Munchkin: Cheating and One-Time Use Items

This case is based on the popular parody card game Munchkin.  It originally started off as a parody of traditional table-top fantasy roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, and has since expanded to poke fun at everything from westerns, to science fiction, to super heroes, and countless other genres and fandoms.  The name “Munchkin” refers to a slang derogatory term used in tabletop gaming meaning a player who tries to twist the rules to their advantage in order to “win” at a game that’s intended to be cooperative. 

In Munchkin, though, that sort of behavior is actively encouraged by the rules.  Every player starts out at level 1 and the player who gets to level 10 first is the winner.  There are several different ways to go up levels, but the most common one is by defeating monsters.  Each monster specifies a level on its card and in order to defeat it, your character’s level (plus any bonuses from whatever other cards you may have) must be higher than the monster’s level.  When you defeat a monster, you gain the level(s) and treasure(s) specified on the card. 

As I mentioned earlier, Munchkin is a game in which players are encouraged to twist, bend, and even occasionally break the rules.  Perhaps the ultimate expression of this is the Cheat! card.  This card allows you to “Play this card with an Item card you have in play, or when you play an Item card from your hand. This item is legal for you to use even if it otherwise would not be.  Discard this card when you lose (sell, etc.) the attached item.”  The main purpose of this card is to get around certain restrictions on various items.  For example, an item card might specify that it is only usable by elves or that it takes up the headgear slot.  If you don’t have the elf race card or if you’re already wearing headgear, you could use the Cheat! card to let you use that item anyway. 

The problem, which I promise I am getting to, came in the interaction between the Cheat! card and a specific kind of restricted items – usable once only items.  As their name states, these items give a temporary bonus, frequently a small boost to one fight, and then must be discarded.  One inventive player played a Cheat! card with one of these items and declared that he was using the Cheat! card to remove the “usable once only” restriction, effectively making the item a permanent piece of equipment. 

Fortunately, the rules of Munchkin do provide an official method for settling rules disputes.  “…disputes should be settled by loud arguments among the players, with the owner of the game having the last word.”  As I owned the game, the decision was mine to make.  At the time, I allowed this use of Cheat!, but the ruling has never really sat right with me.  To me, this seems less like a simple restriction on an item’s use and more like a fundamentally different kind of item. 

I did some poking around on the website of Steve Jackson Games, the company that prints the Munchkin series and eventually discovered that enterprising cheaters have come up with so many potential different uses for the Cheat! card that they’ve forced the company to publish a list of every possible legal use of Cheat!  The list is quite extensive and makes reference to rules which are not relevant to this case, so I won’t quote it here.  Suffice it to say that it does not include making a one-time use item permanent, and further inquiries yielded an official response confirming that this is not a valid use of the Cheat! card.  Perhaps a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but I always try to abide by official rulings when possible, and as this one agrees with my gut feeling, I’m not inclined to argue with it. 

Until next time, happy gaming, and I hope to see you in court!

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