The Unmatched board game series has been the geeky gift that keeps on giving. Each new set and expansion – whether it’s a licensed box featuring Jurassic Park or Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters or built around public domain icons like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and Bigfoot – has deepened the game, adding new gameplay options and mechanics. It’s been a delicate balancing act for the design team at Restoration Games. How do you build upon a game system that works because it is so simple and easy to learn, even when each new character tends to play so differently?
The latest set answers that question. Unmatched: Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf feels like the next evolution for the series, pushing the card play in thrilling new directions without breaking what came before. It’s a testament to how sound the core game system truly is, but also a mission statement for the future of the game.
You can check out new photos from the game, as well some additional thoughts on the whole package, below.
I was sent an early copy of Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf and have been tinkering with it for a few weeks now (you can order your own copy right here). As a standalone set, where the two mismatched literary characters battle it out across a board depicting Heorot, the Viking mead hall from Beowulf, it’s a winner. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more accessible combat game for two players – you can teach it in five minutes and finish a game in less than 20 minutes. It’s a tidy, beautiful little box: the miniatures are detailed and fun to look at and the box and card art from Marc Aspinall is stunning to look at, transforming your hand of cards into a beautiful, bloody tableau (like previous Unmatched sets, this is a collaboration between the game design geniuses at Restoration Games and Mondo, whose unbeatable taste in art makes this the best-looking game series on the shelves). I can heartily recommend this set as a standalone experience to tabletop gamers of all tastes and levels of experience.
However, the real thrill for seasoned Unmatched players comes from mixing and matching the new characters (and therefore, the new gameplay mechanics) with the previous boxes. There’s a nerdy thrill to watching Beowulf face off against the likes of Medusa, Buffy Summers, and Bruce Lee. There’s a bizarre rush associated with seeing Little Red Riding Hood graduate from surviving the big bad wolf to taking down a trio of Velociraptors. And when you peel back the thematic flair, watching the new mechanics seamlessly interact with the previous sets is just…well, insert “chef’s kiss” sound here.
So let’s talk about these new characters and what makes them special. Beowulf has a new currency called Rage that he accumulates whenever he takes damage. Rage can then be spent as indicated on his cards, giving him powerful bonuses and advantages that can decimate an enemy. The push-and-pull awards aggressive play – the more danger you put yourself in, the more powerful you become. Perfect for a legendary viking hero.
Little Red Riding Hood is even more unique and will appeal to players who want to inject a little bit of crunch into their Unmatched gameplay. Each of her cards is marked with one of four symbols – a knife, a pelt, wolfsbane, or wild – and the face-up card in your discard pile is Red’s “basket.” And depending on what card is currently in your basket, you can activate certain abilities on the cards in your hand. The result transforms a handful of options in your hand into potentially dozens of choices, requiring you to carefully plan your moves so the right cards end up on the top of your discard pile in the right order. It’s a ton of fun and like the best of Unmatched, it feels thematically correct. After all, if Red is going to take down super-powered titans, she has to plan her every action with care.
The other big change in this set is the double-sided board, which offers two variations on one battlefield. One side is the traditional Unmatched layout, but the other features more streamlined graphic design, built to showcase the board art and immerse the player further into the scene of the battle. It’s a minor choice but a welcome one – I can’t imagine future boards using the old style. Heorot also introduces a new mechanic: doors, which can be open and closed and can transform the battlefield in surprising ways. These little touches, both mechanical and aesthetic, suggest that no one at Restoration Games is resting on their Laurels. Unmatched is still trying to new things and it’s only going to get more interesting.
These two new characters, and the new board, fit-in perfectly with the ensemble of previously released sets, but feel fresh and thrilling and new. Beowulf and Red will be easy to pick up by anyone who has played a previous Unmatched set (total newbies will need a few extra minutes), but they also feel completely new. It’s the kind of magic inherent in something like…well, Magic. It suggests Unmatched has a long life ahead of it.
Unmatched: Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf is available for order at Restoration Games’ website right now.
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