In 2020, I published a pretty massive review of the Unmatched game system here on the OG… including a substantial bit of writing about how it compares to Star Wars: Epic Duels, the out-of-print mass market game on which it is based. (Important fact that may summarize that portion of the review: I am still more than willing to sell my lovingly used copy of Epic Duels to finance further Unmatched purchases.)
In 2021, I followed that up with a love letter to the Buffy & Beowulf/Little Red Unmatched boxes… and more recently, with praise for Unmatched Digital.
Since my last review of a physical box of Unmatched goodness, Restoration Games has managed to release four (4!) more boxes of stuff… turning this system into an honest-to-goodness juggernaut of head-to-head card-based combat. Today, I’ll be attempting to give a sweeping overview of those boxes for both the Unmatched fans and for those who are new to the game system.
In addition, a small group of us took some time to rate the difficulty level of all the currently available characters… and I’m including that as a special bonus for those of you who read to the end of the review. (All part of the friendly Opinionated Gamers customer service, right?!)
I will note that my sons and I were playtesters on three of the four boxes (we did not playtest the T-Rex) as well as some boxes that are yet to appear. (I cannot begin to express how cool one of the upcoming sets is… but I am sworn to secrecy.)
A final reminder: each box functions as a stand-alone game as well as a part of the Unmatched game system.
Battle of Legends, Volume II
One of the strengths of the Unmatched system is the ability to pull from the mythology and history of a number of different cultures – and nowhere is that more evident than in the Battle of Legends, Volume II box. Inside the box, we are greeted by:
- Yennenga… a warrior princess who is considered the mother of the Mossi people of Burkino Faso
- Sun Wukong, the Monkey King… a Chinese mythical figure with possible roots in Indian/Hindu culture
- Bloody Mary… a nightmare creature emerging out of a mirror from American (or possibly British) folklore
- Achilles… a hero of Greek mythology (particularly the Trojan War)
The setting is legendary as well – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is the single map included in the Volume II box. (The map is double-sided, but both sides are the same map with different graphic design.) A new feature on this map is High Ground – which offers an attack bonus to those characters “above” another adjacent character. (It also offers the opportunity to attempt bad impressions of Ewan MacGregor saying, “It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground”. This attempt may or may not be well-received by your opponent.)
There are other new twists introduced in the Volume II box:
- For the first time, we were given official free-for-all rules for playing with 3 or more players “every man/woman/cryptid/literary character for themselves”. (Note: balance is always trickier when playing in this mode – particularly if players are not experienced with the decks in play. Your skills as an instigator – to quote the classic Illuminati: New World Order card: “Let’s You & Him Fight” – can be as important as your skills as an Unmatched player.)
- Each of the heroes in the box has cards which include Bonus Attacks – secondary attacks which fire off after the completion of the initial attack. I really like this innovation as it throws a wrench in certain play styles while giving an added boost to defensive cards that allow characters to escape the second attack.
In complexity, I’d rank Volume II as a bit more advanced than Volume I – but not so much that it should keep new players from jumping in. Achilles is the most approachable of the decks – reminiscent of the Luke/Leia deck from Star Wars: Epic Duels. Sun Wukong and Yennega are not terribly more difficult, though Wukong adds his clones (1 hit point sidekicks that he creates by taking a damage) and Yennega has the first 2 hit point gang of sidekicks – her Archers. Bloody Mary is the trickiest deck to play in the set – and the most disturbing artwork in the game system so far. That said, she’s very interesting to play for experienced players.
I really like how these characters work together as a set as well as how they blend nicely with previous (and future) boxes… and credit where credit is due: the quality of the miniatures is excellent here. Especially Bloody Mary.
Marvel: Hell’s Kitchen
As I’ve shared before, I collected comics back in the 80’s… but primarily DC Comics (thanks to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen). The exception: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s run on Daredevil.
And that’s exactly where our good friends at Restoration Games ended up when they designed the first of four Marvel boxes (well, not counting the odd weirdness of the Deadpool solo box) – smack in the middle of the appearance of The Hand, the death & resurrection of Elektra, and the spooky/deadly competence of Bullseye.
It’s really interesting to watch the various iterations of the Marvel decks as the team at Restoration tuned them and worked to balance not only the numbers but also create those moments of joy when you play certain combos that make Unmatched so much fun. Example: Thanks to the Daredevil’s THROUGH ADVERSITY card, I had the distinct pleasure of reenacting the hallway fight scene from the Netflix (now Disney+) Daredevil series… bulldozing my way through 4 sidekicks in one turn. (Yes, I had to boost my move to make it happen – it was worth it.) It’s events like that one that make the Marvel boxes great fun to play.
Bullseye is a ranged specialist (with an extended range) – and would be my pick for the least experienced player at the table. Daredevil uses more card-burning powers (Blind Boost), which can be a trap for newer players. Elektra has a death/resurrection mechanic that echoes the comic books perfectly but it also makes her the most difficult to play in the box.
The Marvel boxes also introduce Battlefield items – one-time use special powers that are scattered around the map. Battlefield items from other sets can be mixed together and chosen randomly – though the artwork on the items is usually specific to the map/box they came with.
The map here (Hell’s Kitchen) is a single map with two sides – the other side is the same map using the more Tannhauser-like colored rings around spaces that lets more of the artwork shine through. (Personally, I like the solid spaces better… but to each his own.) It’s another “urban environment” map like Cobble & Fog’s London map – but with a very different feel.
Marvel: Redemption Row
Redemption Row is the least cohesive of the Marvel boxes thematically – and the three characters found inside don’t typically crossover in the Marvel universe. This probably explains the use of The Raft as the map in this box… this top secret super-hero/villain prison the one place you’re likely to find all three of these iconoclastic heroes and anti-heroes together. (The Raft is featured in the final third of Captain America: Civil War if you need a visual reference.)
Luke Cage (and his sidekick, Misty Knight) are melee (Luke) and ranged (Misty) pair that focus on pounding their opponents into submission – which makes sense for Luke Cage. He also has invulnerability as a passive power – he takes 2 less damage from combat hits. All of this together makes Luke Cage an attractive hero for new players to learn the game with.
The other two heroes in the box are more difficult to play well the first time you pick them up. Moon Knight has three identities that he cycles through which change his passive powers. Ghost Rider uses Hellfire to fuel his effects… which includes his very tricked-out Motorcycle From Hell. (What an awesome miniature!) These twists push the difficulty level of both of these characters up.
Once again, this box includes Battlefield items… and The Raft map offers a very different kind of configuration to deal with.
Jurassic Park: Sattler vs T-Rex
The final box in this Unmatched review is the long-delayed second box in the Jurassic Park series… and the one that contains the massive two-space T-Rex figure. Seriously – he’s huge. Look at the picture.
The T-Rex is not just a conversation piece – he’s actually an impressive combatant, what with his two-space reach and his massive amount of hit points. That said, he’s easy to mis-play and end up running out of cards & hit points. Large figure rules are a part of the box and are actually relatively easy to learn.
Dr. Sattler (along with her sidekick, Ian Malcolm) are an effective team that place and use insight tokens to power various cards in her deck. What surprised me is that the fight between her & the T-Rex is actually very well-balanced… my fear had been that the T-Rex would be too powerful to be enjoyable except against the toughest characters. Instead, the Restoration Games team managed to create a dinosaur that feels powerful and dangerous but can be fought and defeated by clever play and good luck.
The Wisdom of Crowds
In Case You’re Curious
Here’s how many times I’ve played each set since September 2019… boxes marked with an asterisk (*) were played numerous times during playtesting (plays recorded here are just with published boxes).
- Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One
- Plays: 104
- Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot
- Plays: 29
- Unmatched: Cobble & Fog
- Plays: 23
- Unmatched: Jurassic Park – InGen vs Raptors
- Plays: 19
- Unmatched: Bruce Lee
- Plays: 13
- Unmatched: Buffy
- Plays: 14
- Unmatched: Little Red vs Beowulf
- Plays: 6
- Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume Two *
- Plays: 3
- Unmatched: Jurassic Park – Sattler vs T-Rex
- Plays: 2
- Unmatched: Hell’s Kitchen *
- Plays: 2
- Unmatched: Redemption Row *
- Plays: 1
- Plays: 38
Note: I received a review copy of Unmatched: Buffy… the rest of my Unmatched collection was purchased with my hard-earned cash. Which reminds me – anyone want to buy my copy of Epic Duels?
Also note: there’s a new (announced) box coming – Houdini vs The Genie – that we didn’t get to playtest but looks awesome!