Top critical review
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Strong strategy behind shallow facade
on 22 November 2012
Comicbook style pugilism is at the heart of Smash Up, which is termed a "shufflebuilding" game.
The premise is simple, 2-4 players choose two of eight faction decks comprised of about 20 cards, shuffle them together and then off you go. The decks themselves represent entities such as "Pirates", "Wizards", "Dinosaurs" etc, each having a particular style or effect, with the replay value coming from the fact that there are a number of different possibilities, meaning that each time you play, you'll need to calibrate your strategy and tactics according to the faction's strengths and weaknesses.
Each deck is made up of minions and actions and you can play one of each per turn. In general minions will have a power value (up to 7) and have a unique ability that they can use at certain points of the game. Actions are usually one off events, although some factions have events that can be ongoing throughout the game.
The purpose of the game is to win 15 victory points - these can be won by laying minion cards at "bases, of which 4 are always present. Each base has what is termed a "breakpoint" and the first player to lay enough minions at a base to match that value is deemed to have won the points. However, points are also given to players who come 2nd and 3rd as well. Furthermore, some bases give more points to 2nd place than 1st place. Smash Up is essentially a bidding game, but one where you can find your bids removed or reduced significantly, just as you can affect other players too. Those who don't like direct confrontation may do well to avoid this game.
Smash Up's flavour and longevity comes from the unique abilities that each faction has and the combinations that you can make with mixing them up. For example, Dinosaurs are very powerful but lack subtlety. Compare them with the Ninjas, who rely on stealth and illusion or the Zombies, who just keep on returning from the grave to haunt you again and again. Although it looks like a simple game, there is actually a fair amount of deep strategy involved, especially as you can find that putting all your eggs in one basket to secure a base can often be wiped out in an instant (damn you Pirates!). The various abilities that the action and minion cards are fun to use too.
This is a fast game that shouldn't take more than one game or a few turns to properly grasp, and once you've got going, should take 30-45 minutes to play at the most. It has enormous potential for expansion and at the time of writing the manufacturers have announced plans for up to 22 more factions, which they've helpfully catered for by providing enough capacity in the box you get with the game. My only misgiving with it is that at first it's quite a slow game and it takes a while for things to really heat up. New players in my experience are a little unsure of the mechanism and strategy, especially if they're unfamiliar with a faction's weaknesses and strengths. However, as a fun, fast "filler" game it's recommended.