In a universe of danger and darkness, where worlds and realities collide, legends are thrust into an arena of combat and must use their wits, will, and unique talents to emerge victorious. Only by slaying their opponent will the winner be crowned. It’s time for the Unmatched to become matched, and for heroes from all realms prove themselves a legend!
How It Plays
Unmatched is a lite tactical miniatures game pitting a hero and his/her ally (or allies) against another. Each hero is a character from myth, legend, or pop culture. The core set includes King Arthur, Alice (the Wonderland one), Medusa, and Sinbad.
Designed specifically for 1v1 play (with allowances for 2v2 or 1v2), players will alternate turns taking 2 actions with their team: maneuver, attack, or scheme.
When you maneuver, you draw a card, and you can optionally move any and all of your team up to their Move value. You can discard a card to add movement points equal to the boost value on that card.
When you scheme, you play a Scheme card from your hand and resolve its effects.
When you attack, you must select a legal target. If your attacking character has melee, that target must be adjacent; if ranged, it must adjacent OR anywhere in the same zone. Each space on the board has a color/pattern, sometimes multiple, indicating which zone(s) it is a part of.
You must then play an attack card face down in front of you. The targeted player may play a defense card face down as well. (Many cards are Attack or Defense only, but some may be used as either). When cards are revealed, you subtract the defense value from the attack value; if the result is positive, the defender takes damage and the attacker wins the combat. If the result is 0 or less, the defender wins the combat.
In addition, cards played may have abilities that resolve either Immediately (when cards are revealed, before calculating numbers), During Combat (often affecting the numbers), or After combat (which may or may not depend on winning the combat to resolve).
Card abilities range from dealing extra damage, moving characters (sometimes including opponents) after the attack, drawing cards, forcing discards, cancelling other card abilities, reviving allies, changing size (if you’re Alice) and more. While each character deck is unique, there are a few shared cards that are in all decks – basic attack and defense cards. Each character also has a unique ability that is always active.
It’s also worth noting that when your deck runs out, you don’t reshuffle; instead, you start taking damage every time you’d draw a card, quickly pushing the game to its end.
To win, you only need to defeat the Hero characters of your opponents team.
Use the Force, King Arthur
Unmatched is, undoubtedly, a beautiful game. Clearly, even immediately on opening the box, much care went into its development. The art style is unique and colorful, with a huge array of imagery tied to the individual characters – even on cards whose numbers and effects are mirrored between decks. The miniatures are detailed works of art, and come pre-washed (a thin layer of watered-down black paint to help bring out details that would otherwise get lost). The boards are bright but easy to parse, avoiding over-doing it with designs that would be visually confusing.
In fact, the whole game – despite the solid focus on art and quality components – has a somewhat minimalistic feel to it. Restoration games, rather than try to pack the box with miniatures and extra components to entice buyers, includes only what you need; a deck of cards, a miniature, allies, and health dials for each character.
In part this is because the game design is somewhat minimalistic as well; only a few rules to learn and you can jump right into playing this tactical miniatures game. Leaving almost all unique rules tied to individual character abilities inside their unique decks lets the game system run without bogging things down with minutiae. A rule for ranged combat that doesn’t require counting spaces, measuring line-of-sight or obstructions, and is almost as clear and simple as the rule for melee attacks? Brilliant.
I only wish the gameplay lived up to the visuals.
Rules exist for a reason. Yes, the fewer rules your game has, the easier it is to teach, but it also leaves you with fewer tactical or strategic decisions. Cut the wrong rules–or too many of them–and your game that anyone can pick up and play within a few minutes also becomes one that isn’t really worth putting on the table.
This is especially pronounced in a tactical miniatures game. While Unmatched wipes away many of the niggling rules like cover or line of sight, it erases any tactical considerations by doing so. All you can do is move or attack, but the only moving that really matters is getting close enough to attack or moving away to prevent an attack. It rarely matters which particular space you’re in beyond that.
Each hero has at least one ally; that seems like it should add something. But, with only one ally, there’s not much you can do on the board. Mostly, you just want to keep your ally alive so you can use the cards that can only be played by that ally. You can move your entire team with one action, but you only attack with one character at a time, so you can’t set up a flanking maneuver or hit your enemy from both sides, or really do anything that makes it feel like it matters where your people are on the board. There’s one exception to that, but that’s another issue we’ll get to in a bit.
Since you only draw cards when you choose the maneuver action, it’s far easier to play cards than to draw them. You spend cards to boost, to attack, to scheme. I often found myself spending turns “maneuvering” just to draw cards – often not even moving my characters, just needing to draw extra cards. Not exactly a thrilling decision-making or tactics.
Combat is far more luck-based than the marketing copy claims. While there are a wide range of defense cards, it’s hefty luck which cards you have in your hand at any given time. It’s smart to try and keep one or two defense cards in hand, because failing to defend at all is usually devastating – but rather than encouraging players to make tough decisions about how to play their hand, it forces them into playing what they happen to have. And if you don’t draw any defensive cards – or draw low-value defense when your opponent comes at you with strong attacks – well, that’s just bad luck.
Since combat is numbers-driven, some cards are just better than others; there are no situations where one card might be better than another but worse in a different situation, because the rules are so light there just aren’t many considerations to think about. Either your defense is high enough, or it’s not. You can’t really guess what your opponent might play, because you don’t know what they have in their hand; although, admittedly, being familiar with your opponent’s deck at least gives you an idea of what they might have. Any any case, it all feels pretty arbitrary.
The uber-streamlined rules limit the abilities you find in your character decks; it all has to be related to damage, movement, or cards. Damage opponents or heal yourself; move your hero or move your target; draw a card, or discard one of your opponents. The unique elements of each character do provide some room for exploration, but this is somewhat weakened by the lack of a strong core. Sinbad gets more powerful as the game goes on, so he has to survive as long as possible. King Arthur has some powerful attack cards and can boost his attacks, so he needs to carefully manage his hand and hopefully get Excalibur sooner than later (Heaven forbid that card is at the bottom of your deck). Alice switches sizes, shifting between offensive and defensive boosts, and must try to time her card plays to be at the right size on her turn and off. Medusa is… well, we’ll get to Medusa.
Unfortunately, so much of this gets flattened out with uninteresting combat results. Half the time, powers cancel each other out–I get to draw a card, but I have to discard one because of my opponent. I get to move, but so does my opponent. I deal extra damage… or not. That’s if the ability doesn’t get cancelled right out by the Feint card. It made choosing which card I resolved feel pretty meaningless, wondering if I would even get to do the thing I played the card for. Not exactly thrilling heroics.
I think it’s a mistake that the game’s only objective is to defeat the other hero; without some kind of goal or purpose, it’s hard to be creative in how you utilize your powers. You can’t try to be sly or bluff; you can’t save your surprise movements for the right moment. You just have to run up, smash your opponent, and run away. More often than not, the game end has come down to who runs out of cards first rather than who made the best tactical decisions.
Which brings me to Medusa.
I’ve glanced at a few other reviews and player reactions to this game, and many admit that each character feels overpowered. I can agree with that statement for Alice, Sinbad, and Arthur. Each has their own exciting advantage, but each is tempered by a weakness.
Medusa, on the other hand, is… something else. Maybe I’m missing something, but when my suspicions about her first arose, I pursued it. Playing her again and again, switching who controlled her, pitting her against different characters. Each and every time, Medusa won.
There are two key advantages Medusa has, and a few others beyond that. Firstly, Medusa is the only hero with a Ranged attack. This means she doesn’t have to get close to her opponent to deal damage, and if a careless opponent stays ends their turn within her range she can make 2 attacks with little risk to herself.
Also, Medusa has 3 allies. Weak as they are, having 3 ally tokens gives Medusa a distinct tactical advantage. With her, positioning DOES matter, because she can form a wall with her allies to protect herself, block paths, and even corner her opponent. Yes, those allies are very weak, but they can still likely block several attacks with Defense cards, and will likely absorb more than one damage when they finally go down.
Of course, Medusa has cards that can bring her harpies back into play. And her attacks are not weak like you might expect. Other advantages include attacks that force her opponents to discard, attacks that allow her to draw cards, and several very powerful attacks that can do massive damage at the right moment.
Did I mention Medusa has a base 3 movement when others have only 2, meaning she’ll spend less cards on boosting to get around the board?
You may have your doubts. You may think I just got bitter after losing badly to her (again, we switched around who controlled Medusa so I knew it wasn’t just my bad playing). To be frank, though, with 3 allies that allow actual tactical maneuvering, Medusa is the most interesting character to play as – and against – except that she’s almost impossible to break. I noticed that Robin Hood appears to have ranged attack and a squadron of allies. Having a team makes a huge difference, in my opinion, to the fun of the game.
The only other character that has ranged attacks in the core set is Merlin, but his role is more that of a support character, granting Arthur some boosts if he’s still alive, with very few attacks to his name. And no army of harpies to keep the other characters at bay.
Anyway, I am sort of railing on this Medusa point, but in my mind it is a big deal. These characters aren’t customizable, nor do you really combine items or characters to build a team. The character is what the character is, and if they have a supreme mechanical advantage, that’s a big downer.
For a simple, streamlined tactics game, I guess you could do worse. The design seems targeted toward kids, although I question the four characters included if that really is true. And I do think some people will get enjoyment out of this box.
Ultimately, though, I felt the game lacked real strategic decisions, and turned more into a “run up, try to hit your opponent, run away” sort of thing. I never felt like there was an exciting moment beyond what was directly printed on the cards. It certainly doesn’t feel like a battle of legends. And if I want to pit my favorite characters against each other in a game of tactics, there are simply better options.
It is pretty, though.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Restoration Games for providing a review copy of Unmatched: Battle of Legends Vol. 1.