I mentioned in a recent GenCon Recap article that I had the opportunity to play The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen as my first impromptu game of the con. This zany game of tall tale telling provided a great experience for several of us during the IGDN Social, a casual pre-con get-together for Indie Game Developer Network members and friends.
Publisher: Magnum Opus Press
Year Published: 1998
Number of Players: 2+ (the more the merrier)
Play Time: 30+ minutes (depends on number of players)
Set-up Time: 5 minutes
Learning Curve: Low
Ages: Any, although it’s geared toward adults
Table Size: Small
When someone sat down at my table during the IGDN Social and said “We’re going to play The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were in a noisy bar and didn’t have any of our gaming supplies with us, so I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to play a game I knew nothing about using materials I didn’t have.
Thankfully, all we needed to play the game were four tokens and a willingness to act silly for an hour. The latter I could do, and the former we created using bits of paper napkins we tore and crumpled into balls. Four of us started playing the game and we had four tokens each. I’m not sure if the number of tokens had anything to do with the number of players, but it seemed like the right amount.
Side Note: After reading the game’s description on RPGGeek, I get the impression there’s a lot more to the game than we had encountered during this introductory session. The fact it can be boiled down to a game playable simply with tokens says a lot about its adaptability.
I should point out I had never read the game before and had only heard of it in passing, so this entire experience was new to me. Apparently, Baron Munchausen is regarded as “the game that started the story games revolution” and is all about telling crazy stories of your fabulous exploits and coming up with ways to refute people who claim you’re lying.
The premise is simple: players take turns telling stories about an adventure they had. The game starts when the person to the left of the storyteller says “Tell me about the time you did so-and-so,” and the storyteller responds by recounting the tale at length.
I was the person to the left of the starting storyteller, so I started with: “I know you haven’t had any notable adventures, so why don’t you tell us of the time you went to Portugal?”
Right off the bat, I was given the impression that one of the tropes of the game is to insult your fellow players and their adventures, so I tried to get right into the spirit of the game.
The storyteller then began a story about how he traveled to Portugal where the moon people live and that he rode with them on a flying ship to the moon. Along the way he got to weave in details about the ship, the complications of the journey, and so forth. The other players were allowed to to challenge any claims the storyteller made. If the storyteller rose to the challenge and came up with an explanation, they’d give up one of their tokens (which essentially means they give up one of their votes at the end of the game). If they concede and admit they were lying, their turn ends but they keep their token.
For example, while I was taking a turn as a storyteller I was detailing my trip to the undersea city of Atlantis, where I claimed the moon people actually lived. The first storyteller challenged me: “I assure you sir, the moon people are from Portugal–I travelled with them myself! How could you possibly have met them in Atlantis?” I gave up one of my tokens and replied “Well, the moon people of Atlantis are from the dark side of the moon, while your Portugese moon people were from the light side.”
Laughs were had (you probably had to be there) and my insane story continued until I eventually ran low on tokens and ended my turn.
After all of the players had a chance to tell a story we came to the final voting phase. Each person gets to hand out their remaining tokens to the player or players they feel told the best stories. After each person had a chance to explain their reasoning and hand over their tokens, the person with the most tiny scraps of paper napkin was declared the winner.
The experience as a whole was a ton of fun. Everyone got a turn to tell wild stories and, more importantly, to stretch the limits of their own imaginations and ability to think on their feet. I admit that when I started I wasn’t sure I’d have it in me to come up with such craziness on the fly, but given that I was the overall winner of the session I feel I must have done better than I originally thought I would.
I had a great time playing Baron Munchausen and plan to pick up a copy of the PDF for further reading and review. My first impressions were definitely positive–any game you can learn in five minutes and play with strangers at a bar is a good game in my book.
I haven’t had a chance to read the PDF yet so I can’t comment on the accessibility of the book. However, here are some overall impressions based on the gameplay elements I experienced.
In-game Text: The description of the game at RPGGeek suggests you have a pencil and paper to play so I assume there may be some in-game text if you play the entire game as intended. However, we got along just fine by playing without any books, paper, or pencils of any kind–there was nothing to read, look at, or otherwise pay close attention to during the game.
Fine Manipulation: One of the key gameplay elements is the use of tokens. It doesn’t seem to matter what these tokens are made of though, just that you have something to represent your voting ability. We used tiny torn pieces of napkins, but people who have difficulties with fine manipulation can use anything that might be more accessible to them.
Storytelling: This game focuses exclusively on storytelling. People who have difficulty with speach may find it difficult to get involved. Those with stage fright might also need to overcome some nervousness at first, since you take a turn in the spotlight for an extended period of time.