Future Consideration – A Munchkin Story

The Game:

Playing board games with friends, as with all things in life to me, are really just opportunities to have fun, create stories to tell others and laugh at your own ridiculousness. Whether you are the butt of the joke or the source of the joke it is always fun to have shared experiences with others and hopefully get a smile or two out of those past experiences. Sometimes there are tears, and thats ok. As I told my daughter recently while she cried and swore she could never trust me again after I assassinated her mother in a heated game of Secret Hitler (another of my favorites we’ll post about later), we sit around the table and play board games for fun, to have a good time, to make each other laugh, and just enjoy each others company, no matter who wins or loses… but in the end there is always fun stories to share with others and laugh over. And she now laughs at the great Thanksgiving Assassination of 2017 just as I do!

With that in mind I’d like to share one of my favorite gaming stories from my 20+ years of playing board games, which involves the great and fun card game from Steve Jackson,  Munchkin.

If you are not familiar with Munchkin, It’a a super fun game that focuses on trying to get the most stuff and loot for your character and involves trying to  steal shit from a dungeon and backstabing your friends. First person to advance to level 10 wins. It’s a silly game and has a lot of satire. It also plays off many old D&D and RPG tropes about min-maxing and Munchkin-ing your character (hobbits with chainsaws, etc.) which should appeal to those of us who have played D&D before. It also includes some borderline raunchy humor which is hard to explain to an 8 year old:

There are a ton of expansions for it, which can all be combined together, and many different thematic brandings of the game which can add new twists and flavor to the game. There is Munchkin Cthulhu, Munchkin Booty , Munchkin Zombies, Star Munchkin, Munchkin Bites!, etc, etc.

I honestly haven’t played the game the game in years, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable game that has relatively basic rules that are quick to learn. Its a great game to introduce to kids and get help them get bitten but the table top gaming bug. Which is a nice segue into one of my favorite stories involving not just Munchkin, but gaming, young gamers, and how I’m a complete jerk.

To set the scene a little bit, we have some relatives out of state who we visit a few times a year, and they love to play tabletop games. Introducing them to new board games is something I always do enjoy and I’ve shared quite a few with them over the years. When i first started playing games with them, my wife and I were newly married, and had no kids to pester us with yet. The Virginia folks (as I’ll refer to them from here on to keep things anonymous) would typically play traditional games. Monopoly, risk, and lots and lots of card games (I refuse to play pinochle with them anymore). And some weird dice game I never quite understood.

For me generic card games just don’t do it for me. I prefer games that have a specific Thematic element to them. Kings in the corner with generic Hoyle cards? No thank you. Throw some Targaryens and Lannisters on those pieces of card stock? I’m in. I know it’s silly, but maybe its that scarring moment of playing pinochle with my father in law in Las Vegas thats to blame.

So back to the story.

It was another holiday season many many years ago, in which we journeyed to my in laws (the Virginians). I brought with me my new favorite game, Munchkin. the Virginians at the time consisted of the two adults and their 3 kids, two of which were old enough to join us in learning the game and playing. The two kids playing with us were younger and probably still school age to pre-teen ages, but both are super smart kids and picked up the game and strategy pretty easily. At the time there were some play styles that should have keyed me in that this could be an issue in the future, specifically they played it more as a Co-Op game. They were willing to help each other out with or without an exchange of loot as the game recommends. I combed through the rule book to see if there was a rule against helping someone out for fun, or with the expectation that they might return your good deed and assist you later, but alas perhaps it was just my cold dead heart that felt that wasn’t quite in the spirit of the game.

Sometime passed, and with it some of my recollection of just how much time had passed, and also with specifics around dates or even years. I soon found myself back in Virginia, with the Virginians, and around their dinner table, once again playing Munchkin. This time with their own copy of the game! Success! I’ve spread the joy of this game with more people! The kids were a little bit older, with the youngest of the kids of gaming age being a super sweet 9 year old girl who was and IS super smart (I think she’s going to MIT for engineering or something) and enjoyed gaming as much as anyone else. My wife was her Godmother and always had a soft spot for her in her life, hell both of our lives. I had first met her (we’ll call her Middle C) when she was just an infant, so I had been around this family for a long time and Uncle Danny was just part of the clan.

A few rounds into Munchkin during this winter holiday season I noticed something interesting. They would often ask for assistance in defeating a monster of the Munchkin Dungeon with the phrase “future consideration.”

For example “Aunt T, help me kill this Gazebo for future consideration”.

From the way they played it it translated into: “Help me and I’ll help you later! Yay! Isnt winning great! This is a fun Co-Op game where we all want to kill the dungeon denizens!”

FULL STOP.

If you’ve played Munchkin you know part of the fun is in dicking your fellow players… “friends”… over in the game.

“Oh you are fighting a Level 8 Gazebo? Nope. Now you are also fighting a Lvl 20 Cthulhu!!!”

Lets take another look at the box real quick:

Yup, still there. “Stab your buddy.”!!! Nothing about this being a co-op game.

So i think you can all see where this is going.

We’re sitting there, it’s a nice winter day, we have a fire going, everyone is in funny (ironic) ugly holiday sweaters eating warm gingerbread cookies and drinking mulled wine or hot chocolate for the kids (I may be idealizing this a bit. I probably was drinking a Sam Adams at the time as my beer palate wasnt that refined at the time. ) and playing a rousing fun filled family oriented game of Munchkin.

I’m facing a tough fight with a Gazebo (or some shit), and my cute little super sweet 8 or 9 or 10 year old niece says to me “I’ll help you Uncle Danny! For Future Consideration!”.

“Ok Middle C!” I say in a happy tone. I’ve just raised a level, not going to die to the Gazebo, and dont need to split my loot! Win Win Win. “Thanks Middle C!”

Stop now if you don’t want to read about how i crushed all the joy in a young girls heart.

Fast forward to later in the game. Middle C is winning. I told you she’s smart. In fact, she’s about to win the game. We all play the prerequisite wandering monster and monster enhancement cards (read the instructions for more on those! This isn’t a blog on HOW to play! ) In a vain ploy to halt her relentless drive to the finish line. When suddenly it looks like she dosen’t have enough bonuses to defeat the monsters arrayed before her! But she just smiles, as she has thought this through (again she’s smart) and looks to me.

“Uncle Danny. I’d like to call in my future consideration.”

I look at her. I look at the table of cards. I look at the other players. Everyone else has that resigned “awww man. she’s gonna win again” look as they realize together she and I have enough bonuses to defeat the monsters.

I just say “No. I consider helping you and decline. I believe this card says you die and lose a level.”

That might be the first time I made a 8/9/10 year old girl cry.

In hindsight i realize i was being a dick. But honestly, you play to win. Well, you play to play, but you also Play to win the game. (Thanks Herm.)

If anything you play the game to have fun stories you can share and laugh about all these years later. I think she (and her family) learned a lesson in that moment. Well 2 probably.

1: Uncle Danny is a dick when he plays game.

2: Be specific! “Future Consideration” has a loop hole! CONSIDERATION! I CONSIDERED to help her, and determined it wouldn’t be in my best interest to help her and let her win the game. After that they started using “future obligation” in their games, which i think is a much better choice of words.

Pretty sure i still lost tho.

The Beers:

For this one I have to go with Ruthless Rye from Sierra Nevada. It’s a nice beer that hits the right notes with the pine and rye. It’s a bit on the malty side which I’ve been turning down lately, but that tastiness from malty beers i drink lately helps to remind me that I’m alive and should suffer for my misdeeds (see the post above). It’s not too high ABV wise so while not a session beer you can still have a few before you are making kids cry.

Also fits the story a bit.

The Alpha Gamer (or How I learned to love Pandemic)

The Games:

An Interesting conversation came up in the BurningDanCon chat this evening (more to come on what BurningDanCon is later).

We were all cooing over H and N’s son O competing with his father over their Rule Lawyering of a specifc rule in Pandemic, (Specifically Outbreak expansion of one color/virus into a city with 3 cubes of another color/virus),

Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior
Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior

when I remembered an article i was reading about one of the biggest problems with with co-op games like Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Forbidden Island (which is a big hit with The Little gamer), Forbidden Desert, and to a lesser extent Shadows over Camelot.

The Alpha Gamer.

You should read the article in question here (https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/02/games-i-will-never-play-again-pandemic/) for a nice reason on why these games can be problematic.

In short the problem comes with more experienced, assertive, and/or knowledgeable players who have (or think they have) a good strategy in mind for the game being played that they want to direct or quarterback the other plays to.

Usually it can be great in certain instances for one player to help coordinate the team (or players) to come together and form a cohesive strategy to defeat the game. This makes sense! How else can you win if your not all working to achieve one goal and solve the problems?!

The problem comes when it feels like the one player is directing everyone else’s plays at the table and there is not an equal level of participation around the table. I’ve certainly been in that position before (honestly only once i can remember, we’re all pretty Alpha at times), not wholly the fault of the other player (Hello Whiskey), but it can be incredibly frustrating when you are and it feels like you are just an extension of another player turn.

I just want to move my piece!

There is another possibility here to consider. Maybe the Alpha Gamer is just stepping up and into the role due to my love of whiskey and/or my shitty style of game play… I’ll admit I’m not a ponderer when we’re playing games and can get irritated if I’m waiting too long for my turn (5 + 6 player Lords of Waterdeep just kills me when it comes to downtime). I prefer to take my turn, make my move, with a little bit of consideration for sure, but certainly don’t want to hold up the game. I personally think this is an obvious positive character trait, but everyone else calls me an Agent of Chaos for reason and I’ve been blamed for our teams failures once or twice due to my lack of optimal usage of my characters special abilities. (See there’s a reason this blog is titled as it is.)

Reading a few other articles on this, it seems one of the ways that game designers have been trying to combat the “Alpha Gamer” is through the use of hidden mechanics, like the traitor in Shadows over Camelot, the hidden cylon in BSG, and the unique style of hand display in Hanabi. (I haven’t played either of the last two games there, but THATS WHAT THEY SAY!)

That being said, i do really enjoy Pandemic. While we’ve only won a few games of it around our table, we’ve always had a great time playing it.

We’ve also played a few “Months” of Pandemic Legacy Season 1, and have failed every single time. N just recently got Pandemic for his BDay so lets hope he’s practicing and getting some good strategies for our next go round.

Another variant of Pandemic that we have in the library is Pandemic: Reign of Cthuhu.

Me and my gaming Bro Dogs were originally brought together by work. Actually besides work we were originally brought together by playing the table top RPG Call of Cthuhu. So this alternatively themed version of Pandemic was a big hit with our gaming group. It also helped that we won on our first play through.

I also recently picked up a copy of The Captain is Dead, another Co-Op game in the same style and with many of the same mechanics as Pandemic. Thematically The Captain is Dead hits more buttons for me then Pandemic or even Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu. I’m more of a Sci-Fi guy, and a huge star trek fan. This game is basically an episode of the late 60s TV show, but with the captain dying instead. It even includes a “Red Shirt” character that is easy to kill but respawns (as another “Red Shirt”) on the next turn!

The Captain is Dead includes a count down deck, which tends to make bad things happen, and good team combos to boost and encourage assisting fellow players. I was drawn to it initially more for the nifty artwork. See below I think the box art is great not to mention the board and character models.

The Captain is Dead

It really brings out a  60s/70s era vibe, (which makes me think of an old video game with similar art style, Evil Genius.

Before i derail this post too much further, I’d like to just come back to the issue of the Alpha Gamer again before closing up. In reviews I’ve read of The Captain is Dead they mention the Alpha Gamer problem as well, so I’m curious to see how it plays out. One nice thing about the Alpha Gamer conundrum is that it allows games like this to be easily played solo, something that works well for me being out in Western Maryland and with 2 kids. Just play as 2 or 3 different characters and use the normal 3 player rules. Keeping track of the different hands is as easy as laying them down in rows so you don’t get confused. This is a strategy i picked up playing the Dresden Files Cooperative Card game from Evil Hat which i really enjoy.

For Pandemic in particular i think playing the rules as written with not exposing your hand really helps to mitigate the potential of someone becoming the Alpha Player. Yes you can talk about what cards you have but through that communication the possibility of cooperation and shared ideas really starts to shine through. I think most play throughs where I’ve run into this problem we’ve always played with our hands exposed, allowing someone to step in and really take over a game like they would if they were just running 3 or 4 characters at the same time.

For those of you out there how do you deal with Alpha Players? Are there some games you find are more susceptible to this phenomenon? Do you specifically avoid games to combat this? Let me know! Drop me an email or comment below!

The Beer:

Finally as part of my theme for my new blog my drink pairing for Pandemic.
A nice thing about an Alpha Gamer is he takes away all responsibility on you to contribute if you don’t want to! He’s kind of like your Designated Driver when you’re playing. So If that’s the route you are going, hit the hard stuff. Some whiskey, some run, maybe some shots of tequila. All are good ideas. From a beer perspective break out a double IPA and go to town. Living in Maryland I’ll recommend the Double Dog IPA from Flying Dog.

Now for me, I’d probably go with a nice mid range IPA. I’m really enjoying the Sweet Water IPA right now and if your on your first or second you probably have enough cognitive function to contribute. If the game gets out of hand or you got some slow play going on, kick into number three and let the Alpha take over.

If you are the alpha, stick with some diet coke, some bud light, or maybe a nice session beer like an All Day IPA from Founders. Good stuff.

Welcome to my new Gaming Site!

Hello all and welcome to yet another gaming website. This one will hopefully bring something new and different as I’ll review games, pair them with my favorite beer or drink, and talk about how awful I am generally at gaming.

This should be fun and might have the occasional actual post unlike all my other blog posts which fizzle out after about a week.