This Is Halloween. A Review of The Nightmare Before Christmas Munchkin by USAopoly and Steve Jackson Games
For most of my friends, Halloween is their favorite holiday of the year. What can I say? I’ve got some weird/cool friends. Though certainly they are known to sometimes dress up just for funsies at any point during the year, Halloween really lets them pull out all the stops. As such, they’re pretty much all huge fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. So yeah, they were all pretty jealous when this one showed up on my desk.
So I know you’ve already got at least one song from the movie stuck in your head, but let’s see what is this with another TGN review. This time it’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Munchkin.
Most of you already know Munchkin. The game from Steve Jackson Games has been around for quite some time and many of you probably have sets in your game library. There’s been dozens of expansions and extras available for it. I, personally, have a set of the Fairy Dice that I like to use just for smiles and giggles. But for those that don’t know, an overview:
In Munchkin, you play semi-cooperatively as a group of adventurers going through a dungeon. You’re all trying to kill monsters and take their treasure. The ultimate goal is to be the first player to reach Level 10. However, as I mentioned, the game is only semi-cooperative. So while you can ask friends to help you defeat monsters, there’s only one player that’s going to win (most of the time). So you’re just as likely to see your friends suddenly helping the monsters as they are helping you.
The Nightmare Before Christmas Munchkin set comes with 168 cards divided into two decks and a custom D6. The two decks are the Door and Treasure decks. Set-up is rather simple. Just shuffle the two decks and deal players four cards from each deck. Then place the decks where everyone can reach them.
Players “create their characters” from their starting hand of 8 cards. You can play any Citizenship, Ride, and Items in front of you. Everyone starts out at Level 1 (you’ll want to have some way to track what level your character is at while you play). That’s it. Randomly determine who is supposed to go first and get ready to start kicking down doors.
Kicking Open the Door
Players’ turns start by Kicking Open the Door (metaphorically, of course. Also, these characters aren’t known for their subtlety). The player turns over the top card of the Door deck. If it’s a Monster, they fight it (more on that in a moment). If it’s a Curse, it immediately affects them. Read the specific Curse and carry out whatever actions it says on it. If it’s anything else, they take the card and add it to their hand.
If they didn’t fight a Monster, the player has two options for what they can do next. If they have a Monster card in their hand, they can play it in front of them to fight it as though they’d found one when they Kicked Open the Door. If they, instead, want to just go searching, they can draw the next card from the Door deck and add it to their hand.
The last thing you do on your turn is Charity. This only happens if you have more than five cards, total, in your hand. Any cards in excess of five go to the player with the lowest level (split the cards in the case of a tie, or just discard them if you’ve got the lowest level).
A Set of Little Monsters
Well, that was all well and good, but what about the Monsters? Fighting Monsters is the primary way that characters gain levels and treasure. Combat is very simple. Each Monster has a level that is the base for their Combat Value. This Value can be modified with various effects both on the Monster card, itself, or players can also modify the Monster with cards from their hand. Players also have a Combat Value based on their level. They, too, can modify that with their various pieces of gear as well as cards from player’s hands (Yes, your opponents can and will modify your Combat Value). Seeing who won is a simple “who’s got the highest total.” If the characters have a higher total Combat Value, they win. If the Monsters’ total is equal to or higher than the characters’, then the Monster wins. Win and get Loot. Each Monster tells you how many cards you get to draw from the Loot deck, which you can then equip your character. Lose and Bad Things can happen to you.
How about that semi-cooperative part of the game? Well, during a combat, a player can ask if anyone else wants to join in on the fight. The players are free to “wheel and deal” for this help. They can offer certain pieces of treasure or the promise of playing certain cards to augment the fight. Whatever they want. But players win and lose together. So if you join in on a fight and still lose, then Bad Things can happen to you, too.
Very Bad Things
So, fighting against Monsters is certainly a dangerous thing to do. We should probably all just stay at home instead. No. Wait. We can’t do that. We’re adventurers! But yeah, Bad Things might happen. When you face off against a Monster and aren’t able to defeat it, you have to roll the die in order to try and get away. Normally, you get away on a 5+, but there are cards that can modify that number as well (or might just let you straight-up escape… or make it so you can’t escape…). If you get away, hooray! If not, that’s when the Bad Things happen to you. Each Monster’s Bad Things is different. This could be a small thing, like letting an opponent steal an item from you. It could be a medium thing like losing a level. Or it could be a really big thing, like your character dying.
But don’t worry! Having your character die isn’t the end of the game for you. It’s just a bit of a setback. You keep any Citizenship cards you have and your Level. However, you don’t get to keep any other stuff as everyone else loots your body. Take the cards you have in hand and set them next to the cards you had in play (except for the aforementioned Citizenship cards). Starting with the player with the highest level, they get to pick one card to take for themselves. Then going down from there, everyone else gets to pick a card. Once everyone’s gotten one, the rest are discarded. Your “new character” shows up at the start of the next player’s turn, but you don’t get to draw cards back into your hand until the start of your own turn.
Decorating for Christmas/Halloween
So, we’ve gotten an overview of the game, but what makes The Nightmare Before Christmas set different from the others? Well, obviously, all the cards are themed to the movie. The various Citizenships (which play like Races from other Munchkin sets) tie in with the different cities from the movie (I really, really, really want to visit Thanksgivingtown). All the Monsters are also all characters from the movie. So while you don’t get to play as Jack Skellington or Santa, you get to fight against them. Of course, the items are also tied in to the movie. You can kill a Monster outright with Deadly Nightshade or put on the Mayor’s Top Hat to help you fight the creepy, crawly things in the deck.
If you’re a fan of the movie, I’d recommend picking up the game. It’s rules-simple and the theme is certainly family-friendly, so you can get everyone involved. Put on the movie and play a couple hands. If you’re a fan of Munchkin, it’s everything you’ve loved about the game, but set in a kooky setting (arguably even kookier than the standard Munchkin settings). It’d make a good extra addition to any Munchkin collection.