Smash Up: Cease and Desist
Card game, expansion, area control
Designer: Paul Peterson
Artists: Gong Studios, Alberto Tavira, Francisco Rico Torres
Number of Players: 2 (up to four with other sets)
Playing time: 30-60 minutes
As I mentioned in last week's Legendary: Deadpool review, Marvel Legendary is one of the games I go full-completionist on: I grab every expansion expansion that gets released, without fail. The only other game I dedicate as much time towards is another personal favorite, Smash Up. What I love about Smash Up is its similarity to card games like Magic: The Gathering, except its completely self-contained while still boasting impressive variety. It's also a tactical game, rather than strategic. In a 4-player game, chances are any plan you set up has disappeared within the three turns it takes to get back to you, so you need to react and adjust yourself accordingly. On top of that, it consistently has a great sense of humor and fantastic artwork.
Smash Up is a game where each player picks two sets of "factions," such as Pirates, Ninjas, Zombies, Robots, Aliens, etc., and "smashes" them together to create a single 40 card deck. Decks are made up of minions that are played on bases, and actions that are used as permanent or one-time effects. During each player's turn, they can play one action and one minion (in either order), and when a bases's number is met or exceeded by the numbers on the minions, it's scored and each player there gets points based on how much power they had. Play continues until someone has 15 points, which makes them the winner. This is by no means a thorough explanation of how the game is played, but it's the basic premise. It's a very popular game, and the original base set was featured in an episode of Geek & Sundry's TableTop with Wil Wheaton. Smash Up has numerous expansions, now totaling 46 different factions. Note: When I play, I use a common variant where we reduce the number of bases equal to the number of players (but three with 2-players).
This newest expansion can be played by itself as a 2-player game, or combined with other sets to play up to 4 players. This set's theme is based on popular intellectual properties that may have spawned millions of dollars in film, TV shows, books, toys, clothing, etc. Maybe. There's no way to prove it, and no allegations will stick. Everything within is a total and complete coincidence.
- Astroknights: The faction that is certainly not based on Star Wars. The Astroknights, using the power of the Fours, focus on increasing their power: most of their actions revolve around adding power to their minions, but only temporarily. They have one of the most unique sets of minions I've ever seen in the game. The standard makeup of a Smash Up faction consists of 10 minions divided among 4 types, usually a bunch of 2s, 3s, a couple of 4s, and one large 5 or 6 to round out the top end. The Astroknights, however, have 10 unique minions, each with their own ability. So instead of having only four abilities on your minions total, you have a veritable arsenal of answers for any situation. This makes the Astroknights incredibly versatile, and combined with a lot of actions that help you boost power and draw cards, they're a Force (sorry, Fours) to be reckoned with. They also have the most in-jokes based on a certain film property, or at least that's what I've been told. This faction would go well with others that allow for extra minions and actions to be played, such as Wizards and Ignobles, as almost every person who played Astroknights found themselves reaching their hand limit and having to discard cards at the end of their turn. Because of their multiple unique minions, this faction does not necessarily combine well with sets like Star Roamers, Zombies, or Killer Plants, which have actions that care about having multiples of a single minion. The "Hive of Scum and Villainy" base plays off of their ability to raise minion power with actions, and "No Moon™" is thematic for a giant planet-sized space station that can destroy other planets but is totally not the Death Star, whatever that is.
- Changerbots: I have mixed feelings about this faction that is definitely not anything at all like Transformers. It's probably because they're the least-flashy and most direct of the new factions, but they're efficient and get the job done. (I'm also not a particular fan of the property that this set might be similar to.) Like the Astroknights, the Changerbots are versatile, with minions that can change "shape" to either gain or lose an ability by losing power. "Huffie," for instance, is a 3-power minion that can move to another base but loses a power for the turn by doing so. Because they are robots disguised as vehicles (where have I heard of that before?), a lot of their actions revolve around moving them from base to base and giving them "upgrades." Two stand-out actions include the "Matrix of Bossiness" that can turn any minion into a base 5 (imagine that on a 2 power minion or even a 0, like Astroknight's "Ghost Knight") and the excellent removal card "Change into a Gun" that is played on a minion and kills any other minion on that base with 4 power or less. This set would pair well with other factions that care about actions played on minions and moving around the board. Their location "Changing Room" plays off of all of their minion's talents for changing shape, and their "Unicrave" location adds a level of randomness to the bases by replacing itself with another location when scoring.
- Ignobles: A royal family that is undoubtedly not based on Game of Thrones and House Lannister in particular. The Ignobles have the coolest mechanics in the set, one that was briefly explored with the Kitty Cats faction in Pretty Pretty Smash Up: gaining control and giving control of minions to to other players. This faction wants to give control of its own minions to other players, as doing so benefits them later when they steal them all back. Both of their locations revolve around this ability: the "Spikey Chair Room" would allow you to destroy one of the minions you've given to another player (or taken from them) to draw a card, and "Wintersquashed" allows you to automatically give minions to another player and, like the Ninja bases, gives the most points to the second-place winner. The Ignobles are a lot like the Ninjas, in that they're sneaky, good at destroying other minions, and rely on perfect timing and good draws. Unfortunately, the Ignobles did not deliver on their promises. In all of the games where they were used, their player lost. A lot of games found the Ignoble player sitting with a hand full of actions that said "Take control of a minion you own" in some capacity or another, only to have no minions it could apply to. That's not to say that the Ignoble's actions aren't powerful. In fact, they have some of the most effective and sneaky actions I've seen, and some powerful means of removing other minions or forcing them back to their player's hands. But most of them only work effectively when you have given up control of a minion, which just doesn't always happen. I don't think the Ignobles combine well with any of the factions here (maybe Star Roamers?), but I'd like to see them with Kitty Cats or sets that allow for more card-drawing.
- Star Roamers: A faction of space-traveling explorers that have absolutely no similarities to other science fiction properties like Star Trek. The Star Roamers, like the Aliens faction before it, care about returning minions to player's hands, and moving from base to base (just like Pirates, Bear Cavalry, Changerbots, Twisters, etc.). I've never really been a fan of factions that focus on moving from one base to another, but the Star Roamers impressed me. They can create a huge blowout with the "Hyperspeed 10" action that moves all minions from one base to another. Another focus for the Star Roamers is their longevity, as it's tough to get rid of their minions. The "Ensign" minions, for example, redirect minion destruction to themselves (how interesting that the "Ensign" has a Red Shirt...). The "Medical Officer" allows you to return a destroyed minion to your hand instead, and the "Ship's Engineer" lets you move a minion instead of returning it to your hand. If you can get them all out, it makes it incredibly hard to kill Star Roamers minions, as they'll just bounce from base to base. The final two minions, "Ship's Captain" and "Science Officer" are incredibly powerful and work well within the faction (I love that the "Ship's Captain" essentially drags along a Red Shirt). Their bases reflect these abilities pretty well: "Neutral Space" makes it near impossible to affect other player's minions, and the "USS Undertaking" acts like an actual spaceship where minions can be "beamed" to and from other locations. I see Star Roamers working well with a lot of other factions that could benefit from having low-powered minions stay on the board, like Killer Plants and Superheroes, or from sets that rely heavily on having other minions join them on specific bases, like Magical Horses.
My biggest fear with this set was that Smash Up was running out of ideas for general factions and that they had to resort to ripping off known properties as opposed to making the usual few references or call-outs. I know that's not the case, as the competition for the last expansion, It's Your Fault, had a whole list of factions that people wanted (I'm still peeved that Cowboys didn't win). Even with Smash Up's solid expansion record, their few duds usually come from basing a set off of a particular property (I'm looking at you, Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion). With all that in mind, I really enjoy this expansion. Of the four new factions, Star Roamers, Astroknights, and the Ignobles were my favorites. Changerbots is fine, it's just not one I'm particularly wild about, and even though the Ignobles didn't seem to work as well as I would have liked it to, it was still a lot of fun to use. It's a bit of a shame that the Ignobles and Star Roamers are the only faction that really try to shake up the game. A lot of what we're seeing is very standard, and it does make me wonder if Smash Up is reaching its limits in terms of new mechanics it can use without adding entirely new elements (like the "Madness" cards from Obligatory Cthulhu). This is a set that's not necessary to own unless the abilities really intrigue you or if you like the properties that have "inspired" the factions. And trust me, the theming, references, and jokes on these card are excellent. It is a solid expansion, just not revolutionary.
I think it's also worth pointing out that this set introduces a whole new level of rules confusion. The rulebook gives definitions and clarifications, but for a lot of newer players there might be a some issues over the difference between "controlling" a minion and "owning" a minion, which is necessary for the Ignobles to work. The Changerbots also have a card, "The Touch," that removes all other abilities from a minion. However, what counts as an ability and what doesn't is not exactly obvious at first. Even if you're familiar with Smash Up, it's still worth it to review the card clarifications in the back of the rulebook, and to have it handy when playing with new players.
Overall this is a pretty solid set with a few unique touches, but a lot of this will make you wonder if you've seen it all before. If you're feeling Smash Up fatigue, then this set probably won't fix it. But if you're a fan of any of these properties and just have to get more factions, then I highly recommend it.