AEG and The OP's Smash Up series is a fan favorite for its mix of fast-paced chaos and counter-heavy strategy, and now the franchise has collided with Marvel. Instead of aliens, clowns, cheerleaders, and the other myriad of playable factions in previous editions, fans get to play as their favorite factions from the Marvel Universe with one major exception. Each of the eight factions presents their own playstyle, and the multiple combinations give the game welcome replayability, and odds are good that you'll discover a combination that works best for you. Smash Up: Marvel isn't reinventing the wheel, but it gives an already fun experience a delightful Marvel makeover, ensuring that it will be a welcome addition to any game night.
For those unfamiliar with Smash Up in general, the goal is to end up with the most Victory Points by the end of the game, and the first person to 15 Victory Points initiates the final turn. You gain Victory Points by building up Bases to their Breaking Points, and each Base has a different number you need to hit to do so.
So, how do you break Bases? Well, that will depend on how you use your deck. You pick two different factions to "smash up" into one deck and in Smash Up: Marvel those include SHIELD, the Sinister Six, Ultimates, Kree, Avengers, Hydra, Spider-Verse, and the Masters of Evil. These factions are split into two main types of cards, Characters and Actions. You can play one Character and one Action per turn, but certain cards will allow you to play multiple cards and also allow the use of special Abilities and Talents. Each Character card has a Power number that contributes to the Base's Breaking Point, and Actions typically affect your cards, the various Bases, or your opponent's cards.
The twist is that any number of players can play their cards on a Base, and it is the combined Power that affects the Breaking Point. So, let's say you have two Character cards down on a Base (which are themed after various locations in the Marvel universe like Castle Zemo, the Daily Bugle, and Hala) that equal out to 6, and your opponent has a few cards that equal out to 10. If the Breaking Point of the Base is 17, that means you are currently at 16 Power and need only 1 point to Break the Base.
While the game features turn-based gameplay, it still feels more frenetic than other games because you are all occupying the same spaces and constantly affecting each other. While there are multiple Bases to choose from on the board at any time, each Base has different Victory Point totals and special abilities, and so everyone may end up attempting to fight over the same Base at any given time. Some cards allow you to move cards and affect other Bases if they are about to hit their Breaking Point, which causes even more chaos, and then Breaking Base also allows players to use their Faction's special Talents before everything is said and done, so while you might walk away with the most points, you could end up getting suffering a few consequences on the following turns.
Half the fun of Smash Up: Marvel is trying out different combinations and seeing how they interact and play. Granted, not every combo will suit your playstyle, as I discovered when I paired the Sinister Six and SHIELD. SHIELD is very much a faction that focuses on more power and abilities when you have more of your Agents in play. Meanwhile, the Sinister Six are more Base oriented, with lots of abilities that temporarily bring down the Breaking Point number, allowing you to cash in when you've got the lead, thus netting you the biggest rewards. Both are great in their own right, but I didn't get the handle of them together.
That said, the Masters of Evil and Spider-Verse factions made a dynamite team. The Spider-Verse faction focuses on deck manipulation and movement, so cards in this deck allow you to go through your deck and get better cards sooner or move cards one from base to another at different times. Masters of Evil on the other hand focus on destruction, both to themselves and other characters. You'll have options to destroy opponent's cards or destroy some of your own to net extra VP points, and when combined with another more agile deck the results can be deadly.
Another favorite combination was teaming the Ultimates with the Kree. The Ultimates deck focuses on Characters and adding in additional power to them the more they occupy a Base. Similarly, they can also bolster Base points or move a Character with some extra Power. The Kree Deck also contains some Character boosts, but mostly focuses on gaining you extra Cards and added Actions per turn, so you can see how effective a Ultimates and Kree duo might be.
These are just a few of the options available to players, and mixing and matching are part of what makes the game so replayable. Fans of the comics are also going to love the artwork that feels pulled right out of the books and in some cases it truly is, though even the cards that don't feel that way have a similar style that blends in.
The biggest nitpick is just the massive omission of the X-Men. Now, you could make a second game that focused completely on them, and if that's the plan then it makes sense to a degree. Still, not having at least one team of mutants included makes it feel incomplete. The only other possible flaw is the ceiling it has. There aren't any ways to add another level of challenge to the experience for those who play often, so while the base game offers up to eight factions to try and combine, more experienced players who find their top combinations might not have a reason to break the game back out all that often.
Smash Up: Marvel is an experience that fans of the franchise and all things Marvel will have a truly delightful time with, but it's also one of the most approachable games on the market, so any gaming group can and will enjoy their time with it. That's in addition to the affordable price, relatively small footprint, and streamlined rules, perfect for those new to the game or board games in general. it does have a ceiling, so it might not have enough depth for incredibly experienced players, but those looking for a fun time will assuredly find what they are looking for here.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Smash Up: Marvel is now available wherever such things are sold. A copy was provided by The OP for the purpose of this review.