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Top 5 Games To Play If You Love Unmatched

Unmatched: Wildlands (1)

Unmatched is super hot at the moment, and for good reason. It is beautifully designed and produced, works off a strong rule set of asymmetric decks, and has a growing cast of exciting characters from a far reaching selection of IP.

It delivers a punchy, tactical, head-to-head skirmish typically for 2 players though allowing for more. So if you love it, and there are many that do, there’s plenty to go and look at next. There are so many different Unmatched games to look at including, Unmatched Dr Sattler vs T-Rex and Unmacthed: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all to tickle a different kind of Unmatched itch.

However, I have resisted the temptation to limit the following recommendations to other examples of 2 player head to head skirmishers. I could have done, as there’s a growing number of good ones, from God Tear to Super Fantasy Brawl. Instead I’m going to start in that vein and then gradually drift to a wider set of genres and mechanics… there will be links but this is not just a list of lookalikes. However they are all really good and worth giving a try!

5. Wildlands

Wildlands shares the most common DNA with Unmatched – it’s a minis skirmish game which plays from 2-4 and uses cards to drive actions and provide asymmetry. But it combines all these elements a little differently and in my mind is the better game of the two. Heresy, I know.

You play on a beautifully illustrated, numbered map which is a full size game board (or half size if you play on the second Map Pack Expansion which has two maps optimised for 2 players). At the beginning of the game you draw 10 numbered location cards, keeping 5 and secretly allocating them to your five heroes as starting locations. The other 5 are passed to the player on your left and will be the locations of the crystals they are trying to acquire. The winner of the game will be the first to 5 points and these are gained by picking up crystals and/or eliminating rivals’ heroes.

Wildlands is card driven too, but the cards in your deck are text free and show different distributions of action icons for different members of your team: move, single or double hit, single or double ranged, bomb, fly, rally etc. The asymmetry is that different factions have different distributions of these for their hero roster. So the Pit Fighters are all about melee; the Unseen Academy has some flying characters and plenty that can launch area effect ‘bombs’. You get the idea.

The other unique mechanics which add to the spice are that initially all the heroes are hidden and then turn by turn you have to reveal at least one on the board. This synergises well with cards allowing you to interrupt another player’s turn. As they move onto a square where you have a hero hidden you might interrupt, drop out of cover and smack them for a couple of hits. Or as a player is starting to wail on another opponent’s hero you might interrupt and try to get in a ranged shot to steal the kill. And yes, you can interrupt an interrupt – so this allows for all kinds of high jinx.

Wildlands plays with pace and punch. It has 4 factions and a double sided map in the main box. Then there are expansions: a couple of map packs and a couple of faction expansions all of which are well designed and affordable. There’s also a big box expansion, Wildlands: the Ancients, adding solo and team play as well as a further board – another excellent propositions if more of an investment.

Beautiful art and production, light enough to be accessible but enough crunch in the decision space – Wildlands is a great game and I would argue even better than Unmatched.

4. Summoner Wars

2 player head to head... check. Asymmetric combatants... check. Card driven play... check. Positional tactics... check. Game ends with death of the leader... check. Minis... nope but who needs them with a game this good. It's like an Unmatched checklist!

Summoner Wars is a cracking head-to-head, again sharing some common DNA with Unmatched. But the cards themselves are played to the 6 x 8 board and manoeuvred turn by turn – so it has some chess DNA also in the mix, but just a bit… don’t let that put you off.

Your factions pivot around the eponymous summoners, and the game will see you take turns to summon minions to the board who will duke it out in the service of eliminating the rival summoner to win the game. Combat is a dice driven affair, but the mechanics mean luck creates interesting wrinkles rather than swingy shockwaves.

No only does each faction have a distinct character – from the fortification focused Ice Dwarves to the self-destructive necromatic antics of the Fallen Kingdom, but there’s also a range of district and different troop types within each faction. Learning these and discovering the tactics, combos and synergies makes for an enjoyable experience as is experimenting with the different combinations of pitting X vs Y across the 6 faction decks in the Master Set.

One notable mechanical conceit is the deck management decisions that you have to make as you play. Minions need magic points to summon and these can be acquired by killing enemy units or discarding your card from your hand. The latter is the easier option, but unlike many deck driven games in this one when your deck is gone, it’s gone. The threat of scarcity drives careful and interesting tactical decision making.

All in all, while Summoner Wars has a bit of an old school feeling it is a superb head to head game and is well worth adding to your collection. It’s accessible and enjoyable with depth, pace and plenty of replayability.

3. Omen: A Reign Of War

Ok so we are taking a small step further from our starting inspiration. Again we have a card driven head to head, but we have lost tactical movement now, and instead we have card play and placement, offering choices of which of three cities to assault in order to secure victory points.

Omen is designed by John Clowdus of Small Box Games, who produces some great, artisanal small card games. However as they are US based and don’t generally release via retail they are costly to acquire... except for this one, which has a release through Kolossal Games. Boy it is worth getting a copy.

Drawing from a common deck the two players will make decisions about whether to draw cards, coins (for card placement) or both. They will play cards for their effects and to build forces in front of one of the three cities. When a clash is triggered, a brief and pyrrhic struggle will earn the victor a reward token worth VP or which can be played for an effect but this reduces its VP value. VP are also earned by fulfilling certain favours for the Gods, such as having 3 Hero cards in play. And they are earned by having Heroes in your hand at game end.

The joy of the contest is in capitalising on the different strengths of the cards, which are in 5 distinct ‘suits’ lending character to the sort of powers they offer. It’s in carefully engineering the timing of fights. And it’s in figuring the smartest route to VP, because the score margin is generally tight. Does this remind you on Unmatched?

Art is beautiful, and production is strong – certainly it leans heavily into its Classical Greek theme. It’s another game that plays with straightforward rules in the main. Again there is pace and punch and loads of decision space. This scratches my Magic itch without any of the collectible problems and it keeps me coming back for more. A truly great 2 player game from a designer who I wish was more available.

2. Undaunted: Normandy

So, Undaunted: Normandy certainly leans into the skirmish aspect but we move into the territory of wargames ... and a blooming good one at that.

It’s 1944 following the D Day landings and the US Army is pitted against the Wehrmacht in the vasty fields of France. Another card driven system which uses them for activating units but also as health for said units, so when opportunities arise to add to your deck there is some interesting decision space about what to choose.

There is an imaginative Fog of War mechanic, which means that as you scout the battlefield increasing the areas you can move into, your deck begins to accumulate useless Fog of War cards which clog your hand. You have to choose whether to use your scouts to counter this with Recon actions which remove these cards or live with (some) of them, which frees your scouts to other tasks.

Combat is dice driven and often attritional. Units can be hard to kill but each hit means one of that unit’s cards goes out of your active deck. Given the first place to find that discard is your hand, it can render a players hand denuded for the coming turn and have a meaningful impact whether it kills the unit outright or not.

The Undaunted: Normandy box comes with 12 scenarios which gradually introduce the additional unit types of machine gunners, snipers and mortars to the base rifle platoon. Asymmetry varies according to scenarios as do win conditions, and the varying board is achieved through well illustrated and produced square board tiles. Art and production is equally high and the overall experience is of a thoughtful, crunchy and well produced skirmish wargame with more than sufficient complexity but no rules bloat. Another hearty recommendation for games to play if you love Unmatched.

1. 878 Vikings

878 Vikings is my final offering. A head to head war game for 2 or ideally 4. It’s card and dice driven, with straightforward rules, clever card play and a fantastic tempo that makes for an excellent experience.The SU&SD guys described 878 Vikings as the Big Mac of wargames, and they were right. Accessible, a bit dirty but ultimately very gratifying.

What makes this so good? First, the team play if you have four of you. Two Viking players: Norsemen and Berserkers. Two Anglo Saxon players: Thegns and Housecarls. Shared win conditions for each side but each player with a different action deck, a different turn order cube, and different, asymmetric dice. The four turn order cubes go into a bag and are draw at the beginning of each round, which creates real tension every time and throws wrinkles without spoiling the strategising. Movement rules are such that if a map area has a combined force of your and your teammate’s troops you can move and attack with that entire army. And in play this works fantastically, as we house rule that there can be no team discussions away from the table so all four of you are there talking and trying to be oblique about parts of turn planning.

Second, I mentioned tempo and that is core to the satisfaction of this game. The Vikings begin the first turn of each round by drawing from the invasion deck which determines the location choice and scale of their wave of reinforcements for the round. To start with these are terrifying for the Saxon players. A huge wadge of troops sit on the fleet cards as the Vikings decide where they will land. An once they do they seem initially unstoppable.... but as they spread out, winning the first few battles, the need to occupy and hold territory means this dissipates. And round by round the Viking reinforcements thin, while the Saxons become progressively stronger, as long as they can hold on to sufficient reinforcement points. Alfred the Great joins them in round 5 of a maximum of 7, so if the Vikings don’t maintain the momentum then the tide will turn.

Third, the dice and card mechanics. Most cards determine how many units can move and how far, which is super simple. Events, however provide spice and a bit of swing with some really exciting effects. Combat has no recourse to complex tables but is about chucking buckets of dice and the different units have different distributions of the stock symbols, from the elite Viking Berserkers to the usually pitiful Saxon Fyrd who turn up as bonus units in the defence of towns when Vikings attack. So sure there is luck – which might put people off – but the upside it that combat is tense, exciting and pacey.

All of this makes for a fantastic play experience which will have even non-wargamers engaged and enjoying a great evening. Great production and art, a lean rules set, superb team play and exciting decision space. It really is must have... and so while I finish with a game that it pretty far from the Unmatched start point I hope you will give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.