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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

11 Answers 11

up vote 15 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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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
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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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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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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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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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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

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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A two-player version that my son and I came up with was pretty fun. Here are the altered rules:

OBJECTIVE: Be the first player to retire your four heroes at level 6.

SETUP: Start by separating out all the Class and Race cards. In the standard Munchkin game you will find 21. Shuffle these cards together. Next, deal 4 cards to each player. Each player places these character cards in front of him/herself on the table. These cards represent your Adventuring Troop of Heroes trudging through the Dungeons of Munchkingdom. Next, place a single D6 (six-sided) die on top of each character to represent their current level. Each hero starts at level 1. Lastly in Setup, reshuffle the remaining Class and Race cards in the Door deck, and draw 4 door cards, and 4 treasure cards per Player (not per character). Each player may distribute their 'loot' amongst their 4 heroes.

GAME PLAY: Roll the die to see who goes first, highest die wins. The first player may lay down any treasures or items below any of his 4 heroes. Note: Once a treasure has been laid to the table from your hand, it must remain with THAT hero to which it has been placed. Furthermore, a thief cannot steal a card from any allied hero pertaining to the same Adventuring Troop. A Thief can only steal from the opponent's Troop of Heroes.

Each Hero can later on be one Class and one Race as per normal rules. Furthermore, if Class or Race are lost as a result of a curse or some other reason, simply flip the card over...that hero still can be played as normal, just without the Bonuses/Penalties of the previous Race/Class.

Once the first player is ready to begin, he chooses ONE hero from his Troop (moving the Class/Race card forward slightly to show election to other player) to open the door, then flips over TWO Door cards. Both Door cards have active effects if they are monsters or curses. This means that they are resolved simultaneously. If they are two monster cards it is like the results of a Wandering Monster card as per the original rules (Running Away must be resolved from each monster by EACH hero involved in combat).

If they are both curses, they affect that single hero who busted down the door. A Wishing Ring or other item that prevents a Curse will deflect ONE of the Curses (active player chooses which Curse to be removed). The player may still 'Loot the Room' (drawing a face down Door card into your hand) or play a Monster by 'Looking for Trouble' from his hand as per normal rules, unless the Curse card specifically states the turn has ended.

If one card is beneficial (i.e. Class/Race card, Cheat card, etc.), the player may place this directly into his hand. The non-beneficial card is then resolved (i.e. fighting the monster).

If BOTH cards are both non-threatening, the player places both into his hand, and then may choose to either 'Loot the Room' or 'Look for Trouble' per normal rules.

Note: Monster Altering cards (i.e. Humungous +5) are non-threatening if drawn with a non-Monster card, and may be placed in the player's hand. But, IF drawn with a Monster, it alters THAT monster during that combat.

Also: The actual Wandering Monster card if drawn Face Up, invites your opponent to lay down ANY held Monster card in their hand!

After resolving combat with monsters per the rules below, or after 'Looting the Room', the player ends his turn by either laying down Item cards to individual heroes in his Troop (Treasure cards aquired from defeating Monsters can only be equipped directly after combat to the two heroes involved in combat...see combat rules below), or discarding them so that only 5 cards remain in his hand at the end of his turn. Every Dwarf character in his Troop allows the player to hold +1 card above the normal 5! If cards were discarded in this manner (at the end of the turn), the opponent if he has a hero with a current level less than or equal to the lowest level of all the heroes on the table, he may select ONE of the discarded cards and place it to the table below that lowest level hero (if its an item) or to his hand (if its NOT an item).

Note: Items that are unusable be a hero may still be equipped to that hero. The bonus is just not added unless conditionary requirements are met. But, heroes that are NOT a Dwarf can only equip ONE Big item, used or unused.

COMBAT: When fighting a monster, add up all the bonuses of all the Monsters and Monster Altering cards involved in combat. Unless one of the heroes involved in combat is a Warrior, the player must beat the Monster's bonuses by 1. This number is derived by adding the hero's current level, plus any bonuses (or subtracting any Penalties). If the first hero who 'Busted Down the Door' does not have sufficient Attack Points (Level + Bonuses), then he/she can ask for help. This is done by selecting ONE of his current heroes (those NOT Retired). The Opponent may even offer to help for some bargained price, with any ONE of his heroes. If someone helps in combat, their bonuses and levels are added to the first hero's. Once a hero agrees to join combat, he/she cannot back out. If for any reason the hero(s) cannot defeat a Monster(s) then each hero involved in combat must attempt to Run Away separately from EACH Monster in the combat. If a hero is unsuccessful from Running Away from any Monster, that hero must face the consequences of the Bad Stuff of THAT Monster.

The only Hero that gains Levels after defeating a Monster is the one who 'Busted Down the Door'. If for some reason another hero jumps into battle to help, then the first hero leaves. The second hero must face the Monster(s). That second hero does not get any levels if the Monster(s) are defeated, but does get all the treasures. Furthermore, a third hero cannot be asked to help.

Note: The Kneepads of Allure, or other similar Items may be used to force someone into help the wearer of the Item, OR it can be used to PREVENT your opponent from using ONE of his heroes as a helper! In either way, the hero being manipulated by the item gets a saving throw to resist. That player must roll higher than a 6, by rolling a D6 and adding THAT hero's current Level.

RETIRING: Once a hero reaches Level 6, he/she is Retired from play. Take all his Class/Race cards, and Item cards and discard them. Leave just the D6 to represent one Retired hero. Player who Retires All four Heroes in their Troop wins.

DEATH: When a hero(es) suffer Death from Bad Stuff, they lose all their stuff. The player of the dead hero(es) lays down all their cards in ther hand next to all the dead hero's items he/she had in play. All of these cards will be discarded. Prior to being discarded, the opponent gets to select ONE item to add to EACH of his active (non-Retired) heroes. These items must first be given to the lowest level heroes.

Note: this means that if both players have heroes that die in the same combat for whatever reason, one player's opponent will Loot his hero's body, while his own heroes will Loot his Opponent's dead hero's body. Dead heroes do not participate in Looting the Body.

The dead heroe's Level die (D6) remains at the same level.

SELLING ITEMS: Only ONE Level can be bought each turn by each hero in your Troop. Furthermore, Level 6 can only be attained as per normal Munchkin Rules regarding Level Ten.

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