Critical Review - (The Ultimate) Smash Up!

“Dude, we need to run, the Aliens are coming!  Here, let’s hide in this mall!  ARGH! There’s Zombies in here, get out!  OK, let’s run to the beach, everyone knows aliens hate water!”…. a short run to the beach later… “ARGH! There’s Pirates here!?  OK, dude, it’ll be ok… quick, I know, the gardens, now!  WHAT!?  Ninjas!?  Quick, get outta here!  OK, no malls, no beaches, no gardens… and the aliens are still coming!  OK… to the library!  WHAT!?  Wizards!?  Who let the 2012 class of Hogwarts out!?  Ugh, ok, quick, I know… Best Buy! Yeah, we’ll hide there…. NO! Why are all the devices alive!?  ROBOTS!?”  Then, when the boys thought all was lost, and they had seen everything, they turned and saw… “A Gnome riding a Dinosaur!?!?”

 

And think, someone sat in a room and said, “Yes, I LOVE IT!  Run with it!”  And thus, through the design of Paul Peterson, the production of Todd Rowland, and a bevy of great artists, Alderac Entertainment Group brings us Smash Up!  The Shufflebuilding game of total awesomeness!

 

Seriously, how can you not like a game that has that kind of tag line and hype involved with it?  Going into Gen Con, a lot of people agreed.  Alderac’s newest title was looking to take the event by storm.  At the end of the first day, tons of people were walking around with epic bags of (sniglet alert) never-ending-ness filled with Smash Up!  And it wasn’t just day one, Alderac was smart enough to know it’s market so well, they didn’t sell out until the last day of the Con, but sell out they did, and for good reasons!

 

Smash Up! is a unique game.  It is made up completed of cards, but beautiful cards at that!  AEG has done an excellent job here in terms of production quality and artistic integrity of each of the available races.  It pits 2 to 4 players (or more, but more on that in a moment) in a card battle, controlling a combination of 2 of 8 available races at your disposal, to be the first player with 15 Victory Points.  How's all this done?  Let's take a deeper look, after the video review below:

You begin the game by laying out all 8 races in their 20 card decks.  These decks don’t do much though alone, so you need to choose a pairing!  By the rules, the first player chooses 1, then choice shifts to the next player, and snakes back so in a 4 player game, the 4th player will choose both their factions back to back with the 1st player getting their choice first (note, Zombies) and then choosing again, last.

The decks are made up of Minion and Action cards, which on your turn you may naturally play 1 of each.  Cards played will usually impact that and allow you to chain multiple minions and actions coming into play, but you don’t have to play any or either.  You can choose for instance to play an Action and no Minion on your turn, or vice versa. 

 

The goal is to play your minions onto bases (1 for each player plus 1) and when the value of all minions on a base equals or exceeds it's "break value" then the base is scored, with normally, the person with the highest value minions on a base getting the most benefit or points.

 

Combos, as you can imagine, are the bread and butter of the game!  With 8 total factions in the starting set, there are already 28 different combinations of 2 faction decks you can put together!  That along provides a ton of replay value, but then there is a nice slight nuance to the game.  Playing, for example, if one was inclined, Zombie Pirates, in a 2 player game, is completely different than playing that same combination in a 4 player game!  The extra players and potential impact to the base values in between your turns will force different game play, which is all good, and adds to the replay value!

 

The 8 factions are:

 

  • Aliens
  • Dinosaurs
  • Ninjas
  • Pirates
  • Robots
  • Tricksters
  • Wizards
  • Zombies

 

Each faction is completely different, with their own uniue gameply style.  Aliens, as you could imagine, like beaming up minions, probing players and making them discard, and essentially invading the bases.  Dinosaurs, well, what else would a dinosaur do but bring the pain and be nothing but power, power and more power! Meanwhile at the bottom of the list the Wizards are about drawing, playing extra cards, and at times, even stealing cards from the top of other player's decks.  And yes, the Zombies as you can see by the Mall Crawl card pictured, like to recur from the discard pile!

 

The differences are a huge part of the game, as while oyu may know the Pirates inside and out and know exactly when to play Full Sails for instance, you aren't always guaranteed to get another faction you are familiar with, so it's best to learn them all.  They each have strengths and weaknesses, but I can tell you from multiple play sessions and multiple discussions on the fact, the Zombies are, in my opinion, the most powerful.

 

This doesn't mean they are broken, but rather, that if an opponent is playing Zombies, it's best to plan your "base breaking" and your abilities that make opponent's discard very well!  In most games, Zombies are the first faction taken, and because of that, we've implemented a nice house rule.  When selecting factions at the beginning of a game, we take one of each card from each faction, shuffle them up, and deal 2 out to everyone.  This is much more random, and is a lot of fun! Besides, it IS the Shufflebuilding game, so this fits for us!

 

The other nice thing about replay hits you when you open the box.  There are a LOT of open slots for more factions, 8 in fact! Speaking to Todd, and as mentioned in the video, there are a LOT of plans to fill all those slots too!  Coming in the first expansion are Plant, Bear Cavalry, Steampunk, and Ghost factions!  

 

The art for these look amazing too!  If you met Todd at Gen Con, he was very nice to share with a lot of people, the artwork for the Ghosts, who according to him are, "the most interesting mechanic I've seen in card games in a long time".  He didn't get too detailed, but he did let us these tidbits about the new expansion (coming in December/January timeframe - hopefully):

 

  • Ghosts will have clues on how they died in their artwork (which is awesome looking!)
  • Plants and Zombies "may" not like each other very much (I expect these guys to remove cards from graveyards from the game, but can't confirm this yet.  Makes sense though, they come from the soil!)
  • Steampunk will be building railways between bases to help each other all over the board
  • Bear Cavalry... well, didn't say much on this... but the artwork looked beautiful!

Now, while you can play this game with 2-4 players out of the box, there was a lot of "set combination" happening at Gen Con.  We played a game of 8 players twice!  As you can imagine, this involves combining 2 sets, and usually is accompanied by the rules of "no, you can't play 2 of the same faction, so no double Zombies!"  However, these games are loooooooooooooooooong!  Really long!  While it's fun, it's a lot in between turns, so if you plan on doing this, I highly suggest 6 be the maximum players.  It is still fun, a bit long, but not overwhelming, and won't get you into situations in a 7 or 8 player game where a base is already scored before the 7th or 8th player can even go!

 

So, aside from the cheesy “snarkyness” of the game, the awesome starting factions and the upcoming wicked cool expansion factions, what else is good?  Well, I've played about half the possible combinations and as of yet, nothing has seemed to stink.  Everything does what it does so well, that when you pair it with another thing that it too does well, it's a lot of fun.  While my personal favorite combination is Aliens and Zombies, I have thoroughly enjoyed Ninja Dinosaurs, Wizard Tricksters, and Robot Pirates as well.  

 

Alien Zombies, if possible, are my go to combination.  The Invader is a Minion in the Aliens that gains you 1 VP when you play it to the table.  Combine that with your recursion from the Zombies and your "beaming up" from the Aliens and I've gotten nearly 8 points in one game just from that card alone!  Now, the odds of getting Alien Zombies, or Zombie Aliens is pretty hard, as they are very popular factions, and they usually don't hang around.

 

Another really fun one I've seen played against me is Ninja Wizards.  They are probaby the fastest combination I have seen, and one that will leave your head spinning!  In addition, Pirates plus anything is fun, as you can make up about a million jokes for any combination of Pirates and X, and you get to say "Argh" a lot!

The game, as you may imagine, one that provides an amazing amount of fun around the table.  Even in 2 player games, there is a ton of comedic moments!  My personal favorite card art is from the card to the left, part of the Tricksters, called "Pay the Piper".  It has a TnT toting Gremlin running into a fight (with the fuse lit mind you) between a T-Rex and an Alien Mothership!  I don't know how much more epic-ness you can fit on a 2.5 x 3.5 piece of cardboard!

 

To me, AEG has made a wonderfully fun game, one that can be enjoyed in a 1 on 1 setting, but expanded for more zaniness and enjoyment with more players.  It provides an engaging, social experience, and one that will keep you laughing through it all.

 

In addition, it will keep you coming back!  You want to know, "will this work with that?" or "can these two factions work better than these two?" and it'll, possibly, keep you up at night wondering!  And, with more around the corner, the possibilities keep growing!

In the end, there is a LOT of customization, and LOT of different things happening, and a LOT of fun when Smash Up! hits the table at your game night!  In the end, we're giving it a Crit, for fun, for simple rules, for "snarky-ness", for creatvity, and for the future plans and investment AEG is obviously making to improve the game and being even more shufflebuilding awesomeness to our table tops!

 

Finally, I'd like to thank AEG, Todd, and everyone at the AEG Booth at Gen Con.  They pretty much gave Rodney and I carte-blanche to film, play, and set all this up for you guys, so once again, thank you so much for all you did for us to bring the video to our fans!  (And of course, if you like all this, let Todd and AEG know!)

 

And of course, This wouldn't have been possible without my dnace partner and co-hort in crime, Rodney Smith!  He does an excellent job with Watch it Played, and is very dedicated to bringing fans stellar information on the games he overviews, so we know if it fits our play style or not.  I highly recommend you check out his site, and if inclined, he also has an Indiegogo.com fundraiser going as well you can check out and possibly choose to fund to help him improve the series even more!  Thanks Rodney, this was a total blast and I look forward to more fun times!

 

Final Critical Review Score (Crit, Hit, or Miss):

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