The Unmatched series is an attempt to answer the age-old, late-night discussion of ‘who would win between 2 incredibly obtuse characters in history, mythology or real life e.g. Bigfoot and Little Red Riding Hood, Bruce Lee and King Arthur or the case of Unmatched: Cobble & Fog: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man. Now, I could spend this review teasing you whether the ‘Cobble and Fog’ expansion to the Unmatched Universe is good or not. But let’s cut to the chase. In my humble opinion, this is the strongest collection of characters yet assembled by Restoration Games.
I initially stumbled across Unmatched whilst on the hunt for a ‘straightforward’ battle-to-the-death style game. One that wasn’t too complicated but also did not simply rely on a roll of a die. This fairly broad set of criteria seemed to narrow the field down to 2 – the Funkoverse strategy games and Unmatched. Why choose Unmatched over Funkoverse? Well in my case, it is purely a matter of taste. There are 2 overriding points. The first is purely down to aesthetics. If you haven’t yet looked at any images of the artwork and beautifully crafted miniatures that come with each set, I thoroughly recommend you do. Secondly, both I and my main gameplaying companions (i.e. my children) love Hammer Horror, Greek myth etc so theme-wise, this trumps the more cartoonish aspect of Funkoverse.
So, what exactly makes Cobble and Fog so great?
In Battle, There Are No Equals
In case you are unaware of Unmatched, the basic premise is very simple and that is part of its charm. 2 -4 players take a character from any of the available sets, place them on the board and fight one another until there is only one left standing. A 4 player game splits you into 2 teams. Which, whilst fun, is probably not quite as brutal as the direct head-to-head of a 2 player game. A 3-player rule amendment has been released recently, clarifying how a 3 player game can now operate as a head to head battle. Having tried this with 2 somewhat bloodthirsty children, I can confirm that it works…very well.
Each character has their own miniature, with some having a sidekick and others having several minions. Some are ranged and can attack from distance, some must get close and personal to cause damage. Each player has their own hand of cards of which you play through until exhausted. Each turn is a seemingly very straightforward set of choices. Your character (or sidekicks) must take 2 of 3 options, these being either Maneuver, Scheme or Attack. Maneuver involves drawing and/or moving around the board, Schemes are special actions and Attack is just that. The trick is balancing the drawing of cards. Ensuring you are not left open to attack, whilst also trying to pick off your opponents. With the lack of dice rolling, the element of chance is somewhat reduced. Though obviously, there will always be an aspect of luck in the way the cards fall. But that is the beauty of the game. No amount of skill can mitigate Sherlock Holmes’ mighty powers of deduction, for example.
The beauty of Unmatched is the asymmetric aspect to it. Now on a sliding scale of 1-10, I would put Unmatched lower down than a game like Root or Vast. Games where every faction or character play in a completely different way. Here, there are some similarities between characters and some cards appear in several characters’ hands. For example, every character has ‘Feint’ cards which are very handy when defending against another's special abilities. I have noticed ‘Momentous Shift’ appear in at least 2 sets of cards previously. Each character has attack, defence and scheme cards. But then I see these common traits as another strength of the game. From my own standpoint, I love Root. But initially teaching it can be something of a bind. With Unmatched, you can drop in with any character and you’re good to go in a matter of moments.
Why Unmatched: Cobble And Fog?
Where Unmatched: Cobble and Fog truly excels for me; more so than the first set – Battle of Legends Volume 1 - is the individual theming of each character. Sherlock Holmes has Dr Watson as his sidekick, who is a ranged fighter; wielding his revolver whilst also having the ability to heal Holmes when in close proximity. Holmes’ main weapon is his mind with cards allowing the player to ‘deduce’ his opponents' attack strategy. Trust me, there is nothing more frustrating than having Sherlock Holmes delve into your mind, casually sift through your hand and then force you to discard the one attack card that was sure to win you the game.
Dracula has similarities to Medusa or even Robin Hood from previous sets in that he has 3 ‘sisters’ who can move around the board causing damage and generally being a rather damaging nuisance. And just when you think you’ve eliminated them to focus on the big bad himself, the Count then resurrects them!
The most interesting of the 4 characters are probably the more complicated of the set - Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man is unique in the sense that his minions are not people but ‘fog’. You have 3 fog tokens that move around the board as a normal character would. The beauty of these is that you can move between them as if they were adjacent on the board. They protect you from damage and even more importantly, they enhance that feeling of invisibility. The joy of sneaking up on a character, dealing a quick attack and then escaping into the night in the thick peasouper of Soho is a sight to behold – or not as the case may be. And the optical illusion created by Invisible Man’s miniature is a thing of beauty.
Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde is a tricky customer. As with Alice in ‘Battle of the Legends Vol 1’, the player has no sidekick or allies but instead has a token in which you can switch. With Alice, it focused on shifting size between Big and Small to aid attack or defence. With Dr Jekyll, you can be either the more passive, thoughtful and scientific Dr Jekyll or the monstrous, hell-bent on destruction Mr Hyde. Certain cards only apply to Dr Jekyll, others to Mr Hyde. Mr Hyde is a powerful attack-based character. But, in keeping with the theme, the potions coursing through his system cause his health to suffer every time he moves around the board. The balancing act with Mr Hyde is not one I’ve yet managed to overcome, and ending up with a hand of cards that all apply to Dr Jekyll whilst you are sitting defenceless as Mr Hyde is not an experience I would like to revisit.
So to reiterate my point from the very beginning of this review: ‘Cobble and Fog’ is superb. It is wonderfully accessible – I have played this with my 12 and 14 yr old kids and also with my (much) older gaming group. Everyone tends to have a favourite character that they gravitate towards and one of the many charms of Unmatched is the fact that you can pit a character from one set against one from another. There is great joy to be taken from having the Invisible Man fighting Little Red Riding Hood and Bigfoot simultaneously.
The asymmetric element adds interest. The theme and characterisation of each personality within Cobble and Fog is superb. And a mention has to go to the beautiful components. The box states a duration of 20-40 minutes but I would take that with a very large pinch of salt. It very much depends on the combinations of players within the game. Sherlock Holmes against the Invisible Man took well over the hour mark. Equally, a game has been done in 20 minutes flat when King Arthur joined the battle and inflicted the mighty sword Excalibur! The unpredictability is the joy, it is a game of skill but the element of chance is always there to even things out a little. The game designers have also been very careful to ensure that none of the characters in this set are too overpowered. This has always been a complaint with previous characters i.e. King Arthur and Excalibur, but you will find that most games go right to the wire.
Having only started playing Unmatched in the last 6 months, I have already added the Battle of Legends Vol 1, Robin Hood vs Bigfoot and of course Cobble and Fog to the collection. Bruce Lee is on the way along with Beowulf vs Little Red Riding Hood and Buffy. There are others out there including Raptors from Jurassic Park and the illusive Deadpool. Being a Marvel Cinematic Universe Devotee, I cannot wait for the release of the 4 Marvel sets- Redemption Row, Hell’s Kitchen, Teen Spirit and For King and Country. They were due for release this summer but as with many release dates, this has been pushed back. The word direct from Restoration Games (courtesy of my Twitter interactions with them) – ‘Should have news soon.' I wait with bated breath.