Designer: Paul Peterson
Artists: Dave Allsop, Bruno Balixa, Conceptopolis, Francisco Rico Torres
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Playing time: 45 minutes
Age range: 12+ (can be played by 10+)
(Image courtesy of thatmadgirl@BoardGameGeek)
There are two kinds of classic geek debates: the first is who would win within a single subgenre (e.g. could the Death Star beat the Enterprise); the second is which subgenres could beat the other (e.g. zombies vs. ninjas). Smash Up provides you with a testing group for the second, with an additional twist: you can combine two subgenres together and battle them head to head by trying to take over bases and score victory points.
The groups included in the base set are zombies, ninjas, pirates, dinosaurs (with laser beams on their heads), pixies, wizards, aliens, and robots. Each has its own specialty: zombies are good at coming back from the dead, pixies are good at causing mischief, ninjas are good at deception and assassination, and so on.
In gameplay terms, these groups are represented by a separate half-deck of cards — to create a full deck, each player will pick two decks and shuffle them together and draw a starting hand of five cards. The cards are well laid out, and illustrated in different styles depending on the subgenre, which makes them nicely thematic. There are two types of cards in each deck: minions and actions. Minions have a power number and an ability; actions can be immediate or ongoing. There is also a separate deck with cards representing the bases. Each base has a number representing the “breakpoint”, three numbers showing the victory points received by the first, second and third players who storm the base, and a special ability which can affect how cards are played on it, or what happens when it scores.
Each turn in principle is simple: you can play up to one action and one minion, then draw two cards. That said, some actions or minions allow you to play additional cards beyond that. Minions are played onto one of the bases. If the total power count of the minions exceeds the breaking point of the base, then the base scores. Once the minion count is resolved (some minions can act once a base scores) the player with the most power gets the first point value, the second the middle point value and the third the last point value.
The general strategy consists of trying to get your minions onto bases without quite driving them over the breaking point until you’re ready to do so. So there could be some back-and-forth as you remove other players’ minions from a base to prevent them from taking it, or perhaps play an action on a base that makes it less appealing for others until you’re ready to swoop in and take it.
While the overall concept for the game is sound, it doesn’t quite fulfill its promise. First, with a game like this you’d expect for players to attack each other directly. But adding the base in there as an intermediate makes it feel too indirect. The other problem is more severe: some combinations in the game are just devastating. For example, I just played a game with my daughter, and she combined zombies and pixies. One pixie card is the leprechaun, which is a high power card that effectively blocks lower power cards from the base. And the main zombie ability is bring cards back from the discard pile. So that damn card kept coming back, and with that and other combinations, she eventually won easily.
Because of this, I can’t recommend Smash Up. I don’t think it’s terrible; it doesn’t last forever like Munchkin, and it doesn’t require a lot of attention so it’d be fine as a beer-and-pretzel game. But in the end, despite the theme, it just doesn’t grab me.