Now let me make it clear, I am not a huge fan of card games. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that for some reason I prefer components and a board to a hand of cards.
This said, when I picked up the box for Smash Up, my eyes was immediately drawn by the great artwork on it. After reading the information on the back of the box, I couldn’t help but get excited by the description. I was sold.
You see, like most of us who have a little geek tucked away inside, as a kid I always discussed with my friends the very serious matter of whether dinosaurs would beat robots in battle. This usually resulted in screaming, shouting and sometimes even blows being thrown (after all these are serious questions that need answering). This serious topic is what Smash Up sets out to answer once and for all.
Smash Up is a card game which has the players combining two of the available eight factions (for instance dinosaurs and pirates), each with their own special abilities, and battle each other for points on themed basis. The first player to reach 15 points wins the game.
I was very impressed with the artwork on the cards. The colours used on them are vibrant and immediately stood out. The art definitely conveys the flavour of each faction successfully. The card stock is good and the cards shuffle well. The text on the cards is easy to read and adds flavour by using different fonts for each faction depicted.
The game play
The rules were very easy to understand, and to explain even to novice board gamers. We quickly got to playing the game after reading them.
When the game begins, each player combines two of the available factions and shuffles them together. They then draw five cards. Cards representing scoring bases are then put in the middle of the play area (where you will be placing your cards). Each of these bases have their own abilities that are activated either from the start of the game or when a base scores.
Scoring VP (victory points) is done by placing minion cards on a base that the player would like to score. When the power of all the minions on that base (from all the players) combined add up to equal or more than that base’s break point the base scores. The player with the most power on that base earns the most VP. It decreases for second and third as indicated by the base.
Now this might sound really simple, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only does each minion usually have some sort of ability which can affect play drastically, but the player is also able to play effect/ability cards. This creates the opportunity for great combos and adds strategic depth. This mechanic keeps the game interesting and the players on their toes.
The factions available in the base game are:
- Zombies – These guys specialize in coming back from the dead. Most of their cards let you retrieve cards from your discard pile and let you place more than one minion a turn.
- Ninja’s – They are masters at the art of assassination. Most of their cards have sneaky abilities. They can move minions to other bases or place a minion on a base when it scores, giving you the upper hand.
- Pirates – They specialize in manoeuvrability. They are able to move minions to different bases even after they have been already placed. Usually minions are stuck at a base until it scores, or they are destroyed.
- Aliens – They are all about messing with the other players. Their abilities let you look at another players hand and force them to discard a minion, or ignore a base’s ability
- Dinosaurs – They are huge and have some of the most powerful minions in the game. Some of their abilities enable them to add even more power to their minions.
- Robots – They conquer by overwhelming their opponents. There are a lot of robot minion cards and they just keep coming. Their abilities allow them to play extra minions on their turn. They tend to be weak, but man are there many of them.
- Tricksters – As you might have guessed these guys are experts at being tricky. Their abilities tend to have effects that protect their minions.
- Wizards – Their abilities allow you to play extra action cards as well, as allowing you to draw extra cards on your turn.
I really liked Smash Up. Not only do I feel that it caters to the kid in me who keeps wondering if pirates could beat wizards in a battle, but I feel the mechanics of the game are solid. The variety that is packed into the box is great. No two combinations play the same and each feels distinctly different. So different that I would find myself getting really angry because someone chose the zombie deck and that prevented me from building my awesome zombie/ ninja deck.
After playing a few times you will start to realize which factions you love and which you loath (I’m looking at you alien/ robot deck). The replay value is huge because of the many combinations that can be created with these decks. There are also some expansions available, with more on the way.
I also just have to mention again that I love the artwork on the cards. I found myself on more than one occasion staring a card admiring the art and forgetting it was my turn.
There are a few things in Smash Up that bother me a tiny little bit. Nothing deal breaking but worth mentioning.
The game, to me, seems to bog down when playing with more than three players. This is because of down time between turns. It is especially true if players struggle to understand the abilities of the different cards. I had some players struggling to understand some of the abilities, but once they did it would result in less down time.
The game can be played with two players. For me it loses a bit of its bite when only two players are involved. Some of the ‘meanness’ and competitiveness can fade away when played with two players.
To me the game shined at three players, as there wasn’t much down time and it kept the flow of the game at a good speed while still keeping some of that competitiveness and ‘meanness’ that makes it so much fun.
A game tends to go on for anything from 45 min to 1 hour depending on the experience level of the players.
I must also mention that there is a bit of maths involved as figuring out how many power points are required before a base is scored can lead to moments of quiet counting and lips moving in silence (or in some cases random counting of fingers).
It is nothing major but, keeping up with how many power points are still needed to score the base can become tricky.
Over all I enjoyed playing Smash Up. Coming from someone who tends to shy away from card games, thatis saying something. Does it tend to get chaotic? Sure sometimes. Can working out the power points still needed to score a base be tricky? Most definitely (if you are as bad at maths as I am).
Did I enjoy every moment of playing Smash Up? Hell yeah! Zombie Ninjas rule.
- Components : 4/5 The game’s art is really good and is evocative of the playful spirit of the game. The card stock is a good quality.
- Game play: 3/5 The game, once you get hang of the basics, is quick and fun. It can be a bit ruthless at times. Placing the minion cards on the base cards can sometimes be a bit fidgety, as well as trying to keep track of the base points. Understanding the various abilities might also be a challenge to some.
- Complexity vs. Depth : 3/5 This game has a bit of a learning curve. There is also a fair bit of reading involved, but once you get past this the game is quite easy to grasp.
- Theme : 4/5 For a card game it is steeped in theme. From the art to the specific powers of each minion. It all works and makes sense within the universe the game creates.
- Overall : 3.5/5 Smash Up is a great card game with a theme that would draw in most people I know. It has a huge amount of replay ability and there are already a lot of expansions available with some more on the horizon.