My Zombie Pirates Can Totally Beat Your Dinosaur Ninjas

Reading the title of this blog post, you might be thinking, "What on earth does that mean? I must click through to find out!" Well, maybe the first half. What I'm talking about is the board game (technically card game) Smash Up, which describes itself as "the shufflebuilding game of total awesomeness!"

I got this game about three years ago, and absolutely loved it. The premise of the game is simple. You have several "base cards" out on the table, that have a breaking point and victory point rewards. Each player has action cards and minion cards, and each minion has a power level. Each player tries to get as much power as they can on a base by playing their minions there. When the combined power level of all the minions on a base surpasses the breakpoint, the base "breaks" and victory points are distributed to the first-place, second-place, and third-place players. You win the game by getting to 15 victory points.

As for the gameplay, the basic rules are very straightforward, which makes it easy to teach to new players. You play up to one minion card and up to one action card. You check to see if any base has reached its breakpoint. Then you draw two cards, and discard down to 10 cards (if necessary). Other than that, you just read the text of each card, and do what it says.

Minions have different abilities, so that - along with the action cards - is where all the variety comes into this game.

Each player picks two faction decks, out of a total of eight included with the game. The player shuffles those two decks together, and that will make up his or her personal deck. Each deck has minions and actions for a specific faction.

The theme of this faction is returning from the grave. You'll get cards that let you play minions from your discard pile, or retrieve cards from your discard and place them in your hand. You'll also sometimes be able to play extra zombie minions in a turn.

This faction is all about strength in numbers. You'll be able to play many extra minions with this deck. There are also abilities that let you increase the power level of your minions.

Pirates are good at moving from base to base, and attacking other minions. This deck is great if you want to move your minions from base to base, or attack other players' minions.

They are sneaky, as ninjas should be. You can often move your minions in at the last second, right before a base scores. Or you can play one minion, but then switch him out with a different one.

These guys are all about setting booby traps and hindering the other players from carrying out their plans. You can prevent minions from being destroyed, or penalize the players that destroy them. Or prevent certain factions from playing on a base. A pretty powerful faction, if played wisely.

Power. The big strength of this deck is the power levels of its minions. I think it has the only power-level-7 card. And most of the actions and abilities deal with increasing the power levels of your minions. You'll also be able to attack other players' minions.

The strength of this faction is abduction. Many abilities have to do with moving another player's minion back to his hand, deck, or discard pile, or to another base.

Limits are for mortals. With the proper spells, you can play extra actions, draw extra cards, and sometimes manipulate other players' cards against them.

The game is for 2-4 players. Most of the time, I have just played with my wife, and we have a great time with the 2-player game. The more players you add, though, the more fun the game gets. When you add the third player, you suddenly have to consider which player to attack, and think more about which bases to focus your minions on. When you add the fourth player, you're no longer guaranteed victory points just for having a minion on a base, since only the top 3 players get points.

There have been a number of expansions to this game, each of which adds a few more base cards, and four new factions. Factions like Time Travelers (led by Doctor When), Vampires, Cyborg Monkeys (featuring Furious George), Princesses, and Bear Cavalry. We tend to just randomly assign factions to each player, so each additional expansion helps to ensure that no two games are the same. I'll save in-depth reviews of the expansions to Smash Up for future posts. Meanwhile, you can buy the base game here.

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