Munchkin Pathfinder is a card game for a minimum of three players in which the goal is to reach a a certain level first. There are two different sorts of card decks. One is action cards and the other is bonus cards. Every round you draw one new action card from the deck. If there is a monster behind that card you must fight it or try to run away. When you defeat a monster you increase your level and can draw bonus cards.
First time playing it
There was a small piece of paper with rules on it not much larger than a standard A4 page. I looked at it for a little while but stopped, the other people in the group had played it before so I figured I’ll just catch up on the rules as we played. There was a little confusion about how the rounds went, expecting to have some difficulties in remembering what to do. But the confusion was not because of that, it was because there was almost nothing to remember.
I met a monster and the other players looked at his level and one of them said something like:
oh, I can help you with that one for one treasure.
I said: yes, ok.
And the monster died. The person who helped me could then draw a bonus card. Then it was the next person’s turn. Similar things happened until it was my turn again. I found a weapon when I drew the action card and put it face up on the table. It made me stronger. A few turns later I realized I had other cards I could put on the table to increase the strength of my character. Some few turns after that I started helping people and/or helping their monsters because they had an alarmingly high level. I asked the others if I could use this or that card in this or that way, and almost every time I could. That’s how incredibly easy it was to get started. Sure it takes a few times of playing to fully understand everything, but compared to other board games that sometimes can take twenty minutes of discussion to agree on some little detail, because the rules are that complex, it was easier than I expected. But I sensed that there were cunning features of it just because of that.
The good things about the game
It is easy to understand the rules. And that is because all rules are simple and straight forward. It does not take a lot of time to finish one round even if all the participants are playing for the first time. The ability to make deals and help other players defeat monsters make it interesting and rewarding in the first few rounds, even though it is a competitive game, because you can get some bonus cards that help you later in the game, most certainly to help the monsters your adversaries encounter instead.
Cheating is allowed in the game such as lying about how many cards you currently hold or taking too many cards each round but if you get caught cheating you must confess to your cheat immediately. This adds an extra dimension to the game in a way that invokes suspicion about the competitors, making the players more alert. It also increases the players’ suspension if they cheat themselves because they don’t want to get caught. The low penalty for getting caught cheating encourages players to play the game in a sneaky fashion.
The bad things about the game
Even though you need to reach a certain level first, and that it is accomplished by defeating enemies, the combat system is quite hollow; check your current level, add eventual attack bonuses to that number and if is is higher than your enemy’s level you win, gain one level and can draw one or more bonus card(s). If you loose the fight you can get a curse, loose certain cards or die. What happens is determined by the individual monster cards. Dying in this game is very often a good thing, because then you get dealt a whole new hand of cards which means that you can actually become more powerful by dying. You even keep your current level and power ups. This feature makes dying a trivial matter. Many efforts to stop the leader in the game during combat by spending valuable cards to help a monster defeat him, can be totally in vain if the leading player dies and only becomes more powerful. Other consequences for loosing a battle such as loosing a weapon or multiple cards are often worse than dying, which can feel counter intuitive.
The core system
As in any card game the core system is dependent on what cards the player has and how he uses them. Some cards can be put in front of the players to enhance their attack strength or give them special abilities, other cards can be used once to gain extra strength or to deal damage in another player’s fight, for example. The goal, to be the first person to reach a certain level, is reached by defeating enemies, each defeated enemy increases the player’s level. Each turn a player draws a card from one of the two decks that can be referred to as the action card deck. These cards contain enemies, curses – events that are affecting the character in a negative way, such as being unable to run away from an enemy – or cards that enhances the character by giving them special benefits such as the ability to take two cards instead of one each round. All players can interfere in someone else’s monster combat, they can either help the other player currently in combat or help the monster, making it more difficult for the opposing player to win the fight and gain a level. When a player wins a fight they also get to draw one or more bonus cards. This opens up for possibilities to make deals among the players. For example;
player A is in combat with a monster who is stronger than him, he asks player B to help him fight the monster because their combined strength would defeat that monster. But why would player B do so, since player A would increase one level point and come closer to winning the game? If player B would get the bonus cards player A would get by winning the fight it could turn out to be such a good deal for player B that it would be worth it to him. He could get a hold of cards that would help him defeat player A later in the game, to slow down player A’s progress towards the goal of the game or to help him progress faster himself. As it turns out this sort of dealing and backstabbing is what you actually do throughout the game while the turns of the game progresses. The lack of, or rather the simplistic approach to game rules make the suggested courses of action a big part of the core system in this game. There really is not much more to the core system and all special information on how every individual card work is available on the cards them selves.
The most interesting core system
I would say that the most interesting core system is that the simplistic set of rules open up for many variations of the game and that encourages players to play it again and challenge each other personally by perhaps creating secret pacts and catch each other cheating. This simplicity is a very deliberate design choice because it creates an increasingly complex game dynamic the more a group of people play it. It makes it a very social game for anybody to play.
The main target audience feels very broad. Anybody who is old enough to read and is able to play a game with at least two other people can play this game. The cartoon-ish art style suggests that the game is aimed at kids from the age of 12 to 18 with either gender. The quick rounds suggests the same age because you do not need a lot of patience to play the game trough and could be played at lunch breaks, for instance. But the game is certainly not limited to this target group and can serve as a good ice breaker in social encounters among adults of any age as well.
The game relies on cards and interaction between human beings. The game is what the players make of it. A simple set of rules open up for a free game experience and make every game feel unique. This also opens up for expansions to the game in the form of new cards with new features. The simplistic set of rules let you mix every compatible version of the game and play it without learning new rules.
If you do not pay close attention and remember what level you are currently on there could be some level of uncertainty about how much of strength you have. On the other hand, this can open up an opportunity to cheat and defeat an enemy that you could not defeat considering your real current level. This is good or bad depending on what sort of player you are yourself. There are many grey areas like this and that is the whole point of the game.
So if ever you are looking for a fast paced card game that you can just pick up and play with some friends and back-stab them while cheating and making deals, oh yeah almost forgot, and kill monsters, you should definitely try any of the Munchkin card games.