Board Game Review

Can Pirates and Ninjas Be Friends? (Smash Up)

Remember that old school, ridiculous argument of Ninjas vs Pirates? The one where, no matter who you were, you could justify which one was best? Well Smash Up will let you settle that, or combine them to take on other ridiculous combos! Ninja Pirates? Zombie Dinosaurs? Robot Ghosts? This sounds like a bad 90’s teen fanfic but it’s a million times better! Smash Up is a game I played a long time back and last year bought myself again. It is quality! And ridiculously versatile in how it forces players to adopt play styles.

A run down for those who don’t know…

  1. The game is a mix faction based game and is called a ‘shuffle builder’, which is different to a deck builder.
  2. The game is set up across 5 bases drawn from the base deck. Each base has an ability that will change how it is played or how the game is played.
  3. Players are given two decks of two factions that they shuffle together to form their playing deck.
  4. They then draw 7 cards which will be a mix of actions and minions.
  5. Players play minions onto a base to increase the overall power level there and can play actions that will change the state of play, increase the cards they can play, or impact minions or bases with hindering or powering abilities.
  6. You can play a minion, or an action, or both on your turn as a standard, however some actions and minions may increase this!
  7. When the collective power on a base exceeds the base’s power, it “breaks” and at the end of that player’s turn, is scored.
  8. The player who had the highest attack power scores the first value, the second the second and the third gets the third value score. Tied scores get the same number of victory points (VP).
  9. Players can hold no more than 10 cards in their hand and the number of VP needed to win is based on the number of players.

From the outset of the rundown, Smash Up sounds like a pretty basic deck builder… But it’s far from it. Each faction plays differently, and having two factions merged makes for very tricky play. How you would personally play won’t matter in Smash Up; you can be a fantastic tactician when given free reign, but if you can’t make use of the cards you’re dealt you are going to struggle (not to get philosophical!). The factions have very specific play styles and the cards’ abilities follow that through, winning with one faction may seem easy but considering you may have two that contradict you’ll struggle.

Now here’s where I contradict myself. On a previous post I believe I said some factions don’t mix and I doubt you’d win with them.. I was wrong; thoroughly and entirely wrong. Whilst playing with my group I thought I had a guaranteed winner; Plant Tricksters. I came dead last. The winner had Ghost Machines. Two playstyles that I thought would contradict each other worked excellently, but the victor didn’t just pick up cards and play them, she had specifically discarded cards to ensure she had the maximum attack power through minion abilities. Now all that might sound like jargon and nonsense, but, in English, her two factions’ playstyles shouldn’t have worked. Robots work best by having lots of minions come out at once whereas the ghosts are based around low hand management and gaining boosts from that. She should have had a reduced hand immediately and then struggled to get more minions out, however she tactfully placed minions to ensure she broke bases quickly. My combo of Plant Tricksters should have been better; Plants allow you to play more minions immediately from the deck and Tricksters focus on removing other player’s cards. I should have been able to dominate a base and break it solo, but I flopped! No matter how hard I tried nothing I did stuck or worked out. I did break one base solo and score it in a turn, but that was down to the luck of the cards drawn, not tactics.

So I’m massively retracting my statement of some combinations don’t work. It’s not a fair comment! I can, however, give my honest opinion on the base game and Awesome Level 9000! expansion’s factions.

Core Game

  • Aliens– I’ve had no luck with the aliens. Their ability to return cards to player’s hands is good, but more of an annoyance than a tactical play. I wouldn’t use the abilities against any faction that allows you to play more than one minion! You’ll only waste a turn!
  • Dinosaurs – All muscle! Massive attack and attack buffs all round! On top of that, the defence cards help a lot too. I prefer to use the actions of this faction to aid my other faction minions, as more often than not the dinosaur minions do fine without extra defence!
  • Pirates – I love the pirates, but again I’ve had no luck with them. They’re based around destroying weaker minions in bulk and moving from one base to another. Against something like the robots where all minions are weak you’ll do well, but anything more and you’ll be focusing more on using the move from base to base abilities for sneaky points.
  • Wizards – Incredibly powerful. Almost ridiculously over powered! Most, if not all cards (minions too!), have abilities that are centred around playing more cards. Some of these abilities are permanent so long as you have specific minions in play. If ever given the choice I’ll always choose to remove these from the game as they generally dominate!
  • Zombies – Good if you’re new to Smash Up. They allow you to play minions from your discard, which is handy against factions like pirates that remove low powered minions. I personally don’t enjoy playing with them as more often than not it’s my very low powered minions that are discarded as opposed to my hard hitters! Probably not well combined with hardy factions, but what do I know? I’ve been wrong too many times to advise strongly on combos!
  • Ninjas – The tacticians favourite! This faction is all about sneaking in at the last second and killing individual minions. When played well I’ve seen them really dominate a game, but when played badly they’re essentially useless. Not a faction to choose if you aren’t confident with planning well ahead!
  • Tricksters – I find these hard to use, though they are good! They’re all about punishing players and removing cards from their hand, but that’s often hit and miss. The effect of what they do isn’t immediate enough for what I like personally.
  • Robots – All about swarming a base quickly. They stack up fast and each minion powers up the others. Playing these on a high powered base can turn it into a maths game, but generally speaking they’re pretty good. I enjoy using them because they have some minions that don’t centre on the faction focus, meaning you can surprise everyone when they think they’ve got you worked out!

Awesome Level 9000 Expansion

  • Bear Cavalry (9000) – Scare minions away and kill moving minions. Very good if you’re trying to solo break a base but they struggle against anything that prevents movement. But come on. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a musket wielding man on a bear?
  • Steampunks (9000) – These guys’ action cards are insane! Fitting the theme of steampunk, they build devices to massively increase attack and can retrieve these action cards from the discard. I’ve never actually played as the steampunks myself, but I’d choose these over most factions from what I’ve seen!
  • Ghosts (9000) – I can’t get on with these. To do well with them you need a low hand count, and that to me screams low options. Sure you get crazy buffs from having less cards in hand, but the ghosts don’t warrant a lot of choice in combination… But again, I’ve been proven wrong many times!
  • Killer Plants (9000) – The plants centre around preventing movement, having abilities that come into effect next turn, and having abilities that help over a longer period. This is all well and good, but people cotton onto that quickly and will go out of their way to destroy any minions giving you any sort of help.

Like I said, versatile in the combinations and it makes to be more adaptive to play. That being said, were you to get more expansions for this amazing game (and there are a lot) you may never use any of these factions! The core box comes with space for two expansions, and one of the expansions is a faction and another box for more storage (great forward thinking by AEG!). As far as I’m aware there are no banned combinations. So you may end up with Innsmouth Super Spies, Giant Ant Princesses, or even Kung Fu Fighting Minions of Cthulhu!


  • It’s versatile. You may never have two games the same!
  • It makes you a more adaptive player. You can’t play two combinations the same!
  • You can plan way ahead with the right factions.
  • The factions’ abilities seem to suit their theme; Dinosaurs are strong/Wizards summon more cards/Pirates travel and have big fire power etc.
  • It can be a very quick game!
  • Knowing each faction helps you beat them!
  • Most minions have an ability, so they can impact the game regardless of their attack power.
  • The action cards suit the play style of the faction, but are still designed to aid your other faction in some way!


  • Some combinations might be unsuitable, but again it depends on the player.
  • Some factions require a bit more understanding, meaning newer players can be put off!
  • One or two factions are ridiculously overpowered on their own, meaning they can quickly swarm a base.
  • It’s based on the cards drawn. Draw unluckily and you may waste a turn not playing anything of value.
  • This is a daft one but it happens, if you shuffle badly you’ll end up with lots of one faction’s cards at once. If you don’t gel with that play style alone you’ll really struggle!

I would genuinely recommend Smash Up. I think it’s an excellent deck builder (not really a deck builder) and a fun one at that! I would warn you to not immediately go out and buy any expansions straight away though; get to know the basics and the initial factions then get the expansions. No one wants to feel overwhelmed by the amount of randomness of how you’ll play!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on here. I’ve been so carried away trying out new games and rambling nonsense on the podcast or writing it on here I’ve not had a chance! That being said, I’m not stopping my reviews. I’m still adamantly wanting to review what I want to review, not what I received most recently, which I know makes it tough to get people interested… but so long as this helps someone I’m cool with it!