Saturday, May 7, 2011

Star Munchkin (2002)

by Steve Jackson Games, for 2-6 players

Back in grade school, I had friends who played Pokemon, friends who played Yu-Gi-Oh, friends who played Magic: The Gathering. I had my own way of playing Magic we tried a few times. If somebody left their card collection behind, we'd take turns grabbing handfuls and throw them at each other. I would ramble about abilities and points as I threw stack after stack towards my opponents. There was a lights-off version that increased the strategy, as you had no idea where the next attack was coming from.

With that said...Star Munchkin is a card game with sci-fi theming and jokes that should resonate with fans of Star Trek and Star Wars. You start with a hand of cards, and your character at level 1. The first player "kicks down the door" to a "room," which is theme-speak for drawing a card. That player could find themselves in a trap, gain an item to use later, or end up toe-to-toe with a monster. If engaged in combat, players use cards to try and defeat their enemy.

If you get lost like I did - since these games aren't my bag - just imagine all the slots you can fill with the different cards. Your character can have one ship, one race, one class, and one sidekick. Your character can also
wear something on their head, and also put something in each hand. As such, you could be a psychic cyborg holding two laser guns with your trusty sidekick "The Lovely Assistant" at your side. These modifiers basically change the ways you're affected by winning and losing the battles. They also increase your ability to defeat monsters (sometimes allowing you to hold more weapons).

Combat is a basic assessment of how many points you have (level plus weapons plus abilities) vs. the point level of the monster. You can play temporary cards to overcome a deficit; or your opponents could do the inverse and make the challenge harder. Defeating monsters comes with the reward of more cards and advancing your character up a level. If you find yourself at a disadvantage, another player can negotiate to help (usually at the cost of splitting the loot). If you can't defeat the monster, you roll a die to attempt "running away," where you avoid the negative consequence(s) of losing. Cards can also be sold off at face value in exchange for levels. Players take turns kicking down doors around the table until one reaches level 10. The first player to reach level 10 wins the game. You can buy your way up to level 9, but you have to be successful in combat to get that final level.

The text-heavy cards are daunting. As a new player, having a card's pluses and minuses laid out plainly would have been preferred. But doing so would likely hinder the humor. I drew parallels between this and The Mad Magazine Game. The classic humor mag put out a board game years ago where you tried to lose money. The conventions of board gaming were lampooned in the cards, rules and board spaces. Like that game, the fun in Star Munchkin drops off once you've seen the jokes.

And the game isn't strong enough to overcome that. Players basically let each other gain levels in the early goings. Once someone gets to level 9, their next battle brings every negative card out of the woodwork. It makes sense, but it's eye-rollingly predictable. I played a 70s game called Big Deal once that had the same thing going on. Lots of nice art and clever cards, but it boiled down to a final climactic roll. In Star Munchkin, you go through stacks of preamble to find out if the first player to level 9 has enough cards to combat what everyone else has. Maybe a final battle would help, where the first two people to level 10 face off for ultimate victory.

Was Star Munchkin devoid of fun? Not at all. I enjoyed some of the humor, and that humor was further exploited by the group I played it in. Do I recommend having it on the shelf? Out of five stars, Star Munchkin gets...


Star Munchkin is merely one in a series - a standalone sequel to a game called Munchkin that had a dungeon theme. There's something I don't like about getting people to buy a so-so game over and over again just for new jokes. If you have friends that would enjoy this kind of humor, Star Munchkin is worth playing a time or two. But space those playings out. You probably don't want to be the person out twenty or thirty dollars either.

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