Sunday, November 27, 2011


A young friend of mine asked me if I was interested in going to a mutual friend's house one evening to play Munchkin.  There were several reasons I could not, but one was "it's too silly".  Munchkin is a deliberately silly game.  This is amusing for a little while, but after that it just gets in the way.

Yet, when I was playtesting one of my zombie games I said to the players, "it's a silly zombie game after all".  But the silliness is of a different kind, and I asked myself what made the difference.

What it amounts to is that zombies are silly, but they can be played "straight".  Zombie movies sometimes play them straight, but the strongest example I can think of is Max Brooks' book Zombie Survival Guide, a relentlessly straight (yet reasonably humorous) treatment of the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.  (I imagine his "World War Z" is also straight, haven't read it, but I see it is being made into a movie...)

In other words, you can pretend that zombies exist and play it "for real".  The silly humor in Munchkin just doesn't translate to even a pretend reality.  Not one I can believe in, anyway.

Obviously, other people don't have that point of view, as Munchkin is very popular.


Clive said...

Munchkin is very silly and very dull at the same time!

Aleixo said...

Hi, professor Pulsipher. I would like to disagree with you about this. I don't think people have any problem with "silly" games.

The problem (in my point of view) is that this so called "silly" games are usually too light-minded and lacks interesting decisions to make.

Munchkin is only sucessful because its "silliness". If the game theme was "serious", it would never have lasted long. You usually play it while you still laughs at the jokes caused, and not because the "thrill" of the game.

"War on Terror" it's another "silly" game, but with more elegant ruling and mechanincs...

Lewis Pulsipher said...

There are many light games that can be played straight, that are quite popular, and are of the same type as Munchkin, "screwage" games. But they can be played straight. Silliness is not #1. Munchkin makes silliness #1. And yes, it only primarily successful because of its silliness. But for people like me that emphasis on silliness is offputting.

If you dislike "screwage" games as a category, that's a different question. And of course many people do. I tried my simplest "screwage" game with some Eurostyle gamers this year, and they seemed quite puzzled about it, being used to the only-distantly-competitive typical Euro games.

Dan Eastwood said...

In a discussion with a friend who does serious games for military training, I pointed out that you might rename the real things in the game to sound quite silly, and the game would still be the same. His response was "Yes, but I could never sell it to my boss."

Use of the words "silly" or "serious" to describe a game seems to be completely subjective, yet these are taken as meaningful labels.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

The way the military game is designed would not be silly even if the trappings of silliness were added. The gameplay isn't likely to be silly.

Munchkin builds gameplay around the silliness.

A video game plays the same way even if you replace the graphics with blocks of color (unless you need to see the details of something, of course, in order to play). But then they'd have trouble selling it.