Super Mario: Level Up! Boardgame

Combining bluffing and voting, Super Mario: Level Up! has players vie to advance their secret Mario characters to the top of a spiffy 3D board and elect one of them the champion. A successful vote ends the round and players score based on the positioning of the characters shown on their secret character card. Repeat for a total of three rounds and the player with the most points is the winner. A fairly quick game, it rewards planning but players can take some risks to boost their score.



Super Mario: Level Up! Boardgame
Publisher: USAopoly
Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6
Time: 10-30 minutes
(Review copy provided by USAopoly)

In a series of three rounds, players are preassigned a set of characters and then take turns moving any character up the stair-step game board. Voting occurs when a character reaches the top. Players have reusable YES votes but only a few NO votes. Any single NO vote will cause the top character to be removed from the board. When a character passes a vote, players score based on the position of their set characters. The game is reset and then two more rounds occur. Whoever gains the most points throughout the game wins. The game is actually a re-implementation of an older game, King Me! I think the new theme adds to the game’s appeal.

To start each round, players are dealt a card showing six different Nintendo characters (*out of 13 in the game.) Obviously, more than one player may be assigned a given character, but all assignments are secret for the round. Players then take turns placing any free character onto the game board between levels 1 to 4. The game board is a nice 3D affair constructed out of the pieces in the box to form a set of stairs from levels 0 to 5 with an additional 10 step at the top. Once all the characters have been placed, any empty location (only 4 characters can ever be on the same level) is filled with a ? token which grants a one-time power when claimed.

Now the game begins in earnest. Players take turns moving any character up one level (provided there is a free spot.) If there is a powerup token on the next level they reveal it and perform its action. When a character is placed onto the top level (worth 10 points) it immediately triggers a vote from all players. Players select a voting card (everyone has a reusable YES vote but only a limited number of NO votes) and they are simultaneously revealed. If even a single NO vote is revealed, the top character is removed from the board (for the rest of the round) and play continues. If everyone vote yes, the game stops and each player scores based on the characters on their secret card. Characters score points equal to their step level (0 to 5, with the elected champion worth 10) and these are added up for a total round score. New characters are now dealt out and another round is played. After three rounds, players total their scores and declare a winner.

Obviously, the heart of the game is a combination of moving one’s characters up the stairs (and bluffing by moving others) combined with the voting at the top. Each No vote is precious (you typically have 2 or 3, depending on player count) so conserving them when you can is wise, but if you’re too cautious everyone else might vote YES when you were still hoping for a NO. This results in players putting up characters for a vote early, in the hopes of voting them off the board.

A bit of variety is added to the game via the ? blocks. They may bump a character up or down the board, grant an extra turn, or simply provide victory points at the end of the game. I am not a particular fan of the “Ice Flower” block as it causes its revealer to simply lose a turn. (Something that is typically poor game design as removing the ability to do something is almost always a poor design choice.)

Some ? blocks grant a Power Up card. These are the most interesting abilities to me. They can provide an extra NO vote (but don’t eliminate a character, just reset them to the bottom of the ladder), bring a exiled character back onto the board, swap two characters on the board, force a player to vote first (and face up) or even cancel a player’s vote. Obviously these can be quite powerful and successful use of a Power Up card can quickly change the game dynamic.

There are a number of things going on within the game, but the key to success lies in the voting. Move your character up for a vote too soon and there will be plenty of NO votes available to boot them off. Wait too long (or try to save your own NO votes for later) and the round may end quickly while your characters are still far down the board. The ? blocks and Power Up cards add some chaos to the mix, but I am comfortable with their inclusion. They are powerful, but not necessary to manage a win. The game also plays quickly so a bit of luck is not a big turn-off. The title really shines when played with more players (five or six) but is still enjoyable with four. The game dynamic changes a bit (players have more NO votes) but there is still a good dose of tension.

Despite the typical low expectations of a franchised game, the Super Mario Level Up! Boardgame contains a quality game within the box. The cute characters and 3D board (although its durability has mixed reviews) make the game attractive to casual gamers. The combination of a decent game, a hugely recognizable brand name, at a fairly inexpensive cost makes it easy for me to give the game a recommendation.

Kid Factor:
Very little to read here and even the cards with text are labeled with pictures depicting Marioland objects, so a non-reader should find it easy to play. The complexities of voting and strategy of moving characters up the board may be a bit lost on the very young but there’s no reason a younger child moving things semi-randomly wouldn’t have a load of fun (and not interfere too much with more strategic players trying to make their plans.) From that standpoint, the Super Mario Level Up! Boardgame is an impressively deep game for a game accessible (and playable) by the younger set.

*For those who care, the 13 characters are:  Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad, Yoshi, Magikoopa, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Bowser Jr., Donkey Kong, and Diddy Kong

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Tired of typing this out each time? Register as a subscriber!