The first rule, says Ben in his best teacher voice, is that there are no rules.
The eight of us sprawling around the coffee table look expectantly at him. Everyone knows that when someone says there are no rules, it means that there is further elaboration to follow. You can’t sit down to play a game, be told it has no rules, and then just play it without actually knowing the point.
Ben realises that we want him to say more, and clears his throat importantly. Alternatively, he continues, shuffling the cards, there are several hundred rules and they all contradict each other. Ready?
We are learning how to play Munchkin, a roleplay-ish game in which everyone starts out as a Level One Human With No Class, fights monsters, argues about the rules, and aims to become a Level Ten Human, thus winning the game. No one understands what is going on, apart from Ben, who is helpfully narrating the proceedings and providing an amusing commentary in the style of Dungeon Master Treguard from Knightmare. Hails has kicked down the door, he says mysteriously as I turn over a card to reveal that the room is occupied by a Large Angry Chicken. If she fights this monster, explains the gamesmaster, she will die. There is a tense pause, and he nudges me as I nervously clutch my Cheese Grater Of Peace and Boots Of Running Really Fast. You might want to ask someone to help you fight the Large Angry Chicken, he advises gently.
I obtain help from a Half Breed Dwarf in possession of a Chainsaw Of Bloody Dismemberment with which he recently fought and defeated an Insurance Salesman, and together we slay the Large Angry Chicken. Unfortunately, the Dwarf then takes all the treasure and runs away with my Rat On A Stick, but I am alive, and I suppose – somewhat dubiously – that that is the important thing.
Munchkin is not a very serious game. You confront monsters, and if they beat you, Bad Stuff will happen (ranging from It covers you in slime and sticks its tongue down your throat causing you to drop all your possessions to It burns you to a tiny, flaky, ashen, dead crisp. Then it steps on you. Then it laughs.). If you aren’t strong enough to fight them, other players will help if you bribe them. Unfortunately, the rest of the players may then decide to help the monster, resulting in utter chaos as everyone starts screaming at each other and waving items such as the Sneaky Bastard Sword and brandishing Potions Of Halitosis.
I have never known a game of Munchkin to go on for this long, says Ben wearily, three and a half hours later. There are cards everywhere, and everyone has been a Level Nine Human for approximately the last hour. Minna has lost all of her possessions due to a Curse. Riho has become the most evil Elf that ever existed, employing blackmail as his primary tactic throughout the evening.
We all hate each other. It is difficult to feel the same way about someone you once liked when they’ve just tried to send you to your death at the hands of a swarm of Zom Bees and talked everyone out of lending you a Cloak of Obscurity or even a Buckler Of Swashing.
Finally, just as I am about to take the turn that will almost certainly win the game, there is Divine Intervention. Favour is bestowed upon Clerics, and they are, by grace, permitted to rise one level. This is upsetting not only because I was about to win, but also because I was, until recently, a member of the clergy, only to jack it all in for a life of crime when an opportunity to become a Thief presented itself to me. There is a shriek from Hedi. She is a Cleric. She goes up one level, her halo glinting smugly, and wins the game. A full scale riot breaks out.
What a fabulous game. I love it.