Smash Up Card Game Review & Ultimate Guide

What would happen if pirates and ninjas put their differences to one side, and actually teamed up for once? And what if they had a violent falling-out with the robots and zombies that also happened to be there for some reason?

Smash Up. That’s what.

Smash Up
  • For 2-4 players
  • Takes about an hour to play
  • "Shufflebuilding" card game

Brief Overview of Smash Up

Smash Up Box and Cards

Smash Up is a card game for 2-4 players in which you take control of two factions and try to destroy more bases than your opponents. It uses a ‘shuffle-building’ concept, where players take two different faction decks and combine them into one.

There are eight factions in the base game – including pirates, ninjas, and dinosaurs – however, there are numerous expansions, making for even more numerous faction combinations. What’s more, each faction has its own special abilities, meaning you can create some pretty powerful combos.

Players aim to load their cards onto the bases to destroy them before their opponents. Whoever scores the most victory points takes home the trophy.

Versions & Expansions

Smash Up Expansion Packs

There are tonnes of Smash Up expansion packs to buy that will let you try out new combos. You could feasibly see one produced for almost any franchise or theme you can think of. 

Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
  • Not a standalone game
  • You need Smash Up in order to use the expansion
  • Adds depth and complexity to the base game

Some notable expansions include the ‘Awesome Level 9000’, which lets you play as Steampunks and Bears; ‘Monster Smash’, including Vampires, Werewolves, Mad Scientists and Giant Ants; ‘Pretty Pretty’, adding in some cuteness with Fairies, the Kitty Cats, Mythic Horses and Princesses; not to mention the Cyborg Apes and Time Travelers of ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’.

And, of course, there’s ‘The Obligatory Cthulhu Set’ for the H.P. Lovecraft fans out there.

Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set
  • Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set also contains 8 new Base...
  • For ages 14 and Up with a 45 minute playtime
  • Contains: 80 Minion and Action Cards, 8 Base Cards, 12-page...

The Big Geekier Box expansion is definitely worth checking out, too, if you buy a few of the expansions, as it’s designed to fit them all in. As a result, it is absolutely huge.

Smash Up: The Big Geeky Box
  • Contents: 22 Cards, 27 Dividers and Foam Spacers
  • Storage box for all Smash Up Expansions
  • Ages 14 and up.

Unboxing Smash Up

Smash Up Core Box Packs

In the base game of Smash Up you’ll get:

  • 20 Pirates cards
  • 20 Ninja cards
  • 20 Zombies cards
  • 20 Robots cards
  • 20 Dinosaurs cards
  • 20 Wizards cards
  • 20 Tricksters cards
  • 20 Aliens cards
  • 1 rulebook

The card artwork in Smash Up is absolutely brilliant. Every faction has its own color scheme and animation style, all of which fantastically align with the themes they’re representing. And this clash of design when the cards are being played brilliantly emphasizes the chaos of the game.

In the base game box, you will be able to fit in a few expansions to keep things neat and tidy. However, completists won’t come close to squeezing them all in there. The Big Geekier Box expansion, as mentioned above, is designed to allow you to do just this – although even that will get too small at some point.

Speaking of, you’re encouraged to use the Bigger Geekier Box expansion rulebook, which is available online if you don’t have that version. It has a lot of rule clarifications and explanations of terms and of phrases that were missed in other editions. It is huge and does look quite daunting, however, the basics are all covered on three pages. The remainder of the booklet detail rules specific to the different factions, or things that you won’t need to know to get the game started.

How to Play Smash Up

Smash Up Box and Card Examples

With all of Smash Up’s expansions and factions, there are numerous additional rules and cards that get added in. Below, I’ll explain the very basics of the game flow, but bear in mind that the version you buy will likely have a few additional features.

Setting Up

To begin, assemble your team! Each player should choose two factions to play and then shuffle the two corresponding faction decks together to create your 40-card draw pile. Next, take the base cards relating to the factions all players chose and shuffle them together to form the base deck.

Draw one base per player, plus one (so, four bases for three players, for example), and place them face up in the middle of the table. Then, players should all draw five cards from their faction deck to form their starting hand.

Your Objective And How To Get There

The aim of the game is to score 15 victory points. You can score victory points by placing your minions on bases to build up the power level and, once a base reaches its power breaking point, being one of the most powerful players on that base.

Once someone reaches 15 victory points during the end turn phase, the game finishes.

The Cards

Minion

You play minions onto bases to try and win them. Each one has a power value, along with a number of other possible abilities and effects. The theme of the various factions colors the nature of their special abilities. The pirates, for example, can move (or smuggle) the cards, while zombies can bring cards back from the dead (discard pile).

Base

Bases have three big numbers on them, showing how many victory points the top three players earn when that base is scored. There’s also a number in the top-left corner that shows the Breakpoint – this is the amount of power that must be on the base for it be scored.

Action

Action cards grant you a number of special abilities or effects and can be played at various points in the game. They don’t have a power value and will often go straight into the discard pile.

Taking Turns

A turn is made up of five phases, which a player must complete before play moves onto the next player.

  1. Starting phase – some cards are activated before anything else happens. Resolve these.
  2. Play cards – play one minion and/or one action card and resolve the effects. You can also use any other card abilities that your in-play cards might have. There are some special action cards with abilities that can be used even when they’re still in your hand.
  3. Score bases – if a base has breached its Breakpoint, you can now score that base (explained below). Some players have card abilities that can be played at this point, too.
  4. Draw two cards – this is the only time you can draw cards. And you can never have more than ten.
  5. End Turn – some card abilities may expire at this point. Otherwise, check to see if anyone has 15 victory points. If they do, they win!

Scoring A Base

If during the scoring bases phase of a turn, a base has breached its Breakpoint, then it is scored. Before it is done so, players are given a chance to use some abilities that might be eligible at this stage. This could reduce the power level on that base below the Breakpoint, but you must still score the base.

Then, tally up the total power that each player has on that base. The first, second, and third-highest scoring players on the base are awarded victory points, in decreasing order as shown on the base.

Note that a base can only be scored during the scoring bases phase of a turn. So, if you take an action that breaches the Breakpoint after the scoring phase of your turn, you will need to wait for the scoring phase on the next player’s turn.

Your First Game of Smash Up

Smash Up Card Game Artwork

The Rulebook

As mentioned before, Smash Up is a super simple game, but this won’t be obvious from the encyclopedia-like rulebook. When first learning to play the game, ignore the bulk of what is in the rulebook. Instead, just use the basic play rules at the beginning and read the individual rules for the factions you’re choosing to play.

If any questions crop up during play, there should be an answer for it somewhere in the book, but it shouldn’t affect gameplay too much if you don’t know the answer before going in.

Picking Factions

Deciding who gets what faction can be a big source of contention. Over time, you’ll work out some brilliant faction combos. Problem is, other players are unlikely to want to let you choose a combo that’s too strong. Therefore, I find the best way to solve this is to give out the factions at random. That way, no one feels hard done by, and it can instead result in some truly inspiring underdog victories.

Alternatively, you could let players draft one faction in turn order, then do the same again for their second faction.

What Goes First?

Playing Smash Up, you’ll often find there are lots of effects and actions to resolve at once. However, it’s not always obvious in what order they should be resolved. For example, when two bases need to be scored. A general rule of thumb is that the active player gets to decide in which order this happens.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • The faction combos can be amazing
  • The sheer number of factions means great replayability
  • Super simple to pick up
  • There is an expansion for everyone

Cons:

  • Confusing rulebook
  • Quite a bit of quick math involved

The absolute best thing about Smash Up is in the name. Nerds can finally live out their wildest dreams by smashing together two factions of their choice to become one big fighting machine. From ninjas and pirates to dinosaurs and robots, or sumo wrestlers and grandmas with guns.

This ‘shuffle-building’ concept is relatively unique and a real stand-out feature of the game. And not just because of the Frankenstein-esque perversion that is satisfied by fusing together giant ants and time travelers

The different combinations of factions and their various mechanics can create a wildly different type of game each time you play. The base box comes with eight factions, which on its own means twenty-eight combinations. You can only imagine how many combinations this makes with every expansion! (I’m not doing the math for you). This makes it incredibly replayable.

Smash Up is also very easy to learn. The very basics of the gameplay can be picked up easily after one round. And, while the individual rules for each faction are numerous, if you just stick to learning the ones you need to know, this shouldn’t confuse things too much. Sadly, the length of the rulebook along with its unclear layout and use of language might give off a different impression.

The only gripe I had with the gameplay is that I found it a little frustrating having to constantly tally up how much power was on each base. It’s not hard math. But it’s intricate, as there are often effects in play that need to be taken into consideration. This isn’t a buzzkill, but it can distract a bit from the flow of the battle.

Smash Up Card Game Review (TL;DR)

In Smash Up, you’ll be combining two faction decks to destroy bases and earn victory points against your opponents. The different factions you can combine make for some insane battles and crazy combos.

It’s a fast-paced, straightforward, and brutal card-battling game with almost endless replayability, considering all the potential for expansions.

Conclusion: Verdict?

Smash Up is a chaotic card game that is as fun as it is absurd. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here purely from some of the insane combinations that can be made. But it’s a really neat little card battle game too, with a surprising amount of tactical thought that can be applied to it.

There are a couple of peeves I had with the rulebook and the number of rule clarifications that were needed for almost every card, let alone every faction. But, aside from that, it’s a fantastically-produced game with some great card designs.

Smash Up is also incredibly easy to learn and play, making it perfect for gamers of mixed experience, or simply a low-pressure option for regular gaming groups. It’s fast-paced, simple, brutal, tactical, crazy, and, quite simply, smashing.

Smash Up
  • For 2-4 players
  • Takes about an hour to play
  • "Shufflebuilding" card game

We hope you enjoyed our Smash Up review! Have you tried Smash Up or any of its expansions? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think!

Stats at a glance

Players: 2-4

Ages: 12 +

Easy

45 Mins

Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group

Published: 2012