The full name of this game is Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One† The latter is important because there is more Unparalleled coming. This first set allows us to answer important questions such as: who would win in a battle between King Arthur and Sinbad? What if Alice ventured out of Wonderland to dismember Medusa? The matchups in this absurdist fight club are insane, and we’re just getting started.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Restoration Games is the remarkable publisher who brought us new editions of classic games such as Fireball Island and Stop thief! Those designs got a few tricks, a few injections of Botox and a new wardrobe. They’re fresh, but they’re also rooted in the past, and they know how to put nostalgia to good use.
Unparalleled is something else. It is a reworking of 2002 Star Wars: Epic Duels, without a license. Without the power of such a massive intellectual property behind the game, Restoration had to be daring and teamed up with Mondo Games to create a crazy melting pot of fictional matchups. The result should bring a smile to the face of even the sweetest miser. Try your hand at frowning as you play an epic battle between Robin Hood’s first expansion characters and Big Foot in Sherwood Forest. It’s too ridiculous and too fun.
But Unparalleled is not epic duels† It uses the same concept of a primary fighter accompanied by a sidekick (as we see with gorgeous duos like Alice paired with the Jabberwock, or Arthur with Merlin), but Unparalleled has a very different feel with its own unique tempo and mechanisms. The asymmetrical decks that power each hero have been designed more tightly, creating a breakneck pace for each 20-minute confrontation.
While the game supports three- and four-player combat, it’s clearly optimized as a two-player affair that’s sleek and lively — in stark contrast to the six-player slug fests my epic duel outings.
This streamlined editorial hand is felt in all facets of the game. The new battlefield, while small, feels dynamic due to constant pressure of movement. The clever restriction of drawing cards only by performing a move action – as well as pairing different character skills with maneuvering – really pushes the design into creative places. For a two-player game where you throw down attack and defense cards against a single opponent, Unparalleled never feels like just a grind to get rid of their health.
Find your most important
I had a lot of worries before playing Unparalleled† I already love several strong entries in this genre, and I was wondering if Unparalleled to find a place next to contemporary titles such as Warhammer Underworlds or Mythical Battles: Pantheon†
Answer: I think it is possible. Unparalleled is a unique offering that combines a straightforward ruleset with legitimate depth. It’s simple enough to play with your 10-year-old, but captivating enough to spark the extensive interest of your gaming group.
There’s no deck construction here, and since each character’s skills and cards are preset, the typical card game path from creation to competition is short-circuited. For example, many of Warhammer Underworlds the game takes place before the match even starts. Experimenting with new cards and combos is central to the design. But Unparalleled allows you to explore your little deck in less time than it takes to complete an episode of Rick and Morty† By your second game with Sinbad, you should fully understand how to use his unique Voyage mechanism and create electric combos.
Here, too, the asymmetry is striking. Each fighter has personality and some character specific mechanics. Alice changes size, Medusa can turn enemies to stone, Sinbad grows stronger as more travel cards are placed on the discard pile, and King Arthur uses the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur with great success. Each character offers a lot to explore with an economic weight of rules.
Unlike its peers, this feels more like a fighting game. While other designs try to create a stripped-down version of a larger miniature battle, Unparalleled want to make you feel like street fighter or marvel vs. capcom† You choose a “main course” and perfect your timing. All those twists and tricks you hope to find in your deck become reality because you don’t tear down your creation and build a new one after almost every game.
However, this fighting game format is also responsible for: Unparalleled‘s weakest spots. There is a strong focus on timing and counterplay here. Rather than creating decks of cards, controlling the tempo and drawing your opponent’s strongest moves at the least advantageous moment is at the heart of this design. This is succinctly captured with the “feint” card, which is quite a mix of brilliant and awful. It works because it’s an elegant weapon to clash over tempo, but it also stumbles because it can wipe out some of the strongest moments in the game.
Picture this: You’ve just spent the past 10 minutes carefully grooming your hand and building up a series of power moves, including the radiant Excalibur. You’ve tricked your opponent into playing one of their own feints before; now it’s time to strike. You place Excalibur face down on the table next to a second card from your hand to increase the damage. Then you and your opponent both turn over your cards – and the corners of your mouth fall.
The problem is that each deck has three feints. Their ability to undo the most dramatic plays is frustrating and it feels like a net negative effect on the momentum of the game. It works, and the game still succeeds in the end, but a more judicious use of feints might have given the experience more power.
The pre-constructed nature of the decks also occasionally gives the feeling that the game is actually playing you. Drawing cards is incredibly important, and the lack of a proper Mulligan rule is a bit shocking. However, the reduced playtime somewhat obscures this weakness.
Some players will also have issues with the sidekicks, which are presented as round plastic discs rather than full-fledged miniatures. I initially took a sideways look at this concept, but it didn’t take long for me to embrace the idea. The hero is mechanically separated from the sidekick, and this difference in presentation sets the spotlight in just the right way.
The whole package is visually stunning, featuring some of the most effective artwork ever placed on cardboard. Even the abstracted spaces that obscure most of the board fit into the overall aesthetic. (Of course, they also convey line of sight perfectly, as they are lifted straight from the now-defunct Fantasy Flight Tannhauser miniatures board game.)
Unparalleled may not have the extended life of the malleable Warhammer Underworlds or the explosive drama of Mythical Battles, but it’s a smooth game that should have a lot of appeal. It’s not overly random, but it’s still dramatic. It’s simple, but it doesn’t sacrifice all of the personality.
If you give this game a shot, you may find yourself blinking at how quickly the first match is over. So you play again, and soon “one more” becomes your maxim. Later, you will blink one more time as you look at your watch and wonder where the night has gone so quickly.