The idea behind the Smash Up board game is as simple as it is brilliant. Pick 2 factions, shuffle their 20 card decks together, then use your newly assembled deck to establish dominance over bases before your opponents do.
Despite a slew of loosely themed expansions, gameplay remains extremely accessible, and the replay value only grows as you add more factions to your collection. Some faction pairings will go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Others will actively work against each other. Most are simply fun to play with in either scenario, even if they occasionally contribute to a tough match.
If you’re just beginning to collect Smash Up, however, deciding which expansions to acquire first can be incredibly overwhelming. While having over 10 years’ worth of releases ensures there is something for everyone in terms of aesthetic and playstyle, that translates to over 20 different products! How do you even begin to narrow that list down? Allow me to help.
Here are my picks for the best Smash Up expansions:
- Awesome Level 9000
- Pretty Pretty Smash Up
- Science Fiction Double Feature
- Smash Up: Marvel
- Smash Up: Disney Edition
- What Were We Thinking?
- World Tour: Culture Shock
- The Bigger Geekier Box
Having played with most of the Smash Up factions released to date, not all expansions are created equal. Some contain factions with parasitic mechanics that frequently don’t work well with factions from other expansions (Smash Up: Munchkin, The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, and to a lesser extent, Big in Japan).
Others have factions with needlessly complex mechanics (Oops, You Did It Again being the biggest offender). That doesn’t make these or other unmentioned expansions bad (I actually really like the Cthulhu expansion), but if you are looking for a good cross section of fun factions and easy accessibility for your board game group, these should be what you pick up first.
Awesome Level 9000
Includes Bear Cavalry, Ghosts, Plants, and Steampunks.
Awesome Level 9000 is Smash Up‘s first expansion, bringing with it the introduction of Talents – abilities a card can use once each turn. Despite how long this expansion has been around, this set of decks remains one of the best in terms of both power and versatility, enabling them to work well with many decks from the Smash Up base set and those from future expansions.
I’d also argue that this is one of the cooler groups of factions to be added to the game. While this take is definitely subjective, I’m also willing to bet you couldn’t look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn’t play as Bear Cavalry if given the chance. Nobody’s been able to yet.
Awesome Level 9000 Faction Strategies
- Bear Cavalry: Moves other players’ minions while protecting yours from being destroyed
- Ghosts: Rewards you for discarding cards and keeping 2 or fewer cards in your hand
- Killer Plants: Searches your deck for minions of power 3 or less, plays actions that affect bases and their minions
- Steampunks: Plays a lot of actions on bases and rewards your minions for doing so
While each of these decks have clear focuses, they have a selection of cards that also goes beyond their focus. This extra versatility plays a huge role in allowing them to mesh so well with a variety of other factions, ensuring you almost always have something you hope to draw when in a tight spot.
The most difficult faction to navigate is the Ghosts, as their tendency to burn through your resources in order to enable potent payoffs is a very “all-in” strategy that flies in the face of conventional card game logic.
Few factions boast the discard outlets they do, however, which makes the Ghosts great enablers for any faction that searches for or plays cards out of their discard pile on a regular basis.
Pretty Pretty Smash Up
Includes Fairies, Kitty Cats, Mythic Horses, and Princesses.
Pretty Pretty Smash Up is another early entry within Smash Up‘s menagerie of expansions, and it leans into all things cute. Don’t be fooled by these loose references to Disney, memes, and My Little Pony though – these decks aren’t afraid to get vicious when there are bases at stake.
Pretty Pretty Smash Up Faction Strategies
- Fairies: Most of your cards have 2 options that either help you or harm opponents, and you can move actions that are in play
- Kitty Cats: Temporarily take control of or hinder opposing minions; you can also destroy minions you control for benefits
- Mythic Horses: Rewards you for playing multiple minions on the same base
- Princesses: Fewer creatures than average (6 instead of 10), but all have 5 power and powerful effects backed by a variety of action cards
Each of these decks promotes a very distinct playstyle and does a better job of being a foil for at least 1 other deck in the box than Awesome Level 9000, improving the variety of games you can experience without creating a faction or pairing that feels unbeatable.
While the Princesses are my favorite (pair them with any faction with decent minion recursion and they’re absolutely bonkers), I’ve enjoyed each game I’ve played using the Fairies and Kitty Cats too. Each of these factions works well with a lot of other factions, so you don’t need an incredibly in-depth knowledge of the game to find a decent pairing at the start of the game.
Mythic Horses, while not my preferred playstyle, are also extremely powerful when paired with another faction that cares about your minions like the Robots. The speed at which bonuses stack up can be absolutely staggering, showcasing the power of friendship as it steamrolls unprepared opponents.
Science Fiction Double Feature
Includes Cyborg Apes, Shapeshifters, Super Spies, and Time Travelers.
The Science Fiction Double Feature is the last early Smash Up expansion I’d recommend for anyone who enjoys the base game because it shares most of the best characteristics found in Awesome Level 9000 and Pretty Pretty Smash Up.
Like the previous expansions, Science Fiction Double Feature comes with 4 reasonably powered factions that will offer something of interest to nearly any sci-fi fan. Each also promotes and expands upon different playstyles to increase replay value while pairing well with a variety of factions from past and future sets without introducing substantial power creep.
Science Fiction Double Feature Faction Strategies
- Cyborg Apes: Rewards you for playing actions on your minions
- Shapeshifters: Copies the abilities of other minions in play; also lets you trade minions you play for minions in your deck
- Super Spies: Looks at and manipulates the top cards of player decks; prevents opponents from playing special actions during base scoring
- Time Travelers: Retrieves cards from the discard pile and puts them into play, your hand, or your deck
Of the expansions discussed so far, this batch of factions are by far the trickiest (exempting Cyborg Apes – they’re extremely aggressive and linear). The Shapeshifters are obnoxiously flexible, copying many of the best abilities in play and allowing you to adapt to a wide variety of situations by searching out the right minion for the problem at hand.
Super Spies are deceptively powerful, gathering an absurd amount of information and using it to ensure their biggest threats get discarded before your opponents even get the chance to draw them.
And then there’s the Time Travelers. If you’re able to play through most of your deck, their recursion can let you reuse your most powerful cards ad nauseum before being forced to shuffle your discard pile back into your deck – especially if you pair them with another recursion-heavy faction like the Wizards to ensure you never actually have to do this.
Smash Up: Marvel
Includes Avengers, Hydra, Kree, Masters of Evil, S.H.I.E.L.D., Sinister Six, Spider-Verse, and Ultimates
While it does feel a little weird to have other intellectual properties in a game that historically has shied away from them in favor of thinly veiled references to a faction’s inspiration, Smash Up: Marvel is actually a nice addition to the Smash Up family.
Their factions don’t rely on gimmicky mechanics that only work well with other Marvel factions, and most importantly, you get a full 8 factions to choose from. This allows Smash Up: Marvel to serve as a standalone Smash Up experience for up to 4 players (an ideal number for this game) and even stand in as a substitute for the Smash Up base set to expose new players to this great game.
Smash Up: Marvel Faction Strategies
- Avengers: Fewer creatures than average (6 instead of 10), but all have 5 power and powerful effects backed by a variety of action cards; action cards have additional perks if a specific Avenger is present
- Hydra: More creatures than average (12 instead of 10), focuses on minions with power 2 or less and gains benefits when your minions are destroyed
- Kree: Play all the actions and draw all the cards
- Masters of Evil: Direct VP gain and payoffs for every 4 VP your have
- S.H.I.E.L.D.: Play all the minions and receive payoffs for doing so
- Sinister Six: Lots of base modifiers and minions that manipulate breakpoints, extra benefits if the breakpoint is 19 or less
- Spider-Verse: Manipulates the top of your deck and can play cards when a base scores or is about to score
- Ultimates: Moves minions around available bases and rewards you for doing so
While there aren’t any groundbreaking faction designs here (most of these are very similar to previously released factions), there’s a solid collection of playstyles to choose from in this box.
My primary pet peeve with Smash Up: Marvel is the switch in traditional Smash Up terminology. Minions are referred to as characters in this set, and they use terms like “Base Modifier” instead of “Play on a base”. Most of these changes are fairly easy to translate, but they create needless rules confusion and inconsistency within a system that’s worked fine for years.
Smash Up: Disney Edition
Includes Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Big Hero 6, Frozen, Mulan, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Wreck-It Ralph
There is one extremely noteworthy improvement though – there are actually miniature cardboard inserts you can use for your bases, complete with a way to track the current power of all minions around the edges!
This is an incredibly welcome inclusion that improves the quality of life during gameplay dramatically, and if you want nicer inserts that don’t have the Disney logo on them, you can also acquire them via the Smash Up: 10th Anniversary Set. Frankly, I hope these are just included in all expansions and newer reprints moving forward.
Smash Up: Disney Edition Faction Strategies
- Aladdin: Plays and recurs lots of action cards, occasionally stealing actions from your opponents
- Beauty and the Beast: Rewards you with extra actions and perks for discarding cards
- Big Hero 6: Places +1 power counters on your minions; also provides temporary power boosts for your minions and weakens enemy minions
- Frozen: Quickly searches for or discards minions, then lets you put them in your hand or play them from the discard pile
- Mulan: Places +1 power counters on your minions and lets you draw cards by doing so
- The Lion King: Your cards get stronger when Mufasa is in your discard pile and you can search your deck for minions when your minions go to the discard pile from play
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: Plays lots of action cards on minions that help you or hinder opponents; provides payoffs for having actions on minions
- Wreck-It Ralph: Plays a lot of actions on bases and moves cards between bases
While Smash Up: Marvel‘s factions felt like they were reskinning the design space of previous factions, Smash Up: Disney Edition‘s faction designs boast considerably more imagination. There are several unique cards among the factions in this set, and most combine very well with a variety of prior factions to boot.
I especially like how factions like Aladdin, Frozen, and The Lion King really lean into using specific minions certain ways. Each of these does a good job of providing ways to consistently access the minions you need while being designed to work very differently from one another.
The remaining factions do retread other design spaces, but manage to execute them a little differently than their predecessors. For example, Beauty and the Beast frequently lets you draw and discard cards when you use an action, then gain benefits from the cards you discard rather than simply rewarding you for keeping a small hand like the Ghosts.
All in all, a very solid expansion, and easily my favorite one in recent years.
What Were We Thinking?
Includes Explorers, Grannies, Rock Stars, and Teddy Bears
What Were We Thinking? is probably one of the Smash Up expansions I was most excited to break out when I got it. This unusual selection of factions doesn’t have an underlying theme like most expansions, and conquering bases with Grannies and Teddy Bears proved to be as fun and silly as I imagined it would be.
What Were We Thinking? Faction Strategies
- Explorers: Moves minions (including opposing ones) between bases and manipulates the base deck
- Grannies: Draws and manipulates cards from the top and bottom of your deck
- Rock Stars: Moves your minions from bases with lower breakpoints to higher ones; cares about playing cards on bases with a breakpoint of 21 or higher
- Teddy Bears: Puts lots of minions into play while drawing cards and disrupting opposing minions
Each of these decks brings its own twist on themes like card advantage, minion swarming, and deck manipulation, and all pair well with decks that share their core themes and those that don’t, bringing a lot of flexibility to the decks they’re part of. Many of these are also popular picks when Smash Up hits the board game table, which is a really strong endorsement from our board game group.
World Tour: Culture Shock
Includes Anansi Tales, Ancient Incas, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Polynesian Voyagers, and Russian Fairy Tales
World Tour: Culture Shock is the second half of a series of factions designed with cultures around the world in mind, and while I wasn’t especially wowed by the bland designs of present-day stereotypical cultural icons in World Tour: International Incident, Culture Shock won me over in a big way with its emphasis on folklore and ancient civilizations.
World Tour: Culture Shock Faction Strategies
- Anansi Tales: Places your cards into the hands of other players, then rewards you when they are played or discarded
- Ancient Incas: Plays and replays actions on bases, rewarding you each time you do so
- Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Aims to assemble specific pairs of minions to give both powerful boons and will help you find them from your deck
- Polynesian Voyagers: Rewards you for playing minions on or moving minions to bases where you don’t have other minions
- Russian Fairy Tales: Sends minions in play to the bottom of their owner’s deck and replaces them with the first minion on top of the owner’s deck; manipulates the top card of player decks
Even after several years of releases, Smash Up still surprises me by finding unexplored design space that is fascinating to unpack and master. These factions are fairly middle of the road in terms of power level, but their lines of play are surprisingly robust and have led to some very interesting gameplay moments.
My advice is to take a little extra time when mapping out your moves with these factions – you’ll be surprised by what they bring to the table and just how many ways they can foil an opponent’s plans.
The Bigger Geekier Box
Includes Geeks and Smash Up All Stars
The Bigger Geekier Box is the largest storage solution for Smash Up AEG has released to date, and is intended to be an upgrade to the now discontinued Big Geeky Box. While $40 is a lot to spend on a storage box, it looks really good, is very durable, and comes with a couple really good factions.
The Bigger Geekier Box Faction Strategies
- Geeks: Has access to a lot of special cards; manipulates hands and various game mechanics
- Smash Up All Stars: Composed of cards from the first 4.5 years of Smash Up factions; draws and recurs a lot of cards
Each of these factions is absurdly powerful, and we’ve actually banned the use of the Smash Up All Stars faction because it’s simply too strong, regardless of what other deck you pair it with. While it’s cool that it lives up to its all star name, this who’s who of powerhouses from across several different factions is too much greater than the sum of its parts.
Naturally, this means the box itself is the primary reason The Bigger Geekier Box made this list of recommendations, so let’s look at what you get.
The lower part of this box has 4 columns that can hold all factions from the Smash Up base set through the 10th Anniversary Set, even when sleeved. The upper part serves as a divider to keep your cards from vertically shifting and can hold either the included inserts for tokens and bases or you can remove those as I have to store rulebooks in it and store the rest elsewhere.
Much like the cardboard base inserts from Smash Up: Disney Edition, this top insert wasn’t something I fully realized I needed until I got it, and it was incredibly gratifying to consolidate all my rulebooks into one convenient location.
Unfortunately, there’s a fairly pressing problem with The Bigger Geekier Box that keeps it from being perfect: it just isn’t big enough anymore. I’d even go so far as to argue it wasn’t big enough in the first place. The original Big Geeky Box was a dolled up 3 column card storage solution that did a good job of cutting down on clutter, even if it was swiftly outgrown.
The Bigger Geekier Box only added 1 column of storage, and the columns are slightly shorter than its predecessor, meaning you aren’t getting quite as much extra storage as you thought for ~$40, which wasn’t exactly a welcome surprise.
While I can comfortably contain my whole Smash Up collection using both boxes (and to their credit, they hold up very well even with years of use), you might find you’re better off snagging a generic 5000 card storage box to tide you over until AEG addresses this increasingly apparent problem.
Frequently Asked Questions
While these recommendations have covered a lot of information, there are still some common questions about Smash Up and its expansions that haven’t been touched on yet, so here is some additional information to cover any final loose ends.
Is There A Smash Up Rules PDF?
The Bigger Geekier Box has the most comprehensive Smash Up rulebook currently available. For newer expansions, you’ll want to check out the pages on the Smash Up wiki.
What Are Smash Up Titans?
Titans were introduced in the Big in Japan expansion, and have expanded to 32 factions via the Smash Up TITANS pack, the 10th Anniversary Set, and the Smash Up Penguins pack. This is an optional rule that lets you play an effective 21st card within these factions, except it never goes to your hand, discard pile, or deck and can only be played under specific circumstances.
Rules for how to include them in a game of Smash Up can be found on page 8 of the rulebook. The pictures below showcase all titans currently available, and you can click them to enlarge them.
What Is Big Base Mode?
Big Base Mode is a variant of Smash Up gameplay that has players all trying to score victory points on a single big base instead of several normal bases. There is no breakpoint; bases score every 3 rounds instead. The full rules for Big Base Mode can be found here.
Do I Need Smash Up Expansions To Fully Enjoy The Game?
Nope! The Smash Up base game, Smash Up: Marvel, and Smash Up: Disney Edition are all great games within their own boxes. That said, my opinion is that you dramatically increase the replay value by adding additional factions, so if gameplay starts to feel stale, consider adding an expansion or two to your collection to spice things up!
Is There A Smash Up Expansions List?
Yes! I recommend the one on the Smash Up wiki, as it is easy to read, see the order expansions were released, and snag individual rulebooks. It’s also where I snagged the individual product pictures for this article!
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Braden is a founder of Assorted Meeples and has been a gamer & writer with a vivid imagination all his life. Don’t believe us? Check out his excitement when meeting Goosebumps author R.L. Stine as a kid! An avid Magic: The Gathering spellslinger for over 15 years, you can always convince him to shuffle up for a game (or three!) of Commander.