The Unmatched game system has trialled various one, two, and four character sets. There are many new boxes slated for the future, with new characters from mythology, history, literature, and Marvel. Unmatched is one of my favourite games. In fact, it recently stole and has so far kept the number one spot. So I come to this review saying I love the game system. Of course, not all boxes can be number one. There is such variety in the way that different characters play. Some will really gel for you, while others may feel flat. Certain sets require some mastery, such as Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf.
The aim of the game is to utterly destroy your opponent’s hero. Beat them into submission by bringing their health down to zero using your strategic prowess. It's all about clever use of the map and your character’s asymmetric deck. Each character comes with its own unique special ability and unique cards, giving each hero a “playstyle”. Learning to pilot each individual deck is part of the draw and the fun of the game, and some are easier to learn and master than others. Unlike the title would suggest, the characters all feel evenly matched. Who triumphs in an Unmatched match is down to the player and their ability. If you want to hear more about how to play, please check out our How to Play blog.
Little Red is a melee character, but her sidekick The Huntsman is a ranged character. I love ranged characters as I feel like they offer less chance for your opponent to hide. It is unusual to have a melee hero and a ranged sidekick as it kind of limits the power a little of the Huntsman. But that is what brings balance to the character and prevents them from becoming overpowered.
Little Red uses her basket, which is essentially her discard pile, to leverage additional abilities. Her cards each have wolfsbane, a sword, or a rose symbol on them. Some of her cards also have a special secondary action, triggered by matching symbols to the top card in your basket (most recently discarded). If you can play your cards right, Little Red is an absolute force to be reckoned with. You may think you have gotten away relatively unscathed, and then kapow! She triggers her additional abilities and you are in a whole world of pain! She is, for me, incredibly difficult to play. I find the complexity of getting the symbols in the basket to trigger the effects a bit of a brain burner. Annoyingly, she is also one of the characters I think about playing the most.
The Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf describes how a man came to the aid of the Danish King and defeated Grendel, a monster who had plagued the land. This man - Beowulf - became a hero, and was richly rewarded. The game designers have harvested the essence of the story of Beowulf and used it to design this character. Beowulf and his sidekick, Wiglaf, use a combination of rage-induced power attacks to one-two attack their opponent. Beowulf has a formidable amount of health, starting with 17 health for the hero and 9 for the sidekick. This makes taking him out hard work.
Rage is unpredictable, and that is also how I would describe playing against Beowulf. An unpredictable ball of rage who comes at you hard, with additional actions that really gut punch you into oblivion. Each time that Beowulf takes damage, he gains a rage token. These rage tokens can be spent when playing some cards to take dastardly actions. One allows you to spend three rage to defeat a sidekick. This is incredibly powerful if you can get it timed correctly. Just like with Little Red, piloting this deck is all about timing and clever card strategy. It is a deck you will need to learn to master, but one that rolls around in your brain thinking of the “should haves and could haves” until your next play.
The game map for me is almost as important as the character you choose to play. The map that comes with the Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf set depicts an inn. It feels kind of thematic that you would find Beowulf in an inn, celebrating his latest macho victory. But I am unsure whether I would expect to see Little Red knocking back ale in a tavern.
This map comes with doors that can offer the fighter a bit more protection. When you close a door, it takes one manoeuvre point to open it again before you are adjacent. Closing a door does not require you to use a point, but you must be doing the manoeuvre action. Opening a door requires you to use a movement action. This can really save your bacon as a melee character against a ranged character. I still need to completely leverage this - or hope it will come with more practice. Not necessarily a bad thing, as I always love a game of Unmatched.
Previously, there were often two different maps included in each set. The designers now give you the same map in two different designs. One side has the traditional fully coloured-in circles that we previously saw. The other side shows you more of the terrain in the background and just has a thin band of each zone colour on it. I don’t feel like this is as easy to use, so I will be sticking with the traditional design.
I think that the components in Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf are great. The Unmatched franchise is known for having beautiful and inventive minis for the heroes, and this set is no different. Little Red is depicted with a hooded cloak and is a diminutive, crouched character. Beowulf stands tall and is openly powerful with his shield. One thing I did notice here was that the detailing on Little Red’s mini was not quite as needle-sharp as I had come to expect. It wasn’t poor quality at all, but just not as good as I had seen on other sets.
The artwork is simply fabulous. Little Red has, of course, red card backs with a basket design. But if you look at the artwork itself, it really smacks of the darker side of a Grimm's fairy story rather than the whimsical kid's books you see nowadays. I guess that is more fitting though. Little Red was a formidable wolf slayer, so it makes sense that her artwork would reflect that power. Beowulf is a story I was less familiar with, but the blue and yellow artwork is no less striking for that. The card art shows an enraged Viking warrior who flips out on a dime. This really gels with the way that this character plays, and feels thematic.
I think the insert in the box is great. This probably goes for all the sets, but nevertheless rings true for this set. Things don’t rattle around and I like the way that each character is kept together neatly in a way that is pleasing to the eye. That is not to say that the content cannot be compressed. It most definitely can. For travel, I would likely take a few of my favourite characters and put them and a map into a smaller box. But I would put it all straight back into the insert properly when I got home. Which I think is a sign of a good insert.
On the face of it, the Unmatched system offers huge replayability. You can mix and match the characters and the maps to form a bunch of different battles. If you only have this one box though, and only one map and two characters to pick from, then you are relying on the inherent replayability of the game itself. I do think that this is a pretty replayable game. Each character has a deck of 30 cards. There are some repeats of each card, but no more than 3 of anything.
The order in which these cards come into your hand will greatly affect how you can play each round and how perhaps you will play overall. But it should be noted that each time you play the character you will only use the same 30 card deck, so it may eventually start to feel stale. I have played 100 games of Unmatched (across all my sets) and I am not bored of it, but I no longer play unmatched multiple times a week.
Little Red Riding Hood vs Beowulf is a great time that plays quickly, in under 30 mins, for the total annihilation of your opponents. This box has some really interesting twists for the characters. The way each one works feels very different to anything that has come before. This set offers a new map, with doors that can create a bit more protection when playing against such powerful characters. But I still think it is very difficult to hide! These characters are tricky for me to play, and I have yet to win with Little Red, but they are surely up there with the ones I want to master.
I see the power of these characters, and it is the operator who is unable to pilot these decks to victory. I Must try harder. If you want to introduce a couple of heroes with uniquely different playstyles, consider picking up Unmatched Little Red And Beowulf.