I had my eye on the Unmatched series for a long while before getting to play Cobble & Fog. The colorful board, the themed mashups, and the revamping of the highly lauded Star Wars: Epic Duels system pulled me right in. Tack on top of that asymmetric fighters – some of whom come with their own sidekicks – in some hilariously juxtaposed matches and a quick playing time, I was ready to be hooked.
How To Play
Unmatched is exceedingly easy to jump into. You get two actions on your turn. You can maneuver, drawing a card and then moving your fighter(s). You can scheme, which is playing the aptly named scheme card from your hand. And you can attack by picking a target and comparing your attack card value to your defender’s defense card value.
That’s it. No, really. The rest of the game is simply reading your cards and choosing the best way to close in on your opponent. The first person to defeat their opponent’s fighter(s) win.
Elementary, my dear Watson…
As is obvious from the short rules overview above, there isn’t much to Unmatched mechanically. Anyone who has played any kind of skirmish game before will not find anything new or surprising here. Each player will select their fighter and over the course of about 20-30 minutes, you’ll each dance around the board, weaving your way in and out of melee and ranged attacks.
The colored areas on the board denote zones that matter for attacks and card effects. While these boundaries certainly do have an impact on gameplay, they did not engender themselves to as clever of positioning as I had hoped. It’s fairly easy to get from one side of the board to the other, something that often feels like a slog in other games. There are even secret passages on the Baskerville Manor side of the map that let you directly jump from one area to another, kind of like the board in Clue. This makes it even easier to get around, making it almost pointless as to where you specifically end up so long as you are able to swoop in for a quick attack. While it may sound like I am a fan of big complicated terrain and distance rules, that’s far from the truth. Rather, the maneuver action on your turn felt like it was more about drawing cards than, well, maneuvering.
The fighters themselves are charming. The theme and essence of these classic literary characters is well embedded into their cards and gameplay style.
Holmes is more of the pugilist Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock than a sleuthy Benedict Cumberbatch one. Paired with Holmes, there are some tricky card plays you can do with the two of them as well as some opportunities for deducing what cards are your opponent’s hand. Guessing correctly and getting a wallop in is incredibly satisfying.
The Invisible Man, as you’d expect, disappears and reappears all over the board, providing you sneaky opportunities to slap and dash. With such a small board, you can’t help but feel that you are the one driving where and when the fights happen, using your mobility to your advantage.
Dracula has three sidekicks from whom he can use as decoys, blood banks, or buffs for being in the same zone. Playing as him, you can really feel his power that is laced with specific weakness. Managing the sidekicks can be equally finicky and fun.
And, of course, as Jekyll & Hyde you must time your transformations right, balancing a potential tick of damage with raw strength. Timing is everything, which means having the right cards in your hand to manage going back and forth between personalities is key.
The asymmetry of the characters is done very well. Any game that makes you feel like the character you picked is overpowered and easily going to win is asymmetry done well. Then, you switch to a different character and think, “No, this one is the one that’s overpowered!”. There is a lot to explore in playing the different characters and learning how to match them up against one another.
However, despite the strong design of the characters, Cobble & Fog ultimately left me feeling a bit flat. Several turns feel lackluster, or even pointless, as you are just drawing cards waiting for one that will let you get an attack in or position yourself better. As I alluded to with the game board, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything particularly smart or tactically interesting. Sure, maybe sometimes I saved a card for just the right moment. Or, I worked myself into a position with my sidekicks that I was able to pull off a one-two punch. But those big moments are rare and fleeting. The game doesn’t ebb and flow so much as just meanders downstream.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the game. The nuts and bolts all screwed on tightly, making everything work just as it should, without anything unnecessary clogging up the gears. I’d be happy to play any of the other characters/sets, exploring the different themes and abilities. But what this really comes down to is me enjoying the system more than the game itself. As I said above: there isn’t anything new or surprising here. And that makes it really hard to pass the test of time in the way that the Cobble & Fog characters do.