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Has anyone had any experience with playing Munchkin with 2 players? If so, what variant/house rules do you play with, and how do you feel the experience compares to 3+ player Munchkin?

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As well just look at the cards without playing, it's going to be much more fun. –  Lohoris Dec 31 '11 at 12:49

10 Answers 10

up vote 14 down vote accepted

As Matt Sheppard notes, the main problem with two-player Munchkin is that it eliminates the automatic balancing effect present with three or more players, where the weaker players can band together to pull the stronger ones down. In normal play, this is the main effect that counteracts the otherwise fundamental unfairness of Munchkin — without it, it's quite possible for the game to quickly get so unbalanced that one of the players is almost sure to win no matter what the other does.

This can be a problem especially if one of the players is new to the game: if the experienced player plays for keeps, they're likely to leave the newbie feeling like they didn't even have a chance, whereas if they pull their punches, the game is likely to get boring because there won't any of the scheming and backstabbing that makes normal Munchkin interesting.

That said, I do think that Munchkin with two players can potentially be fun, provided that both players are a) about equally skilled, b) reasonably familiar with the game and how it's typically played, and c) aware that they're playing the game in a way it was not designed for. In particular, it's probably a good idea for both players to be experienced enough to tell when they're in a hopeless situation, so that they can either concede the game or just play it out quickly and get on with the next round.

As for house rules, I have no real experience to share. However, one possibility I'd strongly suggest would be going over the deck and picking out some of the most egregiously unbalanced cards like the Kneepads of Allure. Basically, if it feels unbalanced in a multiplayer game, it's likely to be even more so with only two players. Also, if the players are not quite perfectly matched, some kind of handicap system, such as extra starting levels, might be useful to compensate for the lack of automatic balancing.

Ps. From a game theoretical perspective, two-player Munchkin ought to be pretty dull: it's a two-player zero sum game, where the success of one player (measured as expected probability of eventually winning) is exactly the complement of that of the other. Thus, in optimal play, there really shouldn't be any (unforced) helping or trading, or anything else that requires the consent of both players.

The reason it can still work out in practice is that real humans are not the perfectly rational, risk-neutral and infinitely patient and foresightful agents assumed in classical game theory. Thus, in a real game it can happen that, say, both players find that trading certain items puts them both in more comfortable positions, or that one player is willing to accept a reward for helping that the other is willing to offer.

Also, the strategic elements of Munchkin are not entirely based on cooperation and trading: besides the simple process of optimizing your character build, there's quite a bit of strategy involved in deciding when to spend your one-shot cards and when to save them. That still applies even in a two-player game.

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My friend experimented with this, but he ultimately determined it to be too much effort;

  1. Two players are each dealt two player's worth of treasure and door cards.
  2. Going back and forth, they take the role of each of their players, back and forth.
  3. No trading between your own two characters
    • note: stealing as a Theif over-rides this
  4. No helping in fights between your own two characters
    • note: the Kneepads of Allure over-rides this
  5. No wandering monsters from your side in your fight.

The reason for the last rule is that its tempting to beef up one character, and have the other intentionally go out of their way to serve as the other players stepping stool. An interesting case that led to rule #5 was the use of a Potted Plant with a Wandering Monster card during his other character's level 8 fight.

If you try this, please leave a comment with your thoughts, and any additional rules you added.

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Honestly there isn't that big a change, other than there's a lot less people trying to screw you over. You can play Munchkin with 2 players just fine, it's just not quite as much fun.

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That seems odd. Isn't the ability to ask for help important in playing (and winning) a game of Munchkin? –  Jadasc Dec 23 '11 at 1:56
Jadasc: You can ask for help in a two-player game too. You may have to bribe the other player to do it, but then, that's not exactly unusual in multiplayer games either. –  Ilmari Karonen Dec 24 '11 at 18:43
My wife and I have played a lot of 2 player Munchkin rounds, and the asking for help is much rarer, and involves much higher bribes than in games with larger numbers of players, but it still happens. –  Beofett Dec 27 '11 at 15:21

In my experience it's a lot less fun simply because it eliminates the "alliance" aspect of a game with lots of players. There's also the deception element of the game (tricking other players into using up all their curse/bonus cards before your turn) which doesn't happen in a two player game.

If someone has good house rules for it though, I'd love to hear them.

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All good answers. I'd add that Munchkin Cthulu's additional rules for Cultists don't work at all in a two-player game, so skip that set if you decide to try two-player munchkin.

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They can work if you go with @Droogans' suggestion to give each player two characters to play. –  Paul Marshall Oct 3 '12 at 19:00

If you're not afraid of picking up another set / game, Munchkin Quest is specifically designed for two players. There's also some overhead with setting up the board and such, but it's a fun alternative.

That said, my wife and I will play Munchkin as a two player game. It works just fine for us as we're not terribly competitive.

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Surely this is a game that is just generically better for more players, rather than being mechanically unplayable for two people.

In a game with lots of random factors, it can be easy for a player to gain a quick lead through no real strategic fault of his opponent's. This "problem" is almost completely mitigated in multi-player settings, where if one player is doing rather two well the others can gang up to keep any power imbalance contained.

If you're both of a basically cooperative mindset, then I can't think of any real reason for not playing Munchkin 2-player. If you're more competitive, then you might want to play something with a bit less randomness involved, or where the games end quickly enough that if one player gets unbeatably far ahead, you know you'll be shuffling up and redealing quite soon.

Also, Munchkin is a kind of sort of D&D simulator - how many D&D groups have you heard of with just 2 people? Part of the fun is getting a whole bunch of your friends over to play!

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My biggest rule in two-player is: allow the players to trade levels that come from defeating a monster, if they need help killing it. This helps with a lot of the stronger monsters in that you either try to run, or give a level to the other player for help. The level is worth a whole lot more then a shot at some treasure, so it can add a lot of incentive.

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Welcome to B&CG! –  beam022 Jan 18 at 13:26

I play this with my son (7) regularly. We play with a 'variable' rule set that includes bumping the hand to 7 cards (8) for dwarves, and allowing for slaughters by playing 'best of' games. We also often shorten to level 6 wins. This truly is a game where 'house rules' are encouraged.

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Deal in a 'phantom' 3rd player.

Play them as a normal player with the following exceptions:

  • Roll d6. (1-3) they are player 2. (4-6) they are player 3.

    This may make a big difference when resolving cards that specifically affect the player to their immediate left or right.

  • Determine the method to offer help or interfere with other players during the game.

    Option 1: Roll d6 at the beginning of each current players turn. On (1-3) offer help, on (4-6) interfere.

    Option 2: If the current player is Lvl 1-5, always offer help. If the current player is Lvl 6-9, always interfere.

On their turn, the phantom player must always:

  • Carry any items they have in hand, if possible.
  • Must change race and/or class each time one of these cards are drawn by them.
  • Never goes "looking for trouble".
  • Only sell items in their hand to go up a level.
  • Never trades with, bribes, or extorts, other players.
  • Never asks for help.

Out of turn, the phantom player must always:

  • Offer help or interfere with the current player.
  • Play minimal cards necessary to affect victory or defeat of the current player.
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