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  • person Stefan Lazenby
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Smash Up is a beautifully simple game with easy mechanics to pick up. For anyone following my blogs, you might have seen me talk about Smash Up once or twice… might have… It’s a wonderful game but also quite mad. A game built around factions and characters/minions within them to create the theme. You have classic factions like zombies, pirates or dinosaurs. However, you can combine two of these factions together to make a unique and intriguing fighting combination. So, you might have the dinosaur pirates, or the wizard zombies to suggest a couple of examples. Will the combination be successful and gel well to take the win, or will they clash and struggle to get game momentum? Try the game and find out.

In this blog I will be going over the game rules and highlighting a couple of my findings and learnings from a few years’ experience of playing Smash Up.

Set Up

The game is for 2-4 players. Each player takes 2 factions from the 8 available in the core set box. It’s very much up to individuals as to how they want to go about deciding what factions to take. Whether you allow players to pick the 2 factions they want, or (and my preference), just randomly draw the factions and see what combinations are created. If we are talking about just the base game and you get the choice of faction, my tip is to get your hands on the zombies if you have any choice, they are consistently very good.

Next, take the base deck and play bases in the middle. The total bases played is equal to one more than the total players in the game. So, 4 bases played for a 3-player game.

Players then draw their hands from their decks. Players each draw 5 cards for their starting hand. If, and it does happen, you do not draw any minions within the five cards, you as the player can choose to reveal your hand to all, draw 5 new cards and shuffle the original hand back in to the deck. The evolution of this rule based on which expansion you are up to is quite interesting, but the above note works well.

Smash Up had an interesting way of determining who plays first: the base game notes whoever got up earliest in the morning. Other expansions noted whoever got blamed for something most recently, or whoever had the most recent birthday, whoever borrowed something most recently, some real random ideas. I’m sure as a playing group you will figure something out but these ideas are fun to try.


Turns are broken down into 5 parts but they are very straight forward.

1. Start of turn phase. This is a check to resolve any issues/effects from cards already in play. Or take an action on a card that must be used at the start of a turn, if you move to step 2 before triggering that, you lose it, you cannot go back.

2. Playing cards. It is simple: play 1 action card and/or play 1 minion card. OR play nothing at all. That is it! Then you get into the detail of the ability of the cards just played and how they truly impact the game. Nearly every card has something to contribute.

3. Score bases. First, you check to see if any bases are broken. By this, each base has a “break point”. When the total accumulated power of all players' minions exceeds the base break point then the base is broken and open to scoring. Because the minions and actions have been played there is no going back to the 2nd step of playing cards when you are in this 3rd part of the turn. Players can then come in with “special” abilities clearly defined on the card to attempt to win the base/better their position on scoring victory points. Work out how many points each player scores from the base. The player with the most power attached to the base takes the first set of victory points and usually the biggest score, then work it back for second, third and if you have a fourth player, they get no score as there isn’t a fourth score printed on the base. Players must have a minion on the base to be included in the base scoring. Then discard all cards attached to the broken base, discard the base and draw a new base card. If multiple bases break, then the player who’s turn it is picks the order for scoring.

4. Draw 2 cards. Players draw 2 cards to add to their hands. If they exceed 10 cards in hand, they need to discard as many cards as required to get down to 10.

5. End of turn phase. There may be a few ends of turn abilities triggered here, take those now. Then play passes to the next player.

Winning the game

The game keeps going until a player gets 15 victory points or more. You may well get to 15, then break a base and score 4 more points, taking you to 18. What must happen, though, is there needs to be an outright winner (unless you as a gaming group are content with a draw). After a base breaks, if two players scores end on 15 points, play keeps going until 1 player has the outright winning score of 15 victory points or more.

Playing cards

All the cards within this game do clearly articulate the instruction that comes with them and the point in a turn that you can play it. It is worth spending a moment at the start of the game interrogating your starting hand so you understand where you are at. Then again, every time you draw more cards, make sure you do read the small print attached.

It’s interesting that the game notes - in the event of a player dispute - the player who’s turn it is dictates the outcome. It seems a needless point to make because when you read and re-read the card, the clarity comes through on what you are able to do and mutual agreement can be found.

Key points

Critically, with all the expansions out now, make sure players are clear on the exact rules in play. There aren’t major changes to the game but like any good game developer, AEG have tweaked with their product to improve it and they are doing a great job. So, it is critical all players are singing off of the same hymn sheet.

One thing we’ve also found is language is everything. The factions are all unique. Therefore, the actions and minions contained within them are all unique, which for me is brilliant. For some I game with, they have found it off putting, believing more recently produced expansions are stronger and unbalanced. I disagree completely with this. However, this has resulted in players at times trying to bend the rule of what is printed on the card and attempt something which isn’t actually allowed. For me, the cards are clear, providing you read it clearly and fully understand what it is intended for. An example of this is where I might own a minion on a base that destroys a minion PLAYED on this base. The key word is PLAYED, meaning played from a player’s hand. Other cards will say MOVE a minion to another base where you take a minion already played on a base and MOVE to another. MOVE and PLAY are different and not the same thing. I have no right to them expect my minion on the base to be allowed to destroy this minion moving in, because it was not played, it moved.

The language is simple and clear to me, don’t take this passage above as Smash Up being a complicated game. It is not, but the language is important because it is what gives each faction their strengths and weaknesses. The final pages of the rule book quite often clear a lot of this up, taking away the ambiguity. There really should not be disagreement between players on what is and is not allowed.

Final Thoughts.

Smash Up is a beautifully simple game in its mechanics. I was shocked at how easy the rules were to read and interpret. The challenge is in the detail within the play cards, but that is also the fun. It’s a great game.