Expansion Review – Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000

It’s been a few months since I’ve done a Smash Up expansion review. Between the Christmas holidays and work stuff getting the way, it’s taken a while to get the required three plays in to review the first of the five new expansions I bought recently (I am all caught up now except the two I don’t want!).

It’s only fitting that I started going through all of the expansions with the Awesome Level 9000 one.


It was the first expansion to the game that came out in 2013. It’s also the first expansion to come out for the Smash Up app.

The factions in this one are interesting with one rather unique one.

The factions are also not quite as refined as some subsequent ones have been. That doesn’t matter too much, though, as they are still fun to play!

As with previous expansion reviews, I’m not going to go over how to play Smash Up. You can go to the original review for that one.

Designer Paul Peterson and the zany crew at AEG really came up with some interesting ideas in this one. There’s really no theme to the faction selection in Awesome Level 9000, but was there ever really until recently? Sure, Cease & Desist had the theme of “beloved licensed properties that we could get sued over,” but that came a bit later.

Here are the four factions we’ll be covering today.

  • Bear Cavalry
  • Ghosts
  • Killer Plants
  • Steampunks

This expansion doesn’t really introduce any new mechanics, but it does some interesting things with the mechanics that came in the base game.

Let’s start with the Bear Cavalry, since those bears are giving me the once over.

Back off! I’m not food!

Awesome - Bear Cavalry

Artist: Gong Studios

Bear Cavalry have a distinctive Russian feel that I’m not quite sure I understand. Are Russians known for employing bears in their army? Other than that one quote about “in Soviet Russia, the bear rides you.”?

Or is it a parody of something from movies or some other media?

Bear Cavalry really like to move other players’ minions around, and then often destroy them (sometimes at the same time!) as well as preventing their own minions from being destroyed. They also have some minion movement of their own.

They do have some killer cards. General Ivan is a 6 strength! And he prevents your minions from being destroyed (though not from being affected by other players’ cards, which means they can still be moved and/or returned to decks/hands).

The Cub Scout shown above can be deceptive. On his own, he’s a great way (along with cards that move other minions) to kill off some lower-level minions. By itself, it only works on the 2-power minions (and the rare 1-power ones).

However, as a recent game demonstrated to me, it gets much better if you also have something that buffs him! Sadly, Bear Cavalry do lack any kind of minion buffs like that. You’ll have to depend on your other faction.

In my game, the Cub Scout was buffed to 6 and was a killing machine when placed at a base that said “at the start of your turn, you may move another player’s minion to this base.”


The Bear Cavalry actions are pretty much along the same lines. Move minions (either yours or theirs) or prevent them from being destroyed.

For me, this is a very basic faction except for that one card. The Cub Scout making your moving of minions suddenly become your murdering them is so cool and a great tactic if you can pull it off.

Otherwise, while the faction is fun and the art is nice, it’s not a big “must-play” for me.

I do love the card names, though (“You’re Screwed”)

Awesome - Ghosts

Artist: Yating Sun

Ghosts, on the other hand are a very distinctive faction, especially this early in the Smash Up universe.

This is where Awesome Level 9000 starts to get cool.

Ghosts are one of the rare factions that want as few cards in your hand as possible.

Spectre can be played from your discard pile if you have 2 cards or fewer in your hand. That’s pretty handy. (Editor – you really went there?)

The Spirit makes it easier to have a small hand by having you discard cards to destroy another minion, which is also pretty neat. Two benefits in one!

Haunting actually gets more powerful if you have few cards in your hand.

What this all means is don’t pair Ghosts with any faction that likes a lot of cards in hand or has a lot of draw power. Ghosts will become almost useless in that case.

Make Contact is the first action in Smash Up to actually take control of another player’s minion. That would probably explain the really awkward verbiage on the card that essentially says “take control of this minion.”

Thankfully Peterson and the Smash Up guys rectified that in future expansions.

You also really have to discard a lot in order to play the card anyway, as it has to be the last card in your hand.

I found Ghosts really fun but also really difficult to play well. That being said, they won 2 of the 3 games we played with them, so what do I know?

Once again, the artwork is great, bringing an almost surreal quality to the cards.


Awesome - Killer Plants

Artists: Dinobot Illustrations

Killer Plants are classic monsters (“Feed me, Seymour. Feed me!”) and well worth inclusion in Smash Up.

They concentrate on placing minions and growing them, either through extra minion play or perhaps replacing one minion with a another one. Their actions do a number of things, from letting you play extra minions to preventing your minions from getting moved and even destroying other players’ minions.

The Sprouts are cool. After you plant play them, next turn they’ll become something else!

Assuming they live that long.

Everybody wants to kill the plants.

The interesting thing about that is that it takes place in the “Start of Turn” phase. So you are playing that extra minion prior to your “Play Cards” phase. That could have some repercussions for the other players.

Or maybe not.

The Killer Plants also have two different (three cards in total) 5-power minions (one shown above). Venus Man Trap allows more minion play just like so many other Killer Plant cards.

The Weed Eater (not pictured) has -2 power on the turn you play it, so it kind of sits there hibernating until your turn is over. You may not break a base with it but then it will become more powerful when the next player is trying to break the base.

Killer Plant actions are also along all the same lines as mentioned above, except for Overgrowth (pictured above).

Overgrowth brings the base’s break point down to zero at the start of your turn. Usually that doesn’t help too much because play has to come back around to you before that happens. Other players have a lot of time to prepare for it (or play a card that destroys Overgrowth).

But if you can manage to somehow get it played in the “Start of Turn” phase, that’s gravy man! (Editor – ewwww, gravy on salads?)

Overall, the Killer Plants are a pretty good faction with some good combinations.

Playing the “Blossom” action above when you have three Sprouts in your hand is a great play!

If they last until your next turn.

Then again, if you pair Killer Plants with a good faction that has multiple copies of a cool minion and manage to get that minion into your hand, that would be great too.

The art on the cards is decent, but not my favourite among all of the many Smash Up factions out there.

If you love playing lots of minions, Killer Plants can certainly satisfy that urge.

Awesome - Steampunks

Artist: Conceptopolis

Finally, we come to my favourite faction, though perhaps also the most overpowered, in this expansion.

The Steampunks are just so interesting. The art is a nice throwback Victorian Steam style and the cards go really well together.

Fans of Smash Up who have read my previous reviews might have realized that I’m really a fan of factions that work the “Play on a Base” actions to their benefit.

Steampunks do that very well. I’d love to play them with the Truckers one day.

Since Steampunks love actions, we’ll start with those.

Rotary Slug Throwers give every one of your minions on that base +2 power. That can be huge if you have multiple minions there.

But that’s not the coolest.

Aggromotive has to be the best card I’ve seen in a while, and it almost seems overpowered considering you only have to have a minion on the base to activate it.

Getting +5 power on a base is almost always going to put you in first place unless you play your cards very badly.

This is especially true if Steam Queen is out there, meaning that your actions can’t be affected by other players’ cards. It’s there for eternity, baby!

Or at least until the base scores (or Steam Queen leaves play).

Even the minions are interesting on the Steampunks!

There are four copies of Captain Ahab in your deck.

This is the card that I paired with the Blossom action from the Killer Plant faction. I managed to get three copies of Captain Ahab in my hand and plunked them down on a base with Blossom.

They then moved around freely as I had actions on at least two of the bases that were in play.

Nothing like a Steampunk Storm to be so satisfying!

I love the Steampunks to death, even if I do think they can be a bit too much.

Aggromotive on a base. Win the base. Then play either the Mechanic (“Choose an action in your discard pile that can be played on a base and play it as an extra action”) or the Scrap Diving action (“Place an action from your discard pile into your hand.”). Rinse, repeat.

There are two copies each of Mechanic and Scrap Diving, so you can really be set if you can manage that.

All of that may be too good to be true and you may not succeed that often at it.

But it’s fun to think about.

I love the art and I love this faction.

That is all.

Awesome - Bases

So how are the bases?

They’re pretty standard with a some cool twists.

Inventor’s Salon is just going to make the Steampunks even happier (though thankfully for the other players, Aggromotive will not go to the discard pile before the winner make their choice if it’s on this base when it scores).

I love how weak minions are not allowed at the Tsar’s Palace (though they can be moved in).

The Steampunks hate the Dread Gazebo. However, the other Ghost base has players discard a card if they play a minion there. Ghosts will love that, but nobody else will (unless you have a high-draw deck where you’re going to be discarding due to hand limits anyway).

Overall, I’d have to say that Awesome Level 9000 is a decent expansion, and probably was a breath of fresh air when it came out.

Playing it new after a lot of the later expansions means that it’s not as fresh and seems a bit more run of the mill.

The Ghosts have an interesting mechanic (that unfortunately doesn’t always play well with others) and the Steampunks are awesome (maybe too awesome), but ultimately I’d have to say that this is a good expansion to have but not one that you really need to seek out if you have some of the other ones.

For completionists only, or maybe if you don’t have any other expansions.

Then again, those Steampunks…

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

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