Any serious gamer knows the struggle is real when it comes to introducing others to the hobby. I am always on the hunt for good, entry-level games. One of the “gateway” games that I’ve had the most success with is Smash Up by AEG. Not only is this a game I use to introduce a friends and family to the hobby, but it is also one of the games that really jump-started my interest in modern board gaming.
The game’s theme is really approachable because you literally can not take the game serious. The base game comes with 8 different decks, each one representing a faction. These factions are both fictitious and very real. They are, in no particular order; Pirates, Dinosaurs, Aliens, Ninjas, Tricksters, Robots, Zombies, and Wizards. At the start of the game each play selects two decks that they want to play with for that particular game. They shuffle, or “smash”, these two decks together and…ta da! Now that player has a super cool deck of Robot Zombies, or Alien Wizards.
Gameplay is nearly as straight forward as deck construction. In the center of the table cards representing Bases are placed face up each one containing 3 values, a breaking point and some text that contains the card’s particular ability. Each of these faction decks consists of two different types of cards; actions and minions. On a player’s turn they get to play either one action, one minion, or one of each, in the order of their choosing. The minion will be played to bases with their strength value counting towards the breaking point of that base. The actions will do many, many different things, some of the most common being modifying the minions strength or the bases breaking point. At the end of a player’s turn if any bases have minions who’s strength meets or exceeds the bases breaking point then the base scores and awards players the 3 values of points depending on who had the most strength present when the base scored.
The game is so simple but so very entertaining. The push and pull of control at the various bases will keep players constantly on their toes. The card play is nothing new or crazy but the combos that can be creating are rewarding for new gamers and experienced ones. But by far the highlight of the game is searching out the awesome, and possibly game breaking, combinations of decks. Each deck is so unique and when combined with another they become unbelievably crazy. Below is my ranking of my faction factions and a quick rundown of their thematic ties/play styles.
1. Aliens – The alien deck is all about messing with your opponent. Their cards allow you to “teleport” minions back into your opponent’s hand. You can even “terraform” the different bases into ones more favorable to you and your current positioning. While not overly powerful, it is just fun to see your friends frustration grow as you continually mess with their plans.
2. Ninjas- Speaking of messing with your opponents plans. The ninjas are just plain old sneaky and malicious. Many of the cards in the ninja deck revolve around playing minions to bases after they have been declared for scoring, potentially giving you the edge you needed. Also, watch out for their throwing stars, literally destroying enemies minions from the bases you are fighting for control of.
3. Wizards- Need more actions? The wizards have got your back. Their deck will let you play actions til your heart’s content. Pair them with a deck that has a bunch of powerful actions and you won’t even notice the weak minions that your deck consists. Either way slinging spells right and left will constantly keep your friends annoyed as the patiently wait for their turn.
4. Zombies- Bring out yer’ dead! Don’t worry, did your favorite minion just get sent to your discard pile? Why don’t you just pull them back out and add them to that base you’re trying to score? The zombie deck turns your discard pile into a second, more favorable, draw deck. You will never be at a lack of minions with this deck and, like a zombie, your opponents’ groans will only grow louder and louder as the game progresses.
5. Robots- Did someone say mindless army? The robot deck features very few actions cards (don’t pair them with the wizards) but an entire army of robotic minions (do pair them with the zombies). You will literally swarm the various bases with minions. You might say, “But wait, can’t you only play one minion per turn?” You are not wrong, but many robot minions allow you to play a second, and often times, a third minion. iRobot, anyone?
6. Dinosaurs- Big is almost always better. The dinosaur deck is full of a lot of heavy hitters, literally. The minions in this deck are far feature the highest strength values in the base game. On a single turn you will find your self causing multiple bases to break thanks to your beasty beauties. Just wait til your opponents see you play not only a T-Rex to their base, but a T-Rex with a laser beam. That aught to send them cowering back to their mamas’.
7. Pirates- Ahoy! Don’t like the base you’re currently at? Why not lift anchors and sail to another? Minion movement is key with the pirates. After a base scores most minions are returned to discards piles, not the pirates, there is far to much exploring for them to be confined to a discard pile. Also, a little firepower will definitely come in handy when seeking to strike fear into your opponents. The pirate deck is the second most aggressive deck, coming in just behind of the Ninjas.
8. Tricksters- Wanna feel clever but not really a threat? Me neither. The tricksters are all about “trying” to cripple your opponents actions and attempts to score. While I have not had much success with them, don’t write them off completely. Why? Well when your lead minion is an evil Leprechaun it can only mean the sky’s the limit.
If you haven’t had a chance to play Smash Up I highly recommend you check Game Grid’s demo library for a copy to either play there or to rent and enjoy at home with the family. You will have a blast. And if the game really does resonate with you then it’s worth noting that the game has nearly a dozen expansions, each adding 4 new factions for even more smashing chaos. Check back later to read my rankings of my favorite expansions and their respective factions.