Smash Up has your zombie/dinosaur battles covered, how well did it make the jump to the digital world?
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 4
Smash Up allows players to select two exciting factions, such as robots or aliens, in a race to smash a collection of common bases. The hand management game plays one to four players in about twenty minutes. Players take turns playing cards which can either directly work to take down a base, or allow some kind of special action to help them, or hurt another player. Once a base is smashed, the base is scored and points distributed. When a player reaches 15 points, they are victorious.
Smash Up is a fun concept. Each of the eight factions included in the base game have a unique theme incorporated across the cards. Zombies frequently allow you to access discarded cards, for example, while Pirates deftly navigate between bases in ways other factions can’t. Each player uses two factions in a game, which makes for a decent number of combinations, although the wealth of expansions in the physical game certainly extend the replayability.
To start Smash Up, players take turns selecting their factions and base cards are drawn to a common playing area. Players are then dealt a hand of cards from a deck which contains cards from their two factions. Cards can either be in the form of Minions or Actions. Minions add damage to a base and usually have an additional ability. Action cards allow for a special breaking of the rules, such as reviving a discarded Minion, adding damage bonuses, removing opposing Minions, and so on. Each player can play one Minion and one Action card on their turn, although certain actions can allow for more cards to be played. If, at the end of any player’s turn, the total amount of damage on a base exceeds its listed breaking point, the base is considered destroyed and is then scored. Usually, but not always, the player who applied the most damage to that base scores the most points, the second most damage gets the second most points, and third gets the least. Each base only scores three positions, even if four player games. Destroyed bases are replaced with new ones from the deck. Play continues player-by-player until somebody reaches 15 points, with each player drawing two cards after their turn to replenish their hand. In event of a tie, the game continues until the tie is broken.
Smash Up comes down to picking your factions and using them together in the most efficient way possible. The fun of the game is getting wild combinations and making it work for you. As an example, Aliens have the ability to move and change things unexpectedly (playing on the abduction theme), pair their abilities to send opposing Minions back to their owner’s hands with Pirates’ ability to move themselves between bases and you can very quickly change the pecking order on a base to swoop in and take the biggest points away from an opponent.
Timing is key in Smash Up. You need to time your actions right so that you can topple a base to earn the most points. Bases also have an action which is performed once it is destroyed. Sometimes this action is played by anyone who had a Minion on the base, other times it goes exclusively to the player with the highest damage. Once the game gets going, you will need to actively block other players who might be approaching victory. It is a testament to the balance of the game that most games will finish with all players having double digit point totals.
Smash Up provides a depth of interesting options with the large number of actions the various factions provide. Players who enjoy games on the lighter side and don’t mind a healthy dose of luck and “rug swept out from under you” moments will find a lot to like in Smash Up; the thought of combining zombies and pirates to take on an alien/robot team will appeal to almost everyone. Smash Up falls in the narrow gap between true lightweight games (say, Jaipur or Ticket to Ride-level) and medium weight games with a little meat in them (Lords of Waterdeep, for example). This is a bit of an odd spot to land, as it takes more focus than a light game, but lacks the depth of games a little above its weight. The point being, Smash Up simply might not be for you, depending on what you are looking for in your next app. Of course, it might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Barrier to Entry
Smash Up contains a short tutorial which walks you through a few short turns and then optionally finish off the game versus AI opponents. The complexity in this game comes from the cards themselves and their abilities, as such, the short tutorial is more than enough to get you started. It will take a while of playing to learn the cards well enough to generate some larger strategies, but the tutorial does a good job of setting you down that path. The tutorial will launch the first time you open the app and isn’t skippable, which will certainly annoy some.
There is a rulebook, but it is pages of text which you can turn through. It would have been nice to get a more complete book with an index so you could quickly look up any questions you might have. Also, a card reference would be a great addition, as is usually the case for a card game like this.
A Ninja Minion
Look and Feel
Visually, the game looks great. The colors are vibrant and the entire game pops visually. The art throughout is great and carries over the physical game artwork well. One of the huge advantages of Smash Up in digital form is the reduced amount of bookkeeping and, yuck, math the physical game requires. The app streamlines this issues well, allowing you to simply play the game.
On the downside, Smash Up really struggles with the user interface. The most notable issue here is that they have bucked the established norm of how to interact with cards in an app. Double-click to zoom? Drag-and-drop? Neither are found here. Every card app isn’t 100% identical with their controls, but the choices made in Smash Up are a bit odd if you are used to playing other apps. If you want to see the details of a card (i.e. the action it provides) you must click and hold to zoom in. Okay, not the worst implementation, but try doing that and scrolling through a hand of ten or more cards which get lumped together on the screen and if you accidentally click but not hold, that will select that card. It is tough to make this work easily. Trying to find a card in your discard pile is extra difficult and is exceedingly annoying if you have a large discard pile. This actively discourages me from playing Zombies, who grab from their discard pile frequently.
In addition to the controls, the game introduces confusion on occasion when asking you to perform an action that is triggered from a non-standard way. The root of this issue is that the game does a poor job letting you know which card is currently activating an action, so you often can’t find an explanation other than the “play a card” text in the corner of the screen. The annoyance could be easily solved with a little more situational awareness as to the active card/ability.
Maybe the most aggravating control issue comes in selecting your faction. The controls work for selecting a faction as they do for playing a card, except there is no “Cancel” button for faction selection (thankfully, there is for card selection during the game). It is entirely too easy to select a faction you didn’t intend to under the current control scheme, and there is no way to undo your selection. At best, you are playing offline and you can restart the game. At worst, you are playing online and stuck with a faction you don’t want.
The UX in Smash Up will be very much hit or miss. I’ve seen people saying it to be unplayable and others not having issues. I fall closer to the former, but not quite to that extreme. The controls will cause some headache at times, but you will get a little more used to most them over time. A few key tweaks could go a long way to making the app much more user friendly.
Smash Up features synchronous play with short timeouts, ranging from 15 to 90 seconds, there is also an unlimited timeout option. Games game be 2-4 players, optionally filling any empty seats with AI players. You can create private games to play with friends or a public game to allow anybody to join through a lobby. The game offers local pass-and-play for up to four players. Smash Up’s online play is blocked by many corporate and school networks, which isn’t an uncommon occurrence for apps. Smash Up delivers a solid, straightforward synchronous multiplayer experience.
As mentioned, Smash Up includes an unlimited timeout for online games. Although not advertised as such, this may seem to imply asynchronous play is an option, but it is far from a true asynchronous game. It is a synchronous game, simply without a timeout. You can’t leave the game, you can’t have multiple games going, there are no system notifications, and if you do something crazy like exit the app for a while, when you come back, your game will be gone with no way to rejoin. Hopefully they take the next step and allow you to leave and return to the game, a true asynchronous experience would be a big win for this app.
Single player games are straightforward. Simply choose which AI level you want to play against, the game offers Easy/Medium/Hard, choose from a few options about faction selection, and get to playing. You can play against 1, 2, or 3 AI opponents, but they will all be assigned the same AI difficulty level. This likely won’t be a big deal long-term as you will find the right AI to play against for your skill, but it is an odd choice as most games allow you to pick the difficulty of each opponent.
Start of a game
Smash Up is an oft-expanded game. At release time, the app only included the base game with no expansions available. Rest assured this will change. The wealth of expansions available are a huge selling point for Smash Up as they will help keep the game fresh for a long time. We have no inside knowledge, but would expect a rollout of the expansions similar to what Asmodee has done with Onirim, which is gradually introduce a single new expansion at a time at a reasonable price point. Expansions will really open up the game with the new combinations, we look forward to seeing them roll out.
A basic set of stats are kept, including games played, wins, VP, and number of players and wins with each faction. Nothing fancy, but it is always nice to see some basic stat keeping.
The Wrap Up
I think Smash Up has very nice potential as a digital game. The numerous faction combinations you can play, the long list of expansions, the easy to learn gameplay, and just about everything else the board game offers sets up well for the digital world. The app runs smoothly and offers quality single player and synchronous multiplayer implementations. The primary downsides in this implementation are the control issues and lack of asynchronous play. The controls are a big deal for me, although I must admit that with more plays it gets a little easier to mange, with a few exceptions like looking through the discard pile and faction selection. If you can accept the control scheme and enjoy the gameplay it offers, Smash Up will be a great addition to your digital collection.