Many A Munchkin Mishap   Leave a comment

Munchkins

Last week I went to Gen-Con 2014, and it was a blast.  I’d like to write a full post about it in time, but before I do that I want to write about a single event: the Munchkin World Cup.  I like to attend the Munchkin World Cup every year, both for the fun of competition and because I don’t get to play the game very often here at home.  So, while I was mostly determined to make sure that I had plenty of seminars to go to, I also wanted to carve out some time for Munchkin play.

The first couple events I tried to get to were met with an unfortunate bit of confusion: I had no idea where the game was.  The program told me what “hall” it was in in the large hall reserved for regular board and card games, and I knew that it was part of the Steve Jackson area, but I couldn’t find the Steve Jackson booth anywhere.  I did finally find the table on the second tournament that I tried to reach, but only after the tournament had already been going on for ten minutes.  The lesson here is that I should scout out locations in advance.

Steve Jackson Logo

The first tournament I played in was pretty standard.  I played Munchkin Impossible in that game, and while I didn’t win I had a lot of fun.  The second one, though, was just about the most fun I’ve had in a game of Munchkin.  And even ignoring the fun I was having? I was set up to win.

Now, I want to say something really quickly about fairplay at Munchkin games: a lot of people who are only passingly familiar with Munchkin sort of assume that cheating happens all the time, but that’s not really the case.  (In fact, I’ve caught people cheating against me in non-tournament games who’ve used the assumption that I was probably cheating as well, which is arguably fair since about five years ago I also thought that cheating was part of the game.)  Over the last half decade or so, though, I’ve not cheated unless I had a card that told me I could do so.  After all, what’s the point in winning if you can’t have an unimpeachable victory?  Ultimately, the game is a parody of cheaters and rules lawyers, and is not a game that celebrates them or wants you to emulate them.  I say this because I want it to be clear that when I go to the more professional level tournaments, it’s a situation where cheating is effectively unheard of in my experience.  I’m sure it’s happened, but the games I’ve played in haven’t had it (apart from one possible case back in 2013, but that’s not important right now.)

Munchkin Zombies Cards

Anyway, this last game we played was Munchkin Zombies, a version I’d never played before but really enjoyed.  For most of the game I was a Voodoo Zombie, and I had a surprisingly good amount of luck in acquiring gear.  I wasn’t the first to hit level 9, but I was up there, and by the end of the game I had a greater combat bonus from gear than any other player.  The game eventually reached the “second game” of Munchkin, the point where regular play stops because nearly everyone’s at level 9.  At this point, everyone starts finding dozens of ways to backstab, betray and otherwise baffle the other players so that no one can hit level 10 and win.  The first part of Munchkin is a sprint to the neighborhood of level nine, but the second game is an endurance challenge where you try to sparingly use cards to keep other people from winning while holding on to enough cards so that no one can stop you when it’s finally your turn again.  In some ways, level 9 is when the game really begins.  There’s nothing in the rules that says this, it’s just sort of an understood practice among most of the players that I’ve talked to.

Anyway, I was at level 9 with a huge amount of gear, and I even had a card that would let me level up if someone made me hit level 8.  All I had to do was drop the card and say “BRAAAAINS!” to get my free level.  I also had enough gear to make an endurance round bearable, if not certain.  Unfortunately, we’d taken a long time to get to this fun final stage, and the judges had announced a four minute warning.  We all knew that it was time to stop kibitzing and seriously play.  One player had sort of won already but dropped out since he had already qualified for the finals in a previous tournament game.  The next player considered his options and played well.  The player after that finished most of her turn, but needed to discard or use enough cards to get down to five in her hand.  She did this by playing a Curse card on me, a card that dropped me down to level 8.

This was fine.  It was good strategy since I was arguably the biggest threat on the board at the moment (level 9, and with most gear).  Another player finished her turn next, and then it got to the fellow ahead of me.  He and I were the only players at level 8 at the moment.  His turn went relatively quickly, but then he got to the end and started looking at the cards in his hand to discard.  Now, by this point we definitely had less than a minute to go.  I really wanted my next turn, because I knew that time was going to be called.  I also knew that he’d done most of what could be done on his turn.  The only thing that stood between me and playing was him discarding his cards.

“Are you about done?” I asked.

“Yeah, I just need to get rid of my cards,” he said.  “I’m going to sell some.”

I nodded and nervously looked from him to the timekeeping judges.  They were laughing about something, and casually glancing at their watches periodically.  It was nerve wracking.  Selling cards was valid; if you sell the right cards, you can go up a level, so he’d be at level 9.  Ultimately, it was the right move for him to make.  I looked at him again and he nodded.

“I just need to figure out the best ones to sell.”

I tried to nod as casually as I could, but kept glancing back and forth between him and the judges.

Now, most of the times I’ve told this story so far, people have asked me if I thought he was doing it on purpose.  I’m absolutely certain he wasn’t.  Even if he knew I was about to level up, that kind of intentional delay of game isn’t in the spirit of most Munchkin players.  Either Munchkin players are polite and cheerful about letting everyone have a shot, or they gleefully taunt their rivals with the advantages they hold.  Check the paragraph above about how Munchkin games actually don’t involve much cheating, especially at the tournament level.  So I can say with no hesitation that he wasn’t trying to fill up time, he was just trying to make the best move possible.

And the best move possible was, in fact, made.  He tossed a pile of cards onto the discard pile and started leveling up.  My hand was already moving to slap the card onto the discard pile.

“Time!” said the judge.

“BRAAAAINS!” I said.

The people at the table kinda sat in stunned silence for a second before they started looking around awkwardly.  I had clearly put the card down after the judge said time, but everyone seemed to think that it was… wrong, somehow.  No one wanted me to win, really, but they didn’t want me to lose for that particular reason.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider the delicious irony of me losing a game of technicalities on a technicality.  (Upon further reflection, I don’t think this is actually irony.  I think it’s coincidental.  Expected, really.)

Futurama Technically Correct

We called the judge over, and the judge confirmed that, wrong as it seemed, there was no “fix” that could be applied to the situation, and I was still at level 8.  The table winner was then determined by figuring out who had the highest combat modifier from equipment (which was me) who was also at level 9 (did I say me?  I meant not not me.)

So, I roared in frustration, and instantly regretted it since the people at the gaming table weren’t friends who didn’t know that I do that kind of thing with minor provocations.  Everyone at the table seemed pretty apologetic that it had turned out that way, but ultimately that’s how Munchkin goes: no one’s victory is ever assured until the game has well and truly ended.  The guy who played before me seemed especially sorry, and looked like he felt worse about the situation than I did, which made me feel guilty.  Because let’s be honest: if he’d done it on purpose and gloated about it, it would’ve been awesome.  At the end of the game, it had still been some of the most fun I’d ever had at a gaming table.

There was one more preliminary game after that which I could have entered with a generic ticket, but unfortunately a huge crowd of people had gathered with fancy real tickets, meaning that they had first dibs.  A quick count confirmed that there were two seats available, and an even quicker count confirmed that there were four people waiting.  One of them was a kid who wondered if he could have a chance since he hadn’t had a chance to play that game.

The judge brought the four of us large Munchkin-themed dice of the sort that you can buy from Steve Jackson Games.  The four of us each took a different colored die and rolled, and I was one of the top two!  My position was secured.

Then I felt really bad about the kid who’d said that he didn’t have a chance to play, so I checked with the judge to see if he could have my spot.  As humorous as I find this situation now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I needed a little time away from Munchkin to cool off a bit, so I went to find a seminar.  And it was a great seminar.

The best part?  By not playing the last preliminary (and potentially the final after it) I was able to go to a gathering of City of Heroes players sooner.  There will be plenty more Munchkin games in the future, and I look forward to them all.

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Posted August 21, 2014 by John Little in blogging, Gaming

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