SMASH UP

Design by Paul Peterson
Published by AEG
2+ Players
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

In a world gone crazy, fantasy and historical races and clans all exist in the same time frame, and as can be expected, they do not get along well.  Indeed, they often violently contest for control of various bases, as these grant power (victory points). Garner the most power and your races will control the known universe … for awhile, at least!

Smash Up is a card-based game that is expandable with new races and groups.  Most expansion sets include four new groups, usually centered around a specific theme.  For example, the “Oops, You Did it Again” expansion set includes Egyptians, cowboys, Vikings and samurai, while “Monster Smash” features vampires, werewolves, mad scientists and, yes, giant ants (think the classic film “Them!”). Each expansion includes a few new rules that apply to the new races introduced, so the game does get progressively more complex as new expansions are included in the mix.

Players will each select two races or groups to play, and are free to choose from any of the dozens currently available.  Thus, two decks are required per player. Players make their selection of two races, and thoroughly mix those cards into a single deck, drawing five as their starting hand.  A number of bases are placed on the table (one more than the number of players) and play begins.

Game play is quite simple, but the interaction of the various abilities and powers on the cards can and does complicate matters, allowing for a decent degree of latitude in terms of  choices and tactical approaches. Cards are labeled as a minion or an action, and a player may play one of each per turn. Of course, card abilities often alter this, allowing a player to play more than this usual limit.  Minions each have a power rating and are usually played directly to a base. The idea is to have the greatest power at a base when its breakpoint is reached or exceeded. Each base lists its breakpoint–usually a number in the high teens or 20s–and when the power of all minions located at that base reaches or exceeds this number, the base is scored to determine who earns the listed points.  Usually the three players with the most power at that base earn points, but sometimes cards provide some surprises. Strangely, the game does not provide any method of tracking points earned, so players must tally these using some convenient method, such as old fashioned paper and pencil! Scored bases are replaced and play continues.

Action cards operate a bit differently.  They are not creatures, so they generally do not have an inherent strength.  They often enhance the strength of a minion or minions, but can also cause a wide variety of other actions or occurrences.  Some will move minions to other bases, eliminate opponent’s minions, grant certain powers or points when stated conditions are met, etc.  The abilities are thematically related to the specific races, which is clever and often entertaining. For example, cowboys and samurai can duel opponents, while Egyptian minions can often be buried and come to life at a later time (mummies!).  It is this wide range of abilities that add spice to the game and help keep it interesting and fun.

The game continues until the end of the round when at least one player has achieved 15 or more points.  The player with the most points is victorious and rules this bizarre world.

While there is some humor involved, there is fortunately much more to the game than a few laughs and  chuckles. While the game play is generally swift and easy, there are some interesting choices and considerations to be made.   Cards can sometimes be played in a certain order to take advantage of the special powers, and often unique abilities on the bases must be considered when making card play decisions.  The game does allow for a degree of cleverness, and it can be quite satisfying to make a series of card plays that scoops the most points from a base when all previously seemed hopeless.

The special abilities of each race seem well devised and quite thematic. Each race has its own strengths, and players  must plan for this and play to those strengths. Combining two different races often causes some interesting dilemmas and opportunities, and learning how best to mesh these two races can prove challenging and quite productive.

As with most card games, there is a certain degree of luck and resulting frustration, especially when desired cards just won’t surface, or appear at inopportune times.  There is also a degree of “Take that!” present, so plans can often be upset by the play of one’s opponents. Fortunately, there aren’t too many harsh “take that!” cards present, so this aspect seems somewhat minimized.

Smash Up falls into a genre of games of which I am normally not a fan, so I must admit that I was surprised that I actually enjoy the game as much as I do.  As mentioned, I appreciate that the game has more depth than one would think, and that it doesn’t rely on humor–which has a very limited life span–to sustain its appeal.  There is an interesting game here, one which does force players to make choices and decisions. No, the depth isn’t that great, but for a 30 – 40 minute light game, it certainly has its appeal.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Mark Jackson: (25+ plays) My boys love Smash Up – enough that we have 4 or 5 expansion boxes worth of card sets and The Big Geeky Box (yes, that’s the actual name of it) to hold them. It’s everything Greg says – interesting card combos, substantial doses of humor, occasional “take that” moments.

A couple of caveats: I think the game bogs down with 4 players… we prefer playing with two or three. We also randomize the starting decks so that individuals don’t pick a combo that they know exactly how to make work. (Part of the joy of the game is discovering card combos mid-game!)

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: (50+ plays) I really like this game and I played a lot with my sons. We have all the expansions (at least the ones published in Italian), but we are used to playing with the base game and the first expansion. It is a great game, with many possibilities. I really like to explore the different combos offered by the games idea to combine two races; actually, I think is one of the greatest things in this game because every deck has its flavour, but sometimes 1+1 is different from 2.

Like Mark says, it works better with 2-3 players; 4 players, unless everyone really knows the game well, could be a bit slow.

Part of the fun is exploring the combos, but a big part of the fun is actually playing it because the game offers many different tactical opportunities.

Matt Carlson: I love the theme and am still attracted to the humor even after playing many times.  It is a clear winner to bring out with the pre-teens and teenagers. Like Mark, I’m quite wary to bring it out with many players.  With more players it is harder to control one’s fate and more likely the game might bog down into some pile-on-the-leader situations.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!): Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
3 (Like it): Mark Jackson, Matt Carlson, Greg S.
2 (Neutral): John P
1 (Not for me):

About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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