Is Unmatched the new Epic Duels?

Unmatched by Rob Daviau and Restoration Games was one of the most talked about games at Gen Con 2019, and you might say I have a special interest in the game.  You know I’ll cover it here.  I’ve already been asked, “Ok, so is it better than Epic Duels?” and more than once.

Unmatched is a better game.  I’m not sure, however, that it’s more fun.  Is it worth making Star Wars versions of Unmatched decks and battling it out with those?  I think that it probably is.  It’s at least worth trying it out and seeing how we like it.  Let’s take on a small set of decks that we can test out, and see how we like the overall game versus Epic Duels.

I’ll try to address Unmatched versus Epic Duels piece by piece, as I see the games:

Presentation:  Game Boards

I like the Star Wars ones better, because they have nice Star Wars graphics on them and I know the locations.  These locations in Unmatched are a little less familiar to me, so I find them not as immersive.  The way the map circles work in Unmatched is better for game play, but are disruptive to nice map art.

Presentation:  Figures

I also like the Epic Duels ones better.  Once again, the wonder of Epic Duels was getting 31 figures, 17 of them painted, for $20 (plus 12 decks of 31 cards, 2 double-sided game boards and a die).  Even at $25-30 today, that’s a great deal.

Here you get 4 figures for $40. They aren’t painted in color, but they have a wash on them which brings out nice detail, and they are much better sculpts than the Epic Duels ones.  If I ever take the time to paint them, they will be way better than the SWED figures but I don’t know that I ever will.

If we’re simply comparing major characters, or “heroes” in Unmatched, I might pick the Unmatched figures over the SWED ones.  But, for minor characters, SWED still uses figures, and it uses painted figures for the personality minors like Leia and Greedo.  For its “sidekicks,” Unmatched uses disks.  They’re nice disks and all but… disks.  Us Epic Duelers love our minor characters, and disks will simply not do.

Presentation:  Hit Points

Unmatched is better.  Instead of clunky old hit point charts, Unmatched uses hit point dials, which are the shizzle.  Or, for the weak minors, you don’t need to track HP at all — one hit and they’re dead.  Now, it would be very tough for fans to recreate these hit point dials, so I think fans might just want to keep using the old hit point charts, or “battle cards” as they’re sometimes called, and they will work just fine for this game.  But, they won’t look nearly as good.

Presentation:  Cards

I’ll take Unmatched, but it’s actually pretty close.  Unmatched has great art, and individualized art for each deck, and each card in each deck, so in that sense, it’s obviously way better.  But, images, licensed or otherwise, of Star Wars characters are also fun and create their own feeling.

Major/Minor Configurations and Hit Points

So it appears that Heroes have Hit points ranging from 13 in Alice to 18 in King Arthur, very similar to Epic Duels.

The Sidekicks, or minors, are quite different.

King Arthur, Alice, Sinbad and Big Foot have personality minors in Merlin, Jabberwock, Porter, and Jackalope, respectively.  They range from 5 hit points (Jackalope) to 8 (Jabberwock).  So, fewer hit points than Epic Duels minors, with the strongest of them topping out at 8.

Medusa has 3 harpies.  Robin Hood has 4 outlaws.  They all have 1 hit point each.

Bruce Lee is solo.

Notice something missing?  There are no sets of 2 minors with 3-5 hit points each, at least not so far.  There are no sets of 2 minors at all.  If there was a set of 2 minors in this game, I would expect the minors to have only 1 hit point each.  It’s like, you get one minor with 5-8 HP, or you get multiple minors with 1 HP each, or you get no minors at all.

Unmatched is better.  There are more configurations to work with, including a solo configuration.

Game Play:  Special abilities

One really great addition to Unmatched is that each character has his/her own special ability.  For example, at the beginning of her turn, Medusa can do 1 damage to anyone in her zone.  For Robin Hood, he and his outlaws can move up to 2 spaces after attacking.  Some folks tried to instill these types of abilities into Epic Duels, but to me, it only works if you do it for everyone, like they do in Unmatched.  Love it.

Game Play:  Ranged combat

Unmatched is better.  The Tannhauser ranged combat system is cool.  I’d really love to see Boba Fett, Han Solo and others in this system instead of the Epic Duels system.  Maybe I’ll change my mind with more plays, but that’s how I feel about it right now.  Is the improved ranged combat worth the disruption of art on the maps?  I’m not as sure, but I’d like to see some fan-made maps before deciding.

Game Play:  Melee combat

No real change here.  The game makes it clear that defender effects resolve first.

Game Play:  Movement

This is very different in Unmatched, and it changes the whole game.  I can’t really pick one over the other here, they’re just different.  In Epic Duels, the game really comes down to setting yourself up to be within 4 spaces of an opponent you want to take a swing at, then hoping for a die roll of 4 or 5.  If you don’t get the roll, you probably sit around and draw cards for another turn.  When you get the roll, you step up and attack twice.  In a 2v2 game, you’ll step up and hopefully attack 4 times as a team.  That’s really the game right there:  Get the roll, move, then attack twice.

In Unmatched, movement is strictly part of the maneuver action, or playing a movement card like in Epic Duels.  Some characters have movement as part of their special abilities, but so far, that movement always comes after combat, not before.  When you maneuver, you move a fixed amount, and in a welcome change to Epic Duels, you can boost your move by spending one of the cards in your hand and adding its boost value to your move.  So, movement is not as luck-based as Epic Duels, which I like, but it’s also not a free action.  In Epic Duels, it’s almost like you get 3 actions:  A move action plus 2 more non-move actions.  In Unmatched, you only get the 2 actions.

As stated, this changes the whole game.  In Epic Duels, you step up and attack twice or not at all.  If you step up, the other guy will often slug you back twice, or he’ll just move away with the dice roll and draw 2 cards.  In Unmatched, it often gets into a cat-and-mouse game where you spend an action maneuvering, then an action attacking, while the other guy spends an action attacking, then an action maneuvering away from you.  I infrequently found myself in a position to deal out 2 attacks, though there were turns where heroes would just trade 2 blows at a time.  More often, though, you’re going to find yourself trading one attack for one attack.

Epic Duels games typically turn on a big 2-attack turn, but those are less likely in Unmatched.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  It makes Unmatched more of a 1-attack per turn grind, makes it take longer, and gives it more strategic choices that you make along the way.  However, Epic Duels is fun when you get the roll you need, and step into combat.  It’s fun to get those 3 actions on the turns that you need 3 actions.  So there are trade-offs.

Game Play:  Hand management

Some changes here favor Unmatched.  You start with 5 cards, and have a max hand size of 7.  This solves one of the problems with Epic Duels, in which players frequently spend 3 turns drawing cards until they have 10, before they do much of anything.  In Unmatched, you can get right into it, and your ability to stockpile is limited.  Along with the way movement works, and the infrequency of playing 2 attacks on a single turn, you don’t need as many cards, and don’t need to burn as many turns drawing cards.  All of this is positive.

Game Play:  Cards

Some big changes here:

  • 30 cards per deck
  • 12 any/any cards, essentially the “basic” deck
  • 18 unique cards, the “special” cards
  • Sinbad is an exception, with a 17/13 split
  • All combat cards have a secondary effect now, and those effects can be a little more complicated (though not much) than Epic Duels.  There are no “plain basic cards” like in Epic Duels.
  • Some cards are called “Scheme” cards but they’re just like non-combat Special cards from Epic Duels, except that some have “interrupt” abilities like our Jabba with his YOUR POWERS WILL NOT WORK ON ME BOY card.
  • Attack and defense values are down across the board.  You’ll find yourself using an any/any 2 (A2D2 in Epic Duels terms) as an attack card.  You’ll defend with a 1.  A6 is the biggest attack card I’ve seen so far.  Alice has some A5s that become A7s when she’s in big mode.  So along with often having only one attack per turn, the lower values contribute to more of a grind feeling in Unmatched, a contrast to Epic Duels, which can turn quickly.  I think I like this, because there’s a greater chance that everyone playing will get to do something before being destroyed.  It’s less likely that you’ll get taken out in a single turn before you get to do anything.  At the same time, it makes the pace a little slower and quick matches less frequent.
  • There are a lot more attack-and-move cards, and even defend-and-move cards.  Attack-and-move was gold in Epic Duels, and defend-and-move was platinum (defend-and-move was not part of the original SWED but was invented by fans).  Now, those combat-move cards are more common, and with the new movement rules detailed above, they need to be.

The any/any cards, I call them that because they can be used for any attack or defense, and because they can be used for any character in your set.  For example, the Feint card is a Attack 2 or Defense 2, and any of your characters can use it.  The any/any deck for Arthur, Big Foot and Bruce Lee is 3x Feint, 3x Skirmish, 3x Regroup, and 3x Momentous Shift.  Sinbad and Alice have variations of that same deck.  Meanwhile, Medusa doesn’t have Skirmish or Momentous Shift but instead has 2 other cards in Dash and Snipe.  Robin Hood has Feint and Regroup along with Snark and Wily Fighting.

Feint and Regroup appear in every deck, it seems and the other cards I mentioned appear in many others as well, but sometimes in different quantities.  I can’t figure out if there are 3-4 standard “flavors” of decks like red, blue and green, or if there are just varying combinations of Feint, Skirmish, e.g. start with Feint and Regroup, then choose 2 from Skirmish, Momentous Shift, Dash, Snipe, Snark and Wily Fighting.  The art on Snipe and Wily Fighting make them appear specific to the Medusa and Robin Hood decks, respectively, so perhaps you can just take Feint and Regroup, and either take Skirmish and Momentous Shift, or develop 2 new any/any cards for you deck?  I’m not sure so far.

If I was to start building a deck, I’d probably assume the same 12-card basic deck that Arthur, Big Foot and Bruce Lee use.  Then it would be about building out the 18 unique cards.  I’ll have more on how the unique cards break out, “bread and butter” cards an all that, in the coming weeks.

Presentation:  Theme

With the exception of Bruce Lee, who is awesome, I just don’t really get into these characters.  Playing King Arthur, or Big Foot, or Sinbad, just doesn’t do much for me, doesn’t make me feel the way I feel when playing Star Wars characters against each other, or LOTR, or GOT, or what have you.  That feeling is one of the best parts of Epic Duels, and it’s on us if we want to instill that feeling into Unmatched.  As I stated up front, I think it’s worth a try.  Here’s our page to get started.

10 comments

  1. Silas says:

    I’m very excited, and I certainly hope to make some custom maps for unmatched soon. My brother and I are decent artists, so we will see what we can do. I’m also planning with this to make my very own deck for the first time and not just making small modifications like we did in SWED. I love star wars, but I’m planning to start by trying to add The Big Boss from MGS to unmatched as a learning experience. Keeping the art up to speed will be a real challenge for sure.

        • JusDon says:

          I have a couple spartans back from when Halo did the Heroclix thing and i was actually thinking of doing a John – Spartan 117 deck for Unmatched once i got the hang of things (also working professionally with Illustrator and Photoshop; feel like it wouldn’t be difficult).

          I’d love to see what you come up with BIG Boy himself.
          Make sure to share with the class!

  2. Darth Wolverine says:

    I’ve pre-ordered this (September can get here fast enough.)

    I’m enthusiastic about the game as it fixes the problems I have with Epic Duels (Boards are bland and movement is random.) I’m not enough of a programming wiz to make a Deck Builder app but I’m really excited about working with Star Wars characters and others.

      • Darth Wolverine says:

        I thought they may be! I especially like the static abilities: you can build a whole deck around the core mechanic of the ability, or use it to fill a much needed hole in a character’s game. It’s completely changed how I approached Flash and Green Lantern’s deck.

        I do think, once we get around to testing Star Wars stuff, we can consider messing with HP Totals. Three 1 HP Stormtroopers aren’t a bad tradeoff, but a Chewbacca with less than 10 HP is criminal.

  3. A. Square says:

    I came here from your post on BGG, and I’m really interested in seeing how you make custom decks. I’ve never played Epic Duels, but my son and I are really excited for Unmatched and I love the idea of being able to make our own decks, so I’m very grateful for your initial breakdown and can’t wait to read more!

    You say that “it would be very tough for fans to recreate these hit point dials”, but what about 3D printing? My guess is that it’s just three simple pieces — top, bottom, spinning inner disk — so it’d probably be pretty simple to model and print.

    • roman says:

      Welcome! I don’t have a 3D printer so I wouldn’t be able to do it. You can buy hit point dials but they aren’t cheap. I’d probably just create Epic Duels -style battle cards. They aren’t as pretty, but they work just fine. However, if you’re able to create some dials of your own, please share your work!

      The ability to create our own decks in Epic Duels has kept the game going for 17 years now. Perhaps it’s time to switch that creation to a new game. Let’s find out.

      • A. Square says:

        I’m fortunate enough to have access to high-quality 3D printers, and I’m not bad at 3D modelling simple things, so I’ll definitely give it a shot. I’ll have to wait until I get my hands on the game in September to see how it works exactly.

        If it works I will definitely make the files publicly available. In fact, it looks like several people already have, e.g.: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2790191 (but my printer can do MUCH higher quality than that!)

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