Smash Up is one of those games for which we have made an effort to collect all the expansions. It’s pretty quick to learn, set up, and play, and there seems to be a fun theme for every personality. It is also one of those games our oldest kid has been able to figure out how to play even though he’s a few years under the age suggestion. With Marvel being a favorite geek franchise in our house, it absolutely made sense to jump at the chance to be a reviewer for Smash Up: Marvel which the Op has developed with AEG, the original Smash Up players.
What is Smash Up: Marvel?
Smash Up: Marvel is a shuffle-building game that can be combined with any other Smash Up titles. The Marvel addition brings in a variety of Marvel-themed heroes and villains to the Smash Up rules including the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, the Sinister Six, the Spider-Verse, the Kree, the Ultimates, and the Masters of Evil. It is designed for 2-4 players ages 12+ and takes about 45 minutes to play. The game has a MSRP of $34.99.
Smash Up: Marvel Components
Smash Up: Marvel contains the following:
- Instruction Booklet
- 160 Game Cards (8 Factions with 20 Cards each)
- 16 Base Cards
- 8 Card Dividers
- 1 VP Token Sheet
Overall, the quality is exactly what we’ve come to expect from other Smash Up games. The Game Cards and Base Cards are all typical card thickness with gorgeous artwork that is a lot of fun and should appeal to any Marvel fan. The text is easy to read with symbols and numbers that are easy to locate and differentiate from each other.
The Card Dividers are thicker and describe each group as well as giving a difficulty level for playing that group. This was the biggest help for us and actually contributed to a better game play experience. While some people might want to focus on playing particular Factions, we assigned Factions based on the difficulty levels with the lowest difficulty levels going to our ten-year-old, and the other difficulty levels being adjusted based on which adult tends to destroy everyone in these kinds of games. The end result was a game that was so close the winner was determined by one card that slid in at an unexpected moment to the other two players.
The VP Tokens are typical game token cardboard. They’re study enough for regular play, can be quickly punched out during first game play, and use size, color, and large text to help tell them apart on sight.
The instruction booklet has beautifully labeled full-color examples that should make the game easy to learn for first time players.
It is also worth noting the box the game comes in has slotted sections for separating the cards by Faction, which makes it really easy to keep things organized between game sessions. There’s also room to add additional Factions in the box if you choose to buy additional Smash Up editions.
How to Play Smash Up: Marvel
I would like to make a note for players already familiar with the Smash Up franchise that the Marvel version uses some slightly different terminology which is as follows:
- Characters: Takes the place of “minions” in other additions.
- Modifiers: “Base/Character modifier” means the same as “Play on base/minion” in other sets.
- Move: In other sets “Move” is used for relocating minions and transfer was used for relocating actions. This version uses Move in both circumstances.
The goal of Smash Up: Marvel is to be the first person to earn 15 VPs by occupying and breaking Bases and using combinations of Abilities to enhance your Characters and/or weaken those of your opponents.
Setup for this game is actually pretty quick. The following steps are taken to set up a game:
- Each player gets two Factions to make up their deck. While Players may be tempted to pick favorite Factions, the difficulty level is worth looking at, especially with younger or newer players. Once the Factions are selected, Players shuffle their decks together and draw five Game Cards to make up their hand. If this set has no Characters, show the Hand to the other Players, shuffle it back into your Deck and draw a new set of five Cards. You must keep this second hand.
- Draw a number of Base Cards from the Base Card Deck equal to the number of Players plus one. These Cards go face up in the middle of the play area. Place the remaining Base Card Deck face down next to the Base Cards.
- Place the VP Token pile on the opposite side of the Base Deck Cards from Base Card Deck.
That is all it takes to set up a game and makes things very quick for jumping into playing. Clean up is almost as fast, but you will need time to separate out your combined decks.
The game is divided up into turns, each with five phases.
Phase 1 Start Turn: If you have an Ability in the game that activates at the beginning of your turn, this is when you play it.
Phase 2 Play Cards: You can play 1 Character, 1 Action, one of each, or no cards. The order does not matter. Any Abilities on played cards that you can activate may be activated.
Character Cards: Play these Cards on a base facing you and carry out any instructions on the Card. Characters have a Power Value in the upper left corner and an Ability described under the “Character” text.
Action Cards: Do as the card says. If it is meant to be played on a Base or Character, place it next to the Base or Character where it remains. Otherwise it is discarded to a Player’s Discard Deck once it is played and resolved. Action Cards have an Ability listed under the “Action” text.
Abilities: The instructions on cards are known as abilities. If it doesn’t have a specific label, it is played immediately. The other labels are as follows:
- Ongoing: Either always taking effect or are triggered after a particular event.
- Special: Resolved at unusual times as explained on the Card.
- Talent: Can be activated once during each of your turns in the Play Card Phase.
Phase 3 Scoring Bases: Check to see if a Base is ready to Score. Add the Power Level of all the Players’ Characters on that Base along with relevant modifiers. If the number is equal to or higher than the Base Break Point Number (located on upper right of the Base Card), the Base has Broken and Scoring starts. Once a Base hits the Break, nothing can undo or prevent it. The following steps occur when a Base Breaks:
- At least one Base is confirmed as Breaking.
- If multiple Bases are Breaking, the current Player chooses which to resolve first.
- Players can invoke any “Before Scoring” Abilities.
- VPs are Awarded. The Player with the most Power on the Base gets VPs according to the first value listed on the Base Card Center. The Player with the next highest amount gets VPs according to the next number, and the player with the next highest amount gets the VPs according to the third number. In case of a tie, Players get the points according to the highest position they would tie for. However, if two players tie for first, the next highest Player takes the third place points. If there is a tie for use of a Base’s ability then the current Player gets it unless it makes sense to use more than once. Then the current Player gets it first and the next eligible player gets it working clockwise amongst the Players.
- Players can play or invoke any “After Scoring” Abilities.
- All Player and Action Cards are discarded to their Player’s Discard Decks.
- The Base is sent to the Base Discard Deck.
- A new Base Card is set out.
- Repeat steps for any remaining Broken Bases.
Phase 4 Draw Cards: Draw two Cards from your Deck. If you have more than 10 Cards, discard until you only have 10. You don’t get an automatic draw during the game if you run out of Cards in your hand. Also, if your Card Deck is empty when you need to pull from the Deck, shuffle your Discard Pile and make a new Card Deck.
Phase 5 End Turn: Any Abilities that can only be activated at the end of your turn can be activated now. Also, if any Player has reached 15 VP they may declare Victory. Otherwise, the Player to the left starts their turn.
The game ends when at least one Player has 15 VP. If more than one Player has 15 VP, the Player with the highest VP wins. If there is a tie, the game continues until there is no longer a tie. When one Player gets a winning VP amount, play until the end of the turn unless the players agree there is no possible way to catch up.
Why You Should Play Smash Up: Marvel
Overall it is a fun quick game that can appeal to casual gamers, but with enough strategy to be entertaining for more serious gamers too.
It’s a decently made game with lots of fun artwork for Marvel fans, but it doesn’t rely on any knowledge of the comics or other Marvel related media to be able to win. The pieces are nicely made, well labeled, and even the box is good for helping with organization. Re-sorting things out, especially if you mix Factions from different games, isn’t too complicated at all and because of this you will find yourself much more willing to blend Factions from different sets. There’s a nice skill ability spread through the Factions in this edition, and that spread actually let us adapt the Player difficulty to make a much more even playing field for everyone involved. I love how fast setting the game up is, especially when playing with kids who can be a bit more impatient about getting started.
The play mechanic is pretty straightforward and simple, but the strategy is clearly there. Some Factions are easier to match than others and learning to play your abilities with solid timing is actually one of the biggest keys to winning. I took the game by sliding in a Card that could be played as a Base Scores which bumped up my Power on the base just enough to secure the last 2 VP I needed to win. There is admittedly a certain luck component too. Sometimes the Deck gives you what you need and at other times, the Deck is your worst enemy. Paying attention to Base features can also be a huge Key. This game had a Base where only the Player with the highest Power automatically got VPs, but other Players could earn VP points for every Character on the base encouraging the playing of lots of low level Characters to try to hit a sweet spot of VP earning. We also found winning every base isn’t always the way to go. While my husband and son each dominated a particular base, I secured the second place points on both which ended up being just as many VPs together as they got winning each base on their own. The 12+ age range is probably pretty close, but I feel that you can wiggle that down a bit. Most middle schoolers should be able to play it, and older Elementary school kids with a decent feel for strategy can also step into a game. I do recommend giving younger Players the easier Factions to start off with and they can work their skill level up over time.
The MSRP price of $34.99 is right along the lines of what I would anticipate for a game like this. It’s a decently affordable game for your next game night with lots of replayability. Add additional Smash Up sets to the mix if you want things to get really silly and fun. Smash Up: Marvel can be purchased from the Op on pre-order right now with a release date of February 2nd. Also look for it at other stores that sell the Smash Up line.