Have you ever heard the story of the day I fended off an entire army of feral kittens? They came in steam-powered Yachts, crossing the Atlantic to invade New York, and as luck would have it, I just happened to be summer-vacationing on the East Coast that day. When I saw them coming, I had little time and even littler supplies, but I managed to whip together a sort of trebuchet with the pieces of a shattered mirror glued to the ammunition. By firing into the sun, the reflections of light distracted the foul feline flotilla, throwing them into confusion and setting them against each other until half of them had drowned and the other half decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and headed home.
No? You never heard that story? What about the day I rescued the moon from sinking into the western sea? Or when I accidentally caused the downfall of Rome thanks to an ill-timed sneeze?
Well. Perhaps one day you will hear those tales, and many more like them, in a game of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
How It Plays
Baron Munchausen is a game of telling outlandish tales to impress your friends.
You begin by giving yourself a name and noble title (“character creation”) to be referred by during the course of the game. Whoever is the starting player is given a prompt by the player to their left – this can be completely made up, or from the included list of prompts in the game book. An example prompt might look like this:
“Tell us, Great Duke of Carrotsberry, of the day you saved the moon from falling from the sky.”
The Great Duke of Carrotsberry then proceeds to weave their tale, making sure to present themself as outlandishly heroic, equipped with sheer ingenuity and strength in all forms. The story shouldn’t drag on; only a few minutes should do it, lest the Duke be deemed long-winded. (A player can be cut short with a toast if someone goes on too long).
During the telling, other players can interrupt by spending a coin (or representative token) to challenge the logic or historical soundness of the tale. “But sir,” you might say, “Everyone knows the Merfolk don’t migrate south until late in the fall, so how could they assist you in mid-summer as you say?”
The Duke can accept your coin, in which case they must adjust their story taking into account the new facts you introduced. Alternatively, the duke can add a coin of his own to the pool, send it back to you, and refute your claim as false. This can go back and forth until one person accepts the coinage or runs out of money and challenges the other to a duel. (Duels can also be challenged if at any point you feel your honor has been besmirched).
A duel takes the form of a hearty competition of rock-paper-scissors, in which the loser is eliminated from the game and the winner gains the coinpurse of the loser.
Once all nobles present have spun their wild tales, players now vote with their coins on who told the greatest tale. You vote with your coins, and your entire purse must go to one player (and not yourself). Whoever earns the most coin-votes wins the game!
Tribute to the Greatest Story in the World
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is only a “game” in the loosest sense. Sure, there are rules, but only the barest minimum of them to get things going. “Points”? Sure, you could call it that. Does someone win? Technically speaking, yes.
But all of this is wrapped in a crystal clear package of silliness that makes no pretenses as to what it is and isn’t. The rules that exist aren’t there to provide a structure from which to develop strategy; they exist to get you going telling stories, even those players who might not initially feel up to the task. This game is about relaxing, letting loose, and having a good laugh.
I only wish there were a more succinct passage from the rulebook to read aloud as an introduction, to get people in the spirit. In general I stray from reading rulebooks verbatim, but the style of the prose captures the spirit – a spirit of over-the-top claims, impossible logic (and history, and science, and…), and wild tangents. The rules are about 40 pages featuring no small number of colorful off-topic stories purportedly belonging to the Baron himself, followed by a 1-page summary that contains all the actual rules. I read some snippets of the character creation section to get things going, but man does this book go off on tangents.
From there, it’s simply a matter of getting into the spirit of the event. Within the game world – the story world, you might say – there are no rules, which makes the storytelling easy in some sense. If you’re playing as the game is meant to played, you don’t need a good plot structure, and no one’s going to call you out on plot holes except in good humor. If you want to sail to Mars in a steam-powered gondola, no one should be saying that steam-power wouldn’t work in space. More likely, someone would claim to know that the currents in space draw steam gondolas toward Mercury during that time of year, so your journey would have taken three times as long as you said.
In fact, the interruptions of other players really only helps you explore your creativity. It’s a great exercise in the “yes-and” philosophy of improv. If you do have a great idea in mind and don’t want someone’s interruption to derail the story, you have the opportunity to counter the objection and stay the course. Otherwise, your story becomes all the more twisty and memorable for incorporating the silliness of others’ ideas. To win is not to create the most cohesive tale, but the most memorable one, and I’ll not soon forget the tale of one who stole mounds of Fairy cheese through clever use of a cheese ferry.
Stories can often build on each other, too, incorporating details established earlier. For a game that is technically competitive, it draws people into a shared experience. In the end it doesn’t really matter who wins, because you’ve just spent the last sixty minutes laughing over absurdities with your friends.
If you look at this game and think, oh, I don’t think I could come up with a funny story – I say, give it a shot anyway. The rulebook comes with pages of story prompts to get you in the spirit, and you can run from there. No one playing has any good reason to tear down your story – only to make it more outlandish. (And seriously – if you decide to play this game with a spirit of trying to actually ruin everyone else’s story, grow up.) You don’t need to spend a whole evening crafting a tale, either – only a few minutes. Everything about this game keeps the pressure low. There are players in my group who generally stay out of more social-type games who got fully into this game, telling goofy stories and laughing right along with the rest of us.
At 5 minutes a story – usually less, and you should definitely cut people off who are going too long – the game doesn’t take long to play. There’s technically no upper limit to the number of people you can include, although the more people you have the harder it is to remember the early stories when you get around to voting. I’d say it’s best with a group of 5 or 6, and the game will last about 30 minutes at that point. Enough for a good round of stories and enough people to keep the energy high.
Now, you may be wondering – why do I need to purchase a rulebook for sitting around with my friends telling ridiculous tales? It’s a fair question. The core game is so rules-light you could easily just play this on any impromptu occasion without so much as a pen and paper. You get no special components – no tokens for keeping track of money or fancy paper for writing down your character.
Well, for one, you get to support the game designer who put together this ludicrous experience that you never thought to do before. You get pages of prompts to help players who feel less confident about coming up with an idea on the fly. You get pages and more pages of variants, optional rules, ways to make the game easier or more complex depending on your group and your taste. You also get to enjoy reading the zany tales contained with in.
And yes, a completely unstructured game like Baron Munchausen can be played completely without structure, but having the book on hand allows you to have a Thing To Show when you want to play the game, rather than trying to describe it out of thin air. I’ve found that sometimes showing the game (any game, not just this) can be a good modicum for getting things started.
I don’t know that everyone is particularly interested in this sort of open-ended storytelling “game.” A lot of gamers prefer having rules to abide by, dice to roll, cards to play, or at the very least a board for placing wooden cubes. But if you have an inkling of interest, this game certainly brings its fair share of laughter and entertainment. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America for providing a review copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.