My Thoughts on the Munchkin Survey
Hi. I’m Andrew Hackard. I’ve worked for Steve Jackson Games (our website) on staff or as a freelancer since April 2000. Since January 2009, I have been the line editor (nicknamed the “Czar”) for the Munchkin line of card and boardgames.
A little over three years ago, I ran a poll on the SJ Games forums. That poll gave us some useful information but was limited; I asked three questions and reached about 200 people. After a discussion earlier this month with Steve Jackson and Philip Reed, I decided to go bigger this time, asking 16 questions and trying to reach many more people.
With 1,707 people who took the 2016 survey — full disclosure: I was one of them — I’d say we succeeded. This article will talk about the thinking behind the questions we asked, the results of those questions (including a couple that surprised the heck out of me), and wrap it all up with a few conclusions and a look ahead once it’s all said and done.
Q1: How often do you play a Munchkin game?
Not a lot of surprise here; 33.2% play at least monthly, 44.4% play more than once a year but not monthly, and the rest are split almost evenly between “at least weekly” and “once a year or less.” Considering we primarily expected replies from people who like Munchkin, and with the number of good tabletop games out there, this pretty much fit what we were hoping for.
Q2: How long have you been playing Munchkin?
Munchkin first came out 15 years ago, in July 2001, but it started seeing a sharp uptick in sales about five years ago when it started to appear in mass market stores such as Target and Walmart. So it is little surprise that almost 60% of the responses were from people who’ve been playing five years or less, with slightly more than half of those in the three to five years range. A bit over 16% of the respondents have been playing for more than ten years, however — hardcore munchkins indeed!
Bringing new players into the fold is critical, and we’ll definitely be looking at ways to continue doing that while still supporting the people who have been playing our games for a long time. The more Munchkin fans we can create, the more games we can play.
Q3: How many players is your typical Munchkin group?
This one really surprised me. In my head, I’ve always thought of five players as Munchkin’s “sweet spot,” with enough player interaction to be fun but not so much that the game bogs down. However, 58% of the people who replied said that their typical games are three or four players — whether this is because that’s the size they prefer to play or because they have a hard time getting larger tables together is a question I wish I had thought to ask. About 26.4% of respondents play at a table of five or six players, with another 13.3% saying their games vary too much to have any single “typical” response. Only 2.3% of survey respondents said their typical Munchkin games have more than six players, which might be because large games end up being less fun for most groups or just because we rate Munchkin for three to six players on the box.
We’ve been working on slightly smaller Munchkin games that support up to four players, rather than six — Munchkin Christmas Lite is the first, and will be back on store shelves this fall, but there are more on the way — and it’s good to know that there are groups that will find those games exactly what they need.
We received a fair number of comments that they wish two players had been an option. We don’t generally recommend Munchkin for two players because it’s too easy for one player to steamroll the other; however, this hasn’t stopped a lot of you, which is great!
Q4: How recent was your last Munchkin game?
Just over half (50.9%) said within the last month, with about 21% of all respondents having played within the last week. Again, we were primarily polling Munchkin players, so this isn’t terribly surprising, but it is heartening that only 7% of respondents said their last game was over a year ago.
Q5: Which is your most common Munchkin game experience?
This was the first question on the survey to parallel one from the 2013 poll. In that poll, carried out on the Munchkin forum on our site, nearly 70% of respondents said they played a single base game plus one or more expansions, with 5.4% saying just a single game, 12.2% saying two or more games, and the rest saying “it varies” or “something else.”
In this poll, we simplified the options and didn’t give people the “other” option, and the results were strikingly different. How much of that difference is due to the wider response base and how much is because of the way we worded things, we aren’t sure. About 19.5% of respondents in 2016 play a single Munchkin game; 54.1% play one game plus one or more expansions; and 26.4% play two or more Munchkin games blended together, with or without expansions.
One obvious question is how much of this increased blending is because we have now released several games with the same look and feel as the original, and most popular, Munchkin game, making it easier to shuffle those sets together. That doesn’t explain the larger number of people who play only one set at a time, with no expansions at all, however. This will likely be something we dig into more deeply in a follow-up survey.
(Note the second: In case you hadn’t heard, we’re releasing Munchkin-themed card sleeves for the people who want to mash up a bunch of their sets — or who want to protect their cards from Clumsy Clyde and his IPA. Learn more about our Doors and Treasures Sleeves and Dungeon Sleeves at our website. If those are popular, expect us to do more!)
Q6: Do you use the “Listening at the Door” optional rule?
Learning the answer to this question was what made Steve suggest that I run a survey in the first place. We use this rule almost universally in our playtests and demo games, and we have made it a requirement for Munchkin tournament games, so we assumed most people knew about it.
We were wrong.
Over half of the respondents (55.7%) said, “What ‘Listening at the Door’ rule?” (It’s on page 6 of the rules, under Faster Play Rules, if you want to check it out.)
Another 20.6% said they had read it and decided not to use it, while 11% said they used it occasionally, 3.6% frequently, and 5.6% every time. Only 3.5% had tried it and didn’t like it, which we’re OK with as a percentage.
The rule speeds up games by making it more likely for players to see monsters and easier for players who don’t see monsters to get some treasure so they don’t fall so far behind. We certainly aren’t going to stop using it in our own games — especially in playtests, when the point is to see as many cards as possible during the game — and we hope that those of you who haven’t tried the Listening at the Door rule will give it a shot.
Q7: Do you use the Epic Munchkin rules?
We asked this question in 2013, and the new results are pretty close. About 61% of the people in 2016 said they either didn’t know about the Epic Munchkin rules or read them and decided not to use them. The group of people who use them every now and then is slightly smaller than in the 2013 poll: 25.9% versus 30.8% three years ago. As we would expect from a poll of known Munchkin fans, the 2013 numbers for people who usually or always play Epic are higher than the numbers in 2016: 9.6% in 2013, 7% in 2016. Only 6% of the respondents in 2016 had tried the rules and didn’t like them, which is encouraging.
To us, this says that we’re on the right track by continuing to support the Epic Munchkin rules as we release new sets, but not go beyond that by releasing Epic-themed sets or expansions. Our time and money would be better used elsewhere, at least for now.
Q8: How long does your typical Munchkin game last?
This answer was heartening. We estimate Munchkin should take one to two hours on our packaging, and 65.8% of the people polled agree, with most of those (47.3% of the respondents) in the 60 to 90 minute range.
We are impressed with the 14.4% of the respondents who wrap up games in less than an hour and extend our thanks to the 1.5% of folks who regularly sit down for marathon games of more than three hours for sticking with us. (Maybe y’all should try the “Listening at the Door” rule…)
Q9: Which Munchkin games do you own?
It was no surprise to us that almost 75% of the people who took this survey own the original Munchkin game, and not much of a surprise based on sales figures that 38.2% own Munchkin Deluxe. (Not bad for a game that was intended as a one-off variant set!)
Generally, licensed sets were owned by fewer people than license-free sets, which also fits what we would expect; if you aren’t interested in the licensed property, there’s less reason to pick up the game. We are impressed that almost 17% of the respondents said they had bought Munchkin: Marvel Edition, given that it was on the market for less than two months as of the time of the survey!
Several people took us to task in their comments for not asking about expansions. We thought this question was long enough as it was, but it’s definitely something to think about when we do a follow-up survey.
Q10: Which Munchkin games have you played?
This wasn’t quite a rewording of Q9, since lots of people play games that they don’t themselves own. And, in general, numbers here were higher than in Q9, which shows there aren’t games that get bought and never played. Perhaps this question was redundant. The next question, however, definitely was not.
Bottom five played: Munchkin: Marvel Edition, Munchkin Oz, Munchkin The Nightmare Before Christmas, Munchkin Axe Cop, Munchkin Steampunk. With the exception of Axe Cop, these sets are very new, so this isn’t a surprising result.
Q11: Which Munchkin games are your favorite (maximum of five)?
This is closest to the third question we asked in 2013 on the Munchkin forum, although we made a couple of changes: we limited people to five responses (on the honor system) and we asked about favorite games, not just the ones that get played “reasonably often,” an intentionally vague phrase.
By comparing Q10 and Q11, we find that some games that have been played a lot are not among people’s favorites, and a few that haven’t been played as much seem to be unusually popular. We calculated the “favorite percentage” by dividing the number of responses for favorite set by the number of people who said they owned that set. Here are the top and bottom five by favorite percentage:
Top five: Munchkin (74.7%), Munchkin: Marvel Edition (58.0%), Star Munchkin (49.4%), Munchkin Cthulhu (42.0%), Munchkin Apocalypse (41.5%). If we leave out the Marvel Edition as too new to have reliable numbers, fifth place goes to Munchkin Adventure Time (40.6%).
Bottom five: Munchkin Impossible (15.6%), Munchkin Bites! (17.1%), Munchkin Axe Cop (17.6%), Munchkin Conan (19.1%), Munchkin Fu (20.9%). (Munchkin Treasure Hunt has a favorite percentage of 18.9%, but it is a separate game aimed at a younger audience, so we omitted it from the list.)
Q12: Where do you learn about Munchkin news?
By far the largest single category of replies to this question was “Other,” with the actual “Other” choice getting 36.9% of the vote, beating all specifically named options, and several other miscellaneous choices adding up to another 7.2% of the total.
Of the named choices, SJ Games’ Daily Illuminator surged ahead to take the lead in the last day or so of the survey, probably because we linked to the survey in the DI, with 31.5% of the survey going there for news. The Munchkin News page was second (22.5%), followed by SJ Games’ Facebook page (19.4%), SJ Games’ Twitter feed (18.8%), and Munchkin’s own Facebook page (18.6%). A very strong sixth place was the tabletop gaming überportal BoardGameGeek.com (14.8%). SJ Games’ forums are a news source for only 11.9% of respondents.
Q13: What CCGs do you play regularly?
The answers here were somewhat surprising to us. A full 64.3% of the people who answered this question said they didn’t regularly play any CCGs. We frankly expected this number to be a lot lower, having been guests at various Friday Night Magic events at game stores around the country, and in fact Magic was the highest-ranked game that was regularly played, with 18.2% of the respondents saying they played it regularly. The online game Hearthstone was second, at 15.7%. No other game (including “Other”) topped 10% in our survey.
Q14: The gender question.
(1,575 respondents, but see below)
Before diving into the discussion of this question, let me paste in the possible choices so everyone knows what we’re talking about.
We knew asking this question, in the way we asked it, was going to spark some discussion. Ultimately, fewer people used Q16 to weigh in about this than we expected, but we saw some good discussion on social media. I think it’s important to explain why we offered more than the traditional male/female choice, because we had a specific purpose related to the Munchkin game that convinced us we needed to offer more detailed responses.
(A quick note on the following discussion: I’m using “gender” exclusively here, even though the Munchkin rules themselves say “sex,” to avoid getting spun off on a sex vs. gender tangent.)
Gender is a specific mechanic in most Munchkin games. Some treasures are better or worse (or completely unusable) depending on your gender, and some monsters get bonuses or penalties when fighting a character of a specific gender. The Munchkin rules say that gender is dual; a character is either male or female, no other options (with a very few cards that cause exceptions, often by removing a character’s gender altogether). Starting in the very first Munchkin game in 2001, changing gender resulted in a one-time combat penalty “due to distraction.” This idea comes from early fantasy roleplaying games, many of which had effects that would involuntarily and permanently change a character’s gender. Munchkin was originally designed as a parody of D&D and similar games, and this was one of the tropes that was brought over for the sake of that parody.
It’s not 2001 anymore, and we now have thousands of people who play Munchkin and have never seen games such as D&D, much less explored the history of those games. We occasionally get social media comments, emails, and even physical letters taking us to task for belittling transgender players. Some of them are heartbreaking.
Speaking on behalf of the entire Munchkin team, it is not and never has been our intent to poke fun at the struggles faced by people who don’t match society’s gender norms. It has always been our view that the penalty for changing gender in Munchkin derived from its involuntary nature, not the gender change itself, and we have encouraged people to remove the penalty — or the entire effect — if their group found it problematic.
We have also received comments over the years, including several in this very survey, discussing the art style in Munchkin games, which specific attention to the disproportionate number of “cheesecake women” in some sets. Again, this originally stemmed from parodies of artists such as Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta, whose paintings often featured improbably endowed women in impractically scant clothing. When we got to Super Munchkin and started parodying the costumes worn in mainstream superhero comic books, we had to tone down the parody.
(I won’t say we’ve never received comments about “beefcake men,” but I don’t recall any offhand, probably because far fewer people are moved to comment by that stereotype or because our artists don’t have occasion to draw quite so many buff shirtless dudes.)
None of the above is meant to excuse our past lapses. In more recent games, we have tried to be more cognizant of the message we send and to be as inclusive as possible! To those whom we have unwittingly offended over the years, we offer our apologies, and we always invite feedback from people who want to tell us how we can improve. (I’ve given several channels of feedback at the end of this article.)
Now, after that lengthy backstory, to the results of this survey.
We had 132 people skip this question entirely and another 205 people choose the explicit “I prefer not to answer” option. That’s totally fair; we did not want anyone to feel pressured to give us information that they would prefer to keep private. In the number-crunching that follows, percentages are out of the 1,370 people who gave a specific answer, not the total 1,707 survey respondents or the 1,575 who answered this question.
A total of 46 people (3.4%) selected one of the less-traditional gender options (transgender, bigender, or agender). A few people, in their Q16 comments, took us to task for “catering” to such a small population, and several people took outright offense at the word “cisgender.” We make no apologies for either. As we discussed above, we felt it was important to be as inclusive as possible in our options. “Cisgender” is a relatively new word in common parlance, but it is etymologically sound; in Latin, cis is the opposite of trans (“on this side of” and “on the other side of, across,” respectively). “Cisgender” was used to be precise, not to be offensive, and certainly not to belittle anyone’s gender identity.
Respondents to the survey overwhelmingly identified as male (81.9%), which may have to do both with a gender imbalance in social media and with an actual imbalance in Munchkin players. It definitely is a question we are interested in delving more into, since it doesn’t match our experiences at conventions and in game stores. We will continue to think about this and work on ways to bring more women and girls into the Munchkin fold; it’s poor business to write off over half your intended market.
Q15: What is your age?
Almost 65% of our respondents were in the 25–44 range, which was not a big surprise. What was surprising was that we had more respondents in the 45–54 group (16.7%) than in the 18–24 group (12.3%). This tends to support the sense that the tabletop game hobby is aging. Bringing in new, younger players will have to be part of our ongoing marketing strategy, which is another reason we’ve created Munchkin Treasure Hunt and similar games. Of course, part of that will be older players introducing Munchkin and other games to their own children, nieces and nephews, and even grandchildren.
It is somewhat disconcerting to know that some people who were in their late teens and early 20s in 2001, when Munchkin was first published, now have their own teenage children who play Munchkin with their friends. It is also awesome.
Q16: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Almost one third of the people who took this survey took the time to write something here. Even factoring out the irrelevant, off-topic, or just silly (“No!”), we had over 500 comments. Many of you took the time to compliment us; we thank you for that. Many others told us, in varying levels of graphic detail, where we could be doing better; we thank you for that as well. And many of you gave us ideas for what else we could be doing with Munchkin — or told us we’re already doing too much.
The licensed Munchkin games are polarizing; some fans clearly love them and suggested many more we could look into, while others felt that the licensed sets took away from the “pure” Munchkin experience. As with all our game development, our view is that finding the right license is crucial, and we’ll work with our licensing partners as we move forward to continue making every Munchkin game a worthy addition to the family.
Some of you had praise or criticism for specific staff. We appreciate both. Criticism tells us where we need to do better, and well-earned praise is always welcome. Regardless of whether you hurled roses or grenades, we appreciate everyone who took the time to write.
Sadly, there are too many comments to go over them individually here, but the Munchkin team will discuss all of the comments and loop in other parts of the company as necessary. If you have more thoughts about the survey, or about this article, we want to hear those as well, on social media, on our forums, or right here on this article.
We are currently working on locking down the 2017 schedule and starting to think about 2018. The responses to this survey are going to help shape that planning process, in coordination with our own internal data about sales, web traffic, and so on.
One of the things we will definitely be doing is offering another Munchkin survey in a few weeks’ time. As soon as we started looking at your responses come in, we thought of some more questions that we wanted to ask, and your answers to this first batch of questions have given us more ideas.
We’re very interested in your thoughts on this survey and on this follow-up article. Medium lets you comment directly on an article and we will definitely be looking for those. You can also post a comment to this thread on the SJ Games forums if you would rather have a conversation; we’ll be watching those closely. Of course, you can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook.
Finally, if you want to talk to me directly, please email me (email@example.com). I get hundreds of emails each week, so I cannot promise to reply, but I will absolutely read every message I get. If you use “Munchkin Survey” as the title of your email, it will help me a lot.
Thanks for reading. See you across the table!