Designer: Steve Jackson
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Winning Munchkin is all about positioning, being unassuming and friendly, and correctly timing your card plays. You should be putting yourself into a position where no one sees you as a threat but the cards in your hand will allow you to unexpectedly make a run to level 10 and take the game. Most see Munchkin as a game of luck, and it is more luck-based than most strategy games, but there are still some important tactics you can employ to increase your Munchkin winning percentage. Note that this covers only the base game, not the dozens of variants that have been released.
During my analysis, I entered every card into a spreadsheet and used it to calculate a bunch of probabilities. You can download it here so you can manipulate it and calculate your own probabilities as you see fit.
Your early game should be spent increasing your permanent combat strength and abilities. Look for opportunities to trade items you cannot use with someone for items you can. If you get a Go Up a Level (GUAL) card in your initial hand, go ahead and use it to build up your combat strength and to make room for other cards, but after that, save those GUALs for the final round. You should also be building up your reputation at the beginning of the game as a nice guy/gal in hopes of avoiding curses and enhancements on monsters you fight.
You should be spending the middle and end of the game crafting your hand for the final round. You are looking for Go Up a Level cards, a level 1-4 monster or two, a wandering monster, an automatic escape card, monster enhancers, and any cards that will prevent someone from winning. Basically, you are looking for cards that will help you go from level 7 or 8 up to 10 in a single turn and cards that will prevent others from hitting level 10 like Lose a Level, Out to Lunch, or Transferral Potion. You want to let at least one other person take the level lead in the game so they are a target and you are not. No GUALs should be used in the mid game – they should be saved for your final turn.
I consider the end game to begin when at least one person is level 7. If someone other than you kicks down a door at level 9 and finds a monster, make sure everyone is aware that beating them means they win. If they have more combat strength, first say you have nothing that can help and beg everyone else to do whatever they can to stop them. Then if no one else can help and they still have more combat strength, do anything you can to stop them. It is EXTREMELY important to get others to use their enhancers and curses to stop them so you can save yours and they spend theirs on someone other than you. For your turn, you are looking to use your GUALs or sell items to get to level 9, then kick down a door in hopes of finding a monster. If there is no monster in the room, play one from your hand. You need to give yourself a chance to get the victory. Of course you need to consider how many monster enhancers and curses you think your opponents have, your combat strength, and the number of opponents who are at level 9 or can easily get to level 9 this round before you throw all your chips in on a battle.
Negotiate all treasure deals because you can OFTEN give/get one less/more treasure or make it your pick.
Don’t forget you can trade items. And do it frequently! If someone has an item they can’t use but you can, offer to trade them something they can use for it. Another trading tip is that if you are just short in selling items to go up a level, like maybe at 900, you offer to trade someone a 300 gold item that helps them for a 400 gold item that doesn’t so much. In these cases, you’re helping an opponent, but you’re also helping you, which is a great deal, especially in a larger player game. When trading and judging item value, it may be helpful to know that the average item bonus is 2.6 and the median is 3.
If you can’t use an item, still put it down in front of you unequipped to make room for other cards in your hand and show off what you have for trade.
If you are in the end game, it definitely may be worth selling some good equipment to get yourself into a position to win just before you kick down a door, especially if you think someone else may win before it gets around to your next turn.
Be fairly quiet and kind with your words throughout the game because if you can avoid pissing anyone off, they might not play monster enhancers on your monsters or curse you at an inopportune time. People have a lot of flexibility in when they help or hurt others so just don’t give them a reason to hurt you.
It is a significant advantage to being the lowest level early on in the game because you get discards from people and you are less of a target. If you can avoid selling items or using Go Up a Level cards to stay the lowest for a while, you may be able to bank some free gear. On the flip side, if you are not the lowest level, try to play cards in your hand to avoid giving them to one of your opponents as a discard. If you do have to give cards to someone else, obviously, make sure they won’t help them.
As with all card-drawing games where players get to briefly see opponent cards before they are hidden into a hand, it is a significant advantage to remember which players have cards that could affect you in some way. If you have a great memory, it can even be useful to know other cards, such as the fact that a player has a Warrior card in his/her hand in case you may be thinking about trading them a Warrior-specific item.
It may not seem important to help someone defeat a monster for a treasure or two because they gain a level for it, but if they do not appear to be a threat for winning and/or someone else will likely help them if you don’t, gathering a treasure here or there throughout the game will add up to increased combat strength, more GUALs, and/or being able to sell items for levels. Before you volunteer to help though, make sure you are aware of the Bad Stuff that will happen if your opponents team up and make this monster too big for you two to tackle. Also, when two others team up, the Bad Stuff now happens twice, so it may make it more worthwhile for you to enhance the monster in hopes of causing some serious pain.
Save Go Up a Level cards until your final battle (hopefully final, win-the-game battle). Basically, if you get them in your initial hand, use them to increase your early combat strength and make room for other cards, but if you get them later, save them until you are about to win. This also keeps them from being re-shuffled when you run out of cards in the treasure deck and likely going to an opponent. They are usable AT ANY TIME, so wait until you are fighting your potentially game-winning monster, then throw down all of your GUAL cards just before you kill them to give yourself the 10th victory point. There are 9 GUALs in a full deck and you have 12.5% chance of drawing one in a full deck, but of course this will change as they are drawn/used so keep an eye on how many hit the Treasure discard as well as when the discard pile is re-shuffled. You never know how many others are hoarding them, making it very difficult to know exactly how likely it is for you to draw them.
If someone is about to win, let everyone know if you have no cards to stop them to encourage someone else to do it. You could even do this if you do have cards to stop them and you’re just trying to get others to play them instead of you. “Bluff” is a nice word for this but “lying” is probably more accurate. Note: According to official Munchkin rules, you are allowed to ask someone if the fight they are in will give them the game victory and they have to answer truthfully.
It is EXTREMELY important to try to let others play monster enhancers, if possible, and wait until it appears as though no one else will play one before you play yours. As I mentioned earlier, this will remove enhancers from opponent hands and keep them in yours. Don’t be afraid to play a monster enhancer on a monster you are fighting if you are beating them easily to get yourself more treasure, although it’s a little risky because someone else might pile more onto it, plus you won’t get to use it against an opponent later. Note that Steve Jackson did officially change the rules in that if a munchkin is fighting an Undead monster, anyone else can freely add an Undead monster from their hand into the fight. There are 4 undead monsters in the Door deck (out of 37 total monsters).
Don’t always just let opponent munchkins freely win early battles because some of the low level monsters have some of the worst Bad Stuff. Making a level 3 munchkin lose to a level 2 Mr. Bones will send them back to level 1 and severely hinder them for the rest of the game. The average and median monster level is 8.
If it sounds like someone is about to curse someone, it works well to nicely let them know, “if you’re going to curse me, I might have to curse you right back.” That is often enough discouragement for them to choose another target. This works even if you don’t have a curse.
Try to make someone out to be the leader, even if you actually are. You need someone to be the primary target other than yourself to receive curses and get their monsters enhanced.
When someone gets to level 7-8, look at them as a HUGE threat and hinder them wherever possible. They could probably win the game on any fight if left unchecked. Also look at the equipment each player has in front of them because a level 7 with 400 gold worth of equipment in front of them is much less threatening than someone who is level 7 with 4000 gold worth of equipment in front of them.
If possible, save a level 1 monster in your hand for when you are trying to win your final battle in case you do not draw one when kicking down the door. The end game will probably last at least two rounds, so having two low-level monsters in your hand helps prevent monster-drought right at the end. If you have a Wandering Monster kind of card too, you could get two levels without any GUALs by wandering in a second monster from your hand. Also, that level 1 might get you a level on its own during the Looking for Trouble phase in the middle game, but it’s MUCH better to stay a lower level and save it for the end game. You have a 39.4% chance of drawing a monster from a full door deck.
There are a lot of special promos that you can use in Munchkin tournaments (or whenever) that give you bonuses. These come in the form of shirts, pins, the iphone level counter, bookmarks, promo cards, cardboard level counters, and many others. You can get a nice advantage if you can get your hands on them but they also make you a big target. When I play in tournaments, I usually just use the iPhone app boon because no one really notices your phone being the level tracker and then you usually don’t use it until the end of the game when everyone understands that you will use any advantage you may have at your disposal and thus doesn’t really blame you for it (too much).
Drawing cards from the discard pile is awesome if you have some crap in your hand you don’t really want. You can collect monster enhancers and powerful curses so you always have something up your sleeve. Divine Intervention must be played immediately when someone gets it so at some point in the game, you will probably get a free level from it and it CAN be the winning level, so that’s a reason to use GUALs as soon as they get you up to level 9 instead of saving them for the final battle. The Cleric is an excellent class. There are two Cleric-specific items: Cheese Grater of Peace and Mace of Sharpness.
This class is great early in the game but not very useful mid to late game. If you are level 1 or 2, steal every item you possibly can from your opponents. Anything you can do to increase your battle prowess and hurt someone else right away is great for your overall standing. You make some enemies but you will probably be the lowest level for the first few rounds (because of getting whacked) so they will focus their attention elsewhere and forget about your thieving as the game continues. Plus, even getting whacked and going down a level will help solidify your status as a non-threat. Stop thieving once your opponents get up to level 3 or so because losing levels becomes too important to risk. There is 1 item Thieves cannot use (Singing & Dancing Sword) and 2 items only Thieves can use (Cloak of Obscurity and Dagger of Treachery). There are no Door cards that negatively affect Thieves.
This is the worst class. It’s decent to be able to win on ties and being able to discard up to 3 cards for a +1 bonus each is very nice for getting you over the top of a close battle, but losing those cards is a painful cost for it. It’s almost better to just be able to threaten that you will use this but do not actually do it because no one wants to “waste” a monster enhancer if you’re going to win anyway. There is 1 item Warriors cannot use (Pantyhose of Giant Strength) and 1 item only Warriors can use (Shield of Ubiquity).
Get rid of cards in your hand, but keep 3 (plus any battle cards you may want to use) so you can Charm the monster if it gets too big. You will probably never use Flight. You want big (high treasure) monsters in your hand so you can play them from your hand when Looking for Trouble and just charm them if you can’t defeat them. It’s better than just drawing a single door card while looting the room. There is 1 item Wizards cannot use (Mithril Armor) and 2 items only Wizards can use (Staff of Napalm and Pointy Hat of Power). The staff gives the only +5 combat bonus in the game.
The races are all pretty good, but you don’t have much control over which ones you get. There are only 3 of each in the deck so you have a 3.2% chance of drawing any particular race in a full deck. If you had a choice, you would want to be an Elf early on in the game and change to a Halfling near the end game. Dwarves are decent throughout.
I like the Dwarf race. It just has some passive abilities that are pretty helpful throughout the game. You can carry multiple Big items, which is nice because you usually draw a couple of them that give a good bonus and you have to choose which one to use. Having 6 cards in your hand also helps quite a bit so you can hoard some more cards that you would otherwise feel forced to use to avoid discarding.
This is probably the best race, but is much less effective if you are playing with munchkins who will never ask an Elf for help. Of course the general strategy is to help anyone you possibly can for free so you can go up a level from it. When you’re an elf, you want to get as much equipment as you can, hopefully being the most combat-strong munchkin in the game at any time, so that when someone runs into a particularly big monster, they will require your assistance to defeat it, even if you gain a level. The +1 to run away is a nice bonus too. Elves are best early when people need help to win fights and worse later when they don’t because they definitely don’t want to give an Elf a level near the end game. There are no items that are specifically not for Elves, and 4 items that give Elves a bonus, 2 of them being only usable by Elves, so they will see the most class-specific bonuses of any race. However, they also see more negative enhancers on monsters than other races.
The Halfling is most effective later in the game because that’s usually the only time you sell items. The re-rolling a failed run away is pretty decent no matter where you are in the game, but the end is where being able to run away, if needed, is the most critical.