Expansion Review – Smash Up: Culture Shock

Once again I happen to be current in regards to having new Smash Up expansions! Even though this review is four months after my last expansion review (blame Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein for that one, since it held up my pre-order for two whole months!)

Makes me want to Smash Up something. (Editor – Ouch, that was bad…)

Anyway, I’ve finally been able to get enough plays with these 5(!) new factions, enough so that I feel comfortable sharing them with you, like a fairy tale or old story to tell around the camp fire.

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Gather ’round, children, as I tell you the tale of Smash Up – World Tour: Culture Shock, the latest expansion to come out before all of the officially licensed stuff starts coming out next year.

This expansion is the first one to have 5 new factions since It’s You’re Fault came out a few years ago (incidentally, that is now the last expansion I don’t have other than the two I have no intention of getting). That did make testing it out for reviewing’s sake a bit tough with our 3-player group, since we had to find one older faction to use with them.

But we managed (Aliens, Wizards, and Grannies fit the bill respectively in those three plays).

How is the expansion?

A bit more complicated than we’re used to, but overall the factions are really interesting and fun to play.

As with previous expansion reviews, I’m not going to go into an in-depth description of how to play. You can check out my review of the base game for that one.

Designer Paul Peterson and the other fun folk at Alderac Entertainment Group have pulled out all the stops, submitted their travel claims to the bosses, and brought us factions from around the world.

That’s right, with International Incident covering North America, Europe, and northern Asia, Culture Shock brings us other parts of the globe.

The five factions are:

  • Anansi Tales (Africa)
  • Ancient Incas (South America)
  • Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Central Europe)
  • Polynesian Voyagers (South Pacific)
  • Russian Fairy Tales (Europe/Asia)

These factions have so many new and interesting mechanics that it’s a lot of fun trying to explore them all. I also find them very thematic with their ablities.

I will have to say that this is a much more complicated expansion than World Tour: International Incident and perhaps one of the most complicated expansions I’ve played with. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your players, of course.

This expansion introduces a mechanic where you play a card off the top of your deck (either a minion or an action). This basically means that you reveal cards from the top of your deck until you reveal the required card. That then gets played. Shuffle the others you revealed back into your deck.

Another complication, but a good one I think.

Let’s start with the Polynesian Voyagers, since they seem to be chomping at the bit to get out of here.

Smash Up - Polynesian Voyagers

Artist: Francisco Rico Torres

This faction is obviously based off of how the original Polynesians island hopped and populated the South Pacific islands, finding new territory to become extensions of their homes.

It’s based on a couple of different things: discovering new islands (bases) that add to the bases that are already out there, as well as moving around from base to base to get more powerful.

Wayfinder is a minion who gets more powerful the more you move her to bases that don’t have any of your minions yet. She can be a nice trailblazer to a later base though she doesn’t help you much in the near term. She’s more of an investment than anything else. Once she’s played, it’s a free move to go from base to base, so you can build up her strength and then finally move her to a base that you want to really fight for.

Maui is the Big Kahuna of this faction, the 5-power minion that really throws his weight around. Playing him will let you bring up to two new bases out into play. Perfect to give Wayfinder a lot of targets!

Not only does he do that on being played, but his talent can move one of your minions to a base where you don’t have any minions. This can let you do some more trailblazing to the new bases he created. It can also help if you’re paired with factions that get powerful when moved (maybe Changerbots?)

Growth of the Tribes will let you trailblaze with an extra minion. No need to move around to get to that base where you don’t have anybody else!

Finally, Volcanic Uprising is another vomiting up of new bases. It can be a nice way to destroy a base that you don’t like that’s out there (assuming nobody’s actually there) and you’ll always get an extra base out of the deal. Keep that going and the table might be flooded with bases!

Other actions (not pictured) for this faction concentrate on this faction being spread out among bases, so whether or not that’s something you want to do is a matter for debate. Knowledge of the Tribes lets you draw a card for every base where you have a minion.

Unity of the Tribes lets you choose a base where you have a minion and get +2 for every base where you have a minion (that could be a big boost!).

Overall I enjoy this faction though it’s not my favourite. It has a mix of strengths (I didn’t even mention the Tiki minion that gets +1 for each action played on it, and there are 5 actions that have “play on a minion” abilities in the faction) but it’s mainly based on spreading out as much as possible. Other than with Unity of the Tribes, I’m not sure how that helps overall unless you pair it with a faction that has extra action/extra minion plays (there are a couple of cards in this faction that do, but that’s it)

It’s definitely a fun faction, though. And the artwork is very adorable and makes you feel like you are in the South Pacific.

Smash Up - Anansi Tales

Artist: Gunship Revolution

The Anansi Tales faction is geared around spreading your stories to other players. And maybe getting some stories back in return. Remember the weirdness that resulted from the Vikings faction which allowed them to take cards from other players’ hands and play them?

This turns that up to 11 but this time you’re giving, not taking! And getting more powerful for the giving (because everybody knows that the act of giving just makes you a better person).

Look at Akye the Turtle. When you play him (it?) on a base, you get to place a card from your hand into another player’s hand. Why would you want to do that? In this case, it’s to draw two cards.

However, pair him up with Osebo the Leopard and look what happens. Osebo gets a +1 power counter each time you put a card into somebody’s hand!

It’s almost like they designed it this way.

Trading Stories allows you to seed some other combinations by placing up to three cards from your hand into other players’ hands to draw a card for each one. This will become much more important if you have other minions out (or actions in your hand) that benefit when other players play a card they don’t own.

Onini the Python (not pictured) gets +1 power every time another player plays or discards a card they don’t own. Mboro the Hornet (also not pictured) is a special 4-power minion. If another player plays or discards a card they don’t own, then you get to play Mboro immediately.

Or you could just play Collecting Stories and play one of the cards you own from their hands. It’s like they’re just holding it for you!

I love this faction and its mechanism! Sometimes you can get a bit held up when the other players avoid playing/discarding your cards (Onini is pointless without it), but even then you are clogging up their hand. If they reach the 10-card maximum, they either have to discard one of your cards (which triggers your stuff) or they have to get rid of one of theirs.

The concept of treating your cards as “stories” and passing them around is just fabulous.

Still, they can be hard to play if you don’t quite “get” them and you may find yourself feeling grumpy that nobody is playing your cards and letting you unleash your cool combo.

Sure, you’re clogging their hand, but that’s not exactly fun, is it? The fun is in the combos!

It’s still a great faction, though.

Smash Up - Grimms' Fairy Tales

Artist: Studio 2Minds

The Grimms’ Fairy Tales faction is all about pairings to add to your power. They are based on the Grimms’ Fairy Tales from Germany, with Hansel & Gretel, Snow White, Rumpelstiltsken, etc.

Many of the minions in this faction are pairs and get more powerful if they’re at the same base as their partner. Hansel & Gretel above, for example. Both 2-power minions but both get +2 if they are on a base together. Red Rose and The Other Snow White (getting around that Disney thing!) also have the same abilities. Prince Charming and Charming Princess allow you to play an extra minion and an extra action if they are together.

Beautiful symmetry!

Many of the Grimms’ actions feed into this. Teamwork lets you go find somebody’s partner to play them at the same base.

Grimms’ Blessing is a base action that basically acts as every other minion’s partner (as long as you have at least two minions there). This effectively makes it so that the minion’s partner effect will be triggered at the base. So having Red Rose and Gretel at the same base along with Grimms’ Blessing will give them both +2 power.

It’s amazing how that works.

This is a fun faction to play and yet again is a bit unique. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a faction that depends so much on being paired with specific cards (other than perhaps the Robots and their microbots, but those aren’t specific cards, just specific types of minions)

The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, but kind of creepy. I think it’s those big eyes.

I like it, though.

Smash Up - Russian Fairy Tales

Artists: Gong Studios and Felicia Cano (Toad minion)

The Russian Fairy Tales faction is quite interesting. It’s completely based on transformation and changing minions into other minions (or maybe just shuffling them back into a player’s deck instead).

This faction is the main one that does the “Play X off the top of your deck” action (though none of the cards are actually shown here).

The 5-power Baba Yaga (I love that name) has a Talent that lets you put another minion at that base on the bottom of its owner’s deck to have them play a minion off the top. Thus, if you force them to do that with their 5-power minion, it might transform into a super-weak one!

For the cards pictured, I love the Toad. It has no power and you give control of it to another player, forcing them to shuffle one of their minions into its owner’s deck. They go from having some power to none! Not to mention the fact that if they happen to be controlling one of your minions, it goes back to the owner’s (i.e. your) deck.

Even better!

Mass Transformation just has everybody put their hands on the bottom of their deck and draw an equal number of cards. That could be quite handy, depending on the situation.

Finally, one of the best card titles in this game (along with another card in this faction, “Fetch, I Know Not What”), the “Go, I Know Not Whither” allows you to have each player (including yourself) at a base shuffle one of their minions back into their deck. A good way to get rid of something nasty.

The Russian Fairy Tales can be quite interesting, but it’s not my favourite faction out there. There is a lot of deck manipulation going on, both of your deck and your opponents’. I do like the transforming of minions into other ones, though.

The artwork on this faction, though, is fantastic. I really love it. It gives the old world feeling of Russian folk tales. It’s really evocative.

I’ll definitely enjoy playing it, but not one of my favourites.

Smash Up - Ancient Incas

Artist: Francisco Rico Torres

Finally, we get to my favourite faction in this expansion. The Ancient Incas do work a little bit like the Truckers in that they have a lot of “play on base” actions that then build on each other. Put those two factions together, and watch out!

Even their minions get in on the action!

Look at the Incan Engineer above, which lets you find a “Play on a base” action and put it into your hand. Getting you ready for powerful base-scoring goodness!

Or Child of the Sun, which lets you play an extra action each turn after the first time you play a “Play on a base” action. That can really let things add up.

The Armory builds up your strength the more base actions you play on that base. Get two Armory cards on the same base and watch out! Getting +4 power each time you play another action on a base can be quite…stimulating.

Probably my favourite action in this faction, though, is Signs in the Stars. This one has you turn the top card of the Base deck over. The base it’s played on gets the ability of that base in addition to its own. However, at the beginning of somebody’s turn, they can flip over face down again until the end of their turn.

It also has a Talent for you that lets you put the top base on the bottom of the base deck, getting you a new ability for its current base.

I love that! Again, more complicated than usual, but still a lot of fun.

Easily the best faction in this expansion, in my opinion (hey, it’s my blog, of course it’s my opinion!) The artwork is great (Child of the Sun looks so happy!) and I love the interaction of the cards. Considering my love of this one and the Truckers, I guess I’m really a sucker for “Play on a base” factions.

Smash Up - Culture Shock Bases

There are 11 bases in this expansion, which is great. Not only do you have 2 bases each for 5 factions instead of the usual 4 factions, but the Polynesian Voyagers have a third base! I guess because they island-hopped so much.

There are a number of bases (at least three, anyway) that have very high break points but have ways to adjust them. The Giant Turnip reduces its break point by one for each minion on it, while Cuzcu goes down by 3 for each action played on it. Storyteller’s Hut lets you play an extra action on your turn. If you do, place a counter on the base and each counter reduces the break point by 2.

I like bases that have variable break points. It makes it more interesting. Letting you play an extra action makes it even better!

Otherwise, the bases are your typical “let’s give everybody who plays here a power that is usually restricted to that faction,” but at least it does it in an interesting manner.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the Culture Shock expansion, much more than International Incident (which I also rated quite highly, though not up to my favourite). The factions in this one add a bunch of more complicated mechanisms which I think is a good thing.

It may not be for everybody, though.

I’ve seen the occasional mystified look as a player reads one of the cards.

Once you get used to them, though, you can really go haywire with them.

(This review was written after playing with these factions 3 times)

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