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I have looked around and was overwhelmed by the number of Munchkin base sets out there. I googled what the best Munchkin set is, but so far, all I found is that I should pick the theme I like best. But I'm not sure if there might be other factors.

In reality I'm looking for the answer to the question: what Munchkin set is the best in terms of card functionality, bad stuff, and surprising and interesting turnouts? Or is the gameplay broadly similar between them and the theme is the only big difference?

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    Welcome! I think you had a pretty answerable question at the core here, so I've edited your question to focus on that and avoid it being closed as too subjective. – Cascabel Apr 13 '16 at 23:09
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I have played the super hero, pirate, legendary, old west, and "normal" munchkin. There is no significant difference between them wrt "Card Functionality", "Bad Stuff" and "surprising and interesting turnouts". All 5 sets have similar card functionality, similar bad stuff, and lots of surprising, amusing, and interesting turnouts.

Really it does just come down to, "is there a genre you enjoy?" Then, that's the variant you should play because you'll get the jokes.

ps. Tsuama534 mentions some very interesting rule changes in Munchkin Cthulhu and Munchkin Apocalypse in his answer. There are no corresponding rule changes in the expansions I mentioned.

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I have played regular Munchkin, Munchkin Cthulhu, and Munchkin Apocalypse.

The two non-regular sets each had one big difference.

Munchkin Cthulhu has special Cultist Rules.
Among them is a rule that when every player is a Cultist then a game immediately ends.
This tends to end games with low player counts very fast. I think this is a major difference from the regular game.

Munchkin Apocalypse also has a built-in timer in form of Seals.
In my experience this doesn't affect the game time very much but it introduces some extra complexity to the simple game of Munchin.
In both regular Munchkin and Munchkin Cthulhu to win you need to maximize your character level.
In Munchkin Apocalypse you may also win by having the highest combat bonus when the Seventh Seal is opened. This alternative way of winning may bring more strategy or more chaos to the game, depending on the group.

Besides that, differences between these three sets are very minor.

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I haven't played all themes but its my understanding that they can all work together. In fact, you can just shuffle the different sets together and play with all of the expanded characters/items/steeds/etc. Of course if you have cards that go together they will be harder to pair up because you are playing with a larger deck.

As a result the core game mechanics are unchanged between them.

According to a SuperMod on this thread (SJgames is the producer of Munchkin): http://forums.sjgames.com/showthread.php?t=66801

Every Munchkin game except the original comes with rules or hints on how to blend that particular game with the others. All those games have their rules available online on their individual web pages, too.

In conclusion, what you were told is correct. Go with whatever theme you fancy more. And if you decide you get bored of that one, just go buy another and spice it up a bit.

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I have played through most (though not all) of the munchkin sets, and I think that you would enjoy playing any set combined with "Cheat with Both Hands". Just trying to have a fun set to choose from is great, and adding in all the crazy cards and class/race cards makes it even better. I would try to stuff your munchkin set full of big items and monsters that you enjoy playing against, that's how I usually pick out what my particulars doors and cards are, and it works out very well. So just make sure to pick out a set you like, a set that is crazy, and pick your favorites from both.

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