Review – Awesome Level 9000 (Smash Up)

                Awesome Level 9000 is the first expansion for Smash Up, AEG’s “smash” hit from GenCon 2012. Awesome Level 9000 adds four new factions to the shufflebuilding game – ghosts, steampunks, bear cavalry and plants. Awesome Level 9000 retails for about $20. Note: As usual for our expansion reviews, this review will assume you are familiar with the base game (you can find our review of Smash Up itself here) – you can, technically, do 2-player games with just Awesome Level 9000, but I don’t really consider this a stand-alone.

The bear cavalry faction (yes, based on the internet meme) focuses on “scaring” other player’s minions into moving away from bases where you have minions. It features an even split between minions and actions, and the minions tend to be beefy (no 2 power bears to be found). The bear cavalry champion (General Ivan) makes all of your minions indestructible. This faction was, to me, home of the most hilarity in card titles from Awesome Level 9000, sporting such fare as Cub Scout, You’re Pretty Much Borscht and (my favorite card title in the set) Bear Rides You.

The steampunks move their own minions a lot, and also have a large number of actions that play on bases. Their minions and actions are balanced in numbers, but the minions are on the small side and the faction as a whole is very heavy into the actions, as even the minions tend to relate to actions. The champion of the steampunks (the Steam Queen) makes your actions immune to other players’ cards.

The plants deck features deck search, card draw, and effects that don’t go off until your next turn. There are minions that blow themselves up to get other minions and actions that wait until your next turn to destroy a minion or reduce a base’s breakpoint to zero. There’s an even split between actions and minions, but a lot of the actions search for minions or put them into play. The plant champion (he Venus Man Trap) searches for a 2 power minion every turn and puts it into play.

The ghosts are the most mechanically distinctive of the factions, powering up when you have few or no cards in hand. For example, the Haunting minion gets +3 power and isn’t affect by other players’ cards as long as you have two or fewer cards in hand. The ghosts also have several ways to empty their hand, such as a minion that lets you discard any number of cards to destroy a minion with that much power or less. The ghosts are evenly split between actions and minions, and their champion is the Spectre, who can be played out of the discard pile so long as you have 2 or fewer cards in hand.

Overall, Awesome Level 9000 primarily adds new factions to your Smash Up experience for more variety over repeated gameplay. The expansion seems to bring relatively even-keeled factions to the game, without adding another faction in with the likes of Zombies and Wizards in the “you absolutely cannot let other players draft these together” category. The ghosts take the most getting used to, but ultimately the steampunks are the weakest.

Other additions include victory point tokens, which were lacking in the base game (it was for legitimate price point reasons, but a lighthearted game like Smash Up really likes something like victory point tokens instead of pencil and paper), and reprints of all the bases from the original game to go along with the two bases for each of the new factions (they have bigger rules text where possible, sometimes much bigger, to make it easier to read from across the table).

Ultimately, if you like Smash Up, Awesome Level 9000 is well worth it for the additional variety it brings into the game.

                Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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