Smash Up Featured Image

Smash Up! A game done right.

I clearly remember playing Smash Up! for the first time back in 2012. It was such an awesome idea! Shuffle two factions into one deck and throw down against one to three other players and their combos: Zombie-Pirates, Alien-Dinosaurs, Trickster-Wizards, or Robot-Ninjas! From the starter box alone there are 28 possible faction pairings. Fast forward to 2017 and Smash Up! remains fun, popular, and fresh with 55 factions and 1,485 possible faction combos. In this first of a series of posts we’ll explore Smash Up! and why it remains a game done right.

Smash Up! has staying power because the basic rules are dead simple to master. I’ve taught dozens of people to play in two minutes flat. It goes like this: 1) Pick two factions. Generally, each faction will have 10 action and 10 minion cards. Shuffle all the cards together to create a 40 card deck. This is ‘shufflebuilding’ aspect of the game. 2) Put bases in play equal to the number of players plus one. The number in the upper left corner on the base is how much minion power you need to break the base to make it score.

Smash Up Base Examples

3) When a base breaks and final shenanigans are over, players score points corresponding Smash Up Rules Summaryto the big numbers across the middle of the card in descending order from the person with the most power to the one with the least. 4th place? No points for you!

4) On your turn, in any order, play one minion onto a base and one action card. The number of minions you can play during your turn can (and should!) be modified by the special rules on cards and bases.

5) When you’re done draw two cards, discard down to ten, and loudly tell your neighbor to hurry up and play. 6) First person to 15 points wins.

The continued success of Smash Up! is a result of Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) balancing some key ingredients. The tongue-in-cheek humor and silliness that permeates all the Smash Up! releases is kept in check by a core rules system and extensive play testing that allows the content to be fun and silly while the rules mean business. Smash Up! does this so much better than, say, Munchkin or Fluxx which have so much random and silly that the novelty of playing the game wears off quickly, leaving nothing to do but play through retreads of bad jokes and look forward to someone, anyone, winning so the game ends.

They’ve also kept the multitude of factions balanced. There’s no doubt that some faction combos are better than others; however, there’s no deliberate power creep or deckbuilding system that makes players buy the newest expansion in order to remain competitive. In fact, two of the best factions are still found in the original box. Through 55 factions and counting, play remain balanced at both a casual and organized play level.

Tournament wise, AEG’s Smash Up! tournament ‘Queensbury Rules’ are a brilliant balancing mechanism for experienced players. For a four player game, eight factions are laid out and order of choice is randomized. Each player, in order, takes a faction then the last player to choose takes a second faction, and so on (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1). This simple system means the first player may get the best single faction but, in a game where synergy between factions is everything, they have the least chance to get the best synergy. Arguably, player four has the best chance to nab two factions that are guaranteed to work well together even though individually the two factions might be weak.

Smash Up! has retained its allure because it’s so well-balanced and the basic rules of play-two-cards, draw-two-cards has been applied creatively across dozens of factions. For the moment, however, let’s stick to the original eight factions supplied in the base set box game. Key Minion and Action cards have been selected to show the different focus of each faction.

Smash Up Aliens

Evict and Invade Aliens are all about bouncing minions off bases and replacing them. The two Invader 3 power minions can, if you can keep playing them, rack up several VPs a turn. The Alien-Zombie combination from the original box set is still probably the best pairing in the game because it exploits this synergy.

Smash Up Dinosaurs

Overpower The Dinosaurs can lay down a pile of high-powered minions in a big hurry and protect them for the turn or two it’ll take to break a base. Three War Raptors, for example, are a total of 15 strength alone! Paired with a faction that can play extra minions, Dinos really are heavyweights.

Smash Up Ninjas

Steal and Assassinate The Ninjas specialize in sneaking in at the last moment to steal points on a base that, seemingly, another player had all locked up. The ability to kill rival minions and then play extra minions before a base scores takes some finesse but it’s a lot of fun when you can pull it off.

Smash Up Pirates

Move and Steal The Pirates are themed around moving around from base to base, then suddenly piling onto a base to make it break and take the plunder. Paired with a faction that has powerful minions (like the Dinos), Pirates can wreak havoc with hit and run tactics.

Smash Up Robots

Swarm and Overrun The Robots remain one of a very select few factions that do not have an even split of 10 minions and 10 actions cards. The Robot’s 18 minions can swarm and overrun a  base in a single turn. They’re fun to play and benefit from pairing with a faction with a lot of low power minions.

Smash Up Tricksters

Deny and Annoy The Tricksters make a pest of themselves by denying access to bases and punishing other players by making them discard or destroy their own minions. Truthfully, this is probably the least fun faction in the base set because Smash Up! is fun because of what you can do while this faction is all about what you can’t do.

Smash Up Wizards

Extra Actions The Wizards allow you to play multiple action cards on your turn all based around a time manipulation theme. They can be frustrating as you will usually not have enough action cards in your hand to take full advantage of what they can do; however, paired with another faction that has ‘play an extra minion’ type action cards they can be really powerful.

Smash Up Zombies

Play Extra Minions The Zombies do exactly what you’d expect. You can play them or draw them into your hand direct from your graveyard, er, discard pile. While most of the minions have low power you’ll be able to spam them across the bases and recycle them quickly after a base breaks. The Zombies are sometimes considered overpowered. Certainly, pairing them with the Aliens and their 1 VP minions can bag you a ton of points in a hurry.

In the next post we’ll look at how well AEG manages the Smash Up! franchise and jump off into the fantastic range of Smash Up! expansions.

Smash Up! Munchkin & The Big Geeky Box

Smash Up! Free Sheep and Big in Japan expansions

Do you and your gaming group like Smash Up!? Do you have a favourite faction or combo from the base set? Feel free to let us know in the comments.

3 Comments on “Smash Up! A game done right.

  1. I love this game – I wrote an article a while back about one of my favourite combinations – the Pirate/Mad Scientist combo (it needs the Monster Smash expansion). By using the plus power cards of the Mad Scientists and the ability to jump between bases as they get completed that the First Mate has it is possible to create an over powered First Mate that just completes everything. Such a good combo in such a good game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear you’re enjoying Smash Up! The Monster Smash expansion is one of the best in terms of both game play and humour. The Giant Ants, in particular, are a tongue-in-cheek homage to the rock group Queen which always cracks me up. I can see how you’d get a lot of mileage out of a Pirate/Mad Scientist combo. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a chance to play it sometime.


  2. Pingback: Smash Up! Munchkin & The Big Geeky Box | On Sean's Table

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