Look Past The Munchkin Exterior - Smash Up: Munchkin Review

Smash Up is probably my favourite game that AEG have put out, basically taking just about every faction or race or concept you can get out of geekdom and allowing you to put them together in a big battle royal. The game isn't perfect and is best played with a max of 3 players, but I find it good, light hearted fun. I have the giant Geeky Box set and even with every single expansion in it sleeved fully in premium sleeves, there's still over half the box left. It's frankly crazy how much this game could expand and even taking this review into account, we know that another expansion is coming out soon with factions that we, the gamers, voted on (including my suggestion of Superheroes which made the cut, nyah nyah! :P)

This is the one that has me feeling a little bit tentative about. Munchkin is not a franchise I'm a fan of. I used to play and enjoy it back in my college days, but quickly I became desensitised to the humour it contained and now it frankly annoys me. So when I heard of this expansion I was not exactly jumping for joy, but I figured that maybe mixing everything together might still work so I decided to obtain it anyway. Not to mention I'd hate to have this giant gap in my Geeky Box, says the completionist in me!

So what do we have in this new box set? Does it work well on its own or when mixed and can it even be suggested as a starting point for new players? Or will the theme of Munchkin spoil it for me? Note: I've done a review of Smash Up already on my blog which you can find here - therefore I'm going to assume you already know how this game plays and only mention any new rule mechanics.



Designer: Paul Peterson
Publisher: AEG
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-45 Minutes
Rank / Rating: 3,677 / 6.86
RRP: £27.99


As We Long Don't Encounter The Dreaded Gazebo!


Two new card types feature in this expansion, both of which will only work with the factions and bases featuring in this expansion. First there are Monster cards, which act essentially like extra minions, but with some key differences. Firstly the power of a Monster adds to the break point of a base, so killing a Monster may be the key to winning a base rather than simply trying to overpower it. Monsters can only be played from their respective deck and don't belong to a player.

Secondly there's the Treasure cards which are usually rewards for killing monsters, however some factions can acquire them by other means. Much like in normal Munchkin, these are items that benefit the controlling player, be it a power boost or some other weird and wacky effect that swings the tide of battle in their favour. Destroying a monster will reward you with a specified number of treasure cards, however should a base break with monsters present, all of the treasure cards are distributed to the participating players in order of power, essentially splitting the loot between the party like in a typical Dungeons and Dragons game.


The Munchkin Roster


Clerics: - as natural healers, these guys are good at bringing back cards from the discard pile or preventing them from going there in the first place. In the theme of a typical cleric, they will also have power boost cards and curses to hinder enemy minions. And of course just in case one happens to appear, the Turners are adept at auto-killing Undead monsters.

Dwarves: - if it's shiny, they love it. This is the faction you play if you want to mess around with Treasures. Whether it's from killing monsters or simply their own cards mining the Treasure deck they are adept at acquiring fancy loot and benefiting from simply equipping the stuff. No item is useless in Dwarven hands!

Elves: - these unsurprisingly require a bit of finesse to play well. Keeping with their Munchkin counterpart, their cards usually help other players rather than themselves. The twist is that you might be able to reap some of the rewards for being so helpful. For example, boost other players minions to break a base when you know you're still in the lead regardless. Definitely not a beginner faction by any means.

Halflings: - the swarm faction of this expansion. Their base power is relatively low compared to other factions, but a lot of their cards can bring extra minions into play or into their hand with ease creating an almost never ending stream of minions. Essentially the Robots of the Munchkin world and let me tell you, combining those two together gets crazy!

Mages: - a giant hand size is key here. The Mages have all sorts of cool spells (even Speed Reading gets a card) to play around with and most of their effects resolve around discarding cards. Of course they have the means to draw a lot of cards as well, but any other faction that loves to draw and discard cards will work great with these. I wonder if Ghosts would be a good combination. . .

Orcs: - the average power is higher with these guys and quite simply these are all about killing other minions, but they also have a strong resilience to cards and abilities used by other players, nullifying any negative (or positive even) effects that might be used on them. Nothing particularly tricky here so one of the more straightforward factions.

Thieves: - No surprises here, if it's on the table, chances are they can nick it, be it actions, treasure or even VP's. Much like Dwarves they are fans of the Treasure deck, though tend to discard them for effects rather than actually equip them. After all they prefer gold pieces to shiny boots. One to play if you want to add a little more chaos to the game or just annoy other players for laughs!

Warriors: - The Monster deck is their friend as they love to not only kill them, but play them as well, gaining even more rewards for slaying them. These can sometimes be a little annoying given that they keep constantly increasing base break points, but they're able to destroy Monsters as quickly as they can put them out. Dwarven Warriors were a particularly strong combination out of this box.


Can The Munchkins Play With The Bigger Kids?


As a standalone game, the factions here work very well with each other and the new decks. The factions will work well together and be relatively easy for new players to pilot, although having to constantly update the breaking points and using the Treasures to their full potential may be a bit fiddly for some. The original base set is definitely the easier of the two for new players to work with and chances are the factions will be more appealing to a wider audience. An issue this set suffers from is that the combinations here just aren't crazy enough on their own. I'm playing Halfling Clerics. . . .whooo. . . it just isn't as cool as saying "I have Dinosaur Ninja's". That was the main appeal of Smash Up in the first place and here it's relying more on the humour factor of the Munchkin license which is going to be a hit or miss depending on your preference. For me I grew tired of the Munchkin humour a long time ago, but fans will probably be able to jump into Smash Up using this box and be perfectly fine.

When mixing this with previous factions though, it's a lot better, but with some caveats. The combinations created can be really cool, but some will be difficult to judge as to how well they work together especially as the older factions don't utilise the Treasure or Monster decks at all. It's the same problem that the Cthulhu expansion had with the Madness deck. Munchkin factions that rely heavily on those decks might struggle a little with older factions. However the rulebook does have a nifty section on building the base deck to relate solely to the factions being played so that they can play more to their strengths. Smash Up has been designed so that each faction has 2 bases specific to their style and I highly recommend you keep the following list from SmashUp Wiki (yes, it exists) handy as a reference guide so that you can do this quickly and easily.

http://smashup.wikia.com/wiki/Bases






Verdict


This will depend a lot on your preferences. For me I don't like Munchkin, but when mixing these factions with the old ones, you can create some very amusing combinations and the strengths of these factions are a bit easier to distinguish and pilot than some earlier ones. They may not always gel together quite so easily, but just the concept of Dinosaur Clerics and Dwarven Werewolves is good enough to give them a try. I don't however believe that this is as strong by itself, the combinations just aren't crazy enough. The base set has 8 decent factions that everyone will recognise and want to mix whereas this may only appeal to devout followers of the Munchkin franchise. Players will understand what Elves and Warriors are, but the Munchkin humour is only going to carry it so far.

The fiddlyness is another potential issue. Those who are comfortable with how Smash Up operates and have a means of tracking base breaking points will be fine with the new monsters and treasures (there's some good templates on BoardGameGeek). But they do take Smash Up above that nice plateau of being simple enough for relatively new gamers. So in summary I would say that if you are a brand new player and don't know about Munchkin, then stick with the original base set. But if you love Munchkin or you're a long-time collector of the expansions, then this one will provide some good laughs when mixed in. It's not the craziest expansion, but it's decent enough and it fits nicely in my Geeky Box.


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/


YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like Munchkin or at least the theme of Munchkin - the cards embody that aspect and their humour.


You intend to mix the factions in - an Orc Princess is far more amusing than an Elf Mage.


You want a bit more complexity in your Smash Up games.


YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You are a new player to the franchise - I say stick with the original base set first and then build up.


You like Smash Up for its simplicity and feel that this is just making life a bit too fiddly.


You detest the Munchkin theme - you can't escape it here even with the revised artwork.


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