The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part III: Munchkin

I’m ecstatic to continue this one-of-a-kind summer series that will help you whether you are just interested in finding out about this new and exciting career opportunity, or ready to take your Supply Management career to the next level. As I said in my last post, learning Supply Management can be infinitely more fun than watching paint dry. And when you can grasp a lot of the basic concepts by playing the right mix of strategic (and sometimes tactical) board games with your friends, it’s a blast and a half!

While this might be a good time to move on to a game like Puerto Rico, an economic city building game where you select a trade (such as captain, mayor, trader, settler, craftsman, or builder) in an effort to achieve the greatest prosperity (and highest respect) by shipping goods, building impressive cities, and managing their colonists and plantations, it’s still a little advanced for our budding gamers, so we are going to select a different game for our third post. Plus, while Ticket to Ride (Part I) helped us understand the capacity limitations of the shipping industry and The Settlers of Catan (Part II) helped us to understand the balance between supply and demand in limited commodities, they both limited our view to a competitive market where each player was acting independently at all times. (And while trading is a big part of Catan, your opponent only traded when it was in his interest to do so, and partnerships were never formed.)

In Steve Jackson’s Munchkin, we still have the situation where every player is out for herself, but where players will often unite for brief periods of time to accomplish a goal where there are mutual rewards (or bribes) to be made. Plus, as we will quickly discover, Munchkin brings a reality to gaming that neither Ticket to Ride nor Catan bring to the table. And most importantly, we have another fantastic TableTop episode where Wil Wheaton (who still claims to be In Exile) introduces the game with the help of the game’s creator, Steve Jackson (and Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh). As long as he keeps churning them out, we are going to take advantage of the priceless gifts that Mr. Wheaton has granted us.

When it comes to Munchkin, as Wil Wheaton says,

The goal is very simple. Get from level one all the way up to level ten. To do that we’re going to kick in doors. Bam! And fight the monsters that we find behind them. Now, if a monster is too tough for us, we can ask our friends for help. Maybe they’ll make it less scary. . . . Of course if a monster looks like it’s getting to be too easy for us to defeat, those same ‘friends” will turn around and make that monster harder for us to defeat. . . . If we are able to defeat the monster and don’t have to run away, we’re going to go up a level and we get to take one of its treasures, always something that helps us. . . . Munchkin is a game where you really find out who your friends are. Generally, not the people sitting around the table with you.

In addition, Munchkin is a turn-based game where, at the start of your turn, you may play as many cards from your hand as you’d like, trade items in play with other players, or sell items for levels. Then you have to kick in the door, where you will generally find a monster (which must be fought immediately), a curse (which applies to you immediately), or another card that may be put in your hand and saved for later or played immediately. Other cards are generally monster modifiers (that make them weaker or stronger), a race (such as dwarf, elf, orc, etc. that gives you a special ability), a class (such as warrior, wizard, bard, etc. that gives you a special skill), or another special card that can be played at a later time. If you fight a monster, you either beat it (with help), or you try to run away. If you beat it, you get its treasurer. If you don’t, you suffer bad stuff, such as losing a level, losing an item, or, in some cases, you die. If it’s not a monster, you get to look for trouble (and play a monster from your hand to fight, if you have one), or loot the room (where you take a second door card and put it in your hand).

It’s representative of our job many days because we never know what interruption (probably caused by a gremlin) we are going to have to deal with, and we never know if we’re going to be able to conquer it without help. Sometimes we can solve the problem with help from within our organization, but sometimes we will need help from our competition. And this is where Munchkin gets interesting when compared to Ticket to Ride or The Settlers of Catan. Maybe when our primary distributor ‘loses’ the shipment of tantalum we need to keep our mobile phone capacitor production line operational, we can call up our competitor a few miles away and find out that they will sell us some of their excess inventory (at a mark-up) that will keep our production line going until we can get a replacement shipment. But maybe they will instead take advantage of this moment of weakness to lock up even more supply from their distributor, in the hopes that our production line will stay down for weeks and give them a chance to leapfrog us on New Product Introduction into the rapidly evolving mobile market place. We don’t know. Munchkin is one of the few games that will help us understand the intricacies of a co-opetitive market (which may not be a good thing for your supply chain, as per this post).

The trading aspect introduces us to the ways that we can barter inventory when cash is at a premium, the selling aspect (treasure for levels) introduces us to the ways we can profit off of excess inventory if we are smart about it, and the cursing aspect introduces us to the dirty tricks we might have to deal with from shady suppliers. Plus, classes demonstrate how skills acquired through education can improve your capabilities and races demonstrate how specializations in certain functions, processes, or technologies can take you up the Procurement ladder. And, just like in real life, if you don’t have enough excitement in your job, you can always look for trouble and hedge your bets (by buying on the spot market or, even worse, hedging) or, if you see a supplier or competitor in trouble, you can, in effect, loot the room.

It’s a great game. And since, as Wil says,

Sometimes you don’t care about someone’s rich personal backstory. You don’t care about a character’s precious little hopes and dreams. Sometimes you just want to kick in the door, kill the monster, and take it’s treasure without any of that pesky role playing.

So, without further ado, it’s time to kick in the door, mutilate the bodies, and backstab each other as we fight to see which one of us in the biggest munchkin.