Smash Up is the latest entry by the Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), makers of the game Thunderstone. It’s an easy to learn, card-based game for the distinguished thinker. The type of people who like to spend their time pondering the deeper questions of life, such as ‘If Wizards teamed up with Aliens, could they defeat an army of Ninjas and laser wielding Dinosaurs?’
On the front of the box, AEG touts Smash Up as “The shufflebuilding game of total awesomeness.” With such a fun premise, it’s difficult to argue the point. The game is essentially an all out brawl between 2-4 players, wielding teams of eight different factions. There are the previously mentioned Wizards, Ninjas, Aliens and Dinosaurs, as well as Pirates, Zombies, Robots and Tricksters (leprechauns, gnomes and the like). Every faction has a unique 20 card deck, each with their own varying abilities. Each player chooses two factions and shuffles them together into one forty card deck. The concept of smashing two decks together not only serves as inspiration for its name, but also gives Smash Up a lot of different card combinations to explore, keeping things interesting.
There are three types of cards. The first type is Bases, and these are kept separate from the faction decks. When the game begins four Bases are revealed, forming the battlefield the players will be contending over. The other two types, Actions and Minions are what make up the faction decks. Every turn each player may play one Action and one Minion in any order, and then draw two replacement cards to end their turn.
There are a few downsides to the game. For one, a lack of any score cards or other methods to track victory points forces players to use pen and paper. Not a deal breaker, but it would have been a small thing to include. As one may expect in a game of this type, there are a few minor balance issues, with some pairings seemingly stronger than others. While all the combinations are valid, someone playing the numerous smaller minions in a Robot/Alien smash up may have a tough time countering the big minions and catastrophic capabilities of a Pirate/Dinosaur team. Perhaps the biggest drawback, and this is dependent on the people you play with, is the resentment factor. A lot of the Actions and Minion abilities in the game revolve around destroying other players’ minions and actions. This can lead to a kind of perpetual “screw your buddy” type scenario, which can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. You know the people you play with, and the one that feels constantly picked on and teamed up against? Yeah, Smash Up probably won’t be their favorite game.
There are a wide variety of Action cards, with many different results, such as extra Actions, destroying another player’s Minion, or moving Minions from one base to another to name a few. Minion cards have varying power levels, and are played directly on Bases. Each Base has a breaking point, and when the power level of all the minions on a particular Base meet or exceed that breaking point, that Base is scored and replaced with another. Scoring is based on the cumulative power levels of a player’s Minions camped there, so a player with one 7 point Dinosaur will get more points that the player with three 2 point Zombies. When the first player to reach 15 victory points ends his turn, the game is over.
Win or lose however, the game manages to retain player interest with all the different faction interactions and dynamics to explore. Would the brute strength of the Dinosaurs be better paired with the stealth and subterfuge of the Ninjas, or the wide array of bonus actions the Wizard receive? What will best compliment the Zombies’ actions that let them play minions from the discard pile. Finding what works for you and your play style is a large portion of the joy you’ll get out of Smash Up.
And as long as the people you game with have a good sense of humor, that joy is easy to discover.
Perhaps the biggest point in Smash Up’s favor? Why argue about Pirates vs. Ninjas when you can have Pirates AND Ninjas. Pick it up today at your local Slackers!