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!

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!