Dice on Fire Review: Awesome Level 3000

In case you hadn't noticed from my previous review, I freaking love Smash Up. I freaking love it! In a nutshell, it's silly but smart, quick, unique and engaging. It's one of my favourite games of last year (second to Netrunner, perhaps). I wouldn't normally review an expansion pack alone, but it's Smash Up, so I'm making an exception. Designed as both a standalone, two-player game, and as an expansion for Smash Up, today I'm looking at the self-aggrandising Awesome Level 9000.

Awesome Level 9000 follows the same rules as Smash Up, so head over to that review if you want a run-down if how it plays. I'm going to look at the new additions and addressing how this expansion would play as a standalone two-player game.

The manipulative Mutant Plants!

The New Stuff

If you're familiar with Smash Up, you will know that gameplay largely consists of the interplay between different themed decks. Awesome Level 9000 adds four more decks to the slightly small roster. These are Russian Soldiers with Bears, Mutant Plants, Old-Style Ghosts and finally, Steam-Punk Inventors. Because you combine two themes to build your deck, this brings the total number of combinations to 68 (if my calculations are correct!), offering a far greater degree of variety and subsequently, more replayability. One of my initial gripes with Smash Up is that there were only eight themed decks, meaning that in every four player game, every theme is in use, every time. More deck themes is definitely a good thing.

Each deck offers a unique twist on established rules.

The powerful Russian Bear Cavalry!

The Old-Style Ghosts are a very strange deck, which thrive when you have very few cards in your hand. They have powers like playing from the discard pile and awarding victory points if you have two or less cards in hand. There is nothing quite like that elsewhere in Smash Up. The Steam-Punk Inventors are all about boosting the power of your minions and moving back and forth from bases and your hand. The Russian Bear Cavalry use the brute force approach, destroying enemy minions. And the Mutant Plants are all about playing gangs of minions and planning several moves ahead.

The Mutant Plants are by far my favourite faction in the whole of Smash Up, possibly because of the fun mechanic allowing you to surprise other players, or possibly because I grew up watching Little Shop of Horrors pretty much every weekend! This is totally off topic, but seriously, most kids watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones -- I watched a musical about flesh-eating plants!

These new decks fit without problem into the original box, which is a pretty great touch on AEG's part.

Awesome Level 9000 also includes score counters, which the original Smash Up should have had, and I recall complaining bitterly about this.

Finally, you get a bunch of new bases thematically tied to the new decks and tailored towards the strengths of these decks.

Overall, this pack adds 50% more content.

The tricky Steam-Punks

As a Two-Player Standalone

Awesome Level 9000 markets itself as a potential standalone game for two-players. Now this is a little strange. The original Smash Up is perfectly fine to play with two-players, so it's really not worth getting Awesome Level 9000, standalone, if you're looking for a two-player game. With only four themed decks and thus, only six theme combinations, it all seems a little pointless. Granted, it could be cute to have the Smash Up gameplay contained in the little Awesome Level 9000 box, but I can't see any other point beyond that. Stick to the original Smash Up and treat this like the expansion it was intended to be.

One thing I must commend AEG on, in the effort to market this as a two-player standalone, is that they included duplicates of all the bases from the original Smash Up in Awesome Level 9000. If you did decide to get the game as a standalone, at least the sheer amount of bases gives your games some needed variety.

One of the new bases, in this case tailored to the strengths of the Steam-Punk faction.


I know that some players will not like that Awesome Level 9000 does not make any significant changes or additions to the mechanics of Smash Up. It's a very valid point, aside from the unique rules of the new theme decks, there is nothing new gameplay wise, but I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing if the original game maintains its fun-factor and strategic play-style. Adding layer upon layer of new mechanics turned the sleek and swift deck-builder, Ascension, into a cumbersome headache - something that I feel other games should avoid emulating as much as possible. So I'm happy with this expansion in its current form.

Smash Up is a wonderfully silly and fun card game and Awesome Level 9000 just gives us more. If you already own and enjoy Smash Up, you'll most likely get a kick from the fresh ideas that Awesome Level 9000 brings to the table.