Monday, July 8, 2013

Game Review: Smash Up!

I read about Smash Up on another blog and it sounded like so much fun that I went right out and bought a copy.

Here's how I explained it to Lily:

You can choose from two of these different factions and mix them together into one team, like alien-robots or dinosaur-pirates. The factions are aliens, zombies-
Lily: I want to see the zombies!
Me: -pirates, ninja, pixies-
Lily: zombies.
Me: -robots-
Lily: zombies.
Me: -and wizards. Hey, that kid looks like Harry Potter. So, which group did you want to see first?
Lily: ...zombies.

Lily likes zombies. I think she's spending a little too much time with my friend Frederick.

Each player chooses any two of the factions and combines them into one deck. (Things my parents never said to me "Be sure to shuffle your pirates in with your zombies.")

Each faction has its own gimmick. Zombies come back from the dead, ghosts (a faction from the expansion set) grow more powerful the fewer cards you have in hand, pirates move around quickly, robots can assemble themselves quickly and can work around the only-play-one-minion-per-turn rule, etc.

In addition to the factions, there are a couple base cards, each of which award a certain amount of Victory Points when the total power of all the minions at that base surpasses the power of the base. 15 victory points wins you the game.

The art is bright and clear and colorful and it has an undeniably sense of whimsy.  The cardstock is solid and they should hold up to multiple shufflings.

Jen and Lily and I decided to play a game. The rules are pretty straightforward, and the cards describe exceptions to them (play an extra action this turn, play this card from your discard pile) clearly and concisely. I played robot-wizards, Jen was ninja-tricksters and Lily had zombie-pirates.  ("Daddy, daddy! I found a girl one! And she's kind of pretty for a zombie!")

The game says it is for players 12 and up, which seems very conservative. Lily is only six years old. A very precocious six, but still, a kid with only six years worth of experience and brain development. She played fine on her turns and was able to read everything on the cards, but she didn't always puzzle out the ramifications of the mechanics. (Which is to say, she understood that card A did X, but not the best time or place to play it in order to get the maximum benefit.) Also, her attention tended to wander when other people were taking their turn. With a little more experience though, I think she'll be able to play without coaching.

We played with 3 people and that's probably the sweet spot. (The box says 2-4 players) In general, a player only takes actions on his or her turn (though there are a couple exceptions), so additional players don't slow the game down to the extent additional players slow down the game in Magic or Munchkin.

We've only played one game, but both Lily and I have been thinking about different decks we might assemble. (She wants pirate-ghosts next time, but doesn't want anyone else playing her beloved zombies. I'm not sure if the robot-zombie deck I'm imagining is worth the epic sulk it will beget). Just by its nature, it seems endlessly replayable. I am very happy with this game. Real life friends, next time you're in the neighborhood on Game Night, swing on over and play a game or two!


  1. As I said on Facebook, I originally wanted this game when I first heard about it (the box art alone was practically enough to sell me on it), but then I read some unfavorable reviews on The main complaints I saw were:

    1. Repeatedly adding up totals to see if a base is destroyed is tedious (which I don't think would bother me much, as I like mental math, but I was afraid my friends might not be as keen on it).

    2. There are some horribly overpowered combinations of sets that can make for some very one-sided games.

    3. The game is supposedly too long for how light it's supposed to be, which is a complaint that gave me bad memories of marathon Munchkin games that overstayed their welcome.

    Now, all that being said, after reading your review and seeing the demo on Wil Wheaton's tabletop (, I totally want the game again.

    It seems like complaint #3 isn't as much of an issue as I'd feared (though you kinda hinted at it when you said Lily had troubles paying attention during other players' turns), #1 is something I can deal with and #2 has a handy house-rule solution: either deal out factions randomly, or have a draft situation (where players could counter-draft to keep their opponents from unlocking the God combos), OR--my personal favorite--deal each player 3-5 random factions (depending on how many are available) and force them to just make the best two-faction deck out of what they've got. (Which, admittedly, could still result in an overpowered combo. But maybe not too often.)

    Anyway, yeah--I'm sold on the game (again). I'll have to pick this up at some point!

  2. I didn't have a problem with 1, but I'm quick to do basic math in my head. It's largely mitigated by the punch out counters that come with the expansion, and I figure players could use pennies and nickels to track that if they're having difficulties.

    2 can be an issue. I haven't really sat down to work out killer combos, but just looking at the mechanics of each faction, it seems that bears (who get a bonus against minions who move to their location) have a ridiculous edge over pirates (whose main advantage is that they can move to other locations). Because every faction has its own gimmick, some of them are just plain better than others.

    I think in casual play, it's going to be largely self-correcting. A given deck might have killer combos, but doing them too often will unify the other players against you.

    As far 3, well, that may be an issue. We still have our cards spread out from the first game we started and have not yet completed. A big portion of this was that we were playing with a six year old with the commensurate attention span, but the robot deck I was playing had a number of "play an extra minion" cards. So on the turn when I captured a base, I played a robot that let me play an extra minion, which had the special effect of letting me play an extra minion, which in turn let me play an extra minion. Since cards that allow you to take actions on other player's turns are comparatively rare, you could be put in a position of watching another person play solitaire while you wonder, "Christ, is this asshole done yet?", and that's not fun for anyone.

    I haven't played enough to see how big a problem this is. It's possible that errata, house rules or future expansions will fix this if it is problem. I don't know. I'll report back after I have a few more games with grownups under my belt.

    1. Yeah, in that episode of Tabletop I linked, Wil Wheaton's deck is Robots (play extra guys) + Wizards (draw extra cards/get extra actions), and the other players jokingly commented on how they could all get up and have some coffee while they waited for Wil to plan out his turn.

      In any case, I love the silliness of the theme/art (which is what drew my attention to the game in the first place), and that may be enough to get me to try it out. But if you plan on reporting back at some point, I'll wait for that feedback!

    2. I was just thinking about this game again, so I figured I'd come back and check for a status update.

      Josh said: "I'll report back after I have a few more games with grownups under my belt."

      Did you ever get around to this? Or did your interest in the game fall off after that first play? I'm just curious as to whether or not this is a game I should still consider picking up.

    3. I was thinking about posting an update to this post just the other day (probably because I was looking at the new expansion online). Unfortunately, I just haven't been able to get a game together. But when I do, you'll be the first to know.