Unmatched has been around for a while (we covered the debut at Gencon), and it’s acquired a reputation for being a fast-paced and easy to pick up skirmish game. It’s the ultimate way to decide the eternal question of “Who would win.” While they have done quite a bit of work with public domain characters (Bigfoot, Beowulf, and The Invisible Man have all appeared in sets), Restoration’s partnership with Mondo Games means there’s quite a lot of opportunity for licensed characters as well, like Bruce Lee or the Jurassic Park Raptors. Mondo was nice enough to send along a copy of their most recent big set, themed around Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which seems a good an introduction as any to the world of Unmatched. Does it live up to the hype, or is it just a basic cash grab? Let’s see!
What’s In The Box?
The big draw of the Unmatched series is the visual design, and Buffy’s entry into the series is no different. Each Unmatched game has a unique look and Buffy’s is handled by Heather Vaughan, who also does the art for Renegade’s Kids On Bikes series. It’s eye popping in its use of primary colors, with splashes of red naturally in abundance. Each character has their own color palette that helps them stand out from each other and other characters should you want to mix-and-match. The two maps included are for The Bronze and Sunnydale High and like the overall art style have a lot in common with how the Buffy comics have looked at times, but with a bit of grungy griminess to emphasize the no-holds-barred battle going on. There’s also the excellent health dials that come with each character and sidekick. They’re utilitarian but they’re incredibly sturdy and well made.
The uncontested star of the show are the minis, which are absolutely fantastic. Well sculpted, dynamic, and visually interesting, these are as good as any others in the series. There’s a wash on them that helps them feel more interesting than if they were plain grey plastic, but they’d be perfectly paintable if you were so inclined. Literally my only quibble was that Buffy has her weird axe-spike weapon and not just Mr.Pointy (WHO IS IN THE GAME, I might add) but it doesn’t matter too much because the axe thingy is pretty neat.
How’s It Play
The core gameplay of Unmatched as a whole is incredibly straightforward. Each character (a hero and usually one or more sidekicks) moves around the board to, inevitably beat each other up. They have their own move speed and either a ranged or melee attack. On your turn you can Maneuver (drawing cards and moving your characters), Attack (which is as it says), or Scheme, which is playing special cards that benefit you somehow outside of the other two (often giving you extra cards or messing with opponents). Combat takes place by each combatant playing an attack and (if possible) defense card, The real strategy is in the cards themselves, which give each character a unique playstyle and path to victory. So let’s look at each one individually.
Buffy: Fast & Furious
Buffy’s deck emphasizes her athleticism and acrobatic combat style, with her special ability being the ability to move through squares occupied by enemies. Her cards generally reward a more “hit and run” style of gameplay, as well as utilizing her super strength to move people around the board. Her potential sidekicks are Giles and Xander, the former giving Buffy more tools and insight into her opponents while the latter makes her hit harder and benefit more from combat. Giles overall seems more useful, but Xander is unique enough to worth trying.
Willow: Darkness Rising
Willlow and her sidekick Tara are the only purely ranged characters in the set, and focus on using Dark Willow to her maximum effect while minimizing the negative effects of magic. Willow turns into her alter-ego whenever she or Tara take damage, and while in this form she gets special effects from cards when played. While Dark Willow is powerful, her abilities are unpredictable and can have big consequences if used incorrectly. The biggest example is her “Blind Boosting” (something Spike also uses) which can buff her attacks a lot but can also just waste useful cards.
Angel: The Masochism Tango
Angel and his sidekick Faith play in a more contemplative and strategic way, emphasizing the need to roll with the punches and adapt on the fly. All of Angel’s abilities, including his core ability, are based on losing combat (which is defined as simply taking damage as a defender or dealing none as an attacker). The more he loses, the better he is. Faith gives Angel more area of effect damage to his attacks that help him get out of trouble spots he might get himself into. It’s a weird deck but it makes sense after a little study.
Spike: Strike From The Shadows
Spike and his sidekick Drusilla’s entire jam is moving around in the shadows, which are physical tokens that he places on the board that can buff him or debuff his opponents so long as they are near them. Playing Spike means knowing how to lock down and control the area, moving around enough to avoid getting hammered but still keeping your advantages to keep hitting back hard. Drusilla, unpredictable as ever, can Blind Boost Spike’s abilities similar to Dark Willow or use The Sight to make other players discard their cards.
If you’ve been waffling on getting into Unmatched, I really can’t recommend it enough. While there’s pros and cons to every dueling/skirmishing game, this one is probably the easiest one to just pick up and play. The depth of the game is mostly on the board and in the moment, and you don’t have to have perfect mastery over every character to do well. I particularly recommend the Buffy entry to fans of the series, since it does a great job boiling down the show’s characters to their core essences and also letting you have them BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER. Seriously, it’s very fun to put Spike and Willow against each other, or put a stake through Angel’s broody ass.
Images via Mondo Games/Restoration Games and 20th Century Fox
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