A long time ago (2002) in a galaxy far, far away (when Milton Bradley were still a trading brand) there was a game called Star Wars: Epic Duels. In this game, iconic heroes from the Star Wars universe did battle using cards and dice. For whatever reason, Epic Duels is now consigned to history, but thanks to Restoration Games, its highly asymmetrical mechanics live on through Unmatched: Battle of Legends.
In Unmatched: Battle of Legends: Volume One base set that I’ll be reviewing today, heroes like Luke Skywalker and Count Dooku are switched out in favour of license-free characters including Sinbad, Alice (of Wonderland fame), Medusa and King Arthur. Other sets are available, with characters like Little Red Riding Hood, the Jurassic Park raptors and even Bruce Lee being fully compatible.
If that sounds like a fairly bonkers combination of antagonists, that’s because it is. In Unmatched: Battle of Legends, the players will take their chosen hero (usually with one or more sidekicks) and battle it out in a head to head duel to the death. A three player variant (which is a bit clunky) and a decent two versus two mode are available, but for me Unmatched: Battle of Legends is best played as a match between exactly two players.
Turns in Unmatched: Battle of Legends are very, very simple, with players choosing to take two actions from three available. Those actions are; Manoeuvre, Scheme and Attack. When a player Manoeuvres, they simply draw a card and then move their fighters (fighter meaning both their hero and any sidekicks). When they Scheme, the player plays a card showing a lightning bolt card and takes the action described, and when they Attack, they simply play a valid attack card for the fighter that wishes to make the attack.
With this very straightforward structure in mind, what gives Unmatched: Battle of Legends its uniqueness is the massive difference between each of the hero characters. Each hero comes with their own deck of cards (around 31) and a summary card that explains that hero’s hit points, their movement, whether they have a ranged or melee attack and any special abilities that they may have.
Even in the base Unmatched: Battle of Legends game, the variety between the four characters is significant. King Arthur, for example, is a very powerful melee fighter who has some hugely damaging attack cards. His sidekick, Merlin, attacks from range and has some complementary Scheme cards that allow him — for example — to move enemy fighters up to three spaces.
Alice is also a fantastic fighter, but she comes with the unique ability to switch from big to small based on certain card text. Big Alice deals two extra damage, whilst small Alice is evasive and gains one defence when attacked, She attacks at melee range as well, but her sidekick, the Jabberwock, is also a melee fighter (unlike Merlin) and has a deck of cards that are focussed on dealing damage.
The other two characters in the Unmatched: Battle of Legends base set are equally unique. Sinbad gets faster and faster (in terms of movement) as Voyage cards go into his discard pile, whilst Medusa, whilst only occasionally very threatening on her own, comes with three Harpy sidekicks that are easily killed but can then regenerate — adding yet another unique challenge for opponents to deal with.
I haven’t played with any characters from the other expansions (although I hope to) but you can expect each one to bring their own thematic uniqueness to the experience, and there’s no doubt that expandability, replayability and experimentation are key aspects of Unmatched: Battle of Legends.
In practical terms, even the base game gives players a ton of options. I found it massively enjoyable to both experiment with the tactics that each hero offered, and then to see how my friends took on the same challenge. Often, we found that there are at least a couple of different ways to use each hero and sidekick combo, and this can vary based on the hero (or heroes, in a team game) that are facing you down across the board.
I think what works particularly well for Unmatched: Battle of Legends is the fact that the complexity is hidden. There is definitely nuance to learning each hero — and that can only be discovered fully through repeated plays — but by ensuring that the base rules are simple, younger or more casual gamers can rapidly become hooked. A game length of about twenty minutes really helps this, with players keen to replay the same character after a loss in order to “get it right next time”.
Restoration Games presentation is also top notch in Unmatched: Battle of Legends, with co-publishing rights shared by Mondo Games. Mondo are the outfit responsible for some of the most iconic “alternative” movie posters going, and their distinct style carries into the artwork in Unmatched: Battle of Legends. Add to that some excellent miniatures, a fantastic box insert and really clear supporting material (such as the manual etc) and Unmatched: Battle of Legends oozes quality, yet it still achieves an attractive price point.
Unmatched: Battle of Legends is not perfect, and there can be mismatches between an experienced player and a new one — with no balancing mechanic — but in general some of the luck based aspects bring an element of baselining. For example, when a fighter attacks an opponent, the opponent may choose to play a defence card. Aside from the cards played already (which do show a count of how many are in each deck) there’s no way to tell what kind of attack is coming, and this can mean that good attack cards are blown because certain conditions are not met, or that a strong defence card is wasted on a weak attack.
Additionally, a few bad turns (including bad card draw versus good card draw) in a row can put one fighter badly on the back foot, however this is somewhat mitigated by the generally robust balancing between each hero character. Even when a player falls badly behind, there are usually cards that can snatch a victory, or if not, the games are mercifully short as I mentioned earlier.
Unmatched: Battle of Legends is a superbly made game both in terms of its production and more importantly, it’s mechanics. It is set at an excellent price point relative to its quality, and the expansion content is already out there for those who want to track it down. Sadly, some of the expansions are rare and already being sold at a markup, but that’s hardly the fault of the publisher, and I would hope that more reprints are already in the works.
If you regularly play two player games and you want something quick, highly replayable and reasonably deep in terms of what it provides from one game to the next, then Unmatched: Battle of Legends is a really good choice. It can suffer — like any card driven duel game — from issues with luck of the draw, but it minimises these reasonably well and shouldn’t be an issue for two experienced players anyway.
You can find Unmatched: Battle of Legends on Amazon.
In addition to the Unmatched: Battle of Legends base game, there are now a range of expansions available. We’ll add the additional expansion reviews below as and when we can:
Unmatched: Cobble & Fog
Another large starter set featuring four characters, Unmatched: Cobble & Fog is both a great way to expand what you already have, or a perfectly valid start to your collection. With characters including Sherlock Holmes (and sidekick Doctor Watson), Dracula (with his three sisters), The Invisible Man and Doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde, there’s perhaps a little more mainstream appeal here than there is in the base game, however I was personally a little disappointed to see a large box like this without diverse representation.
That said, these characters are as cool as they come and very unique when fielded either against each other, or when mixed with characters from other sets. Sherlock, for example, is a melee character with a relatively tough (health nine) sidekick in Doctor Watson, who attacks at range. Sherlock uses cards to predict and pre-empt his opponent, meaning that his controller will often be able to outfox and frustrate their opponent, whilst Watson remains a persistent threat.
Dracula isn’t so tough on his own, but his three sisters are capable of surrounding opposing fighters and with many effects either draining the opponent, healing Dracula or returning a defeated sister to the board, he cannot be underestimated. The tactic here is to use the four melee fighters (Dracula and all three sisters) on the board to harass and stick close to your opponent, then retreat and regroup if things appear to be going against you.
The Invisible Man is unique among all characters across sets that I’ve played with, having the ability to literally disappear into a puff of smoke – which he fields instead of a sidekick. The focus here is to use misdirection to position fog so that it allows him to disappear and then reappear in unexpected places, enabling The Invisible Man to sap at opponents with repeated surprise attacks. Fog also helps to protect The Invisible Man, giving him plus one to defence when he is adjacent to fog.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde also offer a unique experience, though it perhaps draws some inspiration from the Alice character in Unmatched: Battle of Legends Volume One in respect to how the player can flip between Jekyll and Hyde in a similar way to how Alice goes from small to big. The one drawback here is that whilst Mr Hyde is powerful and flexible, he actually suffers one damage for ending a manoeuvre in Hyde form – which thematically links to the idea that Jekyll is the thinker and Hyde the “man” of action.
Of course, Unmatched: Cobble & Fog also comes with an additional, large board (which can support up to a four player game) showing Baskerville Manor on one side and Soho on the other. The Baskerville side is interesting because it has a couple of secret passages that allow rapid movement from one side to the other, whilst Soho has an unusual “rooftop” passage set horizontally across the centre. Both maps are thematic, fun and quite different to what we’ve seen before.
Overall, you really can’t go far wrong with Unmatched: Cobble & Fog. It’s an excellent addition to my core set and I would consider it to be a little bit more advanced, but if you were to start your Unmatched collection here, you wouldn’t struggle too much to pick it up. The character selection is interesting, and as always with this series, the balance seems to be here, as does the thematic gameplay associated with each of the main characters.
Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot
Unlike with Unmatched: Cobble & Fog and Volume One, the Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot set contains just two characters and an unusual, smaller board which really only suits a two player game. This makes Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot a good choice for someone who is really not sure as to whether they will like the system or not, or someone (like me) that wants to ensure they have as many options as possible for mixing up sets and playing with a wide variety of characters and boards.
Let’s kick off with Bigfoot – who has to be one of the most interesting and thematic characters we’ve seen so far. Bigfoot has a lot of health, and many of his attacks deal a ton of damage and/or hurt enemies all around him – which is useful when facing a horde based fighter like Robin Hood, or Dracula from the Cobble and Fog set. Bigfoot is also surprisingly manoeuvrable, especially when he begins turns at a distance from his opponent – cards like “Hoax” suggest this is a lot to do with the mythos surrounding him, which I really enjoyed. He is accompanied by the Jackalope – a horned rabbit which is not especially tough, but comes with several powerful attack cards that can close distance in a similar way to Bigfoot himself.
Robin Hood and his band of outlaws play very differently, and where Bigfoot and his bunny friend are pure melee, Robin Hood is a ranged fighter who can hit for up to five – which is massive at distance. Robin Hood’s outlaws (of which there are four) are all one wound melee fighters, but several of Robin Hood’s abilities allow him to redraw cards and/or put outlaws back onto the board. Against Bigfoot specifically, the plan for Robin Hood is to stay at range and snipe, whilst using the Outlaws to bog Bigfoot down – dealing with the Jackalope early is also an idea. Against other fighters, the plan is often similar, though a cautionary note for Robin Hood players is that due to the extra card draw, Robin Hood will deplete his deck earlier.
I mentioned earlier that there is an additional board here – and like all others in the Unmatched series, it features two sides. On the one side, the Yukon valley, which features a valley through the middle that can cause characters to get trapped (without “move through opponent” cards.) Sherwood Forest is similar, actually, and there is generally “circular” route around the edge, with a bit of a clearing in the centre. Given the small size of the board, if you’re playing with this set you can expect battles to be intense, close quarters affairs.
For me, Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot is another essential addition to your Unmatched collection – assuming you enjoyed the base set. Bigfoot is massively powerful and yet not too one-dimensional, whilst Robin Hood and his band of outlaws are fast, elusive and just fragile enough to keep you on your toes when used. Although Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot offers a cheap way into the Unmatched hobby, I’d still suggest that you get one of the four character sets instead, simply because the variation is a better way to experience what this fantastic game is all about. This is more like an expert expansion, or a smaller, more portable option for someone who already enjoys the game. Either way, it’s another fantastic addition to Unmatched.