The Ultimate Nerd-fest! – Smash Up Review

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 two expansions produced which essentially expand the range of factions available. 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.

Did we mention the Dinosaurs have Laser Beams?

Designer: Paul Peterson (2012) 
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 45 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #440/6.99
Dice Tower People’s Choice Rank: N/A
Category: Area Control Fantasy Card Game

The game consists of 8 factions (expanded to 12 and 16 with the expansions) 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 of which the goal is to reach 15 victory points. 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.

"The artwork as you can see is of good quality"

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 resource cost like with other games.

"I find it amusing that you can fight over a Greenhouse"

Play continues until there is enough cumulative power at each location to reach its break point, represented by the top left number. 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.

And that’s basically it! Take two factions, play one minion and one action each turn and then slug it out until the battlegrounds “cap” in power value and one player reaches 15 victory points! Sounds incredibly simplistic right? Well . . . not exactly!

Variety is the Spice of Life

The rules as you can see are really simple to teach and that is a big plus point of the game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tactics to employ. 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:

·         Zombies – can resurrect their own minions after death
·         Pirates – are able to hop around each base at specific times
·         Aliens – keep bouncing minions and action cards back to players hands
·         Dinosaurs – huge power cards with the ability to augment even further
·         Robots – cheap and 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 with potentially 16 factions, you’re going to be hard pressed to try them all. The combinations create some truly unique abilities during game play. 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?

"Even though the artwork is similar, each faction deck is quite different in colour"

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 nicked 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.

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 dis-assembly of the decks.

However what I’m most impressed with is how much thought AEG put into the box insert. It’s a fairly standard affair not too dissimilar to Sentinels of the Multiverse where each deck is separated out (but no dividers) upright. However as proven by experience the slots for each deck are large enough to fit each deck while sleeved (I use Mayday Premium) without issues and on top of that, the box is large enough to fit all 8 additional factions from the expansions. Goes to show that AEG planned ahead and I can’t comprehend why other publishers don’t do the same these days. How often have you chucked away an insert due to expansions? I needed a minute silence before I chucked away the insert for Lords of Waterdeep due to the expansion not fitting in the original box as that insert was fantastic.

"This box contains all 16 factions and the location cards and the Madness cards fully sleeved"

The slight pain however with the base box is that AEG didn’t provide any means to keep score in the game. A strange oversight, but one that was corrected in both expansions, but there’s a caveat; the tokens don’t fit in the box once you put both expansions in. And placing the tokens on top of the cards and rulebooks only causes the box to not shut properly and “hover”. Shame there isn’t an iOS app that would keep score . . . . but if anyone knows one, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

The More The Merrier

The two expansions for this game “Awesome Level 9000” and “The Obligatory Cthulhu Set” each add four new factions to the mix with the latter focusing on the H.P. Lovecraft mythology.

"Even Cthulhu cannot upstage Bear Cavalry"

Other than that, the only difference between them are the Madness cards from the Cthulhu set. These enable you to speed up your card drawing ability and are drawn as the result of minion or action abilities. The flip-side however is that these count as negative points at the end of the game if you don’t get rid of them. Remind you of anything? Think Scoundrels of Skullport with the corruption mechanic – it’s essentially the same thing. Gain a quick advantage, but at the expense of a long term hindrance.

They both add the scoring chips which should have been included in the base set. Other than that your sole reason for getting the expansions is solely down to whether you wish for more combos in the game.

In AL 9000 you are treated to Ghosts, Steampunk, Bear Calvary and Killer Plants, all of which play very differently from each other and create some interesting combinations, though Ghosts require a little more tactical thought than most to utilise correctly from experience.

Cthulhu provides decks for Cultists, Elder Gods, Innsmouth and Miskatonic University. The theme is similar across the board although the artwork seems to vary a lot more, particularly with the Miskatonic deck which isn’t too my liking. This expansion is good to have if like me you have a keen interest in Arkham Horror and the Elder Gods in particular make some weird combinations with older decks, but if H.P. Lovecraft is not your thing, you’re unlikely to gain much from these decks though I will say, even though I find the Miskatonic artwork a bit weird, the artwork in the Elder God and Innsmouth decks is phenomenal with some iconic and freaky imagery.

Verdict

The game is what I like to call, the card game version of King of Tokyo. For me it’s fun in a box, a light-hearted deck building game with a lot of “take that” mentality, but without the elimination aspect of King of Tokyo.

The seemingly endless amount of combinations give the game some serious longevity and adding the expansions increase this even further, however I would be blunt in saying that you should only get TOCS if you have an interest in the mythology, otherwise it’s likely to be a waste of money; the Madness cards are a nice addition but by no means essential and only the TOCS factions utilise them anyway so they’re wasted on older decks. I highly recommend AL 9000 for its diversity in factions and providing the scoring chips. I guarantee that just the sound of Bear Calvary will make them a popular faction.

The game is simple to teach and play; however with too many players it can bog down particularly if people are prone to AP. You’d think that playing two cards a turn wouldn’t be a difficult choice, but people who take the game too seriously will hesitate to think fast. The game shouldn’t be taken seriously; it’s a fun, light combat game where you can indulge your “nerd” spirit within . . . . . . Elder God Dinosaurs anyone?

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