Science Fiction Double Feature: A Smash Up Review

Paul Peterson Smash Up Expansion

You probably wouldn’t think that Cyborg Apes, Shapeshifters, Super Spies and Time Travelers would end up in the same game, let alone on the same team. But that’s the whole point of Smash Up. Well . . . that and smashing bases. I grabbed some gaming and nongaming friends, provided a couple bottles of wine, made tacos (that’s how I persuade them to show up) and began a battle for Victory points in Smash Up: Science Fiction Double Feature.

First, a little background. Smash Up, designed by Paul Peterson, is a shuffle-building card game by Alderac Entertainment Group. Players each “smash” two factions together to create their playing decks. The core set comprises of eight factions to get you started:

  • Aliens are used to annoy your opponents by returning cards to your opponent’s hand and replacing bases. Let’s face it, aliens are assholes.
  • Dinosaurs are the powerhouse faction. They may have tiny brains, but they have big power . . . and lasers! They can break bases quickly.
  • Ninjas are sneaky and attack at the very last second, usually right before a base is scored. Who wouldn’t want ninja skills?
  • Pirates prey on the weak in stereotypical pirate fashion.
  • Robots employ power in numbers and give the ability to play multiple low power minions at once.
  • Tricksters are the ultimate pest. They’re used to stop certain plays, force players to discard, and make bases undesirable.
  • Wizards are always the center of attention and taking more than they should. They allow a player to draw extra cards and make extra plays. I call them the teenagers of factions.
  • Zombies never die. If they do die, they can come back.

Besides the core set, there are seven expansion sets. I suggest checking them all out. Since my goal this year is to play and review each game on Popular Mechanics‘ list of “35 Best New Board Games,” I figured I would start with this one. Science Fiction Double Feature—also name of the opening song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show—is the fourth expansion set for Smash Up.

Here’s a quick rundown of game play:

According to game rules, Smash Up is best played with three to four players or teams. I say “the more the better.” Players take two different factions, shuffle them into a 40 card deck and take turns competing to smash bases and earn the most Victory points. Base cards are placed face up in the middle of the playing area. Most people use a table, but there are no rules against using your drunk, passed-out friend as long as the bases can be seen and built upon by all players. The number of base cards is equal to the number of players plus one. Four players or teams means you have five bases. When I play with more players or teams, I stick with the five bases. That may seem too simple, but it makes the game flow a bit easier and quicker.

Each player begins with five cards from their own deck. Every faction has two types of cards: Minions and Actions. Minions are played to the Base, have a specific power that degrades the power (or Breakpoint) of the base and may have an effect that occurs when played. Actions are played and then discarded unless otherwise noted as an ongoing ability. During each turn, players are allowed (but not obligated) to play one Minion and one Action card. They then draw two cards and play is moved to next player. Continue this process until a base has reached its Breakpoint and score. Easy peasy.

So, that’s what you would think. Easy . . . except that the actions allow you to totally screw with your opponent’s minions or give your own minions a power boost or change how a base is scored. There is definitely a strategy to this game. It’s also best to have someone designated as the official rule interpreter. There are a few cards that can be interpreted more than one way and, ultimately, you will have that one person looking for the loophole.

Finally, we get to the original topic of this discussion: the Science Fiction Double Feature expansion pack. The factions in the core set are pretty basic, but science fiction knows no boundaries, and that’s reflected in the factions included in the expansion:

  • Cyborg Apes, according to the rule book, stole their cybernetic enhancements, combining powerful strength with high-tech augmentations. It’s no wonder they have great ability to play on other minions and make them more powerful.
  • Shapeshifters will copy the best and most powerful elements of other minions and use them to their own advantage.
  • The Super Spies faction, themed after James Bond, allows a player to sneak a peek at cards in their deck or keep opponents from playing special cards.
  • Lastly, Time Travelers, my favorite. OK, it may be my favorite because I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, but being able to return your cards from bases to your hand or to your deck instead of discarding them is actually pretty cool and very helpful.

Mix any of these factions together or with other sets and you could possibly rule the world, assuming you make the right choices.

Now for a few tips I learned from our Smash Up game night:

  • Although this game is fun and basically easy to play, it will take newbies a little more time to really get in the groove. Almost every card is very text heavy. Players need to read and understand their hand cards, every card they draw, cards their opponents play, and base cards. The game starts slow due to so much reading, but once you get familiar with the cards and understand the powers, you will rocking and rolling and smashing in no time.
  • There isn’t a score sheet or scorecard, so make sure you have something for each base to keep a tally. This will help keep the game moving and you won’t be constantly scoring a base to see how close it is to its breaking point.
  • Don’t try to teach newbies after they have been drinking. Apparently, drunks can’t read or count, but they do provide entertainment.
  • Deviate from game suggestions. They suggest two to four players using a number of bases equal to the number of players plus one. I really like playing this game with more players or teams and still using only five bases. It keeps the game moving and lets the bases be scored more often.
  • Read the rule book! Not just because it contains the rules, but it is actually very entertaining. The authors knew what they were doing.
  • Finally, some of our favorite combinations were Shapeshifting Wizards, Robot Ninjas and Time Travelling Dinosaurs

The game table

If you get a chance, check out the list of the 35 best new board games according to Popular Mechanics. I, personally, will not be reviewing Sheriff of Nottingham, which is also on the list; that game was previously (and excellently) reviewed by TCG contributor Adam Haverkamp in “Commerce, Bluffs, and Bribery in Sheriff of Nottingham.”

Overall, Smash Up lives up to its tagline: The Shufflebuilding Game Of Total Awesomeness.

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