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Player Character Spotlight - The Professor

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Julie Sutton hadn’t really played games before meeting her (now) husband. The first modern title she ever learned was Uwe Rosenberg’s famed worker-placement game Agricola… and she was only 1 point short of a victory in a five-player game! It’s safe to say she enjoys finding ways to navigate and problem solve, and that tabletop gaming has allowed her to flex that muscle in new and creative ways.

“I’m a math professor at a University in Texas. We’re real nerdy at our institution; there’s an official ‘D&D at school’ event and a big gamer community there.”

With a busy work schedule and home life centered around raising her young daughter, Julie doesn’t have a surplus of extra time for gaming, but about once a quarter, she hosts anywhere from 15-50 people at her house, closes off the garage door, and sets up tables for gaming. She hires neighborhood “kid-wranglers” (babysitters) and orders a mountain of barbecue, allowing the crowd she and her husband introduced to the hobby to game all day and night while relishing in each others’ company.

“We’ve had a bounce-house, a water slide, everyone brings a side-dish. I consider it a personal victory when people ask me when we’re having another game party at our house, or when they offer to host one themselves.”

Above all-else, Julie finds value in the relationships and bonds forged over the game-table. Hosting gatherings has allowed her to foster community among people who might never have spoken or spent time together otherwise, and she firmly believes that gaming enhances social skills that have begun to show atrophy in the digital age.

“I like the fact that we can all sit around a table, learn something new, engage our brains, and when it ends: we’re all closer together. Food brings people to the table. We talk about gathering and breaking bread together, and that’s great – but when it ends, it ends. With a game, we can come together even when we don’t have other hobbies in common, or political ideologies in common, or sexual orientation, or preference, or looks, or ANYTHING: we’re all the same when we sit at the table. We’re all equal, and even though all you’re doing is playing a game, it means so much to everybody.”

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Interview: Steve Jackson - Gaming Goliath and Munchkin Mastermind

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Interview: Steve Jackson - Gaming Goliath and Munchkin Mastermind

 Legendary Game Designer, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games

Legendary Game Designer, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games

Munchkin has been around since 2001 and has worked with countless properties to developing its several serial versions. Back when you were creating the base game, what hole were you trying to fill?

I just wanted to do a simple parody of the dungeon-crawl genre. I had no idea where it would go. We found out, though . . . Munchkin didn’t create the genre of humorous card games, but it lent it a lot of energy.  

What has been the most rewarding thing about designing this game?

Definitely, the personal feedback. The game has touched a lot of people in ways that my other work hasn’t. Players want to make Munchkin part of their lives! We hear all the time about Munchkin-themed birthday parties, and there have been at least three Munchkin weddings and several proposals and “little Munchkin on the way!” baby announcements. 

When you are looking for partners for the various new installments, what’s your criteria?

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 The property has to be one that lends itself to the Munchkin tropes, and the licensor has to be willing to “break the fourth wall” a little bit, and let us be silly even if the property is not primarily humorous. Warhammer 40,000 is a good example; Games Workshop has given John and Andrew a lot of latitude to jump right through the fourth wall and poke gentle fun not just at their game but the players. It's respectful and always, always trying to laugh with, not at, and to me that's an important key to make Munchkin work. We're all in on the joke together, even when we're the butt of a particular giggle.

Is there a partnering property that you would love to work with on a Munchkin game that you haven’t yet?

Yes. Yes, there is  :)

Do you have a favorite card?

I might have a dozen favorites; narrowing it down to one is hard. I do really like the Potted Plant, the Net Troll, the Plutonium Dragon, and the Gazebo from the original set.

Is there a set that you’re most excited about debuting this year?

Yes, absolutely. Munchkin Warhammer 40,000! Aeldar and Death Guards and tanks, oh my. The Games Workshop crew have been very good sports and fun to work with.

Is there a favorite Munchkin game of all time and why?

Well, my very favorites to play are (1) the original set, just because; (2) Munchkin Cthulhu, because we got to do a lot of really silly cards AND put in a good alternate victory condition; (3) Munchkin Booty, because pirates!  Lots of Arrrrr! jokes, and avast wasteland of low pirate humor. And (4) whatever I am working on right now!

How did the now iconic partnership with artist John Kovalic come about?

I think his first game for us was Chez Geek, and we had been regularly working with him on the “Murphy’s Rules” feature for PYRAMID Magazine, and I thought his style would work well with the tone of the cards. Oh, my, it certainly did! He really gets the game, he’s very prolific, and sometimes we read each others’ minds when it comes to developing the look of a card. And we pay a lot of attention to every single card because we know that an important element of the game is the “look at the card and laugh” phase! 

How did the Munchkin CCG come about? Was the concept developed internally from the start, or did the designers come to you with the game and suggest Munchkin as a good fit? Or somewhere in between?

We developed the concept internally but we knew we wanted to get an experienced CCG designer to make it happen. I’m very pleased with the results. The “bluff” mechanic is, as far as I know, unique to the Munchkin CCG, and it adds a lot to play. Eric, Kevin, you done good!

There's been a variety of supplemental Munchkin accessories released, like dice, pins, character pawns, plushes, etc. Is there anything else like this in the works that you can talk about?

We’re coming out with a couple of play mats that will alter the game slightly and provide (yet another) way to keep track of levels. And the Starfinder “I Want It All" box includes a level tracker, a Kill-O-Meter, dice, and metal “credsticks" based on the currency of the Starfinder RPG. The Unicorns and Friends “big box” has Boxes of Holding and a Kill-O-Meter as well. People like Stuff and we are happy to create new Stuff for them!

Munchkin is often cited by fans as being the game that opened the door for them to modern board games. Any good stories about teaching the game to new players?

Just the observation that new players tend to win a lot. I have finally figured out why . . . I think. It’s very important in the beginning and middle game to make a lot of deals, and people tend to help, or accept help from, the new player just to show them the ropes. That advantage adds up!

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