By Lyndsey Holder
Munchkin Cthulhu. Steve Jackson Games, 2012.
When I play games, I generally try to be a pacifist. I only attack people who’ve attacked me first. It’s hard to be nice in Munchkin Cthulhu, however. Oh, it’s definitely possible, but it takes some doing. The cards are so full of cute Lovecraft puns that you can’t just not play them right away and it’s impossible to be angry when someone’s playing one against you. My favourite curse card is the one that you can use to make someone lose one of the items they have in play. If you don’t say, “Hastur Hastur Hastur” when you play it on someone, it has no effect. Sure, you might be able to win the game if you play it, but are you willing to draw down the wrath of the Elder Gods on your own head (assuming that Hastur operates on the same principles as Beetlejuice) to do so?
Munchkin Cthulhu doesn’t take itself or the Cthulhu Mythos seriously at all. To play it, and fight monsters like The Unpronounceable Evil and Shrub-Niggurath, you need two things. First, you’ve absolutely got to have an eldritch sense of humour. If you are allergic to silliness, or can’t abide unspeakable horrors being made fun of, you might want to pass on this game. Second, you need to be very good at doing basic math very quickly. You need to be able to add all of your levels, all of your bonuses from equipment and items, subtract from that all of the negative cards the other players have thrown at you, and then see if that number is enough to beat the monster that is in front of you (who probably has a few things you need to add or subtract, too). It sounds easy enough, but after a few turns, you’ve got so many bonuses and negatives that it takes a while to tally and it’s easy to forget what level you’re at.
I’m rather jaded about add-ons to board and card games. Too often, they either ramp up the difficulty to impossible heights, or they only serve to complicate the rules, necessitating a lot of frequent, careful rereading to the point where gameplay stops being fun. After a while, the expansions bog down play and it takes longer to set up the game than it does to play (I’m looking at you, Arkham Horror). Munchkin Cthulhu’s Kill-O-Meter, however, is not only useful – it’s almost a necessity. You can easily keep track of the combat bonuses you have from your gear and levels, and then add or subtract new modifiers as they appear. Combat is so much more streamlined when you can tell what your bonuses are at a glance – the Kill-O-Meter makes Munchkin Cthulhu run smooth and fast like a Joggoth with quicker ichor. It comes with two extra cards and a small amendment to the rules, giving bonuses to players who bought the Kill-O-Meter. This is quite clever, really, extending the game into real life. I’m not going to try to pretend that I’m above buying an add-on for a game just so I can finally have a chance to stick it to that one person who always wins at games.
If the maddening math of Munchkin Cthulhu causes you to lose more sanity than a protagonist in a Lovecraft story, or if you often think that you beat people so much at Munchkin Cthulhu that there should be a special bonus just for you, then I’d heartily recommend the Kill-O-Meter.