Thursday, 10 April 2014

Smash Up

Smash Up is perhaps one of the most misunderstood board games I have had the opportunity to play lately. I picked it up about a month ago based off a recommendation in /r/boardgames, it was pointed out to me that Smash Up is by the same designer as Guillotine which has become our go to filler for quite some time. Even after doing some research and discovering they had little to nothing in common, I was sold by the artwork/theme and stopped by my flgs to grab a copy of Smash Up the next day.


Your objective is to mass 15 Victory Points primarily from destroying locations but some factions have other options to gain points. 

Destroying Locations?

During the game you will place Minions at locations in order to try and have majority control when the location "breaks". Each location has a break value in the top left corner, once the combined power of every players' minions reaches the break point, the location awards victory points based on majority control, the player with the most power gets the value on the left, the 2nd highest power total gets the value in the middle and so on. 

How to play:

On your turn you will play 1 action and 1 minion in any order, provided that you do not get bonus actions or minions from those cards, you will then draw 2 cards and your turn is over. 

Similarly to Guillotine all the important text is on the cards, that means when you first crack it open there is some reading but eventually the pace will pick up, although the same draw your cards at the end of the turn mechanic is present to help offset the text heavy cards.

Here is a example 2 turn example of how Smash Up is played.


My Thoughts:

I really like the theory behind Smash Up, bang two premade faction decks together to get some wacky combo and battle to the death for random locations. The artwork on the cards is fantastic, and I really like some of the faction choices although I feel like others are a bit too generic in the base game. 

I do not like how unbalanced some of the combos are, Robots win almost every time unless the other person has a good combo to counter them (ninja gnome works great for this) you can offset this by giving Robots to the new player or by not choosing them or even by selecting factions 1 at a time. 

I do not like how in a 4 player game there are no factions left over, base games usually support more than what is required to play in games like this and give you some options even at max players. Having at least 1 expansion feels mandatory but I am unsure as of now if the game is good enough to justify buying an expansion. 

I also do not enjoy Smash Up because of the extreme variance in playtime. I like being able to judge how long a game is going to last, sometimes we finish a game of Smash Up in 10 minutes and think we have time to play another only for it to go past 45 minutes. This is because there is no rule to end the game if someone else happens other than hitting 15 points, if your deck runs out you simply reshuffle it so you can end up in a stalemate easily especially when all the factions are in play. 

That all being said there are things I enjoy about Smash Up, the game is quite fun once everyone playing has had a chance to play 3 or 4 times and knows what to expect from some factions so they don't have to spend every turn reading text. I do like how Smash Up implements the draw at the end of your turn that way on your turn you aren't having to read new cards that you draw and can try to come up with a bit of a strategy. But usually by the time its your turn again what you wanted to do before isn't an option anymore, Smash Up changes often and it is actually pretty easy to catch up and pull a win from behind unless someone is playing robots or another overpowered combination. I like how intense Smash Up feels like all these random factions are just throwing down yet it still maintains some comical theme although I think lots of that is lost in the gameplay especially when you are first being introduced. Like most games Smash Up is a ton more enjoyable if you call things by the right names, don't just say you are going for this location or that, send your Grave Digger to the Tar Pits to dig up your Supreme Alien Overlord. 

Overall I think Smash Up is a misunderstood game, people expect it to be fun, light and easy based on the artwork and theme and then don't have any fun as they get lost in all the text. It actually doesn't take long to get the hang of the game and you will know cards by name before long and the terminology all makes sense. Actually in my opinion the learning curve is not as stepe as a lot of people claim simply because each card tells you exactly what it does on it, there aren't keywords to learn and remember or anything to memorize really. At the same time that does slow things down, so I would say Smash Up takes time to learn and get into but is worth the commitment as long as everyone understands what they are getting into. 

How does it scale?

Two Players: I like two player Smash Up, 3 locations feels like the right number to be fighting over, you can plan a few turns ahead, it feels more strategic and is a pretty fun game to play if you want to duke it out with a friend using some funny factions. The game length varies the most in a 2 player game but similar to Guillotine there is a really fun game hidden in the two player game that is heavier in strategy than at first glance. 

Three Players: Hands down my favourite way to play, 4 locations is manageable and you can still plan a turn ahead. Our three player games also seem to last roughly the same amount of time each game, the focus seems to be on scoring points rather than prohibiting other players which means that game keeps progressing towards an end. There is just the right balance of tactics, strategy and luck in a 3 player game.

Four Players: This is where the theme fits best, shit is chaotic and things could change in any direction at any given time. People seem to focus on screwing each other over a lot more which means unless someone is sneaking points in the game will drag. I do like how quickly turns move around the table in a 4 player game and I also like seeing more than 1 base score at a time but that can happen just as easily in a 3 player game. I did not like 4 player Smash Up because the turn order seems to have a lot to do with who wins, there are a few things you can do to offset this but only if you have factions that combo well together, which in a 4 player game where they don't include any extra options and they aren't all balanced together, this is unlikely to happen. 

Who should buy Smash Up?

Casual Gamers: I would only buy Smash Up if your game pool to choose from is small, there is a lot of replay value in Smash Up and you will need to play more than the average game to really get into it. The learning curve is slower than most games I would recommend to a casual gamer, but the rules are not challenging and the theme should appeal to a wide variety of people. The playing time and setup / cleanup time are also very casual friendly and take almost no time. 

Gamer Gamers: I think there are a lot of things appealing about Smash Up although I think it may be a little too random for the typical serious gamer. It can also be frustrating to be unable to get your plan / strategy rolling and that happens quite a bit in Smash Up. Keeping that in mind there is a ton of room for backstabbing and elaborate combos / turns, avid gamers will have a much easier time learning how to play and should be able to pick it up after 1 play and Smash Up is a good game to have around if your friends want to start moving into harder games. 

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