The (Not Especially) Secret Origin of Munchkin Shakespeare
Andrew Hackard, Munchkin Line Editor
It was a dark and stormy night . . .
That is not true.
In fact, Munchkin Shakespeare had its genesis on a bright and sunny afternoon in 2015, on the fifth sailing of the JoCo Cruise (JCC), a floating nerdstravaganza named for beloved geek troubadour Jonathan Coulton and featuring a rotating cast of key players including co-masters of ceremonies Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo. More accurate, therefore, would be this opening:
It was a Paul and Stormy cruise . . .
We’ll fix that in editing.
Prolog: The Part That Happened Before The Cruise
When the folks at JCC asked Steve if he would be one of their featured guests on the 2015 cruise, one of the perks was the ability to schedule programs. Steve and I sat down and talked over some of the things we might want to do.
We have a regular stable of topics for panels such as this. One of our most popular is “What’s New at SJ Games?” Whoever is running the panel spends an hour talking about — and stay with me on this — what’s new at SJ Games: games that have recently hit shelves, games that we’ve announced will be coming out shortly, games that we’ve hinted that we’re working on, and often games that are being announced for the first time ever in that panel. Show and tell is a big part of that panel. Steve and I were both on board (heh) with that idea.
We kicked around a few ideas for a second panel (“Sordid Secrets of the Game Design Stars” would have been a very short session) before Steve made a brilliant suggestion.
“Why don’t we crowdsource a Munchkin expansion?”
“Sure, we can do that,” I replied, “but what?”
“Let the attendees decide! Crowdsourcing!”
And lo, it was done as he bade. The folks at JoCo were warned that we would need poster paper and a decent supply of markers, and Steve and I prepared for a small gathering of really dedicated fans.
At the appointed hour, Steve and I walked into a room with around 60 chairs, far more than we expected to need for a fairly nerdy panel, to greet the 80-some people waiting for us.
We started off by asking for suggestions for a Munchkin expansion they would like to see. There were some ground rules: no licenses, no meta (sorry, Munchkin JoCo Cruise fans), and absolutely no “hard R” content.
It wasn’t very far into that part of the panel that someone suggested Munchkin Shakespeare.
Steve and I looked at each other. We were into it.
We looked at the crowd. They were into it.
And we were on our way. I ended up being the panel scribe, writing suggestions as legibly and quickly as I could manage. (I can write very quickly as long as no one ever has to read it again, including me. Or I can write more slowly and give people around 50/50 odds. I have a bad case of southpaw script.)
The first page of suggestions had some great ones and a few, um . . . let’s call them “learning opportunities.” The good thing was this was a very smart group of people, almost all of whom were experienced Munchkin players, and as the panel continued and we gave on-the-fly evaluations of some of the ideas, the fans zeroed in very quickly on the sort of jokes we were looking for.
I was pleasantly surprised how many of our fans on that cruise were conversant with the works of the Bard. (I should not have been, given the prevailing “nerd” demographic of the group, but I’m cynical about such things.) We got lots of suggestions from the usual set of public-school classics — Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and the like — but plenty of people were pulling from the Bard’s entire oeuvre. Even the sonnets. I learned a lot in the course of the panel, and for that if no other reason, I’m really pleased with the results.
Epilog: What Came After
At the end of the panel, I asked people who made suggestions to come up and write their names and email addresses next to those suggestions, so we could be sure to credit them if Munchkin Shakespeare came to fruition. I then took all the poster-sized sheets of paper, folded them carefully, and ended up squiring them back to Austin where, a year later, they formed the basis of a kind of rump Munchkin Shakespeare Lite that we were able to show off on the 2016 JoCo Cruise to many of the same people who generously gave us ideas.
Since then, Steve and I have been working on expanding the set even more, and those suggestions from the 2015 panel have continued to be valuable. Crowdsourcing a Munchkin game was very much an experiment; I’m glad that it worked so well.
Andrew Hackard is the Munchkin Line Editor at Steve Jackson Games. He occasionally writes reports in iambic pentameter just to see if anyone notices.