Unmatched: Battle of Legends Volume One. This competitive, fast paced, tactical combat game features an interesting selection of characters in its box – Sinbad, Medusa, King Arthur, and Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) – you can sort of see why it’s called Unmatched!
I’ve played half-dozen or so games so far, more than enough to share my first thoughts, and let’s get it out in the open right away, this game is superb!
It’s a really simple game. The rules can be learnt in a few minutes, setup takes even less, and a game lasts around 30 minutes on average. There’s nothing complicated about the game mechanisms whatsoever. Each player chooses a character, takes their miniature (very nice) and sidekick token(s) (also very nice), along with their health dials, and the character’s predefined card deck. The players place their characters and sidekicks on the board, draw a hand of cards, and then take it in turns to activate.
During a turn, a player must take 2-actions, Manoeuver, Scheme, or Attack – actions may be taken twice – that’s pretty much it… Simples!
And yet, the game held a delightful degree of depth within those so few actions and that became apparent part way through our first game. Each character behaved very differently from the next, all due to the variation in the card decks, and the first thing I needed to do was work out how I should play them. With King Arthur, for example, I used Merlin’s range to hit my opponent at distance whilst waiting for an opportunity to strike with Arthur. I also used Merlin’s schemes to gain positional advantage by moving the fighters around. Playing Medusa, I used her three Harpies to limit the movement of my adversary and had them hack away, causing constant damage, until Medusa moved in for the kill. Alice was surprisingly aggressive, liking to get up close and personal. Her constant size changing, which gave a benefit to attack or defence, kept the other player on their toes. And then there was Sinbad, who liked to dart in, deal damage, then leap away again. Going on voyages made him faster and stronger, and so I played a waiting game knowing that the longer the game went on the better chance he stood of winning.
Obviously, this was just how I decided to play them after a quick look through their decks, I’m sure there is a much better-defined strategy to each character, and of course, it also depends upon which character you’re playing against too. Which brings me to the balance of the game…
There are a lot of variables between characters, and my first thoughts were of how the game was balanced. The starting health of the characters varied from Alice’s paltry 13, to Arthur’s mighty 18, and so with the sidekicks, the Jabberwock had 8 whilst Medusa had three harpies each with 1 health. And, as I’ve mentioned, the decks were very different from one another. So, how would I describe the balance? Unmatched, that’s how!
Ha! Unmatched, a lovely word with a double meaning: ‘The balance is unmatched!’, as to say there is nothing better, or ‘The balance is unmatched.’ as to say the sides are uneven, which do I mean? Just to confuse you a little more, I’m going to say both!
Okay, let me justify that. Two players with the same level of experience and playing at the same level will see the game go down to the wire, that’s how the majority of our games went. But, and this became very obvious, make a mistake and a savvy opponent will punish you very quickly. I found this out the hard way. Playing against Medusa with Sinbad, I made a decision not to run away with my second action but to stay and hit her again for a good amount of damage. I was almost at full health and so felt confident that I could get away with it, but I got greedy and, in my haste, played an aggressive card that could have been used in defence or attack. Unfortunately, as I was soon to realise, that didn’t leave me much to defend with next turn, nothing in fact!
It was a dumb move on my part. I knew Medusa’s deck contained some big hitting cards, and of course she had them in hand, wiping me out from 13 Health in short order. The game had only lasted a mere 15-minutes!
I can see a game between an experienced player and a novice also being over very quickly, as knowing how the characters behave and what they have up their sleeve would make a lot of difference, but I can also see that gap shortening very quickly within a few games, as the tactical side does appear easy to grasp with play.
Part of my joy for this game came from fighting the unknown. I played Arthur a few times, got to know his deck, and then took on a different opponent and so had to be cautious, feeling my way tentatively until I’d gauged how best to approach this new adversary. It made for some cagey battles, with advantage swaying back and fore; it was delight.
So far, much of what I’ve revealed about the game is pretty standard stuff – a skirmish between characters driven by a deck, where players take 2-actions per turn – nothing new or innovative there, but there are two things in particular that I’ve yet to mention that make the game stand out: The board and having an empty deck!
At first glance the board looks to be standard fare, but when you realise that the colours of the spaces indicate which have line of sight to each other (red spaces have line of sight to all other red spaces, etc.) then it suddenly opens up a world of tactical loveliness. When you look closer It all makes sense too. One side of the board appears to be centred around a castle’s walled garden, complete with two turrets to climb. Up there you can shoot down on certain spaces (if you have a ranged attack that is) whilst being impervious to melee attack from many of them.
The two sides of the board offer completely different experiences. One side favours ranged attack whilst the other melee, but that isn’t to say that it gives an unfair advantage, it just means you have to adapt, be more cunning, and lure your opponent into the fight you want to fight. You could also wear your opponent down and make it a game of attrition, which leads nicely into the bit I mentioned about having an empty deck…
Once you have no cards left in your deck your character is exhausted, hanging on by a thread to whatever life they have left. From here on in, every time you should draw a card, you, and your sidekick both take 2-damage. The real dig in the ribs here is that, if you want to move around, you have to draw a card (A Manoeuver – draw a card and then move your character and/or sidekick up to your move value). If your opponent has a few left in their deck then it can be agonising to see them dance for joy as they move once more out of your range, watching you pull yourself across the board only to fall dead at their feet with the effort.
So, keeping a tab on your card attrition is another tactical consideration. A tactic I used with Sinbad was to keep my opponent manoeuvring, burning through their deck, as I used attack cards that moved me away once damage was dealt. There are cards that make your opponent discard from their hand too, reducing what they have available and making them more likely to draw cards, yet another useful tactic.
And so, these are my first thought of this simple game.
Ah! Yes, a simple game on the surface but just like a swimming swan, there’s a lot going on underneath, and so far, it has been an absolute blast to discover those hidden depths. Its quick play time mean it is going to see a lot of action and I don’t think it will be long before I put a review together, I could probably use much of what I’ve already said here. I’m already looking at which expansion to add first and Yasmin is chomping at the bit for the release of the Buffy pack.
So far, so very, very good. let’s hope it remains… Unmatched!