Growing up I was a big fan of the Mario franchise and I am still one to this day. While Mario dominates the video game industry, there have been a surprising number of board games created that feature Mario and the other residents of the Mushroom Kingdom. A decent number of games were made in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to cash in on the popularity of the original games. Recently USAopoly acquired the license which has lead to them releasing quite a few Mario games in recent years. A while back we looked at Super Mario: Level Up! and today I am looking at Super Mario Bros. Power Up. While a lot of the USAopoly games have basically added the Mario theme to popular board games, Power Up feels like more of an original game. Super Mario Bros. Power Up is a pretty basic card game that doesn’t have a lot of strategy, but it is a simple quick game that Mario fans can get some enjoyment out of.
How to Play Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game
- Shuffle both decks of cards separately.
- Each player is given four extra life tokens and one ? block card.
- The oldest player will be the first dealer.
Playing the Game
The game is played in rounds. Each round consists of three phases:
- Keep or Trade
- Reveal and Modify
Keep or Trade
Each round begins with the current dealer dealing one level card face down to each player. Each player will look at their level card without letting the other players see it. If a player is dealt a castle card they must immediately reveal it. Any player who reveals a castle card can’t lose the round.
The goal of each round is to have a level card that is not the least valuable (worth the least coins). Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player will decide whether they want to keep their current level card or if they would like trade it. If a player chooses to trade they will trade their card with the player on their left. If the player on their left revealed a castle card, the current player is forced to keep their level card. When trading the player to the left of the current player cannot refuse the trade.
Whether the player kept their own level card or traded with the player on their left, play passes to the next player to the left. This continues until you get to the current dealer.
The dealer begins by revealing their card. They can then either keep the card they revealed or discard it and take the top card from the level deck. After the dealer has made their choice the round moves onto the second phase.
Reveal and Modify
All of the players will flip their level cards face up so the rest of the players can see them.
Every player that has a level card with the same value as another player’s level card will get to draw one ? block card. Anyone who revealed a castle level card will also get to draw one ? block card.
All players then have the opportunity to play their ? block cards. A player can play as many ? cards as they want. They can play them to affect themselves or one of the other players. Only one ? block card can impact each level card. If a second card is played to affect a level card, it overrides the first card played against the level.
Once everyone is finished playing cards, the round moves onto the score phase.
The players compare the value of their level cards with any modifications applied. The player(s) with the lowest valued level will lose one of their extra life tokens.
Once a player has lost all of their extra life tokens, they are eliminated from the game.
All level and ? block cards used in the round are discarded. If either deck runs out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new draw deck. The role of the dealer passes to the next player clockwise/left.
Winning the Game
The game ends when only one player has extra life tokens remaining. The last player with extra life tokens remaining wins the game.
My Thoughts on Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game
Outside of the fact that the game was only $1 when I found it, the main reason I decided to pick it up was due to the Super Mario Bros. theme. As I already mentioned I have been a big fan of the Mario franchise ever since I was a kid. I can’t say that I had high expectations for the game because USAopoly is mostly known for pasting themes onto popular board games. It rarely implements the theme into the actual gameplay. This usually leads to pretty generic games that don’t really offer anything original.
I would say that my initial impression is pretty spot on when it comes to Super Mario Bros. Power Up. To get right to the point, the Mario theme has pretty much no impact at all on the gameplay. It basically feels like the game took a generic card game and pasted the Mario theme onto it in order to cash in on the popularity of Mario. You could take the Mario theme off the game and it would have no impact on the gameplay. This is disappointing as I was really hoping for a Mario game that utilized the theme for the actual gameplay.
Basically Mario is only used for the game’s art. In this way the game uses the theme pretty well. The artwork does a good job encapsulating the original Super Mario Bros. All of the level cards look like they took screenshots directly from the video game. Fans of the video game should really appreciate this as it should bring back a lot of nostalgia for the original video game. The ? block cards and even the extra life tokens use images from the original game as well. I also really like the artwork on the outer box. The components are of a pretty typical quality for a USAopoly game, but they are a nice little addition for Mario fans.
Now that I have gotten the Mario theme out of the way lets talk about the actual gameplay. At its core Super Mario Bros. Power Up is a pretty basic card game. In each round all of the players are dealt a level card. They look at the card and then can either trade their card with the player on their left or keep it. Players are then allowed to play ? block cards which are used to modify level cards. The player with the least valuable level card at the end of the round loses one of their extra lives. When a player loses all of their lives they are eliminated from the game. The last player remaining wins the game.
From that description it should be quite clear that Super Mario Bros. Power Up was never going to be a deep card game. The game was meant to be something that you could quickly pick up and play. The rules were supposed to be simple so the whole family could enjoy the game. In this way the game succeeds as it is quite easy to play and plays pretty quickly. The game should only take a few minutes to teach to new players and most games should play pretty quickly depending on the number of players. Super Mario Bros. Power Up is basically what you would expect out of your typical filler card game.
I found the game’s premise to be pretty interesting. I would say that it is a combination of a card game mixed with take that and bluffing mechanics. Basically the goal of each round is to not have the least valuable card. It doesn’t really matter if you have the most valuable or the second least valuable card. You just need your card to be more valuable than at least one other card. There are some good ideas here as you need to be able to read the other players and use your ? block cards in order to mess with the other players enough that you survive.
Super Mario Bros. Power Up has some issues though. It all begins with the ability to trade your cards with the other players. For some reason the game only lets you trade your card with the player to your left. As you don’t really know what any of the other players have, the best you can do is make an educated guess unless the player has a terrible poker face. I honestly think the game should have allowed players to trade their card with any player. This would allow players to read all of the other players and try to find one that is hiding a good card.
The main reason why I think you should be able to trade your card with any other player is due to the castle cards. For several reasons I don’t like the castle cards. First whenever a player draws a castle card they really mess with the player to their left. As a player can’t steal a castle, players to the left of a castle are stuck with their level card whether the card is good or terrible. On top of this the castle cards are by far the best level cards in the game. In addition to messing with the player to your left, it guarantees that you will be safe for the round. None of the players can mess with you which guarantees that you will survive to the next round due to just being a good card. On top of all of this you get to draw a ? block card which will help you on a future turn. Therefore a castle card helps you both in the current round and a future round. Needless to say drawing a castle card drastically improves your odds of winning the game.
Lets move onto the ? block cards. After the players have chosen their level card for the round, players have the opportunity to use the ? block cards in order to improve their own card or hurt the other players. In theory I liked this mechanic. It adds some strategy to the game as players figure out how best to use their cards. There are some powerful ? block cards in the game which can totally change a round. I think the game could have used some rules to outline how the cards can be played though. Without any rules it is basically a free-for-all as players wait for someone else to play the first card. This can lead to a lot of stalling as players wait to see what other players will do. Usually the player with the lowest level card will have to play the first card with the other players then responding by playing their own cards.
While I liked the idea behind the ? block cards, the game wastes the mechanic in my opinion. This is due to players not being able to draw enough of the cards during the game. Basically you only get to draw ? block cards when you get a castle level card or the value of your level card matches one of the other players. Maybe it is just me but this feels completely random. The castles are already overpowered and why do you randomly get a reward for having a level card with the same value as another player. The game should have let players draw more ? block cards as that would have made the game more exciting as players could alter the level cards quite a bit more. For example the player(s) who just lost a life should get to draw a ? block card in order to offset their loss. With a lack of ? block cards there isn’t a lot of action in most rounds as players don’t have any cards to play to alter the level cards.
The lack of ? block cards lead to the realization that you don’t have a lot of control over your fate in the game. In many rounds you will be put into a position where you will be dealt the lowest valued card and there is nothing you can do to help yourself. In most rounds the player who loses had no way of helping themself. This results in Super Mario Bros. Power Up relying on a lot of luck. The player who is dealt/steals the best level cards is likely going to win the game. Getting lucky and drawing additional ? block cards doesn’t hurt either.
On top of the game’s reliance on luck, It also has a player elimination mechanic. Once you lose all of your lives you are forced to watch the rest of the players finish up the game. There really isn’t anything the game could have done to change this as you need to eliminate players in order to get to an eventual winner. Generally I hate when games resort to player elimination as I think it is better to keep players in the game until the very end. The one good piece of news is that the game usually moves pretty quickly. Unless you are eliminated right away you shouldn’t have to wait too long for the rest of the players.
I have spent a lot of this review talking about what Super Mario Bros. Power Up does wrong. Most people are probably thinking that I hated the game. In reality Super Mario Bros. Power Up is not a bad game. It is not great either though. Fans of the Mario franchise can have some fun with the game if they don’t mind playing a pretty simple card game that relies on a lot of luck. It just feels like the game is missing something. If the game would have just had one or two more mechanics I think it could have been pretty good. Maybe some house rules could fix some of these problems. Otherwise you are stuck with a pretty basic card game.
Should You Buy Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game?
Despite being a big fan of the Mario franchise I can’t say that I had high expectations heading into Super Mario Bros. Power Up. I thought it was going to be a pretty typical card game with the Mario theme pasted on in order to sell more copies. This is kind of true as the Mario theme is used well for the artwork but has no impact on the actual gameplay. The card game itself is a decent game that you can have some fun with. I would say that it is a mix of a typical card game with bluffing and take that mechanics thrown in as well. You can have some fun with Super Mario Bros. Power Up. The problem is that you don’t have a lot of control over your fate in the game. You could be dealt a bad level card and have no way to save yourself. The ? block cards could have helped this problem, but players draw far too few of the cards where it feels like a wasted opportunity. You ultimately are left with a pretty average card game that you can have some fun with but could have been quite a bit better.
If you are not much of a fan of the Mario franchise I don’t see enough in Super Mario Bros. Power Up that will distinguish it from many other card games. People who don’t really care for simple card games also probably won’t care for Super Mario Bros. Power Up. If you are a fan of the Mario franchise and don’t mind simple card games, you should have some fun with the game. If you can get a good deal on the game it may be worth picking up.