Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A collectible card game without all the work


The thing I like about Smash Up is that it takes a lot of my favorite elements from collectible card games and distills them down to their most simple. It manages to provide the kind of game play I go to CCGs for, but without the added complications like collecting cards, figuring out combinations and strategies, and building decks. It's a collectible card game without all the homework.

The game consists of a selection of 20-card decks representing common genre tropes such as pirates, zombies, and ninjas, as well as some not-so-common ones like dinosaurs with laser cannons. Each player chooses two decks and shuffles them together to form a single 40-card play deck. Locations called Bases are dealt out to the middle of the table, and the object of the game is to score points by having the most character cards present at each base when it "scores," which it does when a certain number of characters from all players are present.

Each faction has its own gimmick. Zombies play cards from the discard pile, pirates move cards around between the different Bases, robots "self-replicate" by allowing their player to play a bunch of characters each turn, and so on. The strategy comes from figuring out how to make your two factions' abilities work together.

The point of the game is to occupy the Bases while preventing your opponent from doing the same, so it's not about confrontational combat, but rather about strategic placement and manipulation. There are only two card types, Minions and Actions, and on a normal turn a player can play one of each so it's easy to teach new players. Like the best CCGs, Smash Up presents a simple framework of rules and then gives the players cards which allow them to break those rules, in this case by playing extra cards, moving minions between the different Bases, playing from the discard pile, and so on.

At the same time, Smash Up avoids the barriers that stop most people from playing collectible card games. There's no collecting involved; the base set contains enough cards for four players, and each expansion is self-contained, with four 20-card decks and complete rules for two players. Choosing your two factions is the only deck-building involved, but that simple choice offers a surprising amount of strategic decision making, as the different factions work together in surprising ways, so a zombie pirate deck is going to play quite a bit differently from a zombie wizard deck.

Smash Up manages to offer the complex strategy of a collectible card game while at the same time being very easy to pick up and play without any prep time. It's a breeze to teach new players, and the slick artwork will help hold their attention.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) With all the different card combinations, we could easily play this very accessible game all afternoon.


Date played: August 5, 2014

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