Smash Up Review

Smash Up what's in the box

One of the games that I've been eagerly wanting to get my hands on this year is Smash Up.

Smash Up is a "shufflebuilding"game.  What this means is that you select two factions at the start of the game, and then you build your deck by shuffling them together.  During the game, you will be using the minions and actions of your new deck to attempt to break different "bases".  Each turn, you are allowed to play one action and one minion (in either order).  The minions are played on bases, and at the end of a turn, if a base has a certain amount of power (from minions) around it, the base "breaks", and players score points based on if they were first, second, or third in power.  Then, all of these minions and the base are discarded, a new base is drawn, and the next player takes their turn.  Oh - you also draw two cards at the end of your turn.  That's basically all of the rules.  You play until someone gets 15 points.

The first, and most obvious, pro for Smash Up is the theme.  This is a game about Aliens, Dinosaurs, Ninjas, Pirates, Robots, Wizards, Tricksters (Fairies and such), and Zombies.  When you play this game in public, people want to play it without knowing anything about the game.  The theme is cool.  The only thing that instantly comes to mind that is missing is Dragons.  (I consider them different from Dinosaurs - after all, everyone knows that Dragons breathe fire, and Dinosaurs don't.  Maybe if Dinosaurs could breathe fire, they would still be around.  And really, stinkin' scary!)  I also think it would be amusing if Chuck Norris was given his own faction.  But that would probably cost a lot of licensing fees.  You could also do a professional wrestlers faction (and probably use made up people).  Either way, there are a lot of new factions that they could add to Smash Up to make it fresh and add replayability.  Yet, one of the other things that I like about the factions that they already have is that they all play differently.  Instead of simply going for theme and making eight decks that work exactly the same but have different art, they made a game where each faction has definite abilities that you need to capitalize on in order to win.

different factions you can play with in Smash Up
All of the different factions!
The second pro really surprised me.  And, mainly, it is because I had this game taught to me.  The rulebook is actually really amusing.  After playing a couple of games, I was teaching the game to others.  I had a rules question (who wins on ties, or something else minor that hadn't come up in a previous game).  So, I started flipping through the rules.  And seeing things like a section with the header "Cheater!  Y U Action Twice?"  Or, in the tie breaker rules, "If there is a tie for the most, keep playing turns until there isn't.  No sharing!  Except for your two factions.  You guys are BFFs."  Plus, every question that I've had has been quickly and easily answered in the rules.  Very rarely do I mention the instructions as a pro for a game, but Smash Up has one of the best rulebooks that I've ever dealt with.

My third pro to Smash Up is that the actual game is fun.  Why did this not make it until third?  Well, because the other two pros are really, really strong!  But, there is quite a bit of depth to figuring out which base to attack, when to attack it, whether it's better to kill your opponents minions (or leave them there to help break the base), when to play action cards that help you instead of ones that hurt your opponent.  There are really a lot of strategic choices to the game.  And, each combination of factions will give you a variation of these choices.  For example, with the Aliens, I played the game completely opposite of how my wife played them.  When I played as the Aliens, I played one of my minions that gave me a Victory Point when it entered play.  Then, I regularly used my other cards to beam him back into my hand so that I could play him over and over and keep scoring more victory points.  When she played the Aliens, she beamed up everyone else's minions whenever they came and threatened the bases that she was attempting to break.  Two completely opposite ways of playing the exact same cards - and both work well!

But, with all that Smash Up does right, there are some cons that need to be mentioned.  First, the game is very text heavy.  Or, more specifically, it is very text heavy for what kind of game it is.  Smash Up is (I believe) a non-gamer friendly, easy to learn, fast and easy to play game.  It can appeal to people beyond just gamers because of it's theme, and it is an easy way for them to play games and have fun.  Yet, with this, most every card that they will draw will do something different that they will have to read (and understand).  So will every base.  And every card that everyone else plays.  Once you have played the game a few times, this really won't be an issue anymore.  However, every time that you teach the game to someone new, you will immediately see what I am talking about - the game begins with a lot of sitting there and reading.  It just seems that the amount of text just doesn't fit the style of game.

mid play of Smash Up - calculating bases
Now how much power is at each base??
The next con for Smash Up is in the same vein.  There is a lot of math going on in the game.  By "math", I mean simple arithmetic.  You will constantly be adding and re-adding how much power each person has at a base, how much total power is at the base, and how much more power you need at the base.  Then, for strategic purposes, you will be adding how much power the cards you play will give you, and how close you will be at that point.  And, some minions gain extra power when it's not their owner's turn.  So, you have to remember that and add it in.  Another minion gains extra power based on the number of minions its owner has in play.  So, you have to add all of that in, too.  None of this is difficult, but it does serve to slow down the game, whether you've played it once, or you've played it dozens of times.

Finally - there's no score markers.  Really?  Do you think that I have dice just laying around that I can use for this purpose?  (Ok, stupid question - but that doesn't mean I remember to bring them with me.)

Overall, I give Smash Up an 8.5/10.  I enjoy the game, and I intend to continue playing it.  I am also eager to see what new factions they release in the upcoming months and years.  And, whereas I won't be playing Smash Up on a weekly basis, I look forward to getting to pull it out and teach it to new people and watch as they enjoy getting to throw Ninjas and Dinosaurs together to see what happens.

If you like Smash Up, then you might also want to check out 7 Wonders, Flash Duel, and Revolver. Or, if you want to check out some more opinions on Smash Up, I'd recommend checking out this Smash Up Review on I Slay the Dragon, or another Smash Up Review by Games With Two.

I would like to thank AEG Games for providing me with a review copy of Smash Up.


  1. If you had a Chuck Norris faction, then the game would be unbalanced - no other faction would have a chance! In fact, it would also probably unbalance all of the the games that you put next to it on the same shelf!!

  2. Chuck Norris faction? Brilliant.

    Great review, Josh.

  3. It serves its purpose as a light filler while waiting for people to show up for heavier games

  4. You're right josh. Whoever wrote that rule book deserves five dollars.

  5. I just got this as a gift. A fun game, but i definitely agree that it is VERY text heavy.
    I think it is fair to assume that every household has a pad of paper and something to write with. Ever play Scrabble? :)

  6. I agree with everything except the rules. They are very poorly written. I would have preferred a simple straight forward rule book that actually clearly defines how the game runs in plain English rather than the cutsy and disorganized rulebook it came with.

    And my box came with victory points markers in singles and 5 points, so I never had a problem with keeping score. For a non-gamer, I see your point with the math, but the math is fairly simple regardless once you have played it through once.