Review – Smash Up

Smash Up is a “shufflebuilding game of total awesomeness” from AEG, and was one of the big hits at GenCon 2012. Smash Up has each player combine two decks of internet-meme-themed factions (the shufflebuilding) and then battle it out to see all of whose base belongs to whom (the total awesomeness). Smash Up retails for about $30.

We’ve been playing now for much too long
And never gonna dance to a different song
I’m gonna scream and shout till my dying breath
I’m gonna smash it up till there’s nothing left

The Basics (aka, all of the rules because they’re pretty straightforward)

Smash Up contains eight faction decks (wizards, robots, dinosaurs with frickin’ laserbeams of their heads, zombies, aliens, pirates, ninja and, for reasons passing understanding, “tricksters”), each with 20 cards. Each player grabs two decks (by default these are snake drafted, but you can just let people grab what they want if what you want is for Wizards/Robots to crush you).

Then you put out some number of “bases” (based on the number of players). Each base has four numbers on it – a breakpoint, and three point values. The base scores when the total power of minions on the base equals or exceeds the break point. The three point values are how much you get for being first, second, or third in power when the base scores.

The decks have two kinds of cards – minions and actions. On each player’s turn, that player gets to play one minion and/or one action. Minions usually do something when they come into play (e.g., destroy another minion), or have some sort of ongoing effect (e.g., having more power under certain circumstances). Actions usually just go away, but a few stick around for a turn or until the base scores. After that, check to see if bases score (minions on base that scores are discarded, and a new base card comes out). After that, draw two cards.

Some cards say “special,” which means they can be played at some other time, and the card tells you when they can be played. This is most commonly immediately before or after a base scores (for example, dropping a Ninja before the base scores, or sailing a Pirate away to another base instead of to the discard pile).

First to 15VP wins.

That’s it.

Ooh smash it up
Smash it up smash it up
Ooh smash it up
Smash it up smash it up

The Factions

Each of the factions has a distinctive strength. Wizards draw cards and give extra actions. Dinosaurs are big. Zombies can be played from the discard pile. Robots let you play extra minions. Pirates move around. Ninja jump in and out of play. Aliens return minions to players’ hands. Tricksters punish opponents for messing with your guys.

Components

You get the eight faction decks, and 2 bases per faction (the bases are flavor and mechanically themed on the faction, but there is no concept of defending “your” bases). The cards are of pretty good quality, and should hold up to shuffling well enough.

The box has slots for the decks, and enough room for quite a few more factions if you buy expansions (AEG plans to take the expansions for Smash Up substantially slower than the torrent that Nightfall and Thunderstone got when they were launched; the first expansion (Awesome Level 9000) is aimed for a December release; if you want to learn more about the plans for Smash Up, you can check out the Strange Assembly interview with Todd Rowland from GenCon).

There’s also a rulebook. Even I find it pretty funny, and I’ve been accused of having no sense of humor whatsoever, so others might find it hilarious. The rulebook manages to both describe everything in cute and funny terms and convey the rules clearly. Granted, the rules are pretty straightforward, but still it’s nice to see clarity.

There is not any way to keep track of VP, and you will want something (a notepad or one d20 per player will do). It would be nice to have something in the box, but AEG really wanted to hit that $30 price point.

Opinions/Verdict

Wow, that first part of the review is a lot shorter when I don’t spend several pages describing how the game works.

If you couldn’t tell, Smash Up is a game best approached with levity. Like any game with theme, you’ll like it more if you like the theme – and I’ve seen lots and lots of people really liking Smash Up. The rules are straightforward, the art really pops (the full-bleed color helps), and there’s a certain charm to Lasertops squishing the sorcerer’s apprentice. I’ve played games with non-gamers family members and with more strategic types, and pretty much everybody across the spectrum has liked it (alas, my wife did not like it; sounds like more Dominion on the way). Who’s winning what base tends to fluctuate rapidly as minions get exploded, moved around, or power-boosted.

But here’s the thing – while Smash Up isn’t the first game to tackled the “pirates v. ninja v. zombies” motif, but it’s the only one I can think of that is really solid as a game and isn’t just a vehicle for making jokes (disclaimer: if you think some other pirates v. ninja game is really solid, then let’s assume my statement is due to my never having played/seen your favorite – unless your game of choice is Munchkin or SPANC, in which case, yes, I am judging your taste in games).

People call me weird, oh it’s such a shame
Maybe it’s my clothes, must be to blame
I don’t even care if I look a mess
Don’t wanna be a sucker like all the rest

I know because AEGTodd told me so.

You see, I am one of those lame folks who doesn’t really have any interest in the meme – I could care less about pirates or ninjas or zombies (although I must confess an amusement with augmented dinosaurs). But, despite getting no help from its theme, I still like Smash Up. The rules are simple, but after you play it a couple of times you’ll see there’s some tactical cleverness under that colorful exterior. Nothing serious, nothing heavy, but you’ll do better if you play for the right combos, and just dropping your best guys often isn’t the right play. And sometimes the base abilities can really change strategies, like the base that gives VP when your minions die. It’s funny how my robots seem to accidentally kill each other when they’re hanging out at that base.

So, what are the negatives of Smash Up? Some are obvious – you hate card games (although the shuffling part is basically done after the game begins, as you’ll only maybe run out of cards once during a game), or you actively dislike the theme, or you tend to avoid any sort of combative game, or you only like heavy games without much luck. More particularly, I don’t think the themes are balanced, and combinations of stronger factions like Wizards/Zombies seem to just be better than something like Tricksters/Pirates. The ability to beat on the leader will tend to keep a stronger deck (or a stronger player) in check, but I could see someone being mildly annoyed that Other Player X was allowed to draft a killer combo.

Overall, with how many folks I’ve seen enjoying Smash Up, I think it’s hard to go wrong with it if you’re looking for some light-hearted fun. And the attractive price point doesn’t hurt.

Ooh smash it up
Smash it up smash it up
Ooh smash it up
Smash it up smash it up

Promotional consideration was provided by the publisher in the form of a review copy. Lyrics by the Damned.

7 thoughts on “Review – Smash Up

  1. Having played Smash Up around 10 times now, I’m still finding new and clever combos to pull off.As random as the game is, you still find yourself coming up with great tactical decisions to make.
    For what its worth: this game gets my whole hearted personal endorsement.

  2. Played it multiple times now and really like it. Even my lady thought it was fun, and she chose one of the (IMO) weaker combinations of decks in our initial game together with it. AEG has a winner here.

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