My first Smash Up review in almost two years!
One of my pandemic lock-down games purchases (and yes, there were many…too many) was the latest Smash Up expansion, this time done as a co-production with the OP and thus including the Marvel Comics license.
Smash Up: Marvel was designed by Sean Fletcher and Paul Peterson (thankfully Peterson still had a hand in it) with artists that aren’t credited to my knowledge. It was published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) and the OP in 2020.
This is another Smash Up base set, so it has eight factions instead of four. However, I’m classifying it as an expansion because it is fully compatible with the original game and factions can be mixed and matched with original factions.
I explained how to play Smash Up in my review of the base set, so I’m not going to get into that here.
Instead, I’m going to talk about a few of the small changes (mostly in terminology) as well as the factions themselves.
Is this worth getting?
Let’s take a look.
Most of the changes to the rules and terminology are basic and easy to understand.
First, and most importantly, Marvel didn’t like their heroes to be called “Minions” (it sounded like they all work for Thanos), so they are called “Characters” in Smash Up: Marvel. All rules that apply to Minions also apply to characters, and vice versa. So you can combine sets with no problems.
Secondly, and this change I’m not sure what the purpose is, Actions that you play on Minions (sorry, Characters…this is going to take some getting used to) are now called “Modifiers.” So if the original card would have been “Play on a Base/Minion,” it is now called a “Minion (sorry, Character!)/Base Modifier.”
Finally, “Move” used to be only for Minions while “transfer” was for actions that were played on Bases.
Now “Move” applies to both.
Maybe it’s nice to streamline those things, so I’m not going to complain about that.
I do like that they keep some of the terminology intact and explain things so that they make sense if you do combine them with other Smash Up sets.
For example, a few of the Actions/Characters refer to the “Owner” of the Character. There are no cards in Smash Up: Marvel that transfer control of Characters to another player, but they keep that terminology in there in case you play with a faction that does take control of other players’ Minions.
So all in all, I’m happy with the changes, or at least satisfied that they are easy to incorporate into regular Smash Up.
Before getting into the factions, I have to say that I like the dividers for all of these factions. This is if you want to mix them all into your Smash Up: Bigger Box. These are the only dividers in the entire system that not only tell you about the faction but also give a complexity for them.
I think they did a good job with mostly differentiating the factions from others that are already in Smash Up. Sure, some of the individual abilities or Bases might be similar, but overall they are quite distinctive.
Now let’s talk about the factions. There are a lot of them!
So stay with me.
The Avengers are an interesting faction because they only have a few Characters, but they all have 5 strength. They still have the total power of 30 that most factions have, but with only six Characters, they are all really high-powered individuals.
The other things that’s cool about them is that each Character has an Action that applies to them. The Action is still pretty good if its parent Character isn’t out, but it becomes almost insane if it’s paired with the Character.
Look at the above. Hawkeye is a Character that, when you play him, allows you to draw three cards and then discard two (you can discard from your hand too, not just the ones you drew).
Hawkeye’s Arrows let you reveal cards from your deck until you reveal two Actions. You can then draw the Actions into your hand. However, if Hawkeye is in play, you can play both of those Actions as extra Actions.
Holy crap! That could be quite a lot of Actions!
The Avengers also have other Actions that give you benefits, like J.A.R.V.I.S, which is a Base Modifier letting you draw and then discard a card. Not too bad overall.
The Characters themselves are quite good even without their associated Action. Captain America shows his leadership by giving each Character with him +1 Power until the end of the turn.
Having 14 Actions in their deck, and only 6 that are related to specific Characters, that does allow them some variety as well.
They’re an interesting, low-complexity faction that pretty much anybody new to Smash Up can play, and I like them for that.
Even more so if you play them with a Minion/Character-heavy faction to make up for that particular deficiency.
The Avengers are a nice faction, not too hard to use, but potentially bad when you don’t draw Characters for quite a while. I enjoyed them.
Hydra is a faction that depends on flooding the table with low-power Characters and also possibly destroying some of them for even greater benefits.
Look at Arnim Zola above (of which there are three copies of him). He gets +1 power for each Character on the same base that has power 2 or less. Since Hydra has 6 “Hydra Agents” that are 2 power (not pictured), that can be amazing!
The other way that Hydra benefits is sometimes by destroying one of their own Characters. Both Hail Hydra and Two More Shall Take Its Place Actions give you great benefits if you destroy your own Characters. And since Hydra has so many (12 in total, more than the usual 10 Characters), destroying Characters is not necessarily a bad thing!
I love Two More Shall Take Its Place just because it lets you put two Characters of power 2 or less out when you destroy a Character. Since you will most likely be destroying a 2-power Character, that will be a bonus!
Even more so when the Hydra Agents have the power “Ongoing: After this character is destroyed, play up to two extra characters of power 2 or less here.” If you have a hand of 2-power Characters, that can be up to 4 extra Characters!
Basically, Hydra will let you swarm bases, which is pretty cool.
Pairing them with the Avengers (I know, that doesn’t sound right at all, but forget it, Jake, this is Smash Up, right?) will alleviate the lack of Characters on the former faction.
Their complexity is rated at Medium-High, probably because for newbies it’s hard to visualize chaining together all of those wonderful extra Character plays.
Still, they don’t seem that hard, and they are fun to play.
The Kree love playing extra Actions and benefiting from them.
The Kree get their power from Actions played, sometimes as extra Actions and sometimes just by themselves.
The Kree Sentry above is only a 2-power Character (so goes well with Hydra!) but if you are able to play extra Actions, they gain even more power until the end of the turn.
And isn’t it cool that many of their Actions allow you to play an extra Action (like Speed Up and It Begins above)?
The Supreme Intelligence doesn’t even need extra Actions. It just gives +1 each time you play an Action.
Holy crap, combine that with Speed Up and somebody’s getting a buttload of power!!
They can ramp up the Power pretty quickly if they can get their Action engine going. Of course, if you pair them with a Character-heavy faction (which, Hydra is one, so maybe my earlier praise was premature), you may not get the Actions you need to keep going.
These guys will kill anybody if they play with the Wizards from the base game.
You may run out of cards in your hand, you’re playing so many Actions.
Their complexity is Low-Medium and that makes sense. It’s not too hard to figure out how to play them, just mainly having to learn how the Action mechanism works. That can take a bit of work if you’re not familiar with the game, though.
This is probably one of my favourite factions in this edition, mainly for how they feed off of Action play.
I’ll never turn them down.
Masters of Evil
This is such an interesting faction! Mainly due to the fact that you get victory points in different ways, if you’re able to pull it off.
Look at all of the cards above.
Acceptable Losses lets you destroy a (admittedly high-power) character in order to gain a VP. That can be quite handy, especially if you’re going to lose a base anyway and you have another Character there to make sure you get the 3rd place points.
Convergence rewards you for congregating all in one place and all you have to do is Move a Character!
Baron Zemo just gives you a VP if he’s at a Base when it scores. Doesn’t matter if you win it or not. And you get to keep him in your deck (though at the bottom of it)! Though that might be bad if you have other cards that can manipulate your discard pile (maybe not good with Zombies).
This is a mechanic I haven’t really seen before (this is where Smash Up aficionados tell me that they’ve seen it way too often) and I really love it.
You do have to work to make it happen, though, which would probably explain the “high” complexity.
I haven’t quite figured out how best to use this faction yet, which is why it’s not at the top of my list. However, it intrigues me the most and I’d love to play them a few more times to see what I can do with them.
This is another faction that likes low-powered Characters, which makes it ironic when you pair it with Hydra, given how they hate each other.
This is the first faction where I don’t really care for the art too much.
It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really grab me.
Anyway, S.H.I.E.L.D. likes to play extra low-power characters but they don’t excel at destroying them to do so like Hydra does. If you get to play Nick Fury, you don’t even need to have the Character you play be low-power!
I like Rescue Mission because it lets you basically salvage all of the Characters at the scoring base (though again, that does make it difficult to pair with factions that manipulate the discard pile).
Proving Ground lets you always play an extra Character as long as they aren’t super-powered. Which is always nice.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. faction is one of the basic factions, with not a lot of variety or complexity to it. That could be why it’s rated “low” complexity. You just play Characters and maybe play more Characters, trying to flood Bases with your power.
Not too exciting, which is why it’s not one of my favourite factions (though pairing it with Hydra is a lot of fun).
This is an extremely fun faction because it has the rare concentration of lowering Base breakpoints and then getting benefits from them.
Just look at Reroute the Power. Getting +3 power to a character if the Base’s breakpoint is 19 or less is amazing! Especially when you combine it with other Actions or Characters that lower the breakpoint. Pressure From All Sides can really bring a Base’s breakpoint low if there are enough Characters there.
And if the breakpoint is already 19 or below? Bonus!
Doctor Octopus lets you really lower the Base’s breakpoint. Sandman gets more power if it is lowered (or even if it’s already naturally 19 or below).
Incite Panic (not pictured) gives each other players’ Characters -1 power and prevents them from playing Special cards if the breakpoint of the base is 19 or less.
This faction is almost as fun as the Kree!
And I love the artwork as well, though maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for Spider-Man and his rogues gallery (which the Sinister Six is made up of).
I really enjoy this faction, especially if it’s paired with another faction that loves Base modifiers (like the Truckers).
The Spider-Verse faction loves Specials.
It loves them a lot.
Many of the cards are Specials, and while if you play them as a Special they will have less power, it’s still the fact that you can play them as a Special!
All of the above cards except the 5-power Spider-Man are Specials, and that applies to many of the cards in the faction.
Even though Spider-Man isn’t a Special, he does like them!
Every time you play a card with a Special ability, it gets +1 Power. If he’s at a Base that’s 1 Power away from breaking, and you play a Special on another breaking Base, boom! This one’s breaking too (that may be good or bad).
Thus, when you’re playing the Spider-Verse faction, you can never be totally sure that a Base that you’re breaking is going to break in your favour (unless, you know, you have like 10 more Power than anybody else there).
It’s a really fun faction for that reason, especially if you combine it with a faction that also has some extra Specials (though nobody has as many as the Spider-Verse cards do).
They are very versatile and can help you even if playing a Special won’t win you the Base. “Spider Sense” just lets you draw 2 cards if you play a Special. It may be worth it! Though you may not want to waste the Special on that particular Base that’s breaking.
But who knows?
A fun faction, classified as Medium complexity (probably because of the chaining Special cards), I would definitely be willing to include these in any of my games.
Finally, we have the Ultimates, which sadly is one of the blandest factions in the game (or at least this expansion).
The Ultimates really love moving Characters around, and getting more Power when you do so.
They do have one or two nice Specials, like Scramble which allows you to Move a Character to another Base when it’s scoring. Combined with some other Ultimates Characters (like Blue Marvel above), that could be beneficial to you and winning the Base.
Or maybe just put you in 2nd place.
Either way, it can be good.
Power and Speed lets you Move a Character to another base and give it +2 Power, which is definitely nice.
What the Ultimates allow you to do is play Characters to different Bases and then, when you want to score a vulnerable Base, swoop in to overpower all of the other Characters there.
Which can come in handy.
But for some reason, factions that like Moving just aren’t as exciting to me as other ones.
Maybe I just like Moooore Pooooooower!!!!!
That could be it.
As usual, this one comes with two Bases for each faction, and those Bases have some similarity to the abilities of the Characters in the faction.
I really like Symkaria (a Masters of Evil Base) because it gives the winner 4 points, but the losers get none. The ability of the Base, though, means that each loser gets 1 VP per Character they have there.
So it could (not likely, but conceivably) be more points than the winner gets!
Downtown is definitely a Sinister Six Base, as it relies on Base Modifiers to let you draw a card.
Hala is a great Base for the Kree, where if you have a Character there, you get to play an extra Action. And Kree love extra Actions!
They are pretty cool and very thematic.
Smash Up: Marvel is the first “base game” expansion that Smash Up has had in a while (if ever?). I like that the factions have variable difficulties so hopefully it will attract those people who love Marvel but aren’t familiar with Smash Up.
I was a bit concerned when this was announced. I thought it might suffer from being more IP-related rather than related to Smash Up.
But I think the OP and Alderac have done a great job incorporating the Marvel license into an expansion that adds something new to the entire Smash Up franchise.
Kudos to them, and we’ll see if there are any more collaborative releases or if we go back to the kind of silly expansions that AEG is known for.
(This review was written after 3 plays with various faction combinations)
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