I played Smash Up for the first time a year or two ago and I really wanted to play at that time because it was everywhere - demo'ed at cons, in my favorite local game stores, at the Looney game night. It even seemed popular at trade shows and buyer meetings... which doesn't happen for every game. A lot of games are perfect for certain niches but when you start seeing people whose careers and hobbies are built around games playing something new over and over again, you get the sense that it must be good.
But... I didn't get it. And yet, it's on this list and I know people that LOVE it. So I set about furiously playing this past month to figure out what went wrong with those first demos. And I'm here to report that I get it (and kinda love it) now! I don't remember what I didn't like last year but my first demo this year felt familiar.
About a month and a half ago, I was on a business trip in Atlanta with a bunch of other game publishers. I played with about five or so guys, some of whom had never played before, others who clearly were fans of Smash Up. We had the Pretty, Pretty expansion mixed in but because there were so many people playing a lot of playtime or turns to ask questions about how to use my minions and actions because pretty quickly someone had won. You're given these two types of cards and the minions have a power value. A collection of minions (and some actions) on a base will eventually have enough power to smash the base. When your minions contribute to the smashing of a base, you get victory points. The game has many different mini-decks and you get to choose two of these mini-decks to "shufflebuild" together the deck you play with. This is where it gets fun, but back to that game in Atlanta...
I've never played Magic or any other CCGs and only played a few deckbuilders and I'm only guessing, but I think the guys who jumped into Smash Up so quickly are more familiar with those. The reason I say this is because I took Smash Up on a camping trip with some friends over Memorial Day weekend. Everyone there who played Magic loved it and caught on right away. I had Ninjas, which allow you to play out of turn but I kept hesitating to use them because it hadn't yet completely clicked for me that you must play to your decks' powers.
And this is what's so cool about Smash Up - each mini-deck has a set of special powers and when you take advantage of them, you realize it's super clever, funny and it's fun to get into character. But it's also limited to 2 sets so the complications of collecting and building aren't there. I really started to enjoy the game when I played again with my friend, Leo, and we dipped into the Pretty, Pretty expansion. The princesses are all really high powered minions, the kittens come back to life, the ponies work together to give you bonuses and the fairies let you mess with other actions and minions. There's a great review (and photos) of the Pretty, Pretty Smash Up expansion on GeekDad. I love that AEG made this - it always makes me happy when these cool mechanics aren't lost to guts and gore. Smash Up does a great job of bringing in light art and fun mechanics for each type of faction it includes - there is a good balance of male and female minions and I think the art is inclusive, which I really appreciate.
So after playing about 30 times in the last month or so, I think it's fair to cross this one off the list. And it's definitely staying on my shelf. Just narrating the game is fun - my favorite quote so far comes from Andy, who boasted last time we played, "I'm sending Queen Fluffy to Ponyland." Even Magic Ponies couldn't save him against the wrath of the Princess Kittens, though!