Heroes of Their Own Tails
Most of us grew up with stories of human-like animal heroes (and sometimes villains) in children’s stories. Sometimes, they are one or a few characters in a larger story, such as Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry from cartoons, or Jiminy Cricket in “Pinocchio.” In other stories, the animals are the primary (or only) characters, such as in Charlotte’s Web or “Bambi.”
Adult-focused animal-centered stories are rarer but became more common in the 20th century, with stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, featuring many animals such as Aslan and Reepicheep, or Brian Griffin from the "Family Guy" cartoon.
With the growing popularity of intelligent animals in fiction and media over the last decades, it was a genre that we in Café Munchkin have been talking about exploring with a game for some time. Toward the end of 2019, I wrote the cards (with a lot of help from the team at Steve Jackson Games and our stalwart playtesters), and Katie Cook made all the cards look absolutely awesome. Munchkin Tails was released in June 2020, and so far, we're hearing great reviews from the people who have picked it up! If you’re wondering whether this is the right new Munchkin game for you and your friends, here are some notes that might just get them to sit up and beg you for the game!
A Look at Our Fuzzy Heroes
We chose four types of animals to use as our adventurers in Munchkin Tails: Dog, Fox, Mouse, and Pony. (Of course, we chose Pony!) We had a great time writing new abilities for these cuddly critters. We wanted to give each one its own style to fit the type of animal they were and that made for a variety of strategies in the game. This was a surprisingly difficult process, and we actually talked about some other cards that didn't make it into this set.
Probably the most obvious animal type that isn't listed is Cat, but we had several reasons for that. First, having Cats would probably have meant leaving out Foxes, and I wanted one hero type that was a little less mainstream, just for the sake of variety. I also was a bit worried about the mayhem that could ensue with dogs and cats and mice all trying to work together . . . that's a little too much like a real-world problem!
I also didn't include any non-mammal adventurers, and that may have been oversight. We could certainly have some fun with birds or lizards, for instance, although Lizard Guys do appear in Munchkin 8 – Half Horse, Will Travel, so maybe that ground is already covered. (At one point, I suggested Snakes or Spiders as possible heroes and was informed that I'd already used my creepy idea budget for the year. Sigh.)
Fear not, however, as some of these discarded or forgotten ideas do show up in the other usual place for a Munchkin game: the monsters!
What Kind of Monster Would – Oh, Right, Me
Munchkin Tails has the usual three dozen monster cards, give or take a couple, and they run the gamut from things that specific monster types should fear (Robot Vacuum) to things that everyone should fear (Skunk). Oh, and there are some human opponents, too, because if the animals are the heroes of this game... well, let's just say that nature may not be the biggest threat to animals – in the game or the real world!
But I have two favorite monsters in this set, and rarely for me, they're both low Level foes.
The first is the Hare Band, which is delightfully silly. Look at Katie's art and tell me you don't want to be at that concert! I love it when the artist takes something I write and makes it into a small masterpiece, and that's what we have here.
My other favorite monster is the Munchkin Cat, for what should be obvious reasons. As the card says, munchkin cats are a real thing, but we went with the in-game version instead as a nod all the way back to the original game design. I've been wanting to do this card for a while (it nearly made it into Munchkin Kittens) and having it here makes me very happy.
One somewhat unusual design feature of Munchkin Tails is that we have no Undead. As I was working through the monsters, I started to think that a game where animals were fighting (or becoming) undead creatures would be a little macabre for something I was trying to keep light-hearted. This is also why the Cleric isn't one of the Classes in the game. I replaced it with the Bard, so make sure all the players start practicing their howling dog voices now!
Enough! Take Us to the Loot!
When I'm working on a Munchkin game, I usually leave designing most of the Treasures for the end. There are plenty of serious reasons why I tell people I started doing this, usually involving intricate considerations about whether I need to balance a monster list that's a little too tough with more high-bonus cards. Or perhaps because this is a set where I want more single-use cards to keep the decks moving, that sort of thing. You know, game designer stuff.
Don't believe it.
I leave them for the end because they're the most fun and the easiest to write. Once I start on the Treasure deck, I know I'm in the home stretch. Treasures, in general, have fewer rules than Doors, and the rules they do have tend to be more standardized than the individualized rules that each monster gets. Also, because Treasures have a lot less text, in general, than Doors do, it means I get to have more fun with the art we can put on the cards!
Munchkin Tails was no different. I don't remember exactly how long it took me to complete the first draft, but I'm pretty sure the entire Treasure deck was about 25% of that total time, and almost entirely done at the end of the project. I hid quite a few jokes in those cards that I'm very eager for fans to find as they play the game, so I'll just mention some of the titles here: Cone of Defiance (Cone of Shame is a Curse, naturally), Dog Whistle (a Bard-only card), Rolled-Up Newspaper, Play Dead (a very nice Go Up a Level), and... Mark Your Territory. It's not what you think. Or maybe it is.
So far, the response to Munchkin Tails has been fantastic. We’re really pleased that so many people have been able to enjoy the game at a time when we’re all looking for anything at all to give us joy. That's why we're so excited that there will be more Munchkin Tails coming soon. We’ve got a 15-card mini-expansion releasing just in time for the holidays: Munchkin Tails of the Season! Ask for it at your friendly local game store.
Andrew Hackard is the Munchkin Line Editor at Steve Jackson Games. He currently has no pets, and the world is probably better for it.