The idea of this game sounds completely ludicrous. The mechanic itself of “shuffle-building” is a unique concept, one which I’ve not seen in other games to date (not to be confused with deck-building) and the whole premise of combining fantasy factions in this way sounds like a nerd-fest heaven.
Since its release, Smash Up has had a ton of expansions produced which essentially expand the range of factions available while introducing occasional new mechanics. There are now so many expansions that they even had to release a giant box separately just to store them all in. . . . sadly they didn't think about leaving enough room for the rule books but I digress!
Normally I would review expansions on their own, but in this case, it seems easy enough to incorporate Smash Up as a whole in one review. If you need more incentive to keep reading, did we mention the Sharks have Laser Beams?
Smash Up - The Game
The base game of Smash Up consists of eight factions (I've lost track of how many there are now to date) consisting of almost everything you might expect from a gamer’s childhood arsenal. Pirates, ninjas, dinosaurs (a personal favourite), robots, zombies and more make up a wide range of 20 card decks.
Each player takes two factions of their choice and shuffles the two decks together to make one, 40 card deck which will be their main deck for the game. There are only two types of cards; actions and minions, the latter representing the race themselves and actions being the special abilities. Each minion will likely have its own special ability as well as a power rating.
Base location cards are placed on the table which represent the battlegrounds that the factions will be fighting over. Players take it in turns to place their minions in each base and play any actions to affect the field but may only place one of each per turn. Other than that, there is no additional cost to consider.
Play continues until there is enough cumulative power at each location to reach its break point, represented by the top left number on the location. Once this is reached, each player totals up the power of his minions present and victory points are awarded in the order shown on the location in order of highest to lowest. A new location is laid out to replace the completed one and play continues on until one player reaches 15 victory points.
Got to Look Good when Entering the Battlefield
The cards themselves are of good stock and the image quality is excellent. The imagery is striking and colourful and carries a sense of humour and fun in the game. To make life easier on packing away, each card has a large clear symbol to show which faction the card belongs to, for easy disassembly of the decks once you're done.
Aside from that, you've got a basic box with the means to separate out all the decks and if you've acquire one or two expansions, you'll still be able to fit them all in, while sleeved and with additional tokens that they provide. However, once you go beyond that stage, you run into some issues. There are loads of expansions and more are being released each year.
This is why AEG released the Big Geeky Box expansion which is a giant box with cool plastic dividers that has room for every faction to date and future as well. This looks the business and is near perfect.......I say near because annoyingly it doesn't sit entirely flush when you try to stack eight plus rule books on the top of the cards! If you're going to get serious with Smash Up though, the Geeky Box is an essential purchase.
The only nitpick that most players have with Smash Up component wise is that there's no way to track power on each base before it breaks. You have to frequently engage in a quick maths exercise to work out how much power is there and with all the abilities influencing it, it becomes a bit fiddly to manage.
However, a quick search on BoardGameGeek will reveal files that some users have made that you can print out and laminate at your discretion. There are essentially placemats for the location that have a track around the outside so you can easily see the status of each one. I just simply grabbed some excess translucent cubes from my spares to use as trackers and now it's a piece of cake to monitor break points.
Quick and Brutal Combat
That wasn't a lot of rules in the first segment right ? As you can see Smash Up is really simple to teach and that is a big plus point of the game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tactics to consider. Each faction has its own play style which by themselves requires a specific way to play, but by combining them with another faction that functions completely differently you are able to come up with unique combos and strategies during the slug fest.
To give some examples from the base set:
- Zombies - Can resurrect their own minions after death.
- Pirates - Can hop around each base at specific times.
- Aliens - Keeping bouncing minions and action cards back to player's hands.
- Dinosaurs - Huge power cards with the ability to augment even further.
- Robots - Cheap, cheerful and generally low power, but can spawn rapidly.
So as you can see, each faction is truly unique and that is one of my favourite parts of this game. Even with only the base game there are a lot of combinations available, but throw in all the expansions to date and you’re going to be hard pressed to try them all - in fact I'd say it's almost impossible at this point unless you play Smash Up every day and I wish I could, but sadly...life!
The combinations create some truly unique scenarios during gameplay. Imagine beaming someone’s minion to another base and assassinating him with your Alien-Ninja only to have him retaliate by resurrecting his ultimate Zombie-Dinosaur “King-Rex” from the discard pile to stomp you?
Some may argue that some combinations are better than others and on occasion you may argue that’s the case depending on how your game goes. But I’ve played many games and combinations and a lot of it does come down to the ability of the player using them. Zombies for example get regarded as a powerful faction, but I’ve won plenty of times without using them once yet (they keep getting picked by other new players!)
Also, the game is meant to be a light conflict game, nothing serious whatsoever, therefore you shouldn’t really be too concerned about equal balance - a lot of the fun is in trying out weird and wonderful combos. How about some Dwarven Princesses? Or Vampiric Cyborg Apes?
For me, Smash Up has always shined as a two to three player game - it's more manageable and doesn't overstay its welcome, but you still don't lose that zanyness of the faction combinations.
Final Thoughts on Smash Up
For me, Smash Up is a nerd-fest box of fun in a box. The seemingly endless amount of combinations that the expansions offer give the game some serious longevity and you don't even have to collect them all if you don't want to. It's not difficult to teach, but can overstay its welcome when maxed at four players and you may need to put in a little bit of extra effort and cash to fully streamline the gameplay with the assistance of the Geeky Box and BoardGameGeek files.
Smash Up shouldn’t be taken seriously; it’s a fun, light interactive, combat game where you can indulge your “nerd” spirit within. The base set alone will cater for a while, but eventually if you become a fan, you'll want to invest in some of the expansions - just pick one based on the theme you like, though if you want my recommendation, you can leave out the Cthluhu one till last. Now let's try some Robot Bear Cavalry. . .