Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Review: Munchkin Zombies


While I was compiling a list of zombie games to review, it hit me that I hadn't actually spoken about Munchkin at all on my Blog. I hadn't even reviewed a single version of Steve Jackson's insanely popular game. Given how many drink fueled games of Munchkin I've played over the years that is incredibly remiss of me. So here I am trying to kill two birds with one stone... or should that be two zombies with one bullet? Either way I'm reviewing Zombie Munchkin.

Product Description

It comes in a box with a lot of cards, 168 full-colour cards in total. These are split between the Door Deck and the Treasure Deck, with there being 74 and 94 respectively. You also get a lovely looking dice with the Munchkin symbol on it, and the incredibly simple and easy to learn rules to Munchkin, in a full colour pamphlet form. Nothing fancy, just a card game in a box. As a warning, because I know a lot of people who buy Munchkin products are surprised by this, Zombie Munchkin does NOT come with a board or counter system to keep track of your levels in game as you progress, which I've always found an annoying oversight myself. So you'll need something to keep score for yourselves, that isn't open to easy abuse. You have been warned!!!

Here's what you get in the box.

Gameplay 6.5 out of 10

Firstly I like Munchkin, I really do. That score at the top of this section might make you think otherwise. But, the truth is Munchkin isn't the greatest or most balanced game ever  made, and if the deck is shuffled in a fortuitous way there can be games that quite frankly you can win with minimal effort. Conversely this also means there can be games that get away from you very quickly, but unlike yesterdays card game Zombie Fluxx, if this happens the game isn't mercifully short, you have to sit through the game until it ends, which is a drag and if you aren't in the mood can be really annoying. Here's the thing I think with random 'fun' games, if you are going to randomly decide who wins and who loses, the least you can do is make it as painless and as quick as possible if the inevitable happens and someone ends up way out in front. Munchkin doesn't do this, the best the rest of you can do is try and spoil the game for that person, but by doing so you normally end up compromising your own game progression. Sometimes with Munchkin it's just best to concede a game early on when the tell tale signs are there and start again.

Some card art

Now when playing Zombie Munchkin for this review I'd say there were more than a few games that were effectively over as contests pretty much right at the beginning with the initial hands that were dealt. Before any of us had kicked a door down in anger. It certainly wasn't the norm, but it was enough for me to feel the need to mention it right at the top of the review. Whether Zombie Munchkin is better or worse for this than other versions of the game I couldn't rightly tell you, but I'd say it was par the course for Munchkin games I've played over the years. Now I know not every game has to be about the best gamer winning, or huge tactical ability, but sometimes it seems that Munchkin is all about the random draw of the cards and you can be left helpless to effect the course of the game... like when somebody draws 4 level up cards in their initial hand... it happened. So unless you are really in the mood for this sort of random experience Munchkin offers, and are willing to be swept up in its brand of 'fun' it is exceedingly limited in its applications. You have to be in the right mood to play Munchkin, and Munchkin Zombies is no different.

The rules pamphlet.

With that out of the way I guess I'd better tell you guys a bit about how the game works if you haven't ever played it before. The basic premise to all Munchkin games is that you have to 'level-up' your character and kit them out with items so they can take on the bad guys. In this case we're the zombies and the bad guys are human survivors... braaaaiiiinnnssss! The ultimate goal is the same as it ever was, the first player to get to level 10 wins the game. It is a devilishly simply idea, and actually when the cards fall fortuitously, and you have enough players in the right mood it can be a hell of a lot of fun.The cards are littered with humorous sketches and descriptions and it's so easy to teach someone how to play the game that anyone can pick it up in under 10 minutes really. The idea is that you gain levels by 'kicking down doors', which basically involves drawing a card from the Door Deck and seeing if you can beat the monster, or in this case the human behind the door. You do this by adding the assorted junk... sorry, treasure you've attached to your zombie together and then adding the level you are currently at. If your total beats the level score on the card you beat it and go up another level.

More card art.

You normally get to draw a set number of treasure cards at this point too. Sounds simple and easy doesn't it? Except your opponents can screw with you and help the monster out if it looks like you are going to beat it... because they're gits. However, you can also therefore barter and trade with people in terms of agreeing to split the spoils of war in some mutually agreeable way. It's this group interaction that genuinely made Munchkin fun the first time I ever played it. Completely screwing with people and doing them over to win was at the heart of the game. I've been told by many fans of Munchkin that this dynamic at the heart of the game is what makes it so cool, and that as you get more familiar with your opponents behaviours the game gets better. I don't agree with that. Within my group of gamers I know them very well, and they know me as well. We've had a settled group dynamic for many, many years now and there isn't any mystery as to what any of us are up to anymore. I know them and they know me. This totally kills Munchkin, because we are hardly ever caught out by each other and we know each others 'tells'. It's like a group of friends that have played poker for years. It becomes dull.

The pamphlet folds out to 6 sides of A4, although the game really isn't that complex.

This is why I think Munchkin isn't the great game many people think it is. It relies far too much on 'environmental factors for it to be fun. You need to be in that party mood, and yes alcohol and junk food help. Then you and possibly 3 or 4 other friends need to be in the specific party mood for Munchkin, if one or two of you aren't then it just won't work. Next you need to know your opponents a bit, but not too well, because if you know them too well the game bogs down and ultimately kills the party it was supposed to fuel. Finally though the game is totally at the mercy of the fates, if the cards fall kindly and equally you can have an epic game of fragile alliances and backstabbing galore. If the fates dictate somebody is going to win then it becomes a drag and pretty quickly people can lose interest. I mean you try screwing with someone who has drawn a level 3 bad guy who is already at level 8 with enough toys to yank their score up to 21 when the collective levels of the other three gamers is only 7 and if you all work together you might be able to help get up to 19. You lose interest, but even if you could help cause a few problems working together you are only really delaying the inevitable and playing cheap spoiling tactics.

Even more card art.

I know there will be people out there aghast that I'm taking Munchkin seriously, thing is I'm honestly not. I know it's meant to be stupid, silly and inconsequential fun. I really do. But I personally feel that so much of that fun is reliant on the people you are with and the atmosphere at that moment in space and time that actually the game itself is superfluous. Think about it, if you and your friends are in that silly party mood wouldn't you have fun playing tiddlywinks? I know me and my friends would, we're happy playing any old game if we're in that silly mood. So where does Munchkin fit in? I'm not so sure anymore. I have some very fond memories of some really epic Munchkin battles with mates over the years. I just think that unless I ditch all my friends and try to make a new group it is highly unlikely I'll ever get back to the stage where we're still not quite sure of each others motives that made all the best games of Munchkin I've ever played tick. Plus, I'm at stage in my life where I don't want to have to order in stupid amounts of pizza and drink copious amounts of ethanol based liquids to enjoy myself. I've actually found a group of people I enjoy spending time with sober. Reviewing Zombie Munchkin actually began to feel like a chore, and a game should never be a chore.

Detail 7 out of 10

The first detail to not is that the box Zombie Munchkin comes in is way too big for the amount of stuff you get inside it. Obviously this is a tried and tested marketing trick often employed to make people feel like they're getting a lot of stuff for their money. What you do get though is a single d6 168 cards, with admittedly some humorous artwork on them and a a colour rules pamphlet. That's your lot. We shouldn't kid ourselves that the cards are as loaded with gorgeous artwork as say some of the Fantasy Flight Games card games I've played recently, or that the artwork is of the same quality of say Tentacle Bento to pick a recent example out of the air. They're not. It's not all that much more than detailed in its components over yesterdays card game Zombie Flux. Sure the artwork is in a different style, and there's a bit more of it, but ultimately there's not a lot too it.

Yet even more card art.

Quality 6.5 out of 10

As with Zombie Fluxx the cards aren't the best quality. After a fair few games they will start to become a bit tatty around the edges. Ironically I think the large sized of the boxed you get to store them in doesn't really help. It would be far better to have a smaller box that kept the cards firmly in place for transit, as opposed to allowing them to move about so much, which can cause potential damage to stuff.

Big Box. Not much product!
Price 6 out of 10

I can hear people taking in sharp gasps of breath at that score... "but it's cheap they'll be saying"... but... "it's a small deck of cards in a stupidly large box" I'll be countering. Look, these deck of card games normally cost around the £10 to £12 mark. The fact that Munchkin costs around the £17 to £18 mark and can command fees of £20 is testament to how well the whole product range has been marketed, and how it has grown to be such a well known brand name. I guess part of it could be down to how much fun the game is under the right circumstances, but I never feel a game should only be fun when eating sugary treats and imbibing ethanol based refreshments. I'll be honest here, it has endured far longer than I personally thought it would when it first came out. I thought it would be a fun throw away game that would probably sit on peoples shelves and be brought down at Birthdays and other holidays. However, it has sort of developed a cult following and seems to be an industry all on it's own. In essence Steve Jackson Games have been selling the same product with different box art, and card designs for ages now, and and while that's a great business plan if you can pull it off, it does leave me thinking that Muchkin needs a proper overhaul and update as opposed to these constant rehashes it gets. Compared to other companies who are doing similar card game products, the price point is for Munchkin is too high in my opinion.

Overall 6.5 out of 10

Don't get me wrong, Munchkin still remains a really fun game to play at its core if you have the right group of friends. Get said bunch of friends around, get them in the right mood and you'll have a real good giggle as you collaborate, and more often than not screw each other over. It's not that it is a bad product or a bad game per se. It's just not that much of a game in the first place. It's simple, it's fun, and it's incredibly random, all the things that make party games so much fun to play. However, if I was to ask my friends what board game or card game they'd like me to whip out for a gaming session, I doubt they'd be clamouring for Zombie Munchkin all that often. The reason being is that there's not much to it. It's not massively dynamic, it's not hugely tactical and yeah if you're that guy who gets 4 level up cards at the start of the game... well that's Munchkin. You need to be in that party mood to play it, it's not a game that will get you in that party mood, and it's not a game that changes depending on the mood of the group. Is it worth having in your games pile? Yeah sure, every games pile should have a version of Munchkin in it just in case. But, there's nothing particular about Zombie Munchkin that would cause me to pick it over any of the other 5 billion versions of Munchkin out there, or indeed have it as my zombie game, because really it doesn't feel like a zombie game. Peace out!


  1. I've played several different versions of Munchkin and have never been able to figure out why people seem to love it so much. It's a decent game with the right people. The fact that it's had the longevity and number of re-themes it has is impressive...it's just not a game for me.

    1. Like you I've never really understood the fervent following it has. I've had some fun games with it, but most games I've played have had similar moments and in some cases way more.

  2. Got this to play with my seven-year-old and as you have described, should have known he'd side with his bloody mum every time. :)

    Box is big to afford room for the obligatory expansion decks you will "have" to buy after you realise that one set just isn't enough for the regular Friday night 6-man gaming group.

    1. That sounds like a school boy error. A friend of mine bribes the kids before he plays with Haribo sweets. You can have that strategy for free. :p

      Just don't let the other half know or you'll be for it... like my mate was. Soooooo funny.

  3. Ahhhhh Munchkin.

    It's a great game, and a terrible game, all at the same time.

    I have some fond memories of Munchkin, and it was certainly as you described; playing with people I didn't know very well, in a party atmosphere. It really does bring out a person's true character.

    In saying that, the absolute randomness can make for some fairly one sided games, that drag on, and on, and on... Especially if a few people aren't really into it.

    Munchkin is a good game for bringing a group together, and is a great "gateway game". It's certainly not something I would play regularly, or continuously, but i does have its place.

    1. Yep, those are my feelings on it as well. Part of me just can't fathom why the game is so darn popular, and has such a fervent following. To each their own I guess.

  4. I've spent far too much money on Munchkin over the years. The game starts to get messy as hell with a few expansions, and after a few more swings back into an interesting risk/reward situation when you're playing with four decks and some of them are only accessible for doing "nice" stuff while others for doing "evil" stuff.

    By which I mean it's more of the same, but I've got a group of friends who'll drop themselves to level 1 to ensure someone doesn't win.

    1. Yeah that's pretty much my experience with all the add-ons too. Its just a game I will never spend too much time, money or effort on.

    2. It's great for the anual post-Gaelcon "fuck you we're not leaving the pub yet" game, but other than that it comes out once in a while when playing at parties or whatever. It's really not the kind of game people tend to want to play more than once a month.