Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Unmatched: Buffy, Beowulf, & Little Red

Not quite six months ago, I published a pretty massive review of the Unmatched game system… including a substantial bit of writing about how it compares to Star Wars: Epic Duels, the out-of-print mass market game on which it is based. (Important fact that may summarize that portion of the review: I still am more than willing to sell my lovingly used copy of Epic Duels to finance further Unmatched purchases.)

This time around, I’m going to forgo all the preliminaries and get down to the nitty gritty: just how good are the two new boxes in the Unmatched line? I might also comment a bit near the end about our experiences playtesting the announced Unmatched: Marvel boxes… 

I Mock You with My Monkey Pants

“The monkey’s the only cookie animal that gets to wear clothes, you know that? (You have the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen.) So, I’m wondering, do the other cookie animals feel sorta ripped? Like, is the hippo going, ‘Hey, man, where are my pants? I have my hippo dignity!’ And you know the monkey’s just, [with a French accent] ‘I mock you with my monkey pants!’ And there’s a big coup in the zoo.”
Willow: “The monkey is French?”
Oz: “All monkeys are French.”
I was a late convert to the Buffyverse… but thanks to a good friend who loaned me the DVD sets and a third shift job as a customer service phone rep for a major department store, I spent a number of nights when I didn’t work staying up late watching Buffy & Angel. (Note: while staying up on your ‘off’ nights does help with keeping a regular schedule, it is no fun.) 

Short detour for Buffy fans:
  • Seasons 2-3 of Buffy and seasons 2 & 5 of Angel are the best. 
  • Seasons 6-7 of Buffy are let downs… and season 4 of Angel is an unholy mess. 
  • Best Buffy episode: Hush
  • Best Angel episode: depending on my mood, Smile Time or You’re Welcome
Sadly, there are no monkey pants and no Oz (werewolf form or guitar player form) in the Unmatched: Buffy box. Also, no Cordelia. 

But with those exceptions, Restoration Games did a great job of capturing the characters not only in the graphic elements but also in the design of each deck. The set comes with a double-sided map: Sunnyvale High School on one side, The Bronze on the other. Player can take one of four main characters:
  • Buffy (with either Giles or Xander as her sidekick)
  • Willow (with Tara)
  • Angel (with Faith)
  • Spike (with Drusilla)
Angel/Faith is the most straightforward of the decks to play – and probably the best choice for a player new to the Unmatched system. Buffy is also easier to play, thanks to her special power which keeps her from being blocked by enemy figures. On the other hand, both Spike and Willow are slightly trickier decks – but powerful once you begin to suss out their potential. 

My experience with the Buffy characters (I’ve played 11 games with the Buffy set… and my sons have played even more than I have) leads me to the following conclusion: I like them as 1v1 characters, but the set absolutely comes to life when played 2v2. 

Fate Will Unwind As It Must

“And if death does take me, send the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrethel, and he from Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!”
My copy of Little Red vs Beowulf arrived just a couple of days before Christmas, so it hasn’t seen as much table time here at the Jackson household. (Again, the boys have played it more than I have.) 

With that, our consensus is that this may be our favorite pair of characters so far.

Little Red has a way to chain special effects on her cards that takes getting used to… but when I figured out how to make it work, it was a delight to play. Beowulf, on the other hand, is a multi-dimensional fighter with a strong sidekick (Higlac) who acts as a shield to wear down the other player. 

In addition to two great characters, the box comes with a new map and a new map feature – doors! This two-player map is double-sided – however, the other side is the same map using the more Tannhauser-like colored rings around spaces that lets more of the artwork shine through. (Personally, I like the solid spaces better… but to each his own.)

This is the Worst Day of My Life

Kamala: “You’re WOLVERINE! My Wolverine-and-Storm-in-space fanfic was the third-most upvoted story on Freaking Awesome last month!”
Logan: “Oh my God.”
Kamala: “I had you guys fighting this giant alien blob that farts wormholes!”
Logan: “Sounds great, kid.”
Logan: “Wait–so what was the MOST upvoted story?”
Kamala: “Umm…Cyclops and Emma Frost’s romantic vacation in Paris?”
Logan: “This is the worst day of my life.”
Getting the invitation to participate in the “double secret probation” playtests for upcoming Unmatched: Marvel boxes was a highlight of 2020 for my sons and I – not the worst day of our lives at all!

It’s really interesting to watch the various iterations of the decks as the team at Restoration tunes them and works to balance not only the numbers but also create those moments of joy when you play certain combos that make Unmatched so much fun. Examples: I managed to re-enact the hallway fight from the Daredevil show on Netflix in one game… and another game allowed me to go full on Embiggen as Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel). And, without spoiling anything, I love me some Squirrel Girl. 

There are new maps, new twists, new deck configurations… and the same incredible attention to detail and playability that has made this game system so successful. I obviously haven’t seen the sculpts for the figures yet (we used Marvel Heroclix as proxies for playtesting) – but Restoration has been great on all the figures up to this point, so I’m ready to welcome the superheroes on my gaming table.

And with that, I’ve got to remember that “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and all that… look for the new boxes this summer.

For Those Who Are Curious…

Here’s how many times we’ve played each set since September 2019…
  • Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One
    • Plays: 81
  • Unmatched: Robin Hood vs Bigfoot
    • Plays: 25
  • Unmatched: Cobble & Fog  
    • Plays: 21
  • Unmatched: Jurassic Park – InGen vs Raptors
    • Plays: 17
  • Unmatched: Bruce Lee
    • Plays: 12
  • Unmatched: Buffy
    • Plays: 11
  • Unmatched: Little Red vs Beowulf
    • Plays: 2
  • Playtesting
    • Plays: 25
Note: I received a review copy of Unmatched: Buffy… the rest of my Unmatched collection was purchased with my hard-earned cash. Which reminds me – anyone want to buy my copy of Epic Duels?

Also: this post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.