WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2
Restoration Game take old favourites that need a fresh coat of paint, and bring them back to life for the modern era. The Unmatched series did this for the 2002 classic, Star Wars: Epic Duels. A popular, but out-of-print and hard to get game. The Unmatched series took the same idea, but tidied up the ruleset, and opened it up to characters from all over the world of books, film, and TV. So far, we have had Marvel characters (of course) Buffy, and Coble & Fogg to name a few. And now, Unmatched brings us Houdini vs. The Genie. The legendary and very real escapologist. And, errr... The Genie? Let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
Usually with an Unmatched game, you will need to choose which characters you want to fight with, but if you just have this set, it's simply one each. That makes for a very good and full game though, don't worry. But you can mix-and-match with other sets. Pick your character and take their mini, cards, and health dial. Be sure to take the little token for Bess (Houdini's wife in real life) if you play as Houdini. Shuffle your cards and deal yourself five for a starting hand. The youngest player now places their mini on the spot marked with a "1" and the other player places their mini onto the "2" space. It's worth noting the board is double sided. Both sides are essentially the same, except one is designed for people who suffer from vision deficiencies or colour blindness. Nice touch. Note your characters special power, movement range, and if they attack with ranged movement (in any space of the same zone) or Melee, right up in your grill. You are now ready to play.
How to Play
On your turn, you will have two actions to do one of three things. You can either move, called Maneuver, or play a card from your hand to fight, called Attack or take a special action, called Scheme. When you move, draw a card into your hand then move your fighter up to your maximum along adjacent spaces. Adjacency in this game is shown by connected lines between spaces. Your maximum movement will be shown on your character card. You can boost your movement by discarding a card from your hand and adding the extra spots shown in the small circular boost area on the middle right of each card. It is worth noting that other than a few cards that have a special power that will gain you additional cards, moving is the only way to draw a card in this game. There will be a few turns that you will move just for the opportunity to draw a card.
Some boost powers give you extra benefits such as being able to to draw extra cards or recover health. Houdini can boost his movements to move to any space on the board without another fighter on it. The game also has secret passages on the board which are all seen as adjacent to each other. Large figures from other version of Unmatched cannot fit through these. This makes moving in this version of the game very interesting. You can get very far away from your opponent, but they can equally catch up quickly!
To attack, simply declare who the attack will be made on and play a card from your hand. Attacks will either be melee in which case you must fight an adjacent fighter, or ranged, in which case you can target any other fighter in the same zone as you. This depends on if you play as Houdini or The Genie. Other fighters in other versions will bring other powers. Zones are shown by the coloured circles, so you could find a ranged attack has quite a long distance threat. You need to watch out if you are playing as Houdini, and use Bess where you can to protect yourself.
Once you have chosen and declared who you are attacking and played a card face down attack card shown by the red explosion symbol, the defending player can decide if they want to play a defend card or not. The defends card are blue and show a shield. However, some cards work for both attack and defence so look closely. Combat is then resolved, sorting through immediate effects first, then during combat effects along with the actual combat, shown by the strength of the cards played, followed by the after combat effects. Combat is won by the attacker if they managed to deal at least one damage. It is won by the defender is they managed to block all damage. The effects can be quite effective and things can turn around very quickly. I played one game as Houdini where I successfully defended the attack but lost my final health due to The Genies after combat effect; but was able to recover four health with my own after combat power. It was quite the show!
The Scheme action lets you play the cards with the yellow lightning symbol on. These give you a variety of benefits such as drawing more cards, adding extra actions, or forcing your opponent to discard cards. They can be quite powerful but each deck only has a few in.
Players will take it in turns like this, moving, scheming, and attacking, until they reduce the other players Heroes health down to zero. Defeating Bess is a tragic loss, but not one worthy of victory in this game! At this point, the game ends. The winner is declared. Outrage at that final awesome card your opponent beat with you ensues. And you will most probably rack 'em up and go again. It all happens quite quickly. It's around 10-20 minutes per game I have found.
Is It Fun?
Playing Unmatched feels very much like many other games in this field. Disney's Sorcerers, Arena, Dice Throne, Godtear and Funkoverse all make use of similar mechanics in this busy market place. It's a;l;l about clever card play and ~unmatched certainly holds its own in this arena. But you need to do something different to stand out. I have also recently previewed two excellent new games that use this style too, Fatal Knockout and Merit. So, what does Unmatched do to deserve its place in your collection? If you are after a two-player skirmish game that is!
I would suggest two key things. The characters and the movement. There are a lot of cool licenced characters in Disney's Sorcerers, Arena, Dice Throne, and Funkoverse but they are all from recent films. Mostly animated or comic book films. Unmatched is bringing characters from all parts of literature and from throughout history. It feels more grown-up. There is something "mature" and sensible about these minis and characters when compared to the colourful standees of Disney's Sorcerers, Arena, or the bobble head toys in the Funkoverse games. Nether is better or worse. It just helps you make a choice for what will better suit you.
But the main stand-out feature for Unmatched is the movement. It is a little more subtle in these games and a lot more important. In Unmatched, movement is a key part of the game. I find that I am moving most turns. Probably three quarters of my turns will involve a movement. In Disney's Sorcerers, Arena and Godtear I find it is more of a race to the middle action zones, and then a brawl ensues. In Dice Throne you obviously don't move, and just assume adjacency all game. In Funkoverse you often move to claim flags and certain action points. But the movement is neither clever or interesting. In Unmatched, the movement is a key part of the game. The zones, and with this version, the hidden tunnels, offer clever opportunities to spring up and make sneak attacks. Running away is an actual viable opportunity as you can gain some serious ground when needed. The battle id more of a dance than a slog. Both ways to play are fun. They both allow for a great game to happen. Again, this is just a point of difference, and with Unmatched, this is certainly an area that it stands out in.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys two player skirmish games, but is looking for something that feels a little more 'after-hours'. Unmatched offers more of an adult theme and style that works well when the lights are low, dinner is long finished, and the small hours approach. If you want a duelling game to battle your friends and loved ones and would like for the characters to be more 15 (or R for my American friends) than PG, Unmatched could be the one for you.