Munchkin Russia – Winter is Coming (to the tabletop)
By Alain H. Dawson, Director of Licensing, Steve Jackson Games
Steve Jackson Games recently announced a new Munchkin release: Munchkin Russia, coming in fall of 2021. In addition to being a fun and funny Munchkin game, Munchkin Russia has the distinction of being the first original Munchkin game developed by a licensing partner that isn’t based on a third-party license. Hobby World, the largest board game publisher in Russia and one of our translation partners, approached us with a request to create a game based on Russian culture and mythology, both historical and modern. We were intrigued by their pitch and gave them permission to produce the game. They kindly translated it for us so we could put out an English version, and with some work on our end to playtest, edit, and tweak, we now have a Munchkin Russia that English-speaking Russophiles can enjoy.
Having been created by Russians (designers Pavel Iliin and Dmitry Moldon) for Russians, the game is packed with authentic Russian characters and tropes. While working on the translation, we sometimes had to educate ourselves on words, in-jokes, and cultural references so we could figure out how best to keep the flavor of the setting while making the game accessible to our audience. Not every reference needs explanation for the game to be enjoyable, but learning the background can add interest to the game. For example, one of the Wishing Ring cards and the Golden Fish monster card are both references to a poem written by Alexander Pushkin, based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
The monsters in this set are drawn from Russian culture, some modern (Debt Collector, Troll Factory, Eurovision Singer), some historical (Rasputin, Chekov, Napoleon), and some from fairy tales or legends (Baba Yaga, Three Brown Bears). While many are recognizable to Western players, others will be unfamiliar, bringing a sense of discovery when munchkins Kick Down The Door and meet a new monster. They may end up in combat with Chort (the devil), Yermac (the conqueror of Siberia), Kuzma’s Mother (comes from an obscure threat Kruzchev used to make during the Cold War), Dead Morose of Winter (a pun on Ded Moroz, the Slavic version of Santa Claus), Viy (chief of gnomes), or the Gorynich (a Slavic dragon).
The Treasure cards are full of setting-specific weapons such as Cossack Shashka (a Russian saber), the Needle (represents the death of an evil character), and Lenin’s Lamp (used in propaganda to link science to a political agenda). The deck is sprinkled with Russian aphorisms, including “Get your Sleigh Ready in the Summer,” “Paint the Parade Ground Green,” and “Shoe a Flea.”
Illustrator Sergey Dulin (Spyfall, Furnace) did a superb job of giving the art that distinctive Munchkin look while bringing Russian tropes to life.
In addition to the new setting, Munchkin Russia has several new game mechanics that add a special twist to the game.
Classes in each Munchkin game are tailored to the setting; in this version, characters may be Cossacks, Oligarchs, Athletes, or Hackers. These cards give appropriately Russian advantages to players – the Oligarchs get first pick of any Charity cards, for example. Certain monsters have bonuses or weaknesses against particular Classes (the Multi-Level Monster is +4 against Hackers), and some Items are only usable by one Class, or exclude a Class (only Cossacks can wear the Papakha, an iconic wool hat from Siberia, but they can’t use the Waffle Rifle).
Seasons are a new card type exclusive to Munchkin Russia. When a player draws a Season card, it goes in the middle of the table and its rules affect all players, for better or for worse. Every time a new Season is played, it takes the place of the old Season. Of course, there are more cards for Winter than any other Season; this is Russia, after all!
In addition to the classic Munchkin grouping monster type, Undead, Munchkin Russia also has Dragons, Wolves, and the most feared of all, Babushkas. If a grouping type of monster shows up in combat, any monster of that type may be added to the fight; without warning, a munchkin could be set upon by a family of Dragons, a Wolf pack, or a gang of purse-wielding grannies. As usual in Munchkin games, a player in combat may bribe ask for help from other players, but those players can decide to stay out of it and cheer on the Babushkas as they go for the kill, too.
The team at Hobby World is already working on their next original licensed Munchkin game, this time with a third-party property. We can’t reveal the title yet; the KGBirds might be listening. We’ll declassify the information as soon as it’s safe.