Designer's Notes: Munchkin 2: Unnatural Axe
(And Other Things Munchkin-y)
by Steve Jackson
Unnatural Axe is an expansion set for Munchkin. Like the original game, it's designed by Steve Jackson and illustrated by John Kovalic.
I really didn't expect Munchkin to be this much of a hit. I knew it was a good theme. I knew it was a good game system. I knew John's art was great. But . . . we sold out our first press run quickly. Our second, much bigger, press run is almost gone, and people keep asking for more.
So of course there had to be an expansion.
In fact, my only real dissatisfaction with the original Munchkin set was "too few cards." It was originally designed with two decks (112 cards). In playtest, we were almost always going through the whole deck before the game ended. That led to more repetition than I liked. So we figured out a way to afford an extra deck. That gave us enough cards -- a total of 168 -- that many games never saw the bottom of the deck.
However, most games still get close to the bottom of the deck. And while the order in which the cards appear makes a huge difference to the way the game plays, it would be even better if an average game left a lot of cards unturned. So I was very enthusiastic about being able to add another 112 cards. Well, when you open the package, 107, because Unnatural Axe has five blanks. But I figure you'll use most of them.¹
Speaking of the package . . . it's a new idea for us, and therefore worthy of mention. In order to keep the price of the expansion as low as possible, we wanted to make the packaging as cheap as possible. After all, you already have the Munchkin box. You don't need another box.
The original plan was to put it in an envelope. But retailer feedback shot that down. An envelope doesn't have a spine, which means that you can't put it on the shelf. Well, you can, but nobody can tell what's in it.
So we went around and around, and finally came up with the very simple packaging you see now. It's just a piece of cardboard, folded twice . . . but that gives it a nice wide spine. The shrinkwrap holds it together. Our standard shrinkwrap, while just fine for protecting boxes, turned out to be a bit too light for an application where it was actually required to be part of the "structure" of the package. So we use heavier shrinkwrap on that. No problem.
The feedback from the retailers so far has been favorable; unless something new comes up, you can figure we'll do more packages like that in the future when we're selling something that doesn't need a box.
The New Rules
What new rules? We don't need any new rules. We have rules now.
Yep, that was the design philosophy. Unnatural Axe is a true expansion, not a "rules supplement." The only new rules are on the cards themselves, and there are no new card types. I do have some new rules in mind for the game, and you will be seeing them, but this set wasn't intended to change Munchkin at all, or make it any more complex or longer to play -- just to add more cards and more variety.
To do that, it was necessary to add cards in the right proportion to avoid changing game balance. So you have additional Super Munchkin and Half-Breed cards, for instance, and some new types of Go Up A Level.
I did add one new race: the Orcs. That seemed like the next logical fantasy race, in spite of the fact that there's already a monster card with orcs on it. 3,872 Orcs, to be precise. I wondered about writing a special rule for the interaction of an Orc Munchkin with the monster orcs, and finally decided, "No, they just try to kill each other, like always."
What Comes Next?
You may have seen the ads for Star Munchkin. It is, in fact (big evil grin) in playtest now. Star Munchkin will be a stand-alone game with 168 cards. It will, however, be compatible with Munchkin. The card backs will be different to make it easy to sort the games out again. That means you'll always know which set the next card is coming from, but that won't make a whole lot of difference in play.
Star Munchkin adds three new races and four new outer-space-type character classes. Basic play is the same, but there are some new card types as well.²
And I don't plan to stop there. Another entire Munchkin game, of course, is approaching playtest at our Austin dungeon. I'm not telling the theme yet, but if you want another hint . . .³
And of course, our other Munchkin followup is the Munchkin d20 series. It seemed like a match made in heaven . . . or someplace. Andrew Hackard is doing the heavy lifting on that project. But I'm helping. That's what I call it, anyway . . .
But we're having far too much fun to quit. See you in Munchkintown!
* * *
¹ Though I saw an interesting suggestion in the Munchkin group on Yahoo! . . . use the blank cards to indicate "nothing." You open the door and find . . . nothing. You search the room and find . . . nothing. The monster's treasure was . . . nothing. Now personally I don't intend to do that, because to me the essence of munchkin adventure is that you always find something. But it's a valid option.
² Want a hint? Okay, here's a hint: Sidekicks.
³ If you want another hint, you can wait a while; I'm really not telling.
Article publication date: April 19, 2002
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