Originally published on BoardGameNews.com
By Carl Anderson
August 26, 2009
(Images in this review were uploaded by the user noted in parentheses.)
Designer: Steve Jackson
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Rules Language: English
Version played: Comped review copy
Times played: 2 (once with 5 players, once with 2 players)
Around six or seven years ago, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I visited a friend of mine and his girlfriend to play some games. My buddy brought out a game I'd never heard of: Munchkin. He had the base game, as I recall, plus Munchkin Fu, and the four of us played the combined games a few times that day.
Several years later, my wife and I had gotten into "real" board games, and one of the first games we picked up was Munchkin. We ended up buying a few of the expansions as well.
Thus, Munchkin was something of an introduction to gaming for us...twice!
It's with this background that I was happy to dive in to Munchkin Booty, one of Steve Jackson's newer titles in the very long Munchkin lineup. For those who might be unfamiliar with Munchkin, I'll give a quick rundown of how the games play (at least, the ones I personally have played). First, it's important to remember that Munchkin, at its heart, is very much a parody of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Munchkin is quite tongue-in-cheek, very light hearted, and usually pretty comical. If you play Munchkin as a serious game, well, you're not likely to have too much fun.
The goal of Munchkin Booty (and Munchkin in general) is to build up a character with weapons, armor, and other bonuses; fight monsters; get loot; and eventually rise to Level 10 and win the game. Through card draws (usually from killing a monster), you'll get weapons like "Musket" or "Ship's Log," footgear like "Three Years of Ick," or maybe even your very own parrot. These items confer bonuses upon your character, giving you the ability to fight larger and ever more difficult monsters.
Fighting monsters is a simple matter of adding together your bonuses plus your current level; if that sum is higher than the level of the monster, you defeat it and get some loot (generally a single treasure card, sometimes more) plus at least one level. Remember--you win the game by ascending to Level 10. Of course, your fellow Munchkin players can do all sorts of things to try and stop you from killing the monster, from playing Curse cards on you, to strengthening the monster or weakening you, or even adding additional monsters to the mix. On the flipside, you can try to persuade another player to aid you in battle; that person then shares in the spoils, while you reap the reward of the level (the rules make mention that you split up the treasure in any way you agree upon).
Another aspect of Munchkin is the concept of Race and Class. For example, in traditional Munchkin, you might be an Elf (race) who happens to be a Wizard (class). Different classes and races give different bonuses or other effects. Each of the Munchkin games adds different (themed) races and classes.
Now that you know how Munchkin works, I'll describe some of the particulars of Munchkin Booty in specific. First, instead of races, Booty has Accents--French, British, Spanish, and Dutch--and you're encouraged to talk in that accent for as long as you have that card. Classes include Pirate, Merchant, and Navy. (A minor quibble: One can be a pirate, or a merchant, but how does a single individual be a navy, something that by definition is a collective? Perhaps "Naval Officer" was too wordy for the card. But I digress...) And of course, the armor, weapons, curses, monsters, and so on are all pirate (or nautical) in theme.
The major addition to Booty is the concept of the Ship. This counts as a Big Item (in general, a player may only have a single Big Item in use) and can confer some huge bonuses depending on cards in play. For example, the British get +2 to ships, and Navy characters can have a second ship...and a third once they hit Level 8. There are also ship enhancers that add further bonuses to the ships.
Beyond that, though, the Munchkin formula remains more-or-less present here. However, the most visible change, at least from the vanilla Munchkin game, is that Munchkin Booty has full-color cards. This is certainly a welcome change, although I will concede that the monochrome nature of the original does have a certain old-timey feel that is reasonably pleasant, too.
So, what do I think about Munchkin Booty as a game? (I'll preface my thoughts by saying that I did not combine Booty with the base game, something that is suggested as an option by the rules. Also, although I only played twice, given that it plays like vanilla Munchkin--something I've played many, many times--I feel that I can still provide a thorough review.)
Overall, Munchkin Booty remains, well, Munchkin. It doesn't stray too far from the tried-and-true formula. That's neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Long-time Munchkin fans will find more to love here, while Munchkin haters will not likely find anything redeeming. It is, after all, the same formula of "Kick down the door, fight the monster, get the loot." For myself, that's not such a bad thing...to a point. It was fun to see the new treasures, the new monsters, and the new items, but after a while it just got repetitive. I think my 18-year-old niece (part of the 5-player game) said it best: "It's like Monopoly--it takes forever."
One issue that plagues Munchkin Booty, and indeed the entire Munchkin lineup, is the attack-the-leader problem. Since getting to Level 10 is the goal, and you can lose levels by losing to certain monsters, your fellow players will surely begin attacking you more often as you near that magic Level 10. While I didn't see this come up too badly in the 5-player game, I have seen it in prior games, and the result was that the group called the game a stalemate. In our 5-player game, though, everyone was pretty close in level--as I recall, no one was lower than Level 7 when I won.
Still, though, everyone in the 5-player game gave Munchkin Booty a thumbs-up, and I think that's due to the fact that the gameplay itself is fairly simple. I concede that I did a fair bit of coaching through the game, and relied on the rules more often than I would have liked. But this was likely due to everyone being so new to the game. It's difficult to get one's mind around the concept of how to use items, how to trade them in to go up a level, how and when to play wandering monster cards, and so on...all at the same time. Even so, everyone got the hang of things by the time the mid-game rolled around, and I did less coaching than I did at the start.
This, though, leads me to a major criticism of the game. Why oh why does Munchkin Booty not come with some quick reference cards? Yes, the game is quite simple, and has only a few steps in a turn. But why not summarize those steps on one side of the card, and on the other have a list of what items you can have in front of you, or when to play a curse card, or something else useful? Sure, right now I can remember the dance: open the door, fight the monster if there is one; if not, resolve the card. If no monster appeared, you can look for trouble by fighting a monster in your hand. No monster at all? Fine, loot the room. Have more than five cards? Then give them to the person with the fewest. But for a new player, that can be a lot to take in. Heck, I remember printing off a flow chart for the base game when my wife and I got back into playing. It's not complicated, but it can be complex. (Yes, there's a difference!)
While we're talking about reference cards, let me talk about components in general. It was my wife who actually made a very astute observation: why does the box not have some sort of insert to keep the cards from sliding around? I understand why the box is literally around three times larger than it needs to be--that's to allow for the inevitable slew of expansions (there's already one out, aptly named "Jump the Shark"). But why not have at least something to keep the cards from bouncing hither and yon? Every time I open the box, I have to sort through the cards to separate out the door cards from the treasure cards. (I have seen a tuckbox file on BoardGameGeek, and I may end up printing it out to remedy this problem.) Of course, other non-Munchkin games suffer from this same problem, but the oversized box makes it that much worse.
And speaking of cards... The quality of the cards seems sub-par to me. They have a certain stiffness that makes me feel like they'd keep a crease a bit too readily, and they can be fairly difficult to shuffle. Also, their coating is such that in just the right light (like the overhead fixture we have in the kitchen), the glare makes the card unreadable. This isn't a deal breaker for me by any means, but I think it bears mentioning. Thus, these aren't your father's Eurogame cards. Not even close.
Finally, for a game that requires you to track what level you're at, why not toss in a few 10- or 12-sided dice, or even 20-sided? I know that Munchkin Dice are available as an add-on, but come on...I bought some cheap dice for $0.50 at the game store the other day, and they work just fine. I'm sure that Steve Jackson Games could get a quantity discount on cheapies, and people who want the fancier dice would still buy them.
Component issues aside, how do I like the game? Truth be told...it's not bad. It's not great, either, but it's not bad at all. Remember what I said near the start of this review: you have to be in the right mindset to play. You have to accept that you will be stabbed in the back by your wife (thanks, honey!). You have to accept that, being a card game, it's pretty likely that you won't draw any monsters for quite some time, thus remaining at Level 1 for a very, very long time. (This, by the way, was a criticism my wife had.) And you have to accept that, in many cases, the game will go on for a while--although when my wife and I played a 2-player game, we finished in record time, perhaps 30 or so minutes. With that said, if I get a group of non-gamers together, like I did for the 5-player game (my sister-in-law and two nieces, all non gamers; and my wife and me), Munchkin Booty will certainly be a go-to game. But for "real" gamers? Probably not--unless we're looking for something to wind down the night, or we're all looking for some mindless fun.
And I think that's how I can sum up Munchkin Booty. It's mindless fun, plain and simple. Don't get it thinking that you're going to have a handle on all the strategy, or that cunning card play will win the day. No, get it because you want to be a Dutch Pirate, or a British Merchant, or perhaps dual-accented French/Spanish Navy (officer) who fights things like Dogfish and Nobeard...and probably want to have a laugh while you do so.
Pros: Fairly easy to explain. Good for non-gamers. Light. Reasonably priced. Great artwork. Can be combined with other Munchkin sets.
Cons: Can take too long. Repetitive at times. Can be frustrating if you get a bad run of cards. Attack-the-leader problem. Minor component issues.
Good for: Non-gamers. Casual gamers. Families.
Not so good for: Serious gamers with too-serious mindsets.
Overall rating: B-
Get off my lawn!
The explanation: Impossible Triangle + TW (my company initials) = my logo.
One quirk of Munchkin dice is that they are "count up" dice (i.e., the numbers are sequential). This is great for keeping score of something.
Standard dice place high and low results adjacent to avoid "skidding" and other controlled rolls from generating predictable range results. Thus the run of the mill D10 makes for a bad "counter".
Personally we just use glass beads to track level.