Gentle men and women of noble birth, it has come to my attention, as one who engages in the edification of the public in regards to the latest publications in the field of tabletop gaming suitable for those mostly of more commonplace backgrounds, that we are graced with a new edition of the game The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen as presented by James Wallis, and published in a new edition via the purveyors of fantastic diversions, Fantasy Flight Games.
Okay, writing a review entirely like that is going to be too twee for me, so let's talk about this normally.
The first edition of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen (hereafter just called Baron Munchausen) was published in 1998 by Hogshead Publishing, and kicked off the company's New Style line of role-playing games. Other games in this line included Puppetland by John Scott Tynes and Violence by Greg Costikyan (under the name of Designer X). Each of these games either challenged the ideas of what should be considered to be a role-playing game, how mechanics shape the role-playing experience, or how subject matter was approached in role-playing games. Violence, for example, is a musing upon the overreliance of role-playing games on violence as the primary method for the resolution of conflict in role-playing games.
Taken as the starting point of period that stretched into the early 2000s with games such as Ron Edwards' Sorcerer and Dogs In The Vineyard by Vincent Baker, these games all form the foundational basis of a paradigm shift in how role-playing games can utilize subject matter, or how mechanics can better shape the experience of a game.
Much like the television program Whose Line Is It Anyway? where the rules don't matter, or the party game Cards Against Humanity, where winning is determined by which card combination best amuses that turn's judge, Baron Munchausen is a game about creating an experience, rather than simulating an experience.
The mechanics to Baron Munchausen are, at best, minimal. The idea behind the game is that it is a "story telling" game in its purest form. Much like the allegedly fictional character whose exploits the game is modeled after, the game is played literally by telling stories. Character generation consists of giving your "character" a title and, possibly, a name.
The player starting a round opens by suggesting one of the exploits of the next's player's character. The new player expands upon the suggestion, telling a short story of five minutes or so, in the voice and manner of their character. Other players can suggest wagers and either interject details into the player's story, or refute some detail. The player can accept or deny the wager, working the new details into their story, or refuting them in their narrative. If the player falters in their story, they can claim that they are "parched" and end their turn with a round of drinks for everyone involved. Play continues until everyone is suitably entertained, or they reach the point where the adult beverages render storytelling impossible.
For those who have difficulty in coming up with story suggestions, there is a list of possible story seeds in the first appendix of the book.
The closest thing to a game mechanic is the one used for "dueling" in the game. When wagering reaches a point of impugning the honor of the player's character, the only outcome for those who are noble born is to engage in a duel with the person who has cast aspersions upon their honor. The outcome of a duel is determined through a game of "rock, paper, scissor," or the closest colloquial variant thereof. The loser of the duel must retire from the game and give up their purse to the winner. The ultimate winner is determined by whoever has the largest purse when it is decided that play is finished.
There are also a number of variant approaches to the basic rules that allow for such options as telling the stories of the famous sailor, and perhaps pirate, Sinbad, stories of costumed super-villains or even within the tropes of H.P. Lovecraft. These options open up the basics of Baron Munchausen to a variety of genres and tropes. For those who are concerned about repeat playability, these variants can open up the game, and if the basic idea of a Munchausen-like historical character doesn't appeal to you, these variants are also useful for that.
One phrase that I use often in my reviews is "this game is not for everyone." Baron Munchausen is probably the poster child for that statement. If you aren't good at making things up on the spur of the moment, or engaging in some form of improvised storytelling, then this game probably isn't for you. The game works best with a group of like-minded friends, and adult beverages to lubricate the discourse. Without any substantial mechanics to guide the stories told, some people can be lost in a game like this.
This is one of those games that should be a part of a gamer's library of pickup games, alongside of the variety of quick and easy card or board games that work for play when an in-depth game session isn't practical.
For those who revel in such things, Baron Munchausen is a fun game for a party, or an otherwise cold night, when the opportunities for more "normal" role-playing experiences are out of the question. It can make for a fun evening of play.