Munchkin: Can a Card Discard Itself?

Today’s case comes once again from Munchkin, and this time revolves around cards that force you to discard other cards.  I was playing a while ago when my opponent played the “Contemplate Your Navel” card.  This card allows a player to go up a level, but there’s a restriction on the card, which goes like this: “To use this, you must discard your entire hand (minimum of 3 cards).”  Trying to minimize her losses, my opponent made the argument that the “Contemplate Your Navel” card itself could count as one of these three cards. 

Something about the argument didn’t quite sit right with me, but I couldn’t define exactly what at the time, so I allowed it.  Not only did this satisfy my personal rule of not tying up a game with rules arguments, but it also satisfied another of my personal gaming rules.  Munchkin has implemented an element that is, in my experience, unique in game design.  There is actually an official method in the rulebook of resolving rules disputes: “…disputes should be settled by loud arguments among the players, with the owner of the game having the last word.”  Being that I was the one who owned the game, I could easily have turned this to my advantage and refused to allow the move.  Instead, I chose to allow it based on the maxim “let them have their fun.” 

In other words, allowing the play was the most fun solution possible.  It rewarded a creative tactic, kept things moving, and while it did allow one player to benefit, it didn’t really hurt anyone else, especially since it was just a difference of one extra card discarded.  When a game has placed you in a position of power, try to avoid using the rules as a bludgeon against the other players or a tool to help you win.  First attempt to make an unbiased decision based on what you know of the rules.  If it’s a grey area, go with the option that’s the most fun.  That’s what games are for after all, right?  I will admit that the fact that the person playing the card was my wife did not hurt my decision either.

Upon further investigation of the rules, however, it appears that my misgivings were correct.  In reference to playing “Go Up a Levels” and similar cards, the Munchkin rules have this to say: “You may use these at any time, unless the card itself says otherwise.  Follow its instructions; then discard it.”  Following these rules, the sequence of events goes as follows:

  1. The “Contemplate Your Navel” card is played.
  2. The player must discard their whole hand.  Note that since the “Contemplate Your Navel” card has already been played, it is no longer in this player’s hand, and therefore does not count against the three card minimum. 
  3. Having satisfied the card’s restrictions, the player goes up a level. 
  4. Now that all the instructions have been followed, the player discards the “Contemplate Your Navel” card. 

Official inquiry has backed up this ruling, so I’m now willing to declare the case closed.  This is not to say that I regret the decision I made in the moment.  Just because a decision may have been objectively wrong, doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right one to make when you made it, based on the information you had.  Now I know the right way to rule it and I can do it that way if it comes up again.

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

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