Uncertainty dominates our lives. Events continue to be postponed or canceled. Kickstarter delivery dates have shifted from optimistic white lies to blatant punch lines. My preferred grocer hasn’t restocked frozen broccoli in three months.
But there has been one constant; that is the quality of Restoration Games’ Unmatched. This system, comprised of many standalone sets, continues to just kill it. Battle of Legends Volume Two is yet another display of supremacy.
I love the character selection here.
Yennenga is a famous warrior princess of the Mossi people. She is represented as a fierce archer flanked by two ranged sidekicks. Her emphasis is on zone positioning as she is able to push damage off onto her nearby companions, as well as utilize them for surprise assaults. There is quite a bit of movement in this deck fostering a predator playstyle. It can often feel as though you’re hunting an opponent, attempting to setup powerful volleys and maximize the effectiveness of your archer sidekicks. She’s really a wonderful character, fits tightly into the mythic fabric of the game, and presents a rare tactical approach as one of the few range-heavy options available.
I dig Bloody Mary. This classic horror spirit from English folklore fits in well as a thematic extension to the Cobble & Fog set. It’s a stark contrast to the more mythic and historical characters of this set, highlighting Unmatched’s idiosyncratic identity. The implementation here is solid. Mary can often gain a third action, playing off the narrative of summoning the ghost by saying her name three times while staring into a mirror. The beauty is that many of her cards are improved if played as this third action. This weaves a strong personality into her attack patterns.
The blandest of the bunch is Achilles, not in fighting style but in terms of literary history. He’s much less unusual culturally than the other three options which belies the excellence of his character design. The focus here is on layered attacks and probing an opponent’s defenses. The design team also wonderfully captured the central character arc of Achilles’ tragedy – losing his dear friend Patroclus. There’s this spectacular inner tension where keeping Patroclus alive allows you to pull off some trickery and boost your effective combat ability, but losing him also throws Achilles into full-on rage. I’m a student of the Iliad and am quite fond of Wolfgang Petersen’s underrated film Troy. Unsurprisingly, I reach for Achilles more often than not.
“Is there no one else? Is there no one else?!”
Yes, there is, Brad.
Sun Wukong is the most sensational of the four. This Chinese mythological figure is known as the Monkey King and was featured in the 16th-century novel Journey to the West. In Unmatched, this guy is a phenom. He possesses no sidekicks, instead summoning copies of himself at the cost of health. This can be exceedingly powerful, particularly when combined with all of his cards functioning as an “any” option, allowing you to launch a torrent of assaults from several different vectors on the board. This ability to replicate also creates a strong illusory feel, providing a trickster characterization where you’re rope-a-doping enemies into attacking weaker copies of Sun Wukong before he delivers a harrowing cloud of punches and kicks. This is just a fantastic character that’s an outright joy to field.
This set is excellent. In addition to four top-shelf character options, it introduces a whole new bonus attack mechanism which is featured throughout the four character decks. These cards allow you to make a follow-up aggression after the initial maneuver, with both attack values printed on a single card. What this means is that the second attack is telegraphed with a known value. It’s a fantastic tactic to whittle away defense cards and force your opponent into difficult decisions.
I’m also very pleased with the reverse side of the board. They’ve swapped the previous art style of garish line of sight graphic design from the “pie graph” approach to a more subtle colored ring. We first saw this with the Little Red Riding Hood vs. Beowulf expansion, and it hews more closely to the inspiration found in Fantasy Flight Games’ now out-of-print Tannhauser.
I love this change. The saturated spaces flooded with various colors always bothered me, detracting from the art and diminishing immersion. For instance, without studying the board you often don’t have a great understanding of what is actually happening in the environment. If you compare the two sides of this set’s board, it’s obvious how striking and clear the setting is with this new implementation. Line of sight is often of minimal concern in this game and often intuitive, so checking colors is only needed occasionally.
This board is also one of the more interesting options in the entirety of Unmatched. This is because it offers damage bonuses for fighters attacking from higher ground. The rules weight for this addition is minimal and it fits perfectly into the overall design philosophy. Again, this was a complaint of mine previously – the lack of personality and distinction of each environment – so I’m particularly enamored with the effort.
It’s not surprising that my overall impression is very positive. This set is still not my absolute favorite, but it sits near the very top of Unmatched releases. One of the greatest achievements is that power creep has been kept to a minimum. These new characters certainly feel as though they are among the upper tier, but they are still beatable and slot right into the mosaic of cast members previously offered.
There are a number of subtleties here which may take some time to grasp. For instance, the new bonus attacks feel very strong, and you may lament their absence on older characters. But there are opportunities to exploit these offensive maneuvers with certain defense cards since the attack value is known prior to your selection. King Arthur’s Holy Grail card for instance is a strong counter.
These layers to be discovered are a huge part of the appeal. Each expansion to the Unmatched system provides new interactions and complications with existing characters, providing for bright new matchups and extended playtime.
Over the past several months I have really become enamored with this game. My appreciation was on the rise prior to Volume 2‘s release, and this only further elevated my enthusiasm. I believe this will continue to persist as Restoration Games’ flagship property, outlasting the other entries in their library and remaining coveted by gamers for years to come.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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Can’t wait to get that set and try it out!
I have everything else.
Great review – looking forward to this set.
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