Smashed Up! Ninjas and Pirates

smash up card game geeky box

Welcome to the a new column, called Smashed Up! No, it is not about that one game that has “Smash” in its title. No, not that one either. Yes, that one! This column is about a ‘shufflebuilding’ card game called Smash Up, where you take two half-decks, smash them together, and use them score victory points before your opponents do the same. Each faction has 1-3 things that they are particularly good at doing, as well as other factions that they play well with. I’ll save explaining the game itself for the next Review ALL The Things, so let’s take a look at two of the factions – Pirates and Ninjas. Despite being bitter rivals for whatever reason, the two factions are similar in their mindset – they’re all about having power control, albeit with very different methods. Ninjas have a bit more precision and power behind their control options, but Pirates have significantly more of them.


From AEG’s website – “Ninja strike from the shadows and steal victories from under enemies.”

photo 1

Ninja are all about two things – debilitation/destruction of enemy minions, and sneaky minion placement, especially at the point of scoring. For a quick explanation of scoring – when a base reaches a certain power threshold (determined by the total power of all minions on that base), the base will score, and players will earn points based on the amount of power that they have on that base. By both being able to destroy enemy minions as well as get extra minions onto the board, Ninjas can have substantial power control on a base. Several of their actions mimic the abilities of their four minions, giving the Ninja player several opportunities to use these skills to their advantage.

Debilitation and Destruction: The Ninjas have several cards that can allow for destruction of other minions. The Tiger Assassin minion as well as the Seeing Stars action both allow for destruction of minions of power 3 or less, while the Ninja Master and Assassination cards will destroy any minion, unless they are protected somehow. The one drawback of all of these abilities are that they can only affect a single minion, but this plays well into the Ninja’s general theme of subtle yet important shifts in power on a base. By playing a Ninja Master on a base, for instance, and taking out another 5 power minion, the Ninja player has created a 10-point power swing in their favor without actually affecting the total power on the base.

In addition to destruction, the Ninja player has two debilitating actions at their disposal. Both Infiltrate and Poison act as debuffs, removing ongoing actions from bases or minions, which could then open them up for other shenanigans. Poison in particular has a nasty secondary effect of reducing a minion’s power by 4. This is quite useful to neuter a powerful minion without destroying them. Since discard piles get reshuffled when the deck is depleted, keeping a powerful minion on a base, but unable to contribute, is an optimal way to slow down your opponent’s progress.

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Minion Placement: The Ninja player also has access to several abilities and minions that allow for them to better control the power on the board, as well as steal first place in base scoring at the last second. The Ninja Acolyte and Disguise both have the ability to substitute minions on the board with minions in your hand. In both instances, this counts as extra minions, which doesn’t count towards your “one Action, one Minion” play limitation. Disguise is a simple “sub 1-2 minions in play for 1-2 minions in your hand”, and is very powerful for one reason – almost all minions have abilities attached to them, and putting the minions back into your hand gives you another opportunity to play them and their ability a second time. The Acolyte has unusual wording for their ability, but it’s essentially a weaker version of Disguise that must be used at the start of the turn. Still useful if you have two minions that synergize well with each other, and you want to make sure that your opponents don’t have a turn to react to one of the two being played. The Smoke Bomb card also allows for protection of minions for a turn while you build up your strategy, but it again might reveal part of your plan to a veteran Smash Up player. Way of Deception allows to move a minion around, which could be useful to ensure that a base has two minions for Disguise.

The other core minion placement ability that the Ninja has at their disposal is the sudden playing of minions just before a base scores. The Shinobi minion can be played just before a base is scored to add +3 power for the ninja player on that base. This power increase could help shift the Ninja player to first place on a base, or allow for them to steal an uncontested second or third place on the base if only one or two players have influence on that base. Hidden Ninja is a more extreme version of the Shinobi’s ability, allowing for you to play any minion to the base. This could be devastating, depending on the minion in question (i.e. Master Ninja?)

Plays well with:

Dinosaurs, Robots: Both of these factions are creature-focused, with creatures that synergize well with each other. By using Acolytes and Disguise, it is easy to get these synergies into play and score bases more easily


From AEG’s website – “Pirates move cards around the table keeping your opponents unbalanced.”

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Pirates are similar to Ninjas, in that they are focused on destruction and minion placement. However, they have somewhat different ways of approaching each of these goals. As expected, Pirates are much less subtle about these abilities.

Destruction: The Pirate player has a similar number of destruction cards to the Ninja, but they differ in two major respects. First off, most of the destruction cards can affect multiple minions (2 minions for Cannon, all minions on a base for Powderkeg and Broadside). This gives the Pirate player the ability to cause some serious harm to a player’s power score on a base. The balancing act? Most of these cards can only affect grunt minions (2 power or less), with the Pirate’s only option for affecting stronger minions (Powderkeg) requiring a sacrifice of one of your own minions to have any effect. Powderkeg has good synergy with one of the Pirate minions, however. Since the Buccaneer’s special ability allows for it to be moved to another base instead of being destroyed, it makes for a good minion to ‘sacrifice’ to deal some real damage to a base.

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Minion Placement: Although the Pirate doesn’t have access to extra minion plays or sudden minion plays like the Ninja, they do have access to a large amount of minion movement, which can be applied in a similar way. Interestingly, the pirates can move other player’s minions through Shanghai and Sea Dogs, pushing a player off of a base to allow for the Pirates to swoop in. Dinghy can be used to help consolidate a few minions, useful for synergistic armies like the Dinosaurs and Robots mentioned above. The Pirate King is like a more extreme Shinobi (can be moved to a base just before it scores), limited by the fact that there is only one Pirate King card in the deck and that he needs to already be in play.

The truly scary cards in the Pirate’s aresenal, however, are Full Sail and First Mate. Full Sail allows for you to move any number of minions to any other bases. This can be used to scatter minions if you realize that you won’t be able to score a base easily, or (more usefully) to consolidate all of your minions onto a base to have uncontested first place when it is scored. Since this ability can be used just before a base scores, it has the potential to be utterly devastating. The First Mates, on the other hand, are not that scary on their own (only 2 power). However, after a base is scored, First Mates can be moved to a different base instead of the discard pile. If you have all four First Mates out on a single base, you will then have essentially a roving power 8 monster going from base to base. This has the potential to score several bases in a single turn, When used in conjunction with Swashbuckling (grants each minion +1 power until the end of the turn), you would have 12 power base-hopping, which is enough to guarantee first or second place on almost all bases. This combination more than makes up for the more lackluster destruction abilities that the Pirate has at their disposal.

Plays well with:

Plants: Allowing for extra minion plays, as well as searching for low-power minions out of the deck, this is ideal for quickly building up the First Mate roaming army.

Zombies: This faction can be used to bring the Pirate King (and First Mates!) back from the discard pile, which allows for either of these minions to continue using their awesome effects turn after turn.


Any other fun combinations/good pairings for these factions? Mention them in the comments below! Next Time: Robots and Dinosaurs!


Review All the Things – Love Letter (Kanai Factory Limited Edition)

This week, we’ll be looking at a game that many people already have heard of called Love Letter. Marketed as of of the games that helped reinvigorate the microgame market, the premise of Love Letter is quite simple. The players are suitors trying to win tokens of affection from the
Princess, either through eliminating all of the other players or by ending the round with the highest-ranking card in the set. With only 16 cards in the deck, rounds go quite quickly, allowing for several games to be played in quick succession.

AEG has made several variants of this game (Munchkin themed, Batman themed, LotR themed), but almost all of these variants are simply reskins of the Tempest (“original” Love Letter) version of the game. The version that I’m looking at today, the Kanai Factory Limted Edition,added one little twist to the game that actually changes how it is played quite a bit.

Continue reading

Love Letter

((Trying to slowly get back the free time to work on this blog, even if only once or twice a week. I hope you all like this short story set in the Love Letter universe. Yes, the story fits all legal moves in a game of Love Letter – Check in later this week for a review of the game itself!))

A young priestess was walking down a hallway, clutching a letter tightly in her hands. Her eyes darted around the castle, looking to see if anyone was in sight. Seeing nobody, she sighed and looked at the letter for what must’ve been the fourth or fifth time in nearly as many moments. It was sealed with a fancy wax seal, and the front simply said “To my beloved”. The princess’s suitors had become more numerous once she had come of age, to the point where the daimyo had ordered all letters destroyed. Due to this, suitors had begun giving their letters to those closest to the princess, promising land or food to those that could help win the princess’s heart. This was one of those love letters, and the priestess was determined to try and deliver it.

“Ohoho, what have we here?” A painted face put itself between the priestess’s face and the letter. His smile was wide, but his eyes narrow as slits. Continue reading

Review All The Things! Micro Play Break: Protector

In this newest game by MSP Games, Micro Play-Break: Protector, players play as one of two roles – a Villain trying to take over the world, and a Protector trying to save it.


There are 12 location cards, that all have differing point values for the Protector (all cities are equally useful to the villain:


Worth 4, 20, and 40 points, respectively.

In each turn, two of the location cards are played face up on the board. The Villain and Protector will each play their card face down pointing towards one of the two locations, like so:



After both players have played their cards, the cards are revealed, and the locations resolve as follows:


If the two players are pointing at different Locations, then the Villain successfully attacked the location, claiming it.


If both players are pointing at the same location, then the Protector has successfully defended the location, and claims the Location card.

After all of the cards have been played, two stacks of two cards are taken out as well and played similarly. The game is then scored at that point, and whomever has the most points wins!

Looking at this game, it feels in the same vein as Duel or Castles, in that you are playing the player more than the game itself. By giving differing Protector Values to the Locations, it forces both players to think about whether the higher/lower value of a location for the Protector can justify a decision one way or the other. I’m not too sold on the final play of the game (two locations up for grabs instead of one), because it seems out of theme for the game, plus doesn’t feel to contribute too much on its own merit.

One big plus that this game has going for it is the artwork – there are several excellent representations of the different Locations on offer in the game, and the artwork for the Protector/Villain look pretty swank as well. One awkward point in the artwork is in the numbering for the location values. For the Protector in particular, the coloring is hard to read, and the text feels small. Instead of the bars and small numbers, a larger number might be easier to read and pop a bit more on the card itself.

The Kickstarter for this will be launching soon, so check in on MSP Games’ Facebook page and website for more!!




Review all the Things: Valley of the Kings

Today’s game is the first non-Kickstarter game that I’ve taken a look at, and one of my favorite takes on the deckbuilding genre of games for a while: Valley of the Kings!

imageValley of the Kings is a deckbuilding game where each player is a Pharaoh, trying to obtain the greatest collection of Egyptian artifacts to have buried with them in their tomb. Like many deckbuilding games such as Dominion and Ascension, the objective is to have the most victory points (VP) by the end of the game. VP is earned by purchasing cards from a common stock, which can either be used as currency to purchase more powerful and valuable cards, or used for a particular effect.

Although the general goal is the same, Valley of the Kings distinguishes itself in two major fashions:

1 – how purchasing is made from the common pile, and

2 – how VP is tallied and scored.

In most deckbuilding games, a player can purchase any card that is currently available for purchase if they have the funds to do so. Valley of the Kings, staying true to it’s Egyptian theme, instead has a pyramid design for purchasing cards:

image_1The pyramid design, however, is not solely for looks. Only cards at the base of the pyramid can be purchased. How then, does one purchase cards near the top? The simplest answer is through the crumble mechanic, where cards will crumble down to fill in spaces created by purchasing cards. An example is below:


The middle sarcophagus was purchased. This created a gap in the base of the pyramid, so a card has to crumble down from the second row…

After crumbling, a gap has now opened up in the second row, so the top card has to crumble down to the second row...

After crumbling, a gap has now opened up in the second row, so the top card has to crumble down to the second row…

Like so. Now, the amulet can be purchased, and the book can potentially be purchased if the amulet or the canopic jar are bought.

Like so. Now, the amulet can be purchased, and the book can potentially be purchased if the amulet or the canopic jar are bought.

Buying that many cards in a turn can be difficult, so there are card effects that can allow for swapping of card locations on the pyramid or destroying cards (forcing a crumble) as well as cards that allow for an automatic purchase to be made.

The scoring is semi-unique as well. In Ascension (which I keep using as my deckbuilding example because I’ve played a lot of it), the honor of all cards that you purchased into your deck will be summed up for the final score. In Valley of the Kings, you get zero points for any cards in your deck. How do you score, then? Remember what the goal of the game is?

As part of a turn, a player can entomb a card. This essentially removes the card from the game, putting it into your tomb to be buried with you:

An example of a tomb with some entombed cards.

An example of a tomb with some entombed cards.

At the end of the game – which occurs when the pyramid and pyramid stock are completely depleted – players will tally up their VP and determine a winner. Some cards (starter cards and Unique cards) have a set VP value, but the majority of the cards in the game are parts of a set (Books, Sarcophagi, Canopic Jars, Amulets, and Statues). If you only have one item in a set, you get one VP. However, if you have multiple items in a set (duplicates don’t count), then you’ll see exponential gains in the amount of VP you earn, ranging from 9 (collecting all 3 sarcophagi) to 49 (if you somehow managed to collect all seven statues).

The five different sets in the game.

The five different sets in the game.

With there only being 1-3 copies of each card in the game, however, it becomes more difficult to get full sets, and keeping an eye on what players are trying to collect what sets is a key to victory. However, you can only entomb one card per turn unless a card’s effect says otherwise. Therefore, you need to be constantly entombing cards (losing their effects) in order to keep up with the other players. It’s a delicate balancing act between keeping cards for their value, keeping cards for their effects, and entombing cards to lock in VP at the end of the game.

I’ve only gotten to play a few rounds of this game thus far, but it has a really fascinating premise and style of play, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes games in the deckbuilding genre!

Review all the Things: Micro Play-Break – Duel

((Note – pictures are from an early version of the game, and may not be indicative of the final product, especially since my printer was not cooperative and didn’t like the colors too much…))


Red Attacks Blue  with a direct physical attack to the upper body. Blue does a special block on the upper body. Since the blocking types do not match, Blue takes one damage to the upper body.

Red attacks with a direct physical attack to the upper body. Blue blocks special on the upper body. Since the blocking types do not match, Blue takes one upper body damage

The fist connected with Franz’s face. He staggered back for a second, the opposing TechnoLectric warrior bearing down on him. All TechnoLectric warriors had the same rigorous training, so Franz and his opponent were evenly matched in terms of techniques. However, one thing that wasn’t taught in combat school was deceit and intuition. How one could both mislead and read their opposing mark. Those that had a talent for it, wound up working for the most notorious Warlords, while those who didn’t…well, their fate was obvious.

Red keeps the momentum, and attacks again towards the upper body. Blue must decide whether the attack is physical or special, and whether the attack is to the upper body or lower body.

Red keeps the momentum, and attacks again towards the upper body. Blue must decide whether the attack is physical or special, and whether the attack is to the upper body or lower body.

The other TechnoLectric warrior wound up for another punch. Was she going for another punch? The motion was too blatant, she was trying to mislead him into blocking the punch, distracting him from a leg blow. Or was that part of the deceit? Franz had to think fast.

Blue successfully predicts that the attack is a Misleading physical attack, and blocks low. Since the attack was blocked, momentum is now shifted to Blue.

Blue successfully predicts that the attack is a Misleading physical attack, and blocks low. Since the attack was blocked, momentum is now shifted to Blue.

At the last second, he stepped back, and a foot grazed the air where his knee had just been. The opposing warrior, not expecting the dodge, staggered forward. She was off balance! Franz stepped towards her, electricity starting to crackle from his powered gauntlet. The Duel had only just begun…

Micro Play-Break: Duel, is the third Kickstarter game by MSP Games. (For information on the other games, take a look at my reviews on MPB: Castles, as well as MPB: Kingdoms). As was hinted at above, Duel is a 2-player game where each player controls a TechnoLectric warrior in combat. The objective is to reduce the health of either the upper or lower body of your opponent to zero. Unlike other games, where the two fighters would just trade blows until one was defeated, Duel uses a momentum style of play. The attacker is allowed to continue attacking until the defender successfully blocks. Continue reading

Review All the Things: Micro Play-Break: Castles

Review all the things: Micro Play-Break: Castles!

Premise: A game of equal parts luck and reading your opponent. Capture the princess with your knight, while protecting your own princess from harm!

Appearance: The first thing that I noticed about MPB: Castles is that it is a very compact game. Very compact. It fits into your wallet, with the cloth playing board! This makes it quite easy to bring it just about anywhere – lab, work, the bar, game night, et cetera. The pieces are of good quality – the cloth playing board feels light yet strong, and the card pieces are cut from fairly thick stock and given a good laminate.


No. really.

It’s super-portable!

Now, there are two versions of the game – the standard version (pictures not available yet, because I keep forgetting to bring it) as well as a Kickstarter exclusive version. Each has their pluses – while the Kickstarter exclusive has fantastic artwork, I find the brighter coloration of everything in the standard version more pleasing than the black and tan of the exclusive. Your milage may vary, however.

Mid-game picture

Mid-game picture

Playing the game: The gameplay is quite simple. There are three lanes set up, with barricades between your pieces and the other player’s pieces. To start, you will play your three cards (Wizard/Catapault, King, Princess) in each lane, with up to two cards per lane. As long as the cards are behind a barricade, they are played face down. Each one of these three cards has a specific purpose – Wizards/Catapaults can destroy barricades, Kings can remove Knights from the game temporarily, and Princesses are the object of desire/objective to win. Continue reading