I’ve enjoyed my plays of Smash Up since I first reviewed it some time ago. AEG has wonderful support this game and continues to release additional factions. The latest is Science Fiction Double Feature which adds four new factions (as well as bases) to the game. Is it worth expanding Smash Up with this title?
The Basics. Science Fiction Double Feature adds four factions. They are: Cyborg Apes, Time Travelers, Super Spies, and Shapeshifters. The game also comes with a number of bases representative of the new factions. Of course, these factions are not meant to be played alone, but to be smashed up with others (or each other).
Super Spies are largely about getting information. Actions and minions allow you to view the top cards from your deck and arrange them in your preferred order. Other cards allow you to view the top cards of opponents’ decks and force them to put it on the bottom of their deck if you so choose. The spies excel at intelligence gathering.
Time Travelers are largely about refreshing the discard pile and replaying cards. Their minions can come back to your hand after a base scores, sometimes they’ll bounce back and be played as extra minions, and several cards allow you to take extra actions or play extra minions. Some of their actions apply after a base scores – they go back in time and make a change that hopefully enhances your scoring.
Shapeshifters allow for mutation and copying. Several of the shifters can appear as duplicates of other players’ minions. Others might copy the strongest minion on a base. Their actions often involve melting down a minion (by discarding it) to play out an alternate minion.
Cyborg Apes are the heavy hitters of the new expansion. Their minions like to be enhanced with actions and they contain several actions that increase their power or allow them to swing from base to base. In fact, you can use an action to make one a flying monkey which allows the minion to leap off a base when it scores and onto another base.
As with other expansions, Science Fiction Double Feature comes with scoring tokens so you can keep track of your points.
The Feel. Unlike The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, and more likeAwesome Level 9000, Science Fiction Double Feature doesn’t have a uniform feel to it. Instead, the Factions each go their separate way (mechanically at least) and provide delightfully different experiences to the game. In fact, all of the Science Fiction factions will find complementary pairs from the base game.
At this point in Smash Up’s lineup, it’s getting harder and harder to simply throw two factions together and see what happens. Since some combinations work better together than others (I’m looking at you Plants/Zombies), if you fail to pick a good combo, you could have a huge disadvantage before the game even begins. To address this, I’ve taken to just randomly selecting two factions per player and setting them out. Then, from those factions only, each player selects them in turn order using the Queensbury rules.
The four factions are not only quite distinct, but also seem somewhat disparate in power. Lets go each of the factions from Science Fiction Double Feature in terms of power. I think that’s fitting for reviewing Smash Up.
After a few plays, the Time Travelers definitely seem a little underpowered compared to the other factions. Like the Ninja from the base game, many of their actions are situational. So, if the right situation pops up, they have some good moves. But if not, you end up regretting picking them. Even the actions that aren’t situational tend to do things like reshuffle your discard into your deck or put things on top of your deck. That’s OK, but not as good as actually getting those cards back into your hand for immediate play.
Plus, for those powers that force you to shuffle your deck, you are sometimes shuffling back in the less-than-great actions that you played before just because it was better than playing nothing. So, Time Travelers don’t really do anything exciting, especially not on their own. Perhaps appropriately paired they can become powerhouses, but to date, they’ve always been the sucker faction in my plays.
Shapeshifters are great when paired with the right Faction. The shifters have a lot of cards that play off of minions. So you need to pair them with a minion focused faction (Dinosaurs, Machines, Pirates, etc.), especially if those minions have solid powers. If you do, you could mutate one into another, copy your best ones, and otherwise enhance the effectiveness of those cards. If you pair them with a faction with more emphasis on actions (like Wizards), the shifters under perform.
Part of what limits their usefulness is that most shifter abilities require you to destroy one of your own minions to get another minion of equal or lesser power. That’s just not super enticing. If they let you get a minion of one power higher on the board, that might’ve opened up a lot more opportunities.
The Super Spies are more universally useful. They are about on par with the majority of base game factions and tend to integrate well with most other factions. Their ability to manipulate the players’ decks is a wonderful addition to the game. Not only is it fun to manipulate decks – or to curse the player manipulating yours – but it fits in so well with the general feel of Smash Up. It definitely feels like a mechanic that could have easily been part of the game from the beginning.
The actions of the Super Spies also grant them some sneaky abilities. For example, they can co-opt a minion of an opposing player for scoring purposes (a secret double spy!) which is a great finishing move to win a competitive base. Even their low level minions can force card reveals and if the player doesn’t like what they see on the top of your deck, it gets removed.
The Cyborg Apes, however, swing in as probably the most powerful faction of the expansion and perhaps one of the strongest in the game so far. The Apes have significant strength advantages and are clearly meant to be the strong guys of the expansion. Part of what makes them so strong is that they are very self contained. Most of the apes benefit from having actions placed on them. And most of the actions can be placed on minions. Thus, the deck is very reinforcing no matter what gets paired with it.
What’s more, every faction and pairing has issues where they don’t draw a minion, or they get actions that manipulate the board to hose other players, but don’t necessarily directly help you. But the Cyborg Apes don’t have that problem nearly as much. Either they get minions that have universally good abilities and play them to bases, or they have actions that strengthen (often with a direct power increase) their minions. As a result, you can increase your presence and power on a base every turn almost without fail. This allows them to often compete on every base for at least some points. Are they completely overpowered? Maybe not completely, but they are something that players should watch for.
Putting it all together, Science Fiction Double Feature adds new options and opportunities to Smash Up. First, this expansion continues the trend of having to watch out for certain combos. As noted above, though, the Queensbury rules are definitely the way to go. Not only does this avoid the worst aspects of someone charging in with an overpowered combo, but it also increases the variety by forcing certain factions that might not otherwise see play at your table.
Ultimately, Science Fiction Double Feature is a wonderful add-on for fans of Smash Up. The Cyborg Apes and Super Spies are fantastic additions to the game. Really, quite fantastic. They play differently than most other factions and pair well with other factions. The Shapeshifters are an OK faction, and I’m a little disappointed by the Time Travelers. But if you like Smash Up – especially if you already have Awesome Level 9000 – then this is definitely worth adding in.
Components: 4 of 5. Science Fiction Double Feature stands up to the usual quality of AEG card games. The cards are consistent for color match and thickness so that they integrate seamlessly into the existing game. In addition, this expansion comes with numerous tokens for keeping track of points. Better yet, if you have a couple of expansions, you can start using the tokens to also keep track of the minion strength on bases. That relieves the constant addition and recalculation at each base – the most tedious aspect of Smash Up.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. Science Fiction Double Feature does not change this aspect of the base game, and in fact, relies on primarily the same balance. The Queensbury rules are definitely the way to go – and actually make that initial draft more challenging. That becomes a necessary skill and is a critical component of overall strategy.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. There are no fundamental alterations in Science Fiction Double Feature. However, the factions do bring in their own flavors and play styles. Two of the factions are really interesting. The cyborg apes are beasts (pun intended) on the battlefield, and the Super Spies’ ability to infiltrate opponents’ decks and mess with their draw order is really fun. Shapeshifters are interesting, but will need careful consideration about which factions will combine well with them. The Time Travelers, though, are a total whiff. Reshuffling often and putting cards on the top of your deck just aren’t as exciting or powerful as other faction themes.
Replayability: 4.5 of 5. The introduction of the other factions only enhances an already wildly replayable game. One of the great things about the game is seeing how the different factions combine and what cool combos the player can pull off. Science Fiction Double Feature certainly increases these opportunities for all players.
Spite: 3.5 of 5. Three of the factions are actually fairly low on the spite scale (though they have their moments), but the Super Spies are spite city. Lots of forced discards, lots of co-opting other players’ minions that they worked so hard for. So, averaging it out, it gets a 3.5, but spies alone would probably be 4.5 or so.
Overall: 3.5 of 5. Science Fiction Double Feature is a solid addition for fans of the base game. I think the Super Spies are among my absolute favorite factions as they add a healthy dose of interaction with a dollop of “take that.” I also like that Double Feature doesn’t try to add too many (or any) new gimmicks and rules into the game. Instead, what you get is a mostly solid expansion to add to an existing game. No muss, no fuss; they can be incorporated without having to worry about remembering new rules or actions.
(A special thanks to AEG for providing a review copy of Science Fiction Double Feature)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)