2-4 players, Competitive, Fantasy Tactical Skirmish
Designer: Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, Justin D. Jacobson
Artwork: Oliver Barrett
Publisher: Restoration Games, Mondo Games
Release Year: 2019
The Unmatched series of games had been out for a while before I finally took the plunge. Most of the earlier released sets didn’t really capture my attention due to the characters used. However, that all changed with the release of the Jurassic Park set. I preordered that one as soon as I got the opportunity and it really opened my eyes to the entire series. Over the following weeks after acquiring that set I systematically purchased all the other sets because I was so impressed with multiple aspects of the game. So, over the next few weeks I will be writing up reviews for each set, starting with the first set released; Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One.
Overview of Gameplay
Each game in the Unmatched series has the same basic rule-set. Players will choose a character to play as and collect their corresponding deck of cards. On the board players will place their miniatures on the starting spaces for each player and then draw up five cards from their deck as their starting hand. Play will then go back and forth between players each taking two actions which translate to movement/draw a card, attacking and/or playing a “scheme” card. The winner is the player who is able to reduce the other player’s health to zero first.
Let’s go into a bit more depth with the actions and how they work. The first action is called “Maneuver” and even though it’s a single action, it actually comes in two parts. Firstly you HAVE to draw a card and secondly you MAY move your fighters on the board up to their movement value. This action is how you will gain more cards to perform even more actions throughout the battle and of course how you will position your fighters in strategic ways on the board. Be careful though! Each player only has a total of 30 cards in their decks and once those run out your characters become “Exhausted”. In this game you do not reshuffle your discard pile, oh no, instead you characters will take 2 damage every time you need to draw a card.
The next action is the “Scheme” action. Scheme cards are specific cards in your deck that have a yellow lightning bolt icon. These are very special and unique cards designed around your particular character in mind. For example in the Battle of Legends set you might find a Scheme card for Alice that allows her to change size which will ultimately have some effect on other cards in your hand or deck. Basically these cards alter some aspect of your character or situation.
The third action is your standard “Attack” action. This is your primary way to engage and defeat your opponent during the battle. These cards will have a red “burst” icon for the general attack action but you can also use a “versatile” card which can be used as either attack OR defense, and these have a purple half burst/half shield icon. During the attack action you will declare who you are attacking and with what character. Then choose an attack or versatile card from your hand and place it face down in front of you. Your opponent may then choose to play a defense or versatile card face down in front of them to try and defend against your attack. Both cards are revealed at the same time and resolved based on their corresponding text of: “Immediately, During Combat or After Combat”. If both cards have the same text, like “Immediately” then the defenders card resolves first. Based on that the card effects will resolve and then the attack/defense numbers will resolve. The attacker number has to be higher than the defense to do any damage and the defender just has to match the number to block it all. The number amount that the attack number is over the defense number is the amount of damage you apply to your enemy.
There is also one more basic rule and that is the “Boost” ability. When a player takes the maneuver action they can choose to discard a card from their hand to “Boost” their movement. Most cards will have a smaller boost number on the card that shows just how much boost the card provides. So, a standard movement of two can actually be increased in a pinch by boosting. Thus allowing you to escape from a deadly trap perhaps….
The components are excellent all around. In this set you will find four highly detailed miniatures, each with a nice wash on them to make the details stand out even more. The miniatures/characters to play as in the game are: Sinbad with the sidekick Porter, Medusa with 3 sidekick Harpies, King Arthur with the sidekick Merlin and Alice with the sidekick Jabberwock. Each miniature is accompanied by some nice plastic circular tokens to use for their “sidekicks” and these are also very well done, putting off a nice “tink” sound when you clack them together. Almost reminds me of high quality poker chips and I find myself mindlessly clanking them together.
Each deck of cards is extremely nice as well with a very good thickness to the cards. The life counter dials are ALSO very well done and are easy to twist to change the life total. Some characters even come with smaller life dials for their side kicks. (Sidekicks without life dials have only 1 life point). In this set there is only one cardboard token and that belongs to Alice. This is used to show whether Alice is big or small depending on her card abilities and will be flipped to keep track. Overall, very excellent components!
The game board is small and double-sided with one side depicting Sarpedon and has a pirate ship, beach area and some forest to traverse. The opposite side has Marmoreal which depicting a castle courtyard the walls and a small area outside the gates. Whichever side you use you can expect different strategic movements and attacking positions. I personally prefer the pirate ship side as it’s more open and just looks cooler. That said, the other side does contain some nice choke points to pin some players in their not careful. Love how there are two different boards to choose from!
The box insert is a testament to good board game inserts. Indented spaces for each miniature to hold them in place, perfectly formed spaces for the health dials and the card decks and sidekick tokens. Not only that but each section has the name of the characters deck and items that are stored there. It’s an excellent touch to an already stellar insert. The board sits neatly on top of all this with the manual on that and everything stays in place even if stored on its side. Heck the box itself even looks great on the shelf!
Visual Appeal /Theme
Over the years I have seen artwork in board games that has ranged all over the scale from “blergh” to oh wow” to “…gasp!….”. I’m probably not the first to say it but let me be the first to say that this artwork is phenomenal! Each set of cards has unique imagery and it is all so.well.done. Heck, half the excitement I get from playing the game is drawing up new cards and oohing and awing at what new image I may behold. And it’s not just that the artwork is good, it’s how clever it is used! One of the Medusa cards, “Winged Frenzy” utilizes some Harpy wings to create the image of a devilish face. Some of the Voyage cards from the Sinbad deck have unique artwork depicting his different voyages, each one a unique piece of art.
This is an interesting game when it comes to theme as it is a direct 4-way crossover. Each of the four characters couldn’t be more different, bringing with them a completely different theme. Matching up against Medusa and Alice for example with have one player manipulating her size to utilize specific cards in her deck whereas playing as Medusa affords you lots of movement and versatile cards that can be used for either attack or defense. Suffice it to say there really isn’t a single theme to focus on here. Your theme is based around whichever character you play as.
The rulebook is short and sweet. It has a nice component list for each character at the beginning followed by a nice two page spread for the setup. After that it gets right into how to play, explaining each of the three actions in great detail. All the instructions are broken up nicely to make them easier to read and comprehend. There’s even a nice gull page combat example to show exactly how combat works. On top of that, each characters main card you use to show the movement speed and special ability double as a turn reminder on the flip side. There haven’t been many games THIS easy to pick up and play.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
As with most, if not all, skirmish style games the player interaction is king here. Typically you will be playing a 1 vs 1 matchup taking turns moving about and directly affecting your opponent which can lead to defense moves and plays. Although there are also instructions to play a team based game! With this set both sides of the map can be used for team play (you have to make sure there are starting spots for up to four). With this variant you can play a 2 vs 2 style with four players each controlling a single character or if playing a three player game, one player will control two characters so regardless there are always four characters in play. It does make the game more dynamic having four characters running amok and it certainly makes the maps seem smaller since you have twice the amount of characters on the board. I personally still prefer the classic 1 vs 1 matchup but wouldn’t turn down a four player game either.
The fun of the game comes from each character’s deck of cards. I just cannot stress enough on how they are so different from one another and this is what makes them so exciting! Before I played the game I took a look at the board and thought it was rather bland looking, not the artwork per say but the regular little circles that you move into. After playing a few games though I’ve come to realize just how much fun those little circles cram in there. The different colors and looks they contain are actually strategic for ranged characters as they can target enemies anywhere on the board as long as they are also in that color/style of circle. Take Medusa for example, yes she comes with three Harpy sidekicks but they only have a single hit point each, so are easily killed. BUT Medusa herself is a ranged character so what you want to do is keep her AWAY from your target and use the harpies to run up and hinder/slow down your opponent while she picks away at their life total from afar.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I touched on this a bit earlier but I prefer the classic 1 vs 1, 2 player setup. You can play it at 3 and 4 players as well but it’s meant to be played as a Team based event and the board can get a bit crowded. I haven’t tried it yet (although I’m sure it was tested) but doing a 4 player death-match free for all would be another consideration to try. I could see alliances being made to gang up on players and all kinds of bloodshed on and off the board.
The replayability is just incredible here. For this set you get four completely different playable characters each with their own unique deck of cards and special power. There is also the double sided board so you have the choice of two different battle maps to play on. If playing the standard 2 player matchups you would have four games to play just to test out each of the different characters. After that testing them out on each side of the boards and gauging just how well they do against your opponent’s selection. Needless to say, you could spend MANY a night playing this. And the fact that each game only lasts about 30 minutes, this is a very quick game to pick up and play.
Positive Final Thoughts
It’s no secret that tactical skirmish games are one of my favorite genres of board games. So I may come across a little bias when it comes to these style of games. With that said, if you also like that style and are yearning for a quicker to play skirmish game then this would be the one to get. This set in particular supplies you with more than enough replayabilty to not only get you started, but keep you entertained for the long haul.
Negative Final Thoughts
My biggest negative doesn’t really have to do with anything gameplay-wise. The thing with the Unmatched series of games is that the theme is all over the place. If you can get past the fact that there are four completely differently themed characters that have NOTHING to do with each other, then you are set. This set in particular really stretches that theme with the included characters, which may or may not appeal to everyone.
The Bottom Line
Overall, this is an excellent set to a pretty amazing series of games. Now, it isn’t my favorite set that is currently released of the five sets (including the Bruce Lee pack) but it’s higher on the list JUST because it includes SO MUCH CONTENT. The characters included are interesting, but, are ranked lower than many of the other sets because I don’t feel they are as clever. Of course, it’s still an excellent set and one that I’m sure you will probably end up snatching up once you get a taste of the action.
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