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Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze Board Game Review

As a series, Unmatched is pretty much unmatched. Its central conceit -- duels between two fictional characters from across fantasy and sci-fi, myth and movies -- sounds shaky. But in practice, its simple yet exciting and tactical systems have led to great release after great release. Where else can you enjoy a truly compelling showdown between Beowulf and Deadpool? This latest box in the series, Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze is, however, a major departure mechanically because it can be played as a
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as well as head-to-head. The question is whether it’ll also be a departure in terms of quality.

What’s in the Box​

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Most Unmatched boxes are small, understated affairs and belie the cool miniatures -- and the fun -- within. Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze is a bigger, showier thing that arrives in the kind of square box that’s typical of modern board games. The cover art, full of color and detail, is also a step up from the usual limited palette, cartoon-style art that has characterized the series so far.

Fans of the existing style won’t be disappointed, however, once they dig into the contents. While the rulebook is also full of color, the various card decks used in the game continue with the traditional cartoon art. The four heroes included are also represented with miniatures of the same high quality as previous releases, with the same ink wash to make them pop. There are two new figures for the adversaries, Mothman and the Martian Invader, which are just glorious. They’re bigger than the hero figures and full of detail, from Mothman’s feathery wings to the Martian’s flying stand and neon green cockpit.

Both the heroes and the foes have sidekicks, who are featured on the board with hard plastic discs. The same style is used in a slew of on-board markers that are unique to this edition. Speaking of which, the two-sided board has had a very welcome upgrade. They’re still point-to-point maps, with colors in the circles to indicate different board areas, but the background art is far more lavish and fun to play on than the bare-bones doodles that have characteried previous boards in the series.

A few sheets of punch-out cardboard chits round out the contents, including health dials for the heroes and their sidekicks. There are also dials for the two villains, both with two digit circles to allow for higher health totals, both co-opted into fun visual styles that tie in to the monster they represent. It’s a nice box of toys, especially given the price point.

Rules and How it Plays​

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One of the secrets to Unmatched’s success is its straightforward rules. On your turn, you can take two actions and there are three choices. First, you can pick up a card for your hand from the unique deck that ties in with your hero, and move your hero and any sidekicks they have. Second, you can play an attack card from your hand face-down to initiate an attack. The target can choose a face-down card to defend, then you compare the values on the cards and the target takes damage equal to the difference. Third, you can play a scheme card from your hand.

There’s a bit more detail around ranged attacks and legal moves but, on the whole, that’s your lot. The fun in the game comes from two sources. First, there’s a constant tension between the need to spend cards in attack and defense and the need to move in order to pick up more, which makes it very easy to overextend yourself in attack and leave yourself open to a punishing counter. Second, those unique decks give every hero an astonishing amount of individual character and a distinct play style, especially given the accessible rules framework.

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Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze adds four new heroes to the ever-growing roster of the series. A sci-fi version of inventor Nikolai Tesla has no sidekick but bears two electrical coils which he can discharge to boost his card effects. If he ends a turn with both charged, he can deal damage to adjacent enemies. His is an aggressive game, which revolves around trying to balance that free effect with spending charges on cards.

Comic book character Jill Trent, Science Sleuth, has a choice of two gizmos to activate, which tie into her cards. She and her sidekick Daisy are flexible characters, able to fulfil different in-game roles. Folk legend riverboat captain Annie Christmas and her sidekick Charlie have a gambling-themed deck that encourages risk-taking. Finally, the Golden Bat, a Chinese superhero from 1930, hits hard so long as he doesn’t move, and his deck is built around maximizing this effect.

Those unique decks give every hero an astonishing amount of individual character and a distinct play style.

They’re a good line-up with lots of varied effects and, best of all, none of them feel entirely like any of the existing characters. So if you own
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, you can have fun integrating them into your battles, and you can also play a standard head-to-head fight on the boards provided. Otherwise, you’ll be pitting them against the Mothman or the Martian Invader in a cooperative game. Each boss uses its own side of the board, which reflects its overall game plan. Mothman is trying to destroy bridges between spaces, while the Invader is seeding fields with its alien progeny. They play quite differently, with the Invader being the tougher of the two.

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Just like the heroes have sidekicks, your foe will also have a mix of minions, one per player. There’s a varied mix of these, drawn from popular legend and, like heroes, each has its own particular play style. The Loveland Frog gets to act more and more frequently as the game progresses, for example, while the Jersey Devil saps your hero’s cards. The options give you plenty of combinations to experiment with, but as a general rule, each presents an ever-escalating threat that you must divert resources to deal with. So they can feel a little same-y.

In a cooperative game, turn order is decided by drawing an initiative deck, so you can never be sure if one of the heroes, or one of the bad guys, will strike next. When your enemies act, they all follow the same simple AI script which sees them moving toward a hero and attacking them, based on a card draw from that villain’s deck. When a hero acts, it’s the same framework and the same dilemmas as you use in the competitive game, as you seek to attack enemies and grind down their health. And, like the competitive game, it provides an ever-winding coil of tension as decks, health counters, and evil plots near their termini.

The rules just don’t support the kind of emergent cooperation you see in more dedicated cooperative titles.

And, odd as it may seem, these similarities with the standard game are the chief problem with playing Unmatched cooperatively: it feels too much like a head-to-head game. The system does a good job of making your enemies feel dynamic and exciting to play against, but the rules just don’t support the kind of emergent cooperation and planning that you see in more dedicated cooperative titles. Each hero’s deck is designed to fight against opposing antagonists, not to work together. There are very few opportunities for stacking up card effects into combos between characters, or to use each other’s moves to achieve things you can’t in the standard game.

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Where to Buy​

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