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‘The Munchkin Book: The Official Companion’ – Book Review

Come for the rules, stay for the learnins.  And, PUT DOWN THAT DUCK!

I haven’t been playing Munchkin all that long, only a few years, but I’m hopelessly hooked on it. Even my wife, who wouldn’t go near half of the geeky tabletop or video games that I love, jumps in with an enthusiasm that excites and sometimes terrifies me (which is also exciting but for much different reasons).  This is a game that I feel that can grab anyone by the +1 Codpiece of Impressive Title and introduce them to a world that is far bigger and far stranger than any they’ve known.  As much as I love the game, and as much as I get all of the gaming references that it riffs off of, I never knew the truth behind the origins of the game or just how much of an impact it has had on the gaming community as a whole.  Part of the success of the game can be attributed to the fact that the game is so mutable. There are several variations on the core idea of it, and there are now even licensed versions on the game that, much like LEGO, bring fans of the licenses into the fold and introduce people to concepts that they may have otherwise never have engaged in.  Oh, and it’s fun.  It’s really, stupidly fun.  The cards are all parodies of something in the realm of gaming or a license and often full of the most choice puns that make the game a fun battle ground of groans, laughs, and, of course, screwing everyone else over to achieve victory.

If you liked that paragraph, you’ll LOVE this book (and if you hated it, my name is Josh Desjardins).  A collection of essays that bring the perspective of some of gaming’s luminaries as well as the creative and business team behind the whole she-bang, there’s a wealth of information that covers everything from what a “Munchkin” is to why the heck a Gazebo ended up being such a feared monster.  Steve Jackson and John Kovalic weigh in with their stories of the creation of the game and some of their favorite memories, and the interview with now CEO of Steve Jackson Games Phil Reed shows that the quirky, nonsensical goofiness goes all the way to the top.  The best part?  Each essay begins with a rule you can play in any version of Munchkin!  It’s talked about in a few essays how every promotional item that Steve Jackson Games has released promoting the game carries the same caveat: it’s gotta be able to be incorporated into the game and give some kind of silly bonus.  The reason stems from the soul of the game itself, and I’ll not ruin a phenomenal explanation here. You’ll have to grab a copy.

This book will not teach you how to play one of my favorite games, but it will give you a fantastic insight into the realm of gaming and the collection of circumstance and experience that birthed this lighthearted, cutthroat scramble for power and glory.  There’s always a reason that we game, and throughout this book is a distillation of everything that makes gaming fun, and why making fun of it can also be a good time.  If Dr. Seuss was into games, I’d wager he’d be a Munchkin fan. If you’re already a Munchkin fan, the rules will drag you in (and there are some good ones!) and the essays will have you thinking about the game itself and why you’ve fallen in love with it in the first place.  Even if the card game isn’t your thing, I’ve found myself reevaluating the Dungeons & Dragons campaigns I’ve led and will be letting the insights here color and educate my playstyle going forward.

So, of course, I love the essays by the minds behind the game, but my favorite has to be Dave Banks’ “From Candyland to Munchkin: The Evolution of a Young Gamer.”  My son will soon be playing games with me (Okay, he’s two months old and right now games consist of “Whose hands are these?  Mine!” but, you know, soon.), so I’m biased, but it made me realize how much I’m going to enjoy sharing my hobbies and interests with him.  For me, that’s why games are important; every game, regardless of what it is, is a story.  It’s a journey with the people you play with and can lead to inside jokes that live on far beyond the humor. They become part of the fabric of our lives.  This is something you’ll find an appreciation of in these pages, as well – a sense of the shared experience of the makers and the players of the game.

If you’re a fan of books like Of Dice and Men and Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, then you’ll likely get a kick out of this book.  And, if you just want it for the mad bonuses in the game, well, you’ve got to read something on the can, right?  Check it out.  Learn sumthin’, power strut with your game enhancers, and share the love of the game.  And, if you wanna learn how to play, I’ll save a seat for you.

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