of content planned. We had the Core Set 1 release this past February, with the next set due out in May and a third set in August. They have regional events planned for the summer, with a national event to be held at GenCon this year. So it could be said that Steve Jackson Games is definitely going all in on this title.
What is interesting to me, though, is still their reprint policy. It can be found here. I can understand keeping expansions limited after their initial release, but a core set? A core set for any new trading card game should be made readily available during its first year of release. The core set, along with your starters, should be where new players have access to any and all of the key cards that they need to obtain in order to get into the game. There are only two reasons not to do this and they both are bad. First, you’re attempting to create an artificial demand for your product. By creating the demand, you are able to keep the hype rolling for the following releases. This screams money grab, and is something mostly known to happen in trading card games where the company has an IP with limited time (See any of Score’s or Panini’s trading cards). The second, and most problematic, reason to do this is power creep. Each set following will get more and more powerful, making the previous set obsolete after release. Again, another way to force players to buy more and more product.
Final Thoughts and Verdict:
I like the Munchkin IP. It is stupid, silly fun. It is a game that I can get out with a group of friends and have a couple hours of mindless enjoyment. Sure, alliances are formed, backs have knives driven firmly down the middle, all in the name of kicking in that last door and hitting level ten first. That being said, most of the same enjoyment, or at least those feelings, can be had within the context of the Munchkin CCG as well. In a time were trading card games are a dime a dozen, and only the most serious or competitive last any time, it is nice to have a more laid back game to have in the deck bag.
I still have several reservations, namely in regards to the future of the game and the idea that this is a collectible card game with not much in way of “collectible”. The game is still too fresh to see the future clearly, so I hope I am wrong and the game delivers on the longitivtiy that the Munchkin brand is known for while, at the same time, giving us that collectible card game experience.
-Simple and easy to learn.
-Cheating mechanic is an absolute riot in later turns when you have more gold to bluff with.
-Hero cards and archetypes make for fun builds.
-Certain gameplay elements are not easily explained in the Quickstart guide, making certain concepts a bit awkward for new players.
-Gathering your resources at the end of your active turn make for some sticky situations.
-The art work, while not phenomenal, fits the game’s legacy well.
-The full art variants are dynamic and a joy to add to the deck.
-Lack of any type of foiling, or premium style card, distracts from the collectible aspect of the game. This is especially true for the organized play promo cards.
-The layout of the cards feels cheap. While easy to read, nothing really pops on the card.
-The matches can go rather quickly, allowing for multiple games in a sort period.
-Currently, even with just the starters and Core Set 1, there are several potentially great builds. This leads to plenty of unique matches, and a game that doesn’t get stale.
-The fear of the potential power creep makes it hard to get excited for future sets past this one.
-That’s really the only con, its a fun game to play!
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10
Honestly, the Munchkin CCG is a fun game. It really is. You can tell the designers had a blast making some of these cards and the interactions some cards have within their decks shows real thought beyond just using the Munchkin IP for a quick game. I will proudly keep my Warrior deck in my deck bag, along side my Cardfight! Vanguard and Magic the Gathering decks. What keeps this game from ranking higher for me is just the lack of thought into the “collectible” part of collectible card game, as well as the feeling that this will unfortunately be a cash grab attempt from Steve Jackson Games.
Ultimately, though, I do enjoy it and recommend it to every one looking for a quick, easy card game to play.
So, until next time, keep your dice warm and happy gaming!