Review – Munchkin Conan by Steve Jackson Games

Years ago I was wandering through local hobby shop, where the employees were generally surly and you could tell the main thing they were interested in was selling things that I wasn’t interested in buying (rc cars and model rockets as opposed to the Magic: The Gathering products they only stocked because it sold better than rc cars and model rockets).

I didn’t go there often, but I’d made the forty-five minute trip into town so I stopped by, browsing around to see what they had.

And that was when I saw it.

A copy of Faerie Meat Munchkin.

The box had some kind of weird, well, munchkin on it, but it was holding a war hammer and a chainsaw. The back of the box read like it was a cardgame version of Dungeons and Dragons, a game I’d wanted to try but hadn’t the group of friends to play it with.

And so, even though it was overpriced for what it was, I picked it up.

I’m not sure if it’s one of the first editions, but the cards were an odd brown and tan instead of the full color like they are now. I’ve still got the box, too, though it’s beat up and stained from dust and grime.

That’s right. Dust and grime.

Not from lots of use, but from buying it and then not playing it for years.

I took it home and opened it up, read through the cards, and was at least mildly amused by the jokes, but I didn’t actually play the game until years later. The main reason was, ironically, the same reason I didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons.

I’m kind of a hermit.

It’s not like I didn’t have friends. Some of us even got together to Magic: The Gathering, but for whatever reason we just didn’t get around to trying out Munchkin. I don’t know if I even brought up that I had a copy of it, because they probably would have at least attempted to check it out.

It was just a weird purchase of a group \ party game by a guy that just doesn’t like groups or party games.

Hey, I’m kind of a hermit, but I’m also an anti-social social animal. Just because I don’t like groups or parties doesn’t mean I didn’t want to like them. But that’s a topic for another post… :)

It wasn’t until years later that I actually played the game. My wife and I were doing some house cleaning and we came across the dusty Munchkin box in a bigger box in an even bigger closet, and while the box suggested 3-6 players it did say 2 can play, so we tried it out.

And it was kind of fun. We even played it a few more times after that, and it was still kind of fun.

But kind of fun isn’t what I wanted out of it. Something was off about Munchkin, but much like parties and groups, I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

And then I found out Munchkin has expansions, and even other versions with their own themes, and THEY MADE A CONAN VERSION!

 

Why yes, dear reader, I am a fan of Conan. Again, that’s a post for another day, but for now I’ll say that Robert E. Howard is my favorite author and I’m a complete fanboy for the original stories. *

Naturally, I wanted to own this version of Munchkin. I was still wanting to like it, so of course adding a theme based on some of my favorite literature would surely be even better than the base game.

Kind of?

 

The good things about it are that it’s about as fun as the base game of Munchkin, and that it’s got a lot of Conan stuff in it.

The bad things about it are that it’s about as fun as the base game of Munchkin, and that it’s got a lot of Conan stuff in it.

 

Those might seem contradictory, but they’re not. Munchkin Conan is pretty much the base game but with a new theme and some mechanics changed to fit that theme. If you enjoy Munchkin, at a base level you’ll enjoy Munchkin Conan. But if you don’t enjoy Munchkin, or it just seems a bit off, a new theme isn’t going to fix it.

And that theme is both a good and a bad thing because if you’re a Conan fan then you’re going to appreciate all the little nods and references, but if you’re not a Conan fan then all those are going to be lost on you. Munchkin is a lightweight game already, and when you take away the theme it’s not much more than a skeleton built of popcicle sticks.

The base version of Munchkin is entirely approachable, whereas Munchkin Conan is insular.

Most people can see a card called Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment and know that it’s a kickass weapon, but you won’t know the significance of a card called Sword of the Phoenix unless you’ve read The Phoenix on the Sword.

Most people can see the classes in the base game and know what a cleric, a wizard, a warrior, and a thief will probably do. Those are common tropes, so they can use that familiarity to appreciate it. But ask your average person what a Kushite is, or why Stygians are able to use any ring, and that’s just going to fall flat.

If you don’t get the in-jokes, the theme just isn’t there, and those popcicle sticks aren’t going to support your weight for long.

 

It’s not entirely insular, of course. If you’re at least a bit familiar with Conan you’ll get some of the jokes. Here’s a good example of a card just about anyone will get, and another that’s aimed at fanboys.

CROM!

Both of those made me LOL.

But while the first one is obvious with the joke, the second is a reference to something specific. Do you know what it is?

It’s not that scene in the Ahnold movie. Conan’s crucified to a twisted tree there, and that scene is actually referencing what this card references, which is from A Witch Shall Be Born.

Most of the monsters are direct Conan references too, and while if you’re not a Conan fan they’ll just sound like random monsters, again, you’re not getting the full effect. Would you rather have a card be called a random name, or something you’re familiar with? The base game gets around this by using types of monsters that pretty much anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with a fantasy game is going to know, like a dragon or a troll or a vampire.

So people that aren’t Conan fans can enjoy it, but not as much. It’s the difference between laughing at an in-joke about your friend slipping on a duck, and laughing at a random guy doing the same. Both can be funny, but man oh man it is so like Reginald to slip on a duck.

Because of that, the base game of Munchkin is better for bringing to parties where it might get foisted on random people that have never played it before. Unless your friends are all Conan fanboys, stick with the base game.

 

So I’m a Conan fanboy, and did that make me enjoy the game?

Kind of.

The game of Munchkin is pretty much the same, no matter what theme it gets propped up onto, and it’s just not something I get a big kick out of. Sure, the cards are at least mildly amusing, and in some cases made me LOL, but that’s not where the value in the game is supposed to be. You read a card, you laugh at it, and maybe you laugh the next time you see it, but the replay value comes in how the game plays.

And Munchkin, regardless of the theme, just isn’t a good fit for a guy that doesn’t like groups or parties.

Supposedly it’s great fun in a big group of people, especially if drinking is involved, but a two or even three player game doesn’t play to Munchkin’s touted strengths.

Not helping matters is that Munchkin is kind of a TAKE THAT style of game, where you’re supposed to be mean to the other players. My wife and I just can’t be mean to each other like that, even in a game.

Before you start in with YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG comments, I have played it with friends that I play MTG with, and while it was just a group of three people, the game was still just kind of fun.

I’d be willing to try it in a larger group, and because of that I’m holding onto my base copy of Munchkin.

But Munchkin Conan? Well, at least it helped me realize the reasons why Munchkin is only kind of fun.

 

Alright, alright. So this wasn’t exactly a review in the traditional sense. I didn’t do an overview of how the game works, and so far I’ve only shown off two of the cards that come with it.

If you want to know how the game works… Try the rigged demo at the Munchkin official website. Between that and the stuff I’ve mentioned about the kind of game it is, you should be able to figure out if you’d like it. Just try something like Munchkin Deluxe first, rather than any of the specifically themed versions.

And here’s a look at some other cards in the set.

*SNORT*

"And now, wench, off with your clothes!"

 

So, dear readers, are you a Munchkin fan? Do you still want to tell me I was doing it wrong?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

~Matt Booker

 

*Longtime readers may remember this post, where I mention that Something Wicked This Way Comes  is my favorite book. That is still true, but that doesn’t mean Ray Bradbury has to be my favorite author. There’s a lot of his books that just don’t appeal to me.

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