Designer: Paul Peterson
Play Time: ~45 min
Type: tactical card game, area control
Smash Up is a tactical card game where players take two factions and “smash them up” to form their draw deck for the game. These factions included in the base set are dinosaurs with lasers, ninjas, tricksters, wizards, pirates, aliens, robots, and zombies. Expansions over the past couple of years have added more factions to the game. In this review, I will be taking a look at the base set exclusively and dive into the expansions in future reviews.
In Smash Up, players are vying for control of different locations by playing minions and actions from their unique deck. On a turn, a player may play one action and one minion in any order they choose. Once a base reaches a minion power threshold, the base scores, giving the player(s) with the most power at the base victory points. Each faction plays differently, and since a player combines two factions to create a deck, minions and actions from both factions will work together and potentially combo off one another. The game ends when a player reaches or exceeds 15 victory points and the player with the most points wins the game!
Why review Smash Up?
Smash Up has taken what is popular in our current culture (or geek/nerd culture) and put them into the game. Usually, popularity of certain phenomenons reflect what is valued in culture. By look at the different factions, we an start a dialogue about our culture and how western hobby board game culture utilize these phenomenons in a creative and successful theme. Further, we can dive deeper into the potential of the appropriation of other identities/cultures by ‘geek’ culture (see ninjas). While (as of now… we will see as future expansions come out) these instances may seem minor in their misrepresentation of marginalized peoples and their appropriation of culture, in my opinion, it is always good to get the conversation and awareness of these issues started.
Component Quality 1.5/2
The game comes with 8 factions, each with 20 cards, and 16 base cards. The card quality is decent but for every game players must shuffle their cards together, potentially multiple times depending on certain actions (e.g., find X card in your deck and shuffle you deck). This can cause fast wear and tear on your cards. For me, I realized I invested in Smash Up when I started buying expansions, and during a card sleeve sale, I bought sleeves for my whole collection. This will ensure my cards survive the immense amount of shuffling every game.
There are two things I thought were lacking in the base game, although the price point remained relatively low since AEG only included cards in the box. First, I wished they provided an easy and visible way to keep track of individual player victory points (VP). I have either used 20-sided dice in order to track VP or a phone application. In later expansions, AEG provides VP tokens, which I am not a fan of but at least they included them. Second, it becomes a challenge to add up and know the current level of power for each location, especially when modifiers have been applied. The game does not come with an easy way to help players track the power count; however, there is a good resource on Board Game Geek for base mats with a power track around the outside.
I absolutely love the theme of the game! Having two completely different factions coming together to form one team to fight over control of locations is genius. The designer and creators at AEG did an excellent job at picking factions and constructing their decks thematically. For example, the pirate faction likes to destroy other minions and can move around a lot. Now, some themes and potential themes for factions are a bit concerning to me. I already wrote a small piece on Ninjas as a theme and how it straddles the line of appropriation and further perpetuate stereotypes about Japanese people (and Asian people… because you know we are all the same =/). I hope moving forward AEG is cognizant of the factions they are picking and choose factions that will not appropriate or misrepresent groups of people.
The mechanics are simple and there are not many rules in Smash Up. On a player’s turn, they simply play an action and minion if they so desire and then draw two cards. Where the fun comes in is how the different actions and minions interact, which can lead to quite an intricate and fun turn. The simplicity of the rules mixed with the myriad of differences in the actions and minion abilities leads to robust mechanics. Each faction has a different style within the main rules and I think each faction by itself is decently balanced. There are some overpowered combinations and as the game grows with expansions, more will pop up. Similarly, there are some combinations that feel flat. Honestly, I just choose two randomly or pseudo-randomly and have a good time with it. If you are playing Smash Up to find the most efficient / most powerful combination, I think you will quickly grow tired.
The main reason why I docked Smash Up 1/2 point for mechanics is the sometimes conflicting and competing card abilities. The rules keep it light and simple: What is printed on the cards supersedes the rules of the game. However, there are (somewhat rare) occasions where the interpretation of how two (or three) cards may interact together. Not a huge deal but something you may talk through once in a while.
This game is not very strategic because the landscape of the different locations change turn to turn. Even so, turns tend not to be very long (unless the Wizards are in play :p) and I tend to feel engaged during other player’s turns. I want to know what they are doing, how much power they are adding to bases, and what effects are now on minions or bases. Also, if a base scores during an opponents turn, I may have action or minion cards I can play or use their power in order to affect the base before and/or after it scores. I enjoy the game at all player counts, but I think it plays best at two and three. Four players is fine… but it does seem a bit more chaotic and there is more down time.
What keeps me engaged overall is the amount of support AEG gives to Smash Up. Since releasing the base game, AEG has released 6 expansions (4 factions each), 1 other base set (8 factions), and a storage solution (fantastic box with 1 faction). The new factions and combinations give the game more life and exciting replayability! AEG has announced their 7th expansion releasing this fall and I am sure they have more planned.
Smash Up is one of my favorite quick tactical card games. I have so much fun picking a two factions for each play session! I always play with winning in mind, but I enjoy every single play regardless if I win or not. When I first looked into purchasing this game, it looked… silly. And it is. BUT it is silly fun and I continue to come back to this game again and again. I look forward to the many more expansions AEG puts out. A high recommendation from me!
Overall Rating 9/10
See more at https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/122522/smash.