Alien Dinosaur, Zombie Pirate, Robot Ninja… amazing Halloween costumes or amazing combos in a shufflebuilding game? Both actually! So grab your two favorite decks, put em together, and prepare for this weeks ode to tabletop, Smash Up!
What’s Smash Up?
Smash Up is a shufflebuilding game where players take preset decks and shuffle two of them together to build a new deck with which to duel against their opponents. Decks have minions used on bases and actions that affect the game mechanics; the objective is to play your minions on bases to score the bases and gain victory points. Each type of character has different styles and strengths, and the player must use those combinations in different decks to strategically play on bases to score more than everyone else.
Powers that Be.
The most important thing to understand while playing Smash Up is how each deck plays. In the base game, there are Pirates, Aliens, Tricksters, Wizards, Ninjas, Zombies, Robots, and Dinosaurs. While some combinations are stronger than others, each can usually be played to the strength of the other.
Pirates: Move around the board outside normal turns. Pirate’s have the ability to “jump ship” and move around bases outside normal turns, weakening their hold on another base but pulling those last minute steals from their opponents.
Aliens: Move minions back to the player’s hand. They also have the only card that adds victory points outside of scoring bases. Not to be underestimated, aliens can pair with other characters (see: Zombies) for some really effective plays.
Zombies: Denizens of the underworld, zombies move cards in and out of their discard pile. Kicking a zombie out of your party is more like an open invitation to your next one. Pairs well with almost every other deck.
Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs are lackluster alone, but they pack a punch. Strongest overall cards and actions that add even more power, dinosaurs can score bases before you realized they were even there.
Wizards: These crafty characters are all about using more actions. Pairing with powerful action decks that move around characters or kill off opponent minions can make tide turning turn with a little luck and a lot of planning.
Robots: Self-replicating metal menaces, Robots use more robots to strengthen themselves. Playing more minions makes previous minions stronger, so pair up with minion moving actions to improve your play.
Tricksters: Mischievious creatures of lore, the tricksters don’t have any specific powers, rather they manipulate many different aspects of the game. Arguably my least favorite, Tricksters set traps on bases and punish other plays for removing their minions.
Ninjas: By far the most aggressive, these stealthy assassins excel in killing off other minions, as well as sneaking onto bases at the last second. Pairing with either more actions or more minions can really grief other players trying to play minions on a base.
The Strategy and Combining Decks
There is some luck to drawing cards in any deckbuilding game, what makes Smash Up special is choosing your combos to increase your chances in the game. At the beginning of the game, take first decks in order of play then reverse the choosing so the last chooses first and first chooses last. This allows choices to be made not only in one’s own advantage, but strategically to prevent power combos to be made.
A turn in the game consists of playing a minion and an action. The strategy of play is more than just getting the most minions down; there is a strategy in placing on and scoring bases as well. Distributing across the board, or focuses on one can both be viable options, especially if playing a deck that can move placed minions. A good combination of styles I have seen includes damage decks, Ninjas or Dinosaurs, combined with extra action and minion placement, such as Aliens or Wizards. My personal favorite combo is using Zombies along with pirates because it allows a large amount of movement of minions outside normal plays and can capture bases with little to no warning. Describing individual combo strategies would be incredibly difficult and kill half the fun. My suggestion is to start with the one that you think sounds the coolest (if ninja robots is taken, sorry), and give it a go!
A Quick Word on Expansions
Expansions are excellent in Smash Up. The game can be played quite a few times with the base game and replays nicely, but, due to the style of the game, having many different decks to combine increases the number of different combinations that you can have.
It’s also only fair to point out that Cyborg Apes, Time Travelers, Killer Plants, and Superheros are only a few of the amazing new characters to add to your next Halloween ensemble.
A Little on the Negative + Final Thoughts
When I say a little, I mean it. I think Smash Up is an excellent game. There are however, overpowered combinations and underpowered, ones that, when added into the game, really end up demolishing the others. Typically this is avoided with multiple plays but new players may pick poorly and feel like they have no chance (which may be true).
Other than that, Smash Up is an excellent game that is fun in flavor, interesting in style, and a blast for new and experienced. Expansions or not, the combinations are exciting and hilarious, and the gameplay is inspired and different for every deck. I think that Smash Up is effective at inviting new gamers to experience a deckbuilding game with all the flare of a living card game but the simplicity that comes with preset decks.