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.
As of 2002, annotated as of 2018
I really didn't expect Munchkin to be this much of a hit.1 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.2
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.3.5 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.3, π
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.11
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.4
The New Rules
What new rules? We don't need any new rules. We have rules now.5
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.6 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."7
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.
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 . . .8
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 . . .12
But we're having far too much fun to quit. See you in Munchkintown!
* * *
1 This, by the way, remains true after 17+ years.
2 The 35th print run is in stores now, and we have already ordered the 36th one, not including our Munchkin Deluxe game or the super-shiny Munchkin game we produced for mass-market stores. Total number of Munchkin – just the core game – in print is 911,514.
3 We now have, at best estimate, 10,505 Munchkin cards in print, plus approximately 1,129 released by licensees. That does not even attempt to take into account the translated editions: 20 languages so far, including two different varieties of Spanish. The latest is Turkish.
π In 2010, we converted one of the blank cards to an extra Cheat!, because in 2002 we somehow neglected to recognize that letting players cheat more often meant more fun for everyone. As a result, Unnatural Axe now has 108 cards and four blanks. We hope no one feels, ahem, cheated.
3.5 Heh. This is no longer even remotely true.9
4 And indeed we did, for a while. But it was just never quite a strong enough packaging, so we quit. Over the years, we have sold Munchkin in setup boxes, "pizza" boxes, plastic clamshells, tuckboxes, blister packs, foil packs, and included with all kinds of other items. It appears that what you, the customer, care most about is not the packaging, but "can I haz more cards?" This is fine with us. We'll just try to package them so they get to you intact.
5 This changed. We have lots of new rules now . . . in different core sets, on T-shirts, on grab-bag boxes, on dice bags, and on dozens of bookmarks. And yes, the rumors are true, we did a Munchkin cookie back in 2008, with a rule. I would advise against eating one now if you get it.
6 Mua-ha-ha. There are new card types now, most notably Dungeons. And, as it happened, we ended up deciding retroactively that one card in Unnatural Axe was a new type, an Item Enhancer, and had to go back and add those rules.
7 I still believe this is the correct and logical answer. Kill things and take their stuff.
8 That teaser referred to Munchkin Fu, which in 2018 is one of our oldest sets. As of now, we have 28 different Munchkin core sets in print (not counting variants such as Deluxe and Guest Artist sets), three at the printer, two finished but unannounced, and two in different stages of license negotiations. There may be some overlap in those numbers to confuse the Illuminati.10
9 Here we pay gleeful homage to the horrid printing error that turned into the Munchkin supplement numbered 3.5, and an acknowledgement that in the world of Munchkin, numbers do not actually have to come in numerical order.
10 Licensed Munchkin games have become a big thing, both from us and from partners such as USAopoly and IDW. We have had Munchkin adaptations of Conan, Pathfinder and Starfinder, Rick and Morty, Adventure Time, Harry Potter, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others, and there are more to come.
11 Fool that I was. Yes, you do need more boxes, and we ended up making them for you, in a variety of sizes and formats. We also made card sleeves, for the people who did mind knowing what type of card was coming next.
12 Since this writing, we have published two different Munchkin board games (Munchkin Quest and Munchkin Treasure Hunt/Wonderland), a collectible card game, and have licensed the Munchkin brand to companies such as Fireside Games (Munchkin Panic), AEG (Munchkin Smash Up), Atlas Games (Munchkin Gloom), and SlugFest Games (Red Dragon Inn: Spyke and Flower).
This annotated version published July 9, 2018.
Article publication date: April 19, 2002
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