Spell Smashers: Crushing Expectations
You’re the most capable heroes in the land, and it’s time to crush it. Bust out of town and squash terrifying creatures with a menacing blast. Shatter their resolve, disintegrate their wills, and splinter their ranks. But how do you do it? With words, of course. Words like Bravery! Like Righteous! Like… Hamster?
Spell Smashers is a word game from designer Christopher Chung and publisher Renegade Game Studios. Spell Smashers is a game for 1-5 players, ages 12+, and should last around 60 minutes. Defeat monsters using words. Win their carcasses to make even more words. Brag about your battle scars in the tavern, and acquire the most points to claim victory!
Spell Smashers has four main groups of components that need to be set up:
The Town Board
First, place the Town Board in the middle of the table. Then place the round marker on the Round Track. Stack the ale tokens (“1” side up) near the Tavern. Shuffle the Quest cards and put them face down at the Guild. Shuffle the Gear cards and place them face-down at the Armory. Finally, separate the Potion tokens by type and place them in separate stacks at the Alchemist.
Shuffle the Consonant, Vowel, and Wound card decks and place them face-down near the Town Board. Then, pile the coins up near the Town Board as well.
The Monster Row
To set up monsters for players to battle, set out a number of monster Crests equal to the number of players. Place starting modifier cards and a randomly-selected monster tile on each. Finally, place a number of coins on each monster crest equal to the combined value shown on the monster tile and the modifier card.
Each player takes a player aid card, a “Ready token”, and a player board with a Starting Stick on it. Then they draw four consonant cards and three vowel cards.
The player who most recently used a dictionary takes the tiebreaker marker and gets zero coins. Each player continuing clockwise takes one additional coin (up to $4 for the fifth player.)
Each round of Spell Smashers has three phases:
1. Prepare Words
Using the cards in hand and any monster trophies they have (more on this later), each player constructs a word. During this phase players may also select one weapon and one armor from their gear collection (purchased at the Armory during town visits).
Once all players have constructed their words, they reveal them. The player with the most letters in their word (note: some cards have multiple letters. The letter count is what is important) gains initiative and attacks a monster first. Play continues to the player with the next highest initiative, etc, using the tiebreaker if necessary.
2. Battle Monsters
In initiative order, each player battles their chosen monster by adding the damage values of their cards and applying it to the monster.
But wait! There are many effects that can change this damage. All damage has a certain type. Monsters have various attributes that could make them react differently to different damage types. Player equipment factors into the battle as well.
Once damage is calculated, the player takes that number of coins from the monster crest. If there are no coins remaining, the monster has been slain! The carcass of the monster becomes a trophy the player can use as a permanent letter in any words for the rest of the game.
Players also draw Wound Cards from the Wound Deck. The wound count is denoted on the tile of the monster they fought, and players must draw wounds even if they kill it. Wound Cards have multiple letters or uncommon letters, making it harder to spell words with them.
If a player completes a quest by defeating this monster, they reveal the quest card and tuck it under their player board.
Finally, the player discards all letter cards used to make their battle word. Play continues to the next player in initiative order until all players have had a turn.
3. Visit Town
Once all players have fought monsters, it’s time to hit the town for some rest.
First, each player draws two quest cards from the quest deck, keeps one, and puts the other on the bottom of the deck. Then, each player chooses exactly one building to visit during this round.
If a player has five or more wounds, they MUST visit the Shaman. Players must pay the the Shaman by discarding a monster trophy. Then, they discard all of their wound cards. (Note: If a player has no trophies they may still visit the Shaman and discard all wounds.)
If a player’s wounds aren’t bad enough to require healing, they can brag about them! They can drink in the tavern and brag about their battles. They pay three coins and receive an ale token for each wound they have.
If a player wants more quests, they can head to the guild to draw two more quest cards and discard one.
Players can pay 5 coins to draw two new gear cards. They select one and discard the other. Players can use their gear to supplement their attacks during the battle phase.
If players are looking for an extra boost they can visit the Alchemist. This magical mixologist offers three different tonics to players for different costs, enabling players to change letters, cards, or damage types during their turn.
Once everyone has visited the town, refill hands to seven cards, add an ale token to each surviving monster, and replace any defeated monsters. Move the round marker to round two and begin again!
After round eight, players tally points from their monster Tiles (3VP each), gear cards (1VP each), quest cards, ale tokens, coins (1vp per $5), and Wound Cards (-1VP each). Whoever has the most points wins!
I’m not going to bury the lede here. We love Spell Smashers. This is the first word game we’ve ever played that feels like a thematic experience first and a word game second. We like word games a lot at The Family Gamers, but sometimes you’re itching for that deep thematic experience. Spell Smashers offers both.
Eight full rounds of the game can run a little long depending on the player count, but there’s nothing that prevents players from agreeing on fewer rounds to cut the play time.
I also found the Solo Mode a welcome addition. In it, you’re a lone hero defending the town from marauding monsters. A third of the rule book is dedicated to the solo mode, and it shows – while maintaining the primary mechanics of the game, this “Defend the Town” mode feels like a completely different, and yes, heroic, experience.
We found it took a little bit of figuring out what all of the icons meant, especially on the monster Tiles and modifiers. They’re on the back of the rule book, but Renegade could have put these on the player aid cards instead of the end game scoring. Having to reference icons happens throughout the game, end game scoring happens once.
But critically, how does Spell Smashers play with the family? Word games frequently fall flat in families due to age differences; we’ve had to introduce custom rule sets with games to be able to play them fairly with our kids. For a family that loves word games, this could be the nail in the coffin that sends a word game to the trade pile if it doesn’t span ages well.
Thankfully, once again, Spell Smashers carries through with aplomb. Although it might be harder for children to make larger words and thus get more coins, the main source of victory points comes through monster tiles. Since longer words means going first, smaller words enable players to snipe the last few coins off a monster after players with longer words have done the lion’s share of the work. It will still be slightly unbalanced in favor of adults, but this feature alone goes a long way towards leveling the playing field.
Spell Smashers is my favorite game yet for mixing thematic game play with an enriching game mechanic. The lighthearted and ridiculous take on medieval fantasy dovetails very well with the intended audience. I’m always willing to get Spell Smashers to the table with my family.
Pick up your own copy of Spell Smashers on Amazon for under $40 today!
Renegade Game Studios provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Spell Smashers for this review.
Playtime: 45-60 minutes
Number of players: 1-5
Age Range: 12+ (we say 10+)