|Interaction||Components & Design|
The phrase “over the top” could have been coined just to describe Smash Up, Paul Peterson’s card game of very unlike alliances fighting for territory. If you want to know the details you can read the review of the base game, but to sum it up in a sentence: in Smash Up, each player picks two out of the eight factions – Aliens, Dinosaurs, Tricksters, Zombies, Wizards, Pirates, Robots and Ninjas – shuffles the two decks of cards together and goes to town nuking it out with the other player over the available base cards and the points they bring. If you ever wanted to see how the fight of Robot Dinosaurs against Alien Ninjas would work out, then Smash Up is the game for that.
When you get a game like that and add an expansion – an expansion called Awesome Level 9000, mind you – there’s only one thing to expect: for the whole thing to go even more over the top. And Awesome Level 9000 delivers. The box contains, for the first time in Smash Up, tokens to count your victory points. I’m kidding, of course, that’s not the big new thing. But nevertheless, thank Cthulhu for those tokens. I thought I had dropped into the wrong century every time I had to find paper and pen to record scores. The main reason to get the expansion is, of course, the four new factions in the box to freely shuffle into everything already in the base game.
The Plants come across as this very harmless faction. How dangerous could a bunch of flowers be, right? Very dangerous, as it turns out, because they literally pop up like weeds. Their special ability is putting a bunch of minions into play quickly. They have the regular old tools for playing an extra minion with the Insta-Grow action, but many factions can do that already. Plants can do better. They have Sprouts, a small minion that does nothing special when you play it, but at the start of your next turn it will grow up into a minion of power three or less that you may search your deck for. Most factions have a hard time finding the minions they want, when they want them, because search your deck effects are rare. The plants really have a planning edge there. Even more so when they get the Venus Man-Trap into play early. The beefy five-power man-eater has a Talent to search your deck for a two-power minion every turn and play it as an extra. Like, for example, a Sprout. Talents are a new type of card effect, by the way: a card’s Talent can be used every turn on top of your regular actions. They are rare, but they are powerful.
For the second new faction, the Ghosts, I was worried how they would be set apart from the other undead faction from the base game, the zombies. But there was no reason to worry, the Ghosts do almost nothing with the discard pile like the Zombies do, only one card lets you take cards from the discard to your hand. I guess you can’t have the undead completely without coming back from the grave. But the ghosts main shtick is hand management. Many of their cards get an upgrade when you have two or fewer cards in your hand, like the Haunting that grows from an average three power to a monstrous six when your hand is almost empty, or the Spectre than can be played from the discard pile, but only if you have two or fever cards in hand. Even worse, the action Make Contact mind-controls any minion belonging to another player to your side, but can only be played when it’s the last card in your hand. To make all those things happen, the Ghosts also get a bunch of cards that let them discard.
We’re still on top of the Steampunk popularity wave, so it’s not a surprise the Steampunks made it into Awesome Level 9000 as a faction. And because Steampunks love their gadgets, their focus is on action cards for those. Some actions grant them a huge power boost, like the Rotary Slug-Thrower and the wonderfully named Aggromotive, but some have other benefits. The Difference Engine, for instance, lets you draw an extra card at the end of your turn while the Escape Hatch allows your minions to bail from the place of their imminent destruction and reappear at another base instead of being destroyed. And their minions like actions as well: the Steam Man, the backbone of the steampunk army, gets a power upgrade if there is one of your actions at his base.
The Bear Cavalry
But if we’re talking over-the-top-ness, then nothing will ever be able to compete with the last new faction: the Bear Cavalry. You read that right, but let me repeat it for effect: the Bear Cavalry. It’s like the regular cavalry, only they decided that horses are for wimps and real men – which, in this case, means Russian man – ride bears into battle. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Bear Cavalry deck contains the cards You’re Screwed and You’re Pretty Much Borscht. The faction mainly uses tactics that I can see working for their operation. First they scare their opponents into running away, moving enemy cards from one base to another. Because you would run too, when a bear comes charging towards you. And then they ambush the fleeing victims: many of their minions have the ability to destroy enemy minions when they are moved to the bear-occupied base. To top that off, the Bear Cavalry contains some big minions like the Polar Commando who has six power and is indestructible while he’s your only minion on a base. And then there’s General Ivan who has six power and renders all your minions indestructible while he’s in play. Holy crap, the only way to top this would be the Bear Force.
An expansion for Smash Up is awesome enough as it is. Four more factions means about twice as many possible combinations of factions, and that you won’t be seeing all the factions all the time when playing in four players. But Awesome Level 9000 is not just an expansion, it’s a good expansion: it doesn’t make any of the old factions obsolete, all the new ones play at the same level as the originals, but also find their own niche. None of the new factions feels like Old Faction 2.0, and you can start finding combinations that work all over again. The only thing this expansion doesn’t do is give me a chance to win. I can’t figure it out, but I always lose. Every. Single. Time. But that’s my problem, not yours. If you enjoy Smash Up, then Awesome Level 9000 is absolutely something you want. Come on, there’s all that space in the box of the base game. You always knew you were going to fill it – with awesome!