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Subject: Munchkin Quest Review: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Loot rss

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Jack Shirai
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This is my first review of a game on the Geek, so please be gentle. Ha!

----

You need to play this game. You'll have to set aside four hours, and you'll likely want to be at least a little inebriated to do so, but you need to play this game.

Munchkin Quest is the latest offering from Steve Jackson Games and their first(?) in the brave new frontier of $50+ big box games. Allowing them to describe it for themselves...

Quote:
You'll build your dungeon, a room at a time, from 24 heavy, double-sided tiles. Each shows a different room . . . some are good for certain characters, some are bad. Populate it with monster standies and let your munchkins run amok!

Cooperate with the whole group, adventure with a partner, or strike out on your own. You don't know what's behind a door until you open it . . . then another room is added to the dungeon. Battle monsters for power and treasure, or send them after your friends. Reach Level 10, and then get out alive if you can . . .

The rules to the game can be found right here, so in the spirit of brevity, I'll avoid a deep examination of them and instead launch directly into what I considered the game's highs and lows after three separate sessions of the game this past weekend.

The Good

* The components are really slick.

I suppose this is mostly directed at Phil Reed, but you certainly won't feel cheated by the $49.95 (or less) the box runs for. That price tag nets you 200 cards, over 100 health, gold and other assorted tokens, 24 double-sided room tiles, ten dice, a whole slew of sturdy monster standies and more. If you're a component snob, or if you just plain like games in which you get to handle a lot of pieces, you'll be at home here.

* The board building mechanic works well.

I've always found random geography to be fun in board games, and Munchkin Quest does not disappoint me here. The rooms are generally funny and interesting to interact with, and the random links make for a genuinely novel experience every game, especially when coupled with the 2 Move variant I mention below.

* Notwithstanding whether the game is fun, funny things will happen when you play.

As I'll get into later, the game has a tendency to get bogged down, especially near the end. However, this doesn't stop weird and amusing things from happening during gameplay. This should be no surprise to Munchkin fans: the game and its setting just scream 'something messed up is going to happen'.

One of the favorite moments we had during our three sessions was the unintentional cooperation that emerged involving buffing but not killing a Gazebo monster that ended up spawning in the dungeon's Library.



It managed to survive in the above form for the duration of the game. I like to think it's still down there somewhere, secretly planning the demise of one of my roommates.

The Bad

* Three Moves proves to be too many.

This is the complaint that you're going to hear from most players who've slogged their way through a game or two of Munchkin Quest: individual player turns are way too damn long. The basic rules state that each player starts the game with 3 Moves, with one Move consisting of being able to 'explore' a new square, fight a monster and possibly draw and then decide to play a handful of cards. Stringing several of these together results in players not only having the opportunity to shoot up a frightening number of levels in one go, but also drags out a single player turn to as much as twenty (or, God forbid, thirty) minutes. All this adds up to a playtime of approximately one hour per player involved. This is really compounded by the fact that there's just not a whole heck of a lot for a player to do out of turn. The DxM Curses are generally played out of turn, but doing so doesn't usually require a lot of attention from players: "*looks over* You're fighting a monster? *munchmunch* Oh, he's +10 now. *munchmunch* *changes TV channel*"

Thankfully, the expansion suggests dropping the starting number of Moves to 2 for larger games, which I think makes for a much more interesting game for 3-6 players for a number of reasons. I strongly urge you to play with this 'optional' rule in place. It'll save you a bunch of heartache.

* The rules for distributing Deus Ex Munchkin cards seem a bit fiddly.

The Deus Ex Munchkin cards play the same role as the non-monster 'Door' cards in the Munchkin card titles: for the most part, they are the cards that let you screw over other players as they attempt to attain demi-godhood. As important as the DxM cards are for maintaining the fun and flow of the game, their distribution is a little odd. You get one for starting your turn. You also get one for exploring a new room, which is something you were probably going to do anyway and didn't really need any encouragement for. You also get a DxM card if someone rolls the monster color die and ends up placing a monster of your color on the board. You get yet another DxM card for defeating said monster.

All this boils down to a fine number of DxM cards being rewarded, but sometimes going all to one or two players due to sheer luck. Considering that the luck of the monster draw and the will of the other players can sometimes lead to one or two players dying and/or falling way behind, this is terrible. A more egalitarian method of distributing these cards would likely make for a more amusing time for players who have already been previously shafted.

* The addition of dice makes combat more interesting, but bogs down combat resolution.

The fact that a combat can now 'go to the dice' without being a sure thing certainly adds a welcome new dimension to Munchkin strategy: sure, I might lose a level if this monster beats and catches me, but I have a 50% of winning AND a 66% base chance of running... let's do it!

That said, during our first game, we managed to get the monster side of a combat involving two different players to a total of 71 + God knows how many dice. The constant updating of power totals due to cards being played and the required sweep of the 10+ equipment cards in front of both players for additional die bonuses made this process take at least twenty minutes. Coupled with the fact that this ended up being but ONE of a player's THREE moves on a turn caused the game to grind to a halt.



(For those curious, the two players WON the battle, only to have victory snaked from them at the last minute by a Reloaded Die. Such is life.)

* Monster movement doesn't work as well as it should/might.

This is more an observation than anything else. Judging by the blog on their official site, this was one of the gameplay elements that was giving Steve Jackson Games the most trouble during development, and while the solution they came up with was certainly neat (a multi-colored monster movement die that interacts with colored arrows on map tiles), it unfortunately results too often in either no movement at all from monsters, or gigantic mobs of monsters that will wander the halls slaughtering anyone unlucky enough to end up on their space when their turn begins.

Given some experimentation from Geeks, I definitely think this could be house ruled to work a bit better, possibly giving off-turn players some extra stuff to do.

* Like regular Munchkin, the end game suffers from the Kill Doctor Lucky problem.

This is the big one, and actually a bit beyond the scope of this review, but basically, for better or worse, the game plays like a meatier, longer Munchkin. The end game goals have now been split into two (reach level 10 and then beat a level 20 boss monster) rather than original Munchkin's one (reach level 10), but this does not solve the core issue the game shares with a number of 'screw your neighbor' games: there is one clear action necessary to achieve victory, and since it is never in your own interest to let another player win the game, the game will grind to a halt at the point where everyone is on the cusp of winning. All the players within a stone's throw of level 10 will utilize all the resources at their disposal to prevent the other players from winning until someone, maybe even the guy in last place, manages to win because A) they got a good monster draw and B) everyone else has run out of cards they can use to stop him.

The sad thing is that this occasionally happens early on, as well: a player will get several levels ahead of everyone else, someone will point this out, and the hapless leader will get dogpiled on, and in a game like Munchkin Quest, he/she will likely never truly recover and will have his game experience suffer because of it.



It's a difficult issue, and is likely the one that makes Munchkin and its ilk such a divisive series of games. The argument could be made that this style of endgame makes for bad gameplay. That said, if you go into a session of Munchkin or Munchkin Quest not necessarily expecting a good game experience, but rather a fun experience, you might not care. So what if the third place guy ended up winning mostly due to luck? Wasn't that awesome how Mike completely railroaded Jack with those three monsters when he was heading for the Entrance? And how Joe was totally gonna win until we made that Potted Plant a super Intelligent Demon? I swear I'll get better draws next time. Let's play again!

The Bottom Line

The last point especially might explain my odd feelings about Munchkin Quest. Having played three sessions with three different groups of people, none of us really enjoyed it from a gameplay perspective: the game dragged on longer than it should, and the 'screw your neighbor' problem resulted in at least one person each session having little to nothing to do on his/her turn due to massive, massive skullduggery on the part of the other players.

All of us, however, had fun on the whole and (gasp!) did not rule out playing it again sometime.

This is a new feeling for me. The only way I can possibly explain this is that there is something about Munchkin Quest's construction that just makes you want to put aside everything you know about serious gaming and just try to have fun. And I guess, despite the fact that it took a good four hours of my life to do so, I did.

For that reason, I can honestly recommend to everyone here that they at least give Munchkin Quest a try. If the gameplay flaws turn out to be too much for you to handle, maybe we can knock out some good house rules here on the Geek that make it more palatable to you. But I can guarantee that you'll at least have a little fun with it, and frankly, I'm sure that's all Steve Jackson and his motley crew really wanted you to do.
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Henrik Lantz
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Nice review. I see a lot of similarities between this game and Zombies!, perhaps not in gameplay but in your and my feelings about the games. Zombies! has this raw potential to be a really great game but somehow manages to fall slightly short of the end line. It is pretty salvageble with some house rules, but still doesn't quite become that great game that you feel it really has the possibility to become. If just a few different decisions had been made during the design phase, or something... It frustrates me. I REALLY want to like that game, but can't.

Good to hear that Steve Jackson has upped the bar when it comes to components. Perhaps they can become this high quality ameritrash company that I really feel there is a niche for. This release at least give me some hope, their earlier really didn't...

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Jack Shirai
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Bolger wrote:
Nice review. I see a lot of similarities between this game and Zombies!, perhaps not in gameplay but in your and my feelings about the games. Zombies! has this raw potential to be a really great game but somehow manages to fall slightly short of the end line. It is pretty salvageble with some house rules, but still doesn't quite become that great game that you feel it really has the possibility to become. If just a few different decisions had been made during the design phase, or something... It frustrates me. I REALLY want to like that game, but can't.

A couple of my friends with whom I played this called out Zombies! by name as a game that they had similar feelings for, so you're certainly not alone there.
 
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Great review. I'll admit, I'm a shameless fan of the game (mechanics and all). I do want to point out one error though; the cards do not have a linen-finish. The tiles, standees, connectors, and level counters do, but the cards do not.
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Philip Reed
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Rob, thank you for the review (and your kind words about the components).
 
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Philip Reed
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Progmode wrote:
Great review. I'll admit, I'm a shameless fan of the game (mechanics and all). I do want to point out one error though; the cards do not have a linen-finish. The tiles, standees, connectors, and level counters do, but the cards do not.


We have a few sets of the cards here at the office with linen finish but the final quality wasn't where we wanted them, so we dumped that idea and went with the aqueous coating.

The samples we were sent (and rejected) are really weird-feeling cards; both durable and flimsy all at once.
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Will Schoonover
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Great review. As one of the mentioned motley crew at SJGames who had a hand in the game I've got a few comments that I hope are helpful.

Roshirai wrote:

* Three Moves proves to be too many.

This is the complaint that you're going to hear from most players who've slogged their way through a game or two of Munchkin Quest: individual player turns are way too damn long. The basic rules state that each player starts the game with 3 Moves, with one Move consisting of being able to 'explore' a new square, fight a monster and possibly draw and then decide to play a handful of cards. Stringing several of these together results in players not only having the opportunity to shoot up a frightening number of levels in one go, but also drags out a single player turn to as much as twenty (or, God forbid, thirty) minutes. All this adds up to a playtime of approximately one hour per player involved. This is really compounded by the fact that there's just not a whole heck of a lot for a player to do out of turn. The DxM Curses are generally played out of turn, but doing so doesn't usually require a lot of attention from players: "*looks over* You're fighting a monster? *munchmunch* Oh, he's +10 now. *munchmunch* *changes TV channel*"

Thankfully, the expansion suggests dropping the starting number of Moves to 2 for larger games, which I think makes for a much more interesting game for 3-6 players for a number of reasons. I strongly urge you to play with this 'optional' rule in place. It'll save you a bunch of heartache.

I came up with another idea after all the demoing we did this summer. First round of the game players have a max of 1 Move each. For the rest of the game everyone has regular Move.It works really well with up to 4 players and speeds up the beginning alot.

Something else that will speed games up for new players is limiting combat to once a turn. We started out with that rule, but once we all knew what we were doing we decided more combats per turn sped the game up.

Experienced players will play the game a lot faster. We were down to a game being 30 min per person + about 30 min at the end of our playtest process.

Roshirai wrote:

* The rules for distributing Deus Ex Munchkin cards seem a bit fiddly.

The Deus Ex Munchkin cards play the same role as the non-monster 'Door' cards in the Munchkin card titles: for the most part, they are the cards that let you screw over other players as they attempt to attain demi-godhood. As important as the DxM cards are for maintaining the fun and flow of the game, their distribution is a little odd. You get one for starting your turn. You also get one for exploring a new room, which is something you were probably going to do anyway and didn't really need any encouragement for. You also get a DxM card if someone rolls the monster color die and ends up placing a monster of your color on the board. You get yet another DxM card for defeating said monster.

All this boils down to a fine number of DxM cards being rewarded, but sometimes going all to one or two players due to sheer luck. Considering that the luck of the monster draw and the will of the other players can sometimes lead to one or two players dying and/or falling way behind, this is terrible. A more egalitarian method of distributing these cards would likely make for a more amusing time for players who have already been previously shafted.

One of the options that was eventually dropped during playtest, in favor of the Monster die, was 1 card at the start of your turn, and 1 card for every player anytime a room is explored.

Roshirai wrote:

* The addition of dice makes combat more interesting, but bogs down combat resolution.

The fact that a combat can now 'go to the dice' without being a sure thing certainly adds a welcome new dimension to Munchkin strategy: sure, I might lose a level if this monster beats and catches me, but I have a 50% of winning AND a 66% base chance of running... let's do it!

That said, during our first game, we managed to get the monster side of a combat involving two different players to a total of 71 + God knows how many dice. The constant updating of power totals due to cards being played and the required sweep of the 10+ equipment cards in front of both players for additional die bonuses made this process take at least twenty minutes. Coupled with the fact that this ended up being but ONE of a player's THREE moves on a turn caused the game to grind to a halt.



(For those curious, the two players WON the battle, only to have victory snaked from them at the last minute by a Reloaded Die. Such is life.)

The only thing I can say to this is that I promise more experience will speed it up. Long combats when the other players don't want you to win are a reality of Munchkin, and we set out to make a game for Munchkin fans.

Roshirai wrote:
* Monster movement doesn't work as well as it should/might.

This is more an observation than anything else. Judging by the blog on their official site, this was one of the gameplay elements that was giving Steve Jackson Games the most trouble during development, and while the solution they came up with was certainly neat (a multi-colored monster movement die that interacts with colored arrows on map tiles), it unfortunately results too often in either no movement at all from monsters, or gigantic mobs of monsters that will wander the halls slaughtering anyone unlucky enough to end up on their space when their turn begins.

Given some experimentation from Geeks, I definitely think this could be house ruled to work a bit better, possibly giving off-turn players some extra stuff to do.

Trust me, this is the best version of monster movement that we came up with. Something I'm going to use as a house rule is that monsters move 2 spaces. Fast means +1, slow means -1. That won't address all your complaints, but it should cut back on clumping more.

Roshirai wrote:
* Like regular Munchkin, the end game suffers from the Kill Doctor Lucky problem.

This is the big one, and actually a bit beyond the scope of this review, but basically, for better or worse, the game plays like a meatier, longer Munchkin. The end game goals have now been split into two (reach level 10 and then beat a level 20 boss monster) rather than original Munchkin's one (reach level 10), but this does not solve the core issue the game shares with a number of 'screw your neighbor' games: there is one clear action necessary to achieve victory, and since it is never in your own interest to let another player win the game, the game will grind to a halt at the point where everyone is on the cusp of winning. All the players within a stone's throw of level 10 will utilize all the resources at their disposal to prevent the other players from winning until someone, maybe even the guy in last place, manages to win because A) they got a good monster draw and B) everyone else has run out of cards they can use to stop him.

The sad thing is that this occasionally happens early on, as well: a player will get several levels ahead of everyone else, someone will point this out, and the hapless leader will get dogpiled on, and in a game like Munchkin Quest, he/she will likely never truly recover and will have his game experience suffer because of it.



It's a difficult issue, and is likely the one that makes Munchkin and its ilk such a divisive series of games. The argument could be made that this style of endgame makes for bad gameplay. That said, if you go into a session of Munchkin or Munchkin Quest not necessarily expecting a good game experience, but rather a fun experience, you might not care. So what if the third place guy ended up winning mostly due to luck? Wasn't that awesome how Mike completely railroaded Jack with those three monsters when he was heading for the Entrance? And how Joe was totally gonna win until we made that Potted Plant a super Intelligent Demon? I swear I'll get better draws next time. Let's play again!

I agree that finishing any game of Munchkin can take a long time, but there are a few things that changed with MQ.

1. Now you can decide when you try and when you're ready to win. In the card game going from level 9 to 10 triggers the win, and you have very little choice when that will happen. In MQ you can hit level 10 and spend as many turns as you want trying to get more stuff to make victory easier.

2. Team wins are possible. If two level 10 munchkins team up to kill the Boss, they both win.

Roshirai wrote:
The Bottom Line

The last point especially might explain my odd feelings about Munchkin Quest. Having played three sessions with three different groups of people, none of us really enjoyed it from a gameplay perspective: the game dragged on longer than it should, and the 'screw your neighbor' problem resulted in at least one person each session having little to nothing to do on his/her turn due to massive, massive skullduggery on the part of the other players.

All of us, however, had fun on the whole and (gasp!) did not rule out playing it again sometime.

This is a new feeling for me. The only way I can possibly explain this is that there is something about Munchkin Quest's construction that just makes you want to put aside everything you know about serious gaming and just try to have fun. And I guess, despite the fact that it took a good four hours of my life to do so, I did.

For that reason, I can honestly recommend to everyone here that they at least give Munchkin Quest a try. If the gameplay flaws turn out to be too much for you to handle, maybe we can knock out some good house rules here on the Geek that make it more palatable to you. But I can guarantee that you'll at least have a little fun with it, and frankly, I'm sure that's all Steve Jackson and his motley crew really wanted you to do.

On this I can totally agree, and not just because of who signs my paychecks. I was a fan of Munchkin before I started working at SJGames. I've always thought it was a great way to have a fun time with my friends.
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Bolger wrote:
Good to hear that Steve Jackson has upped the bar when it comes to components.


We're working at it. The recent SPANC reprint, and upcoming Frag Gold Edition and Burn in Hell reprint, have improved components. (Frag Gold Edition, especially, is a leap forward in terms of component quality compared to the original release.)
 
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Henrik Lantz
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PhilReed wrote:
Bolger wrote:
Good to hear that Steve Jackson has upped the bar when it comes to components.


We're working at it. The recent SPANC reprint, and upcoming Frag Gold Edition and Burn in Hell reprint, have improved components. (Frag Gold Edition, especially, is a leap forward in terms of component quality compared to the original release.)


Cool! Any rules changes for Frag as well? Frag was also one of those games that I really wanted to like, the potential was there but the game fell a bit flat. Better components, especially a real board and not just a poster, will help a lot, but the game itself also needs to be changed to become a bit less random. I love the idea of the game and all of the cards etc., so if other parts of the game could be improved that would be great.
 
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Bolger wrote:
Cool! Any rules changes for Frag as well? Frag was also one of those games that I really wanted to like, the potential was there but the game fell a bit flat. Better components, especially a real board and not just a poster, will help a lot, but the game itself also needs to be changed to become a bit less random. I love the idea of the game and all of the cards etc., so if other parts of the game could be improved that would be great.


There weren't any changes to the rules, only an upgrade to all of the components. (Plastic figures, mounted, two-sided board, dry erase marker and six erasable record boards, 18 dice . . . )
 
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Henrik Lantz
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Ok. Won't make me re-buy the game, but that does sounds liek some great improvements. I am looking forward to seeing what SJG has planned for the future!
 
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