Board Game Gumbo contributor, Zack Moneaux, is back with another review, this time of some new Smash Up releases from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). Zack has the luxury of playing solo games, two player games, thinky euros with his own game group, plus the omni style of games that comprises our Gumbo Game Nights. Note that some of the pictures include components that do not come in the box or the expansion, but come from Zack’s upgraded collection.
I will be the first to admit my biases. I love Smash Up. I own everything Smash Up. I play it with multiple groups of friends, my fiancée, extended family, from 2 to 6 players. It is always the first game I introduce to friends or family looking to get into boardgaming and I rarely turn down a game. Needless to say when the new Bigger Geekier Box and latest expansion “Oops, You Did it Again” were up for review, I snatched them up. (Ed. note: AEG provided us with complimentary copies of both for review.)
First, here’s a quick primer for Smash Up before diving into the new stuff. Smash Up is a competitive card game centered around a unique “shufflebuilding” mechanic designed by Paul Peterson. Each player chooses 2 factions, each with their own deck of 20 cards, and shuffles them together. This becomes the player’s deck for the game. The base Smash Up core box comes with 8 factions and the full roster with all expansions is 64 factions as of the date of this article. They are fun and thematic, ranging from Robots to Cyborg Apes to Minions of Cthulhu. Each one has unique mechanics designed to create combos with other factions.
After creating decks, players start the game by setting out Base cards which are their scoring objectives. Players take turns activating one Action card and playing one Minion card on a base. Actions can be immediate abilities, buffs/debuffs attached to minions, or ongoing effects attached to bases. Minions have abilities that activate when played and power levels that contribute to the player’s total power at a base. When the power level of all players on a base collectively meets or exceeds the base’s power threshold, the base is scored out, awarding points based on who had the most power. The base and all cards on it are discarded, a new base is revealed, and play continues until someone reaches 15 points.
Smash Up is a breeze to teach as most of the rules are on the cards themselves. While the game can sometimes get bogged down with so many unique mechanical interactions, it’s all quite manageable with some experience.
The lifeblood of Smash Up is the steady stream of faction expansions. Generally each expansion adds four new faction decks. Each expansion exponentially increases the possible combinations in your game, and these combinations are what keeps the game so fresh. Kitty Cat/Zombies? yep. Vampire/Time Travelers? Sure. Disco Dancer/Grannies? Hey, whatever gets you going. Half the fun is making absurd decks and seeing how they work. Finding that one faction you really like and combining it with anything that seems fun is also great (I had a seven game Sharks phase; I’m no longer allowed to play Sharks).
The latest expansion “Oops, You Did it Again” adds 4 new factions to the roster: Vikings, Samurai, Cowboys, and Ancient Egyptians. It also introduces a couple new mechanics to the game: duels and burying. Duels have minions battling each other in a quick 1v1 bluffing game. Each player, starting with the initiator of the duel, may play a card from their hand face down. The cards are revealed and any actions played resolve. (Minions played this way are bluffs and are returned to their owners hand.) After resolving, whichever minion has the most power wins the duel. The benefits and detriments of a duel are dictated by the card that initiates it.
Burying is simply playing a card face down at a base. Once per turn, a player can reveal one of their buried cards and it resolves as if played as an extra Action or Minion.
The newest expansion adds four new factions. The Ancient Egyptians focus, unsurprisingly, on burying. They have traps they can bury, minions that can be saved and buried after a base scores, and other minions that gain bonuses by having cards buried around them. They make excellent use of the new mechanic. I played Ancient Egyptian/Ghosts and enjoyed supplementing the ghosts general lack of minions/cards in hand with the extra minions and traps I was able to play via the burying mechanic.
The Cowboys and Samurai both use the new dueling mechanic. The Cowboys are more heavily focused on duels and have many options to destroy other minions and boost their own power mid duel. I played Cowboy/Aliens (of course) and had lots of fun controlling the tempo of the board with all the minion removal at my disposal.
The Samurai are less focused on duels, and instead gain bonuses when minions are discarded from play. They feel very fresh, rewarding careful planning and sequencing combos. I played Samurai/Zombies, using the Zombies’ abilities to bring back powerful Samurai minions I sacrificed for bonuses.
The Vikings don’t use either of the new mechanics but are very interesting nonetheless. They’re able to raid opponents’ decks and take cards for themselves. They also allow you to put cards back on top of your deck for big bonuses. I knew I wanted lots of cards to enable those abilities so I went with Viking/Wizards. The Wizards have many abilities that give them extra cards which perfectly feed the Viking bonus engine.
I really enjoyed the new expansion factions — they all feel fresh and fun. I’m happy to see AEG introducing new keywords and mechanics like duels and burying. I think this is the direction the game needs to go in order to continue to stay interesting, and this makes me very excited for the two new expansion packs set to release in 2019.
That said, this was also one of the harder expansions to integrate and teach new players. Burying was relatively straightforward but the duel mechanic tripped up everyone I played with. Just be forewarned that any new faction with the dueling mechanic may not be the best to introduce to new players.
But if you’re a Smash Up veteran, you want this expansion. I can’t wait to mix these new abilities up with some of my favorite factions. If you’re new to Smash Up I can’t really recommend this as one of your first expansions. Look at the “Awesome Level 9000”, “Monster Smash” and “It’s Your Fault!” expansions first before mixing in the new mechanics. Those are the expansions that really sucked me into the game and got me hooked. They’re all packed with very solid factions that open up fantastic new strategies without much rules overhead.
BIGGER, GEEKIER, BOXIER
I sleeve most of my games, and have everything Smash Up. it should be no surprise that my old Big Geeky Box was starting to get a bit cramped. AEG has the answer, with its fall release of The Bigger Geekier Box. This new way to store your Smash Up collection feels more premium, including a token holder that lifts up to reveal much more room for cards.
The included plastic faction dividers and token storage are excellent and help speed up setup considerably. My one dislike is the lack of dividers for each expansion’s bases. Each game of Smash Up, you’re meant to shuffle together the bases of any expansion sets in play to create the base deck. Unfortunately there are no indicators on the cards to mark which expansion they’re from and there are no dividers to organize the bases once you do figure them out. Setting up the base deck and tearing it down should not be as tedious as it is. It’s a bit of friction that could have been alleviated with a few more dividers. This is a premium accessory at a premium price and I would have liked to see that one extra step. Luckily the bases are listed and categorized on the back of the brilliant new rule book that compiles all of the rules, factions, and errata to date.
There are also two new factions included with the box, Geeks and All-Stars. The Geeks are a very powerful faction, rewarding knowledge of the game with strong abilities. I haven’t played with the Geeks yet but boy have I been destroyed by them a few times. The All-Stars faction is special, it combines individual cards from many other factions and gives them all a basketball team theme. The artwork on these is some of the most fun in the entire game. It is an incredibly solid, workhorse faction that mixes well with nearly anything. If you’re interested in Smash Up and plan to build up your collection, I wholeheartedly recommend the new box after picking up your first few expansions.