Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another new review from Sagan Ezell, fellow game group member. Sagan is an omni-gamer from Lafayette, Louisiana, and helps run the Southern Board Game Festival. Here are his thoughts on the game. You can reach him on Twitter @SaganEzell
In life, there are a few universal mysteries. What are we here for? What is the meaning of life? Who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas? Luckily, some clever people have begun to shed some light on the most crucial of these questions, thanks to Paul Peterson’s shufflebuilding game, Smash Up.
What is Smash Up?
Published by AEG back in 2012, Smash Up settles the Pirates vs. Ninjas debate that you’ve always secretly held very strong opinions about. It also settles the Dinosaurs vs. Time Travelers, the Princesses vs. Rock Stars, and the Kittens vs. Elder Gods debates that you’ve never considered before, but totally should, along with tons and tons of others.
Smash Up has received a steady influx of new content over the years, and from the humble beginnings of 8 factions, a complete set of everything the game has to offer will now include about 70 factions. With this much variability in set-up, it seems pretty fair to say that no two of your Smash Up games will ever be the same. The core premise of Smash Up, the “shufflebuilding”, is that you take two of the available factions, shuffle them together into one superteam, and use them to play minions and actions in order to control areas and secure points. If you’ve chosen factions that play nicely together, you can pull off some pretty crazy combos and make sure that you win the bases that will lead you to ultimate victory. Smash Up is a great game that goes over pretty well with most groups; however, it’s not for everyone.
One of the great things about Smash Up is that it’s pretty easy to teach. On your turn, you can play one minion and one action, then draw two new cards into your hand. Anything beyond that, just read the cards and do what they say. It’s just that simple. Read cards, do things. It helps that the game has a great sense of humor.
One of the less great things is that if you’re playing with someone who doesn’t like to read cards, or someone who doesn’t adapt well to unexpected situations, you might be in for some long turns. Because there are just so many options available, it’s entirely reasonable to expect at least one player at the table to be seeing a card for the very first time on every other turn. So they pick it up, read it, count the power up on the base, question if their card cancels the effect of your card, think for a minute, count the power up again, and finally make their play, only for a third player to recount the power (correctly this time) and declare the whole turn invalid. After they have reassessed and made a play that works for them, a fourth player invariably plays a special action and ruins the whole plan anyway.
I have been playing Smash Up since its release, and in that time, I’ve gotten nearly everything available for it. In a way I think of it as the most complex simple game that I have. I love the complexity and intricacy that comes out in a turn with wacky card combos of factions that we have never seen go head to head. I love the fact that a player can set up ridiculous multi-step combos to snatch victory from an opponent at the last minute, or can hold that special action for juuuust the right time to turn the tide in their favor. I can see though that it isn’t a game for everyone. If you hate seeing your well laid plans ruined, this game will drive you crazy. There are tons of options for players to mess with each other and ruin plans, sometimes in extreme ways. Destroying other minions, playing a dozen cards in a single turn, stealing cards from an opponent’s deck, and reviving your best cards from the discard pile are all pretty standard occurrences in a game of Smash Up. There are certainly tactics that can be employed that greatly drive up someone’s chance of victory, and typically the best player will come out on top, but you have to take into consideration that in this game anything can happen. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t expect to take it too seriously either. Smash Up to me is the epitome of the phrase “You win some and you lose some.” Either result is still a lot of fun.
What about World Tour – International Incident?
Like almost every other expansion for Smash Up, World Tour – International Incident is a standalone game for two players that is truly intended to be combined with the base game and played with up to four people.
The factions added this time are Luchadors, Musketeers, Sumo Wrestlers, and Mounties. I’m going to break down a few points about each one to see what they bring to the table and help determine if they are the faction for you.
Musketeers revolve around the core concept of doing lots and lots of small actions at once to combo cards. In most of the games I have seen them, they sit idle for turns at a time, relying on their partner faction to do most of the heavy lifting, then when they are ready, they strike. (One of their cards is literally named “Biding Time.”)
Most Musketeer cards have the king of fiddly abilities in this game, +1 power until the end of the turn. In practice, it’s pretty simple, but in reality when Musketeers are playing 5 extra actions in a turn, and each one grants additional +1 temporary power to varying numbers of minions, it can be difficult to keep track of for the player whose turn it is, and nearly impossible for the other players to calculate. Combine the fact that this is the faction whose power is the most difficult to calculate with the fact that a lot of the cards have bonus draws and extra actions, and you can expect a game with them to have a lot of checking and rechecking the math when a base reaches the breakpoint. It’s not unreasonable for the Musketeers to play 6 to 8 actions in a single turn, with NO HELP from their partner faction.
In the above picture, you could theoretically play all of those cards in a single turn for something like 14 extra temporary power in +1s. I gave up trying to count after a bit. This faction has a cool concept, but it can be a little annoying to play against them if you hate recounting the power on bases more than twice a round.
Mounties, too, have the adding temporary power like the Musketeers, but it’s much more manageable to calculate since it’s usually going to be 2 to 4 power coming from a single card and not 7 power coming from 4 different cards that may or may not affect certain minions but not others.
The main idea for the Mounties is that they are stronger on the move, and many of their cards let them move freely between bases and also grant them extra power on the turn that they move. Moving cards is always fun in this game, and it leads to uncertainty for your opponents, as a large portion of the Mountie cards out at any point could just decide to drop whatever they are doing and come kick in the door at a different base.
Mounties are very flexible and can pair well with a lot of other factions, but especially ones that give them extra card plays and even more movement. Plus, the fact that each one rides a moose with machine gun antlers is just the most “Smash Up” concept that we have seen in awhile.
3. Sumo Wrestlers
Sumos don’t have too much of a thematic stretch to find their gimmick in this game. They push other players’ minions around. The push them around a LOT. Mounties are an okay, flexible faction, but they are really the best counter to Sumos since Mounties can just move back after they get pushed around.
Sumos are an overall strong faction that can work well with almost any other. The ability to control space makes this faction very good. What makes this faction GREAT is the rate at which they can generate +1 power counters. Unlike the temporary power of Mounties and Musketeers, when the Sumos bulk up, they stay that way, and some of them can get scary strong with a few counters out. They are slow, with no extra plays to speak of, but when paired up with a faction to compensate for this weakness, Sumo Wrestlers can absolutely dominate a game.
FInally, we turn to the Luchadors, which is my favorite faction of this set. Why just win, when you can win in style? Luchadors have a series of pretty unique actions called “set-ups” which are played on opponents’ minions instead of your own. The trick is that they also have options which specifically target cards “with your actions on it.”
What this means is that you might perform a quick set up, play an extra action, and then pin the card you just set up to cancel its power amount, but only from the controller of the minion. You really need that extra 7 power from King Rex to help break the base, but you don’t want the dino player to get first place? Just pin him! Then the power is applied to the breakpoint but not the victory point calculation.
There are other cards that toy around with this setup mechanism in a neat way, and it’s a really rewarding and fun way to play the game. The faction is good all around, and it brings an interesting new concept. This one is a winner! Also, Smash Up has no shortage of amazing names for its cards, but Señor Muchoslam is on the scene now and is gunning for the top spot, what’s not to love?
Really there are 3 main types of Smash Up players. The competitors, the theme team, and the people who haven’t played the game yet. For the competitors, does World Tour have something to offer you? YES, these cards can be crazy strong with the right combos! For the theme lovers, does World Tour have something for you? MAYBE, the factions are all very cool and thematic on their own, but it just depends on how much you like wrestling i guess. For the people who are just getting into this game, does World Tour have something for you? PROBABLY NOT, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first expansion since most of these cards operate on a bit of a higher level than previous factions, of which there are another dozen to choose from.
I don’t see a reason for a player to pick this up over several of the other expansions unless you just love Mounties for whatever reason. It’s certainly not too complex to pick up, even for a first time player, but many of the older cards are just so much more straightforward while accomplishing roughly the same mechanical result. This means there will be less reading for everyone which means your games will be faster and you can play again with a new combo! To you first time expansion buyers I would say, check out Awesome Level 9000 or Science Fiction Double Feature or Monster Smash first, then move on from there.
For Smash Up veterans I say, you know what the deal is at this point. It’s more Smash Up. OF COURSE it’s loads of fun, and OF COURSE it’s worth picking up because the quality easily matches the high bar that this game has set for itself.
Really, Smash Up fan, do you want to deprive yourself of the chance to play Musketeer Grannies vs Sumo Sheep? Didn’t think so.
- These factions are all pretty strong, and pretty fun.
- The humor of Smash Up sets hasn’t diminished at all over time.
- Somehow, each set still manages to feel distinct from most older sets.
- Even if you don’t win, these cards are just fun.
- This game is hilarious
- Lots of long ability descriptions
- If the Musketeer player sets up a combo, you might as well break out another filler game on the side during their turn.
- Nothing is unique or crazy enough to set it apart considerably from other sets.
Bonus: What are your top Smash Up sets/factions and why?
My favorites are mainly the way they are due to the combination of playability and the comedy that they bring to the table. I really love the way they name cards in the game.
- Awesome Level 9000 – The essential expansion for me. Every faction is top tier.
- Big in Japan – The addition of Titans was super cool and different from everything else.
- Pretty Pretty Smash Up – The silliness of the combos these factions allow is amazing.
- Cease and Desist – It’s always a laugh to look at these cards, even when we don’t use them to play the game, since they are all as close to copyright infringement as possible.
- Science Fiction Double Feature – Cyborg Ape named Furious George. That’s all.
- Oops, You Did It Again – Every faction here is STRONG. When did they get so strong?
- World Tour – International Incident – Dang, they are still strong! This is a thing now.
- It’s Your Fault! – The advertised yet still “secret” bonus faction was a stroke of genius.
- What were we Thinking? – The art in the Grannies’ cards is overlooked.
- Monster Smash – Power Counters added a lot to the game, but others do it better.
- That ‘70s Expansion – Fun cards, but probably the least interesting themes for me.
- Munchkin – I like the decks, but adding in Monsters and Treasures is an extra step.
- The Obligatory Cthulhu Set – Same as above, except Madness is just annoying to me.
- Steampunks – My go-to. Options for extra draws, pulling from the discard, huge power.
- Shapeshifters – Very flexible and cool. Lots of control options that others lack.
- Magical Girls – The perfect complement to any faction with lots of extra minion plays.
- Bear Cavalry – They put the awesome in Awesome Level 9000.
- Itty Critters – Such an interesting idea with mechanics designed to follow the theme.
- Vikings – Why yes, I would like to pillage my opponent’s deck for their best cards.
- Cyborg Apes – Furious George, Baboom, Clyde 2.0, Cyberback.
- Princesses – The idea of a deck with only 6 minions is so intriguing!
- Sheep – The art is just so good! Plus, moving minions around is a fun mechanism.
- Ghosts – Very tough faction to play well since the entire thing revolves around emptying your hand. More than any other faction, Ghosts are about good timing.
- Mythic Horses – The names of the actions in this set just crack me up.
- Luchadors – playing “set-ups” on other people’s minions is just too cool.
- Star Roamers – They were one step away from just calling some of these cards “Not-Spock”, and “Not-Kirk”. I want the Next Generation to get a new set now.
(Note: Geeks are very fun, but also too strong for me to play them in good conscience.)
— Sagan Ezell
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!