Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One

Sinbad nodded to Medusa. The snakes hissed as they bobbed around, getting in the way of her vision. She brushed them away instinctively, “What you looking at?”

“It’s the new girl, Alice. Look.” He pointed at a small girl playing with something in her hands.

“She’s not going to last long, is she?” Arthur joined the group and stood, hands on Excalibur’s hilt, looking just like the hero he is. “Like lambs to the slaughter, where’s the fun in that?”

“Oi! Little girl. Time for you to feel my wrath!” Medusa who had a way with words, called out to the girl and laughed. This was going to be easy. She strode across the battlefield, watched resignedly by her companions, her snakes spitting venom.

Alice looked up, smiled a rather unnerving smile, and popped something in her mouth. Instantly, she began to grow, and as she grew so did the smile on her face. She turned, and from behind the tree she’d been leaning against, produced the mother of all blades. It was huge, looking like an oversized carving knife, and it looked sharp, very sharp.

“So, it’s time, is it? Well…” She looked at Medusa, looked at her blade, and back, “I think this little fight is going to be a bit… unmatched, don’t you?” And with that, she swung…

Unmatched

Unmatched: Battle of Legends is an asymmetrical fighting game, which pits the unlikeliest of heroes against one another. Will Medusa’s guile overcome Arthur’s melee skills? Will Sinbad out-manoeuvre Alice, as she shifts in size to suit the situation? Let’s find out as we explore the game that is, by its very essence, unmatched…


The Facts

Wanna get straight to my thoughts? Then feel free to interrupt, and advance to, ‘So, what do I think?

  • Designer: Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson
  • Publisher: Restoration Games, Iello, Mondo Games…
  • Year Released: 2019
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playing Time: 20-40 minutes
  • Ages: 9+
  • Recommended Retail Price:

What’s in the box?

  • 4 Hero Miniatures
  • 6 Sidekick tokens
  • 4 Character Cards – standard card game sleeve size
  • 120 Action cards – standard card game sleeve size
  • 7 Health dials
  • 1 Double-sided playing board

Core Concepts

Here’s a basic overview for the 2-player game.

Players choose a battlefield and then each select one of the four heroes, taking their 30-card deck, character card, miniature and sidekick token(s), health dial, and any other components required for their hero.

The character card specifies the starting health of the hero and their sidekick, as well as their movement and types of attack, ranged or melee. Any special abilities are also listed on the card.

Introducing the Heroes!

After shuffling their decks, the players draw a starting hand of 5-cards, and the starting player places their hero on the 1-space indicated on the board. They place their sidekick within the same zone as their hero (a space of the same colour) The opposing player then places their hero on space-2 and their sidekick within the same zone.

Players then proceed by taking it in turns and must take two actions each turn.

Actions include

  • Manoeuvre – the player must first draw a card. They then have the option to move their hero and sidekick up to their move value. They have the choice to boost this movement by discarding a card from their hand and moving additional spaces equal to the cards boost value.
  • Scheme – The player declares which of their fighters is scheming and plays a scheme card from their hand (cards indicate which fighter – hero or sidekick – are allowed to use the card). The effect of the card is then resolved.
  • Attack – The player declares which of their fighters is attacking and who the target is, which must be adjacent for a melee or within the same zone for ranged attacks. Ranged attacks can also target opponents that are adjacent. The attacker chooses an attack card from their hand (some cards can be used for both attack and defence, as indicated) and places it in front of them – it must be a card useable by the attacking fighter. The defender may then elect to choose a defence card and places it in front of them. The cards are then revealed simultaneously. Any Immediate effects on the cards are resolved, followed by any During Combat effects, and then the result of the combat is determined. The attacker deals damage equal to the attack value of their card minus the defence value of the defender’s card. After Combat effects are then resolved.
A selection of cards – Attack, Defence, either, and Scheme.

A Hero is defeated if their health is reduced to zero; the player then loses the game. If a sidekick is reduced to zero, then they are removed from the board.

If at any time a player has to draw from their deck and it is empty, then their fighters are exhausted and each immediately takes 2-damage.


So, what do I think?

Components

Unmatched is a lovely production, featuring quality components nicely presented in a small solid box adorned with dramatic representations of the characters you’ll find inside.

These four heroes, Sinbad, King Arthur, Medusa, and Alice are represented by some wonderful miniatures, nicely detailed and mostly free of mould lines. Best of all, though, is the fact that someone thought about applying a wash in the production stage, giving them a bit of contrast, and making them interesting to look at for those that don’t wish to add paint.

Unmatched

The plastic tokens, used to represent the sidekicks, are a good size, nice and thick, and I was pleased to see that the artwork isn’t is just a sticker but is actually printed directly onto them.

The cards, whilst not linen finish, are thick, have a really nice feel to them, and aren’t gloss finished so they don’t reflect the light, which in my eyes is a bonus. The card art is simple but dramatic and effectively captures the feel of the character and their powers. Their graphic design is equally well done, and I had no issues at all. The font is clear and easy to read, and the icons obvious.

I’m a fan of using dials to record health and they seem be becoming the norm for this type of game – no complaints from me. Each hero, and most sidekicks, have their own dial (sidekicks with only one hit point not requiring a dial) and they’re all unique in terms of art, base colour, and number of hit points. My only, very small almost insignificant quibble, was that some of them were a little loose, and a slight nudge would alter their value.

The board is double sided, offering two quite different battlefields in terms of how they play, and the artwork is kept quite simple whilst still being effective in giving a sense of perspective to where you’re fighting.

Finally, there’s a plastic inlay to keep everything in place and complete what is a quality product.


Theme

Thinking about the theme here made me smile, I mean, Sinbad the Sailor taking on Alice of ‘Wonderland’ fame, a battle that is surely, should we say, Unmatched!

A strategical fighting game, the theme of which is driven by the Heroes one chooses to play, and boy, does each hero’s deck capture the essence of the character. Alice pops form big to small in the blink of an eye, causing all sorts of problems for her adversary. Sinbad sails the seas and with each voyage he becomes a little bit stronger, a little bit quicker, obviously calling on the experiences he encountered on his travels. King Arthur, meanwhile, likes to manipulate movement and get up close, boosting his attacks and using the power of Excalibur. And then there’s Medusa, beware her Gaze of Stone!

Each hero’s deck contains cards that are thematically linked to them, and whilst there are some generic ones, they give the character their own unique, thematic play style that is a great representation of how you might expect them to fight in the books, films, or legends they’re drawn from.


Rules

I found the rules very straightforward, as it is an amazingly simple game to play, but even so, they explained things in a precise manner, leaving little to nothing open to interpretation. I liked the way that specific words were highlighted in the text, such as ‘may’ and ‘active,’ which drew my eye and made sure I didn’t skip past something important, the way some of us do in our eagerness to get playing.

A concise rulebook… nice!

Overall, a fine rulebook that gets you up and playing with the minimum of fuss and in the fastest way possible.


Gameplay

First thing to mention about the gameplay is its simplicity. I was up and playing in mere moments, and after a couple of turns I was utterly absorbed in the tactical decisions available to me. You wouldn’t think there’d be so much depth with a choice from just three actions, Manoeuvre, Scheme, and Attack, one of which, Scheme, is limited by the few cards in each deck, but there is.

The game pivots around your desire to damage your opponent as well as the need to avoid being hit yourself. The two actions, which you must take, keeps the game finely balanced between attack and defence, especially with melee characters. If I didn’t start my turn adjacent to my enemy, then I had to move towards him in order to attack with my next action. This then left me open to attack with their first action, which they could follow up with either another attack or a move to be out of range. Ideally, I’d want to play a card that enabled me to move after attacking, hopefully forcing them to manoeuvre with their first action.

It’s this interplay, jockeying for the better position, that I found fascinating. By forcing my opponent to keep manoeuvreing in order to get into position meant they were eating up cards from their deck – running away all the time had the same effect – and being economical when drawing cards is an important aspect of the game. This might not be an issue early on, but you’ll soon regret all that charging around the board when you see that you’re down to the last few cards because being unable to draw cards means your character is exhausted and will immediately take 2-damage every time you’re supposed to draw.

This was a superb game mechanism. Not only did it control the length of the game, bringing it to a dramatic climax if neither character could down the other, but it also had a deciding effect on strategy. I liked playing cards that enabled me to attack and then leap away, such as Sinbad’s Toil and Danger, as it meant my opponent had to react and usually do at least one manoeuvre action in their turn.

Unmatched

Ranged characters presented different problems. Depending on the board, more of which later, a ranged character could dominate quite a lot of it and trying to slip into a position where I couldn’t be hit again was often tricky. This presented the dilemma of having to chase after ranged characters if all I could do was melee attacks. I’d manoeuvre to be adjacent and then attack, but even if I had a card enabling me to leap away it often wasn’t enough to get me out of range, so my enemy could attack me twice, or attack and then move further away. The latter of these was worse, as more often than not I couldn’t move fast enough to catch them again the following turn, whilst they could stand and pick me off at range.

This sounds like the game was biased towards ranged characters, but it wasn’t, there were just different ways of dealing with them. On either side of the board there were areas that, as a melee character, I could get in to in order to force a ranged player to manoeuvre towards me to attack. I’d hover around these areas until I had the right cards in my hand, then make an all-out assault using my characters unique skills to make the best of it.

This comes back to knowing your deck and how to make the best use of your character’s strengths. Sinbad, for instance, goes on voyages and with each voyage card in his discard pile he becomes stronger. He moves faster, an extra space per card, and when he plays another voyage card its attack strength is increased by the number of them in his discard. They also do some great ‘After Combat’ effects, such as deal 2-damage to the opposing fighter. Knowing this, I liked to gather a few in my hand before moving in to attack, giving me options in the order I could play them in – for instance, I’d often play the Voyage to the Valley of Giant Snakes first in order to get a peek at my opponent’s hand.

Of course, it also helps to know your opponent’s deck too, and keep an eye on what’s in their discard. I was loath playing a card with a great effect on it if I knew my opponent had yet to play a feint card (a generic card, of which there are three in every characters deck, that cancels the effects on opponents card) and so it often became a game of poker, trying to bluff your opponent into wasting a card by playing it in defence of one of your puny cards, or, with a slight gleeful glint in your eye, by them playing a powerful card in attack when you can counter its effects.

Getting caught with no defensive cards in hand is somewhere you don’t want to be, especially if your opponent makes an attack with their first action. When you fail to play a card to block, then they’ll probably jump to the conclusion that you have none in hand (not always true, as you may be bluffing, but…) and then they’ll hit you again, usually with their big guns. Medusa’s Gaze of Stone, oh how I hate that card, was an especially good card to play at this point!

Being on the receiving end of this can ruin your day!

Scheme cards are few and far between, with Arthur’s deck containing a mighty 5-cards and Sinbad’s a lowly 2. Sinbad’s felt weak in comparison to the others, both thematically and game wise, whilst the other three were a lot more apt, especially Alice and Arthur’s. I felt there could have been more, but I suppose that would have had an effect on the balance, as each deck was restricted to 30-cards. I know it felt frustrating at times, playing Sinbad, when my opponent would use an action to Scheme and do something that effected the state of play, whilst the best I could do was draw 3-cards. Still, I could be off on another Voyage and that’s what Sinbad’s good at!

I mentioned the board a little earlier and I was impressed by the difference flipping it over had. The courtyard/castle, call it what you will, I found to offer the ranged characters a lot of scope in being able to hit opponents almost everywhere on the board, whilst the ship gave melee characters a chance to breath and keep out of the way for a turn or two. The strategical aspects offered by either side made me play in a different way, shook things up a little, and prevented things getting stale.

Yes, stale. Once you intimately get to know the four characters in the box then games can get a little ‘samey,’ especially if your opponent is as familiar with them as you. You’ll tend towards always playing Sinbad a certain way against Medusa, or Arthur against Alice, and I found it to be not quite as much fun as when first experiencing the Heroes.

I did find, however, another way of playing that really floated my boat. I wanted to see how the 4-player, team play, worked, but as there was only 2 of us, we played 2 heroes each… and I loved it!

Yes, it made the game quite a bit longer, about an hour as opposed to 20-40 minutes of a 2-player game, but the tactical options it opened up were thoroughly absorbing.

I was surprised by how much more tactical the game became, as you have to start considering things like turn sequence when planning your actions. For example, if Alice had just taken her turn, then I might be able to move adjacent and attack her with Sinbad, knowing that when it came to Arthur’s go, I had the chance of moving them apart using a card in ‘Arthur’s’ hand.

Another strategy was ganging up on one character, which I did in one game, constantly attacking Alice with both Sinbad and Arthur in order to remove her from the game. It worked, but only because I’d managed to move Medusa and her Harpies away across the board.

Having the four characters and their sidekicks all in play at once meant a lot of thought had to go into positioning, especially trying to keep away from Medusa, who would do damage at the start of her turn to a hero in her zone. At one point, Arthur was pinned by two harpies and Alice, unable to move, and I had to sacrifice the Porter to get him out of there, it was great fun.

Once we’d done, I had to admit I actually preferred playing the game like this, it really tickled my brain cells, and I loved the tactical options it opened up. I’d only try playing in this manner if you know the characters you’re playing with well, otherwise it might be a struggle to get them playing as a team. I knew Arthur and Sinbad’s strengths and weaknesses, and likewise, my opponent knew her teams, and this enabled us to concentrate on tactics rather than trying to remember what cards were in which deck. If you have Unmatched, I highly recommend this way of playing, especially if you’ve already explored all the matchups of your characters and are waiting on more expansions.


Balance

Okay, with a title like unmatched you could jump to a few assumptions here – Is it really balanced, or does it live up to its name?

Well, after who knows how many games, I can honestly say that this is balanced on a knife edge, a very well-honed knife edge!

If players are both familiar with their character and that of their opponent, then it often comes down to who blinks first, who makes the first error, who hits hardest when they get the chance. It feels like a skillful dance around the board, and yet the game is simplicity itself, with no quirky or awkward rules to get in the way of the play.

No matter which character I played, or who I was pitted against, I always thought I could, should, and would win… and so did my opponent. Most games would be tight, going down to the wire, but there was the odd game or two that ended as quickly as it had begun, usually because a mistake had been made, an error of judgement, and often by me forgetting about the Gaze of Stone card in Medusa’s deck!


Replayability

This is one of those games that, on some days, you’ll want to play over and over again, and then on others, you just won’t. One thing for sure though, is you’ll always be clamouring for more content.

You see, when you first dive into the game, it’s a thrill learning how each character plays and then how to adapt to your opponent and their character. You’ll want to play again and again, developing your playstyle and going up against the other characters in the box. It’s a real fun experience and quite surprising, especially if you’re going against a character you’ve never encountered before.

Medusa and her Harpies can cause your opponent many problems!

However, once you’re fully familiar with all the core characters, things become more tactical, the game becomes more ‘cagey,’ and at this point, I found, one or two games a session was enough.

But then, you get an expansion, and all of a sudden you want to learn all there is again. You’ll be pitting your newfound favourite against all the rest, seeing how they cope with each differing strategy and, inevitably, you’ll find yourself ranking them, 1st, 2nd, 3rd…

I do have one thought, though, and it’s something I haven’t had chance to fully explore, but does changing the player alter how the character ultimately plays? I felt that each character’s deck steered a player in a certain direction, maybe a little more than one would normally expect from a deck driven game, and that the strategy and decisions a player is making could become a little predictable, irrespective of who the player is. Having only played against a couple of different people I could easily be way off the mark, but I found it interesting that they both played characters they were more familiar with in almost identical ways!


Unmatched has quickly become a favourite of mine. It sets up really quickly and the rules are a doddle to learn, and the Heroes have enough depth to get your tactical juices flowing. The short play time means it can be played as a filler between longer games, or, if you have the expansions, it can take a whole evening of exploration into which character kicks butt better than the rest.

The gameplay is totally card driven, there are no dice rolls to rejoice/blame, and the characters are well balanced, so it really does feel like a game of skill, though greater familiarity with the Heroes will often win the day. Saying that though, the advantage of experience tends not to last long, as the characters’ strengths and weaknesses are very easy to pick up on and then the game becomes a fraught battle of bluff and double bluff, as you try to out fox your opponent, and lead them into making a mistake.

So yes, a game I would recommend to anyone, and one that’s become a hit with my friends and family, but I would say that it does leave you wanting more, which could end up costing!


My Experiences

Players: I’ve only played at 2-players, but I have played 2-characters each, which gives a longer game but offers a lot more in tactical play. I actually proffered it this way.

Playing Time: All my 2-player games fell within the 20-40minutes advertised on the box. Increasing to 2-characters each drew the game closer to an hour.

Age: 10+

Expansions: The number of expansions is growing, and I say the more the merrier. Pitting the different characters against one another will keep this game alive when it comes to getting it to the table.

Expect to Pay: Currently £32.95 on Chaos Cards


Extras

Official site: Restoration Games

Recommended video review: Shut Up and Sit Down

BoardGameGeek page: Here

8 thoughts on “Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One

  1. Great review Justin, nice to hear they are supporting the game with new content to keep the game interesting

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Dave.
      Yeah, plenty of support, though expansions sell out as fast as they can produce ’em!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As Dave said, this is an excellent review and I can see why you’re enjoying this game so much. It seems like it could be really fun if you have an opponent or two that also enjoy it. I’d be curious to see what characters they support in Unmatched too. I don’t think this game is a great fit for me but at the same time, it is a cool product and something that I hope is successful because there certainly isn’t anything out there like it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks Mate, it really is a great game, made better by the fact that Yasmin’s really into it too.
      I think the fact that we learnt the game together and our understanding of it advanced at the same time makes it so good for us, but as I say, it also makes it a bit ‘samey’ which is where the expansions come in.
      I’m aiming to get the Buffy one next, we’re both big fans of the show, and I’d like Bruce Lee. They’re also releasing Marvel ones to go with Jurassic Park, Robin Hood, and many more😁

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Another great write-up, Justin, and again thanks for taking the time to do it! It does look like an interesting and fun game, and even the minis are pretty cool!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cheers Matt. Yes, the minis are pretty good, which surprised me. I like the wash they’ve given them, as it saves the non-painters (or those who don’t have the time😉) having to play totally grey!😁

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed reading the review, Justin! 🙂 I like the idea and it does sound like a good game!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks John; yes, we’ve certainly being enjoying it🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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