“Kill the monsters. Steal the treasure. Stab your buddy.”

These three tenets, emblazoned on the box to the dedicated card game Munchkin, is a fairly accurate assessment of what you can expect when your group of 3-6 players sits down to play a game. Munchkin is essentially a dungeon crawling style role-playing game, just without the pencils and paper, heavy rulebooks, and role-playing. Much of the seriousness is removed as well, since nearly every card is dripping in satire lampooning traditional D&D styled games. Humor which is only built upon with cards brilliantly illustrated by John Kovalic, best known for his Dork Tower comic series.

So if you take all that boring stuff out of a role-playing game, what does that leave, you ask? Namely a faster paced game filled with monsters, loot and experience levels. In a race to be the first player to reach level 10, you and your friends will find yourselves teaming up to take down bigger monsters, all the while screwing each other over on a regular basis. The comical nature of the game helps in defusing resentment when a player starts to feel picked on, but the right crowd could still find themselves in heated debates over the occasionally ambiguously worded card. Don’t take it too seriously though. Munchkin publisher Steve Jackson Games certainly doesn’t, with rules like, “Any disputes in the rules should be settled by loud arguments with the owner of the game having the last word” and cards like Cheat that let you break established rules and equip items that you normally wouldn’t be able to.

The game is played with two different types of cards, door cards and treasure cards. All players start as a level 1 human with ‘no class (heh heh)’ with two of each type of card in your hand. A player’s turn begins by entering a new room in the dungeon by ‘kicking down the door’ (by drawing a door card face up). Door cards often consist of curses/traps, monsters, or cards that modify the player’s class or race. If the player isn’t forced into battle by drawing a monster face up, they can go ‘looking for trouble’ and choose to fight a monster by playing one from their hand. There’s a wide array of monsters, ranging from a level 1 Potted Plant to a level 20 Plutonium Dragon. Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew, though. Opposing players can make your fight tougher by playing cards on your monster that gives it bonuses such as Enraged or Intelligent, increasing its fighting power.

 Defeating a monster in combat will net you an experience level and some treasure. Treasure cards are usually items that modify your combat rating such as the Mace of Sharpness or the Big Rock or special cards like Bribe The GM With Food, which allows you to immediately go up one level. If you’re unable to defeat the monster, you’ll have to roll the die to run away. Fail to escape and you are forced to face the Bad Stuff, consequences of your defeat that are unique to each monster. Lose a fight to a level 10 Floating Nose and you might only lose a level. Go up against a level 18 Bullrog and fail and you might get killed, forcing you to start back at level 1 and draw a new hand of cards. If you’re in a tight spot, you can try to convince someone at the table to help you in battle, adding their battle rating to yours, but they’re not likely to help you out for free, and you might need to watch your back.

The game is published by Steve Jackson Games, a company that has created and published a myriad of card, board and role-playing games for over 30 years, including Car Wars, Chez Geek, and GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System). Since its original publication in 2001, Munchkin is far and away one of SJ Games’ best sellers. No wonder, since it’s such a fun and amusing game, and good for small to medium groups. In addition to multiple expansions, there have also been several spin-offs such as Munchkin Conan, Munchkin Zombies, western-themed The Good, The Bad and the Munchkin, and the upcoming Munchkin Apocalypse. Several Munchkin titles are available at your local Slackers today, and according to SJ Games, all spin-offs and expansions are compatible with the original Munchkin base game.