Smash Up: Hit Shuffle and Play
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
Designer: Paul Peterson
Players: 2 – 4
Time: 45 min
Smash Up is a “shufflebuilding” game of epic faction battles and powerful, deadly combinations.
In the Box
The base game for Smash Up is very basic. It includes a nice rulebook that lays out the game easily and succinctly. It includes 8 factions of 20 cards each and 16 base cards.
Like Mystic Vale, AEG planned for future expansions and included an insert that accommodates a couple, though if you plan to get all of them, you will need to look for extra storage. There’s a “Big Box” that will hold all current expansions.
The 8 factions included in the base game are:
Zombies: Play minions from the discard pile or place them into your deck/hand.
Wizards: Draw and play extra cards each turn, especially actions.
Ninjas: Destroy minions and sneak onto bases at the last second using special abilities.
Dinosaurs: Play high-powered minions and actions with some protection and destruction.
Robots: Play several weak minions in a single turn, often with power bonuses or useful abilities.
Pirates: Move around from base to base and destroy weak minions.
Tricksters: Force other players to discard and make bases undesirable to play on.
Aliens: Return minions to their owners' hands, gain victory points instantly, and manipulate bases.
Spoiler: Smash Up is not a deck-builder.
4th Wall Break: I know, this is a shocking revelation. A quick search of the game page on BoardGameGeek will tell you it’s a hand management/area influence game. It certainly resembles one though and in my opinion, that's not a bad thing.
A little background information for you, the reader. I personally love deck-builders. I love sculpting a deck of cards to provide various choices throughout a game and I love customizing my deck for combos and synergies. So, when I heard Smash Up was a “shufflebuilding” game, I was immediately intrigued. Instead of creating a deck with combos and synergies, players are given two factions, forced to smash them into one deck and told to explore and create combos and synergies with your new “ultra-powerful-overpowered deck of awesomeness.”
4th Wall Break: You and your friends can finally end the debate, once and for all, which is better? Ninjas or Pirates? Unless you play Ninja Pirates…hmmmmm.
Before playing Smash Up, I was honestly skeptical because it includes a heap of “take that” but does it work? Is Smash Up a “smashing” good time? Keep reading and find out!
A note to you, the reader - Smash Up was released in 2012. So, if you’re familiar with Smash Up, you can scroll to my Positives/Negatives and Final Thoughts but if you’re like me and you’re 5 years late to the Smash Up party, feel free to continue reading and learn how to play!
4th Wall Break: Hey, when it comes to partying with Aliens, Dinosaurs and Zombies, better late than never, amirite?
How To Play
To begin the game, each player will choose two factions. Randomly choose a starting player. They will take one faction and this continues in a clockwise manner. When everyone has one faction, the last player takes a second faction and the choice continues in reverse order.
Each player shuffles their two factions into one, 40 card deck and draws a starting hand of 5 cards. (If you don't draw any minions, show your hand, discard it and draw 5 new cards.)
The player who got up the earliest on the day you play goes first. The early bird gets to take over the universe and destroy things as they say!
There are 5 Phases to a turn:
- Crank It Up – Check for abilities that trigger at the start of your turn.
- Play cards – On your turn you may play 1 minion and 1 action card. They can be played in any order. You can also choose to not play any cards. (Some abilities will let you play more actions and minions. This is okay; it's not "technically" cheating...cheater.)
- Minions – To play a minion, select a base and deploy your minion there. Follow the instructions on the card.
- Actions – To play an action, show it to all players, follow the instructions and then discard it. Easy Peezy Lemon Squeezy!
- Check for Scoring – After you are finished playing cards, check to see if any bases are ready to score. A base will score when the combined power of all minions there equal or exceed the bases breaking point.
- Draw 2 Cards – Your max hand size is 10 cards. If you have more than 10 after drawing, discard down to 10.
- Shut It Down – Check for any “end of turn” abilities and then pass your turn to the next player.
Scoring Bases and How To Win
When the combined power of all minions on a base exceeds its breaking point, that base will score. If more than one base is ready to score, the player whose turn it is decides which to score first.
4th Wall Break: When a base is chosen to be scored, players may play Special abilities that happen “before” the base is scored. If there is a tie for special abilities, the current player has priority and abilities continue clockwise around the table.
The player with the most power on a base is the winner! That player gains victory points equal to the left most number. Second place receives the middle number and third place is awarded the right most number. Did you come in fourth? Sorry, you’re out of luck!
In this example, the base (Cave of Shinies) has reached its limit of 23. The Alien player wins and is awarded 4 points for having 10 total power, the Ninja player 2 points for having 9 total power, and the Dinosaur player earns 1 point for 6 total power. the trickster player, with 2 power, wins nothing.
After scoring, players can then use “after” scoring special abilities. Then all cards still on the base are sent to their owners’ discard pile (unless an ability allows the minion to move). Discard the old base and replace it with a new one. Check to see if there are any other bases ready to be scored! More than one base can score on a turn.
When a player scores 15 victory points, they win the game!
4th Wall Break: If scoring a base gives a player more than 15 Victory Points, the game is over! If there is tie, continue playing until there isn’t; NO SHARING!
Positives and Negatives
- A functional insert with future expansions in mind that fits sleeved cards.
- Highly interactive gameplay that engages all players on every turn.
- Exceptional artwork and design.
- Gameplay that has stood the test of time (at least the last 5 years!).
- Higher than average re-playability.
- Rewards players for repeated plays and discovering combinations/synergies.
- No scoring tokens or markers. (Are you serious?!)
- Base Cards are the same size as player decks and the text is small. In my opinion, they missed a great opportunity to showcase beautiful, large landscapes. Larger bases would have been a welcome addition.
- Potential for analysis paralysis (see note above about math), especially with newer players.
- More experienced players will win more often than new players due to learning curve of the factions.
- Some faction combinations are extremely powerful and easily overwhelm weaker combinations.
- The base game offers 28 different combinations of possible faction decks but could eventually become stale, requiring expansions to keep the game fresh.
Smash Up is a polarizing game. Among my friends, it has a very strong “love it or hate it” reputation with very few middle of the road opinions. It has a few glaring issues in the base box, most notably the lack of scoring tokens and the small base cards but overall, Smash up is a very fun albeit crazy, over the top game of hand management and area influence. It's an easy game to learn but a difficult game to master. Don't let it's light weight fool you; there are clever and strategic combinations to discover! As you explore the Smash Up universe, the game changes based on what factions are combined!
Smash Up is a game that will reward players with repeated plays and it’s not a game to play once and shelve; the more you play, the more fun Smash Up becomes, as you discover and explore powerful combinations and synergies.
In fact, as I played Smash Up, I was immediately reminded of Collectible Card Games (CCG) akin to Magic: The Gathering with its myriad of abilities, text and great artwork. Not to mention, in Smash Up, like Magic: The Gathering, a bad deck in the hands of a good player will more than likely beat a good deck in the hands of a bad player. Smash Up scratches the CCG itch without requiring players to invest substantial time collecting and constructing a deck from scratch.
In my opinion, Smash Up plays very well at all player counts. It’s extremely cutthroat at two players but adding a third or fourth player takes Smash Up to its true level of extreme, over the top chaotic fun.
While I believe the base game offers players plenty of variety, a group of dedicated gamers could certainly wear this out quickly. AEG has released 9 expansions to breathe new life into one of its most successful game franchise.
If you enjoy games with player interaction, take that, area influence, and hand management, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better game. Even with base game issues, I would recommend Smash Up for anyone looking for a light, gateway game or to ex-CCG players, who are looking to fill the void in their hearts. Even with it's shortcomings, Smash Up is a smashing good time and a game that I'm happy to own and play.
I give Smash Up 8 out of 10 non-existent victory point tokens.
4th Wall break: Fine, I give it 8 Ninja Dinosaurs out of 10.
A copy of Smash Up was provided for review. All of my thoughts and opinions are my own.