When you’re sitting down to watch The Walking Dead or some other zombie movie, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind?
No, not “ohhh, ain’t Darryl hot?”
The first thing that goes through my mind is that this show could use a dinosaur or a space alien.
Or maybe a Dumbledore.
For those of us with a similar mindset, Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) has us covered, with the hit game (with an ever expanding list of expansions) Smash Up.
Designed by Paul Peterson, with artwork by Dave Allsop, Bruno Balixa, Conceptopolis, and Francisco Rico Torres, this 2012 game lets you “smash up” (Ha! I see what you did there) two classic factions into a deck of cards that you will use to stomp your opponents.
The game plays 2-4 players.
So How Does it Work?
This is a review of just the base game and factions. The factions included are: Dinosaurs, Pirates, Zombies, Aliens, Robots, Wizards, Tricksters, and Ninjas.
In Smash Up, each player forms a deck of 40 cards from two 20-card faction decks. The factions can be chosen in a drafting manner or randomly or however you want to do it.
Out on the table, you will place a series of “bases” equal to the number of players plus one. These bases are what will “score” and will get you the points that you need to win.
On your turn, you are able to play one Minion and one Action, in any order, from your hand. Minions are played to a base of your choice and the power of the Minion (the number in the top left corner) will add to the total power at the base.
When you play a Minion to a Base, you then do its ability, if you can. For example, the Gnome above lets you destroy a Minion at the same base with the power less than the number of minions you have there. If you only have two Minions there and everybody else’s Minions have strength two or more, then nothing happens.
Actions will let you do something. Sometimes, it will let you play another Action, or another Minion, or some other effect.
The “Cannon” action above lets you destroy up to two Minions of power 2 or less. Doesn’t matter which base they’re on.
After you’ve finished playing your cards, you check to see if a Base “breaks.” This means that the total power of Minions (and Actions, if those Actions affect the power there) equals or exceeds the “break point” of the base (number at the top left corner of the Base).
When that happens, the Base scores. First, any Actions or Minions with “Special” abilities that happen when a Base scores can be played. Then, whoever has the most Power gets the first number of points, second gets the middle score and third place gets the left score.
Then, the Base’s effect happens, if there is one. All Minions and Actions from that base go to the owning player’s discard pile (unless a Base effect says otherwise).
Some Bases don’t have scoring abilities but instead have abilities that affect play, such as giving the owner of a destroyed Minion at that base 1 victory point.
Once scoring is done, the current player draws two cards and play proceeds.
Lather, rinse, repeat until somebody gets 15 points! The game ends immediately when that happens.
Is Smash Up and epic battle between a Ninja and a Pirate? Or is it a bunch of Zombies wandering aimlessly around?
This is a game that had to grow on me a bit. My first play of the game, it was all right, but it didn’t really grab me. Then I played a 2-player game of it and I really didn’t care for it.
I even had put it on my “To Trade” pile of games.
Then I tried it again with two other players, and really enjoyed it! I bought an expansion, adding four more factions (review of that one coming up), and have played it a couple more times.
And I find myself really enjoying it now.
There are a few niggly bits that keep me from giving it my highest recommendation, however.
First, it is very fiddly and you’ll find yourself constantly doing math, trying to check to see if a Base is ready to break. “I have 6 power there, you have 5…oh wait, that Minion’s ability gives me +1 power, so that means 8 because there are 2 Minions there…”
My head hurts.
It’s a constant thing as you try to figure out where to play a Minion.
Secondly, it can be a table hog, especially at 4 players. You need to lay out the bases so that each player has a place to play his/her cards there. It can get confusing where everything is, unless you have a huge table, in which case you then may have trouble reading the Base or Minion abilities on a Base across the table.
Finally, the game is best-played at 3 players. Two players is just not that fun and while four players can be fun, it can really drag and take longer than it should sometimes.
All of that being said, in the right circumstances, Smash Up is a really fun game of take-that and playing some fun factions. Each faction has its unique theme and ability that really differentiates them.
Zombies do a lot with their discard pile, resurrecting Minions from it and placing them right from the grave, often enabling you to swarm a Base with zombies.
Wizards do a lot of Actions and drawing from your deck. Dinosaurs are all about power.
Tricksters are probably the most interesting faction, doing things like protecting your Minions from other Actions, or making it expensive for others to do things, or even prohibit it (like the Leprechaun)
I love the chaos of this game, as long as it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I think the big draw of it is the combination of two factions making up your deck.
Who can resist Zombie Ninjas?
Some factions work better together than others, but all of them will make interesting decks when they are combined. Putting Wizards with another Action-heavy faction will really have you playing cards right and left on your turn. But you may not have the Minion strength to actually win.
It’s a delicious tug of war sometimes.
The game is really easy to pick up and explain, though all of the different abilities and card actions can take a bit of time to really absorb. That can really add to the play time if you’re playing with new players.
Experienced Smash Up players will play a lot faster as they’re not having to read each card carefully.
Overall, I have to give Smash Up a big thumb up as it is a really fun game. If it wasn’t so fiddly and math-heavy, I’d probably give it that second thumb, but as it is, it’s still a game that will stay in my collection, with more expansions added to it as time goes on.
It’s a great game to play at work during lunch hour, or as an appetizer before your big game day.
(This review was written after 5 plays)
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