Buffy Summers and Xander Harris walk through the halls of Sunnydale High. They know that somewhere else in the school, Willow Rosenberg and Tara McClay are there are well, searching for the foul vampiric menace that haunts their streets. These heroic characters – the protagonists of the delightful late nineties television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer – have faced deadly threats before. They will not go down without a fight.
And then Bruce Lee and a horde of Velociraptors show up, and it turns out that even the nicest fight choreography a low-budget late-90s TV show has cannot beat a velociraptor. Let alone Bruce Lee.
So, that’s Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If the above paragraphs sound fun? Go ahead and get it right now. I can wait.
Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer a mix-and-match one on one (or two on two) brawler – sort of a board game version of Super Smash Bros. or Mortal Kombat. You take a fighter – in this box, Buffy, Willow, Angel, and Spike – and their sidekicks – Giles, Xander, Tara, Faith, or Drusilla – put them in an arena – here, Sunnydale High or The Bronze – and then smash them together in a fight to the death. But it’s also a mix and match game, so you can bring in King Arthur, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Deadpool, or any of a dozen other characters, to fight.
Unmatched teaches quickly, and plays quicker. I’ll set it up and play it with a sibling while an NBA game is on, or bring it to my weekly board game night and play it while we wait for everyone else to show up. One person is going to win in about fifteen minutes, and it will be a touch and go fifteen minutes. I’ve very, very rarely seen anyone win in anything other than a nail biter.
The game is card-based, using a personalized deck of cards for each character. You draw a card when you move, and you play those cards to scheme, meaning doing various cool things that are thematically appropriate for various characters. For instance, Willow, the witch, can bring people back from the dead, she can do various computery things, and tap into the dark arts. Spike, a vampire, and Stacy Abrams’ preferred Buffy love interest, can bring the shadows in around him, so he can run away. Angel and Buffy can hit people very hard.
Alternatively, you can play a card to attack a foe. That system is simple. You play an attack card, your opponent plays a defense card, and if the attack card value is bigger then the defense card value, then you’ve hit the other guy, and they take the difference in damage. Get the other player’s damage to zero, and you win. In practice, it’s a dance of you and your sidekick, and your opponent and their sidekick jumping in and out, hitting, retreating, and spellcasting until someone plays the card that they’ve been saving or bluffs the other guy to play a key defense card against a feint, and one fighter ends up at zero. And then you laugh, swap sides of the table, shuffle your deck, and play again.
If that was the whole game, it would be fine. Not great, but still fun, and still enjoyable. But it’s not. The game is a collaboration between Restoration Games and Mondo–a company that you’re unquestionably familiar with, even if you’ve never heard the name. They’re the company that makes the coolest looking movie posters you’ve ever seen, which are printed once, never printed again, and I inevitably end up very jealous of those who get it.
One of Mondo’s artists, Heather Vaughn, did the art on both the board maps – for Sunnydale High and The Bronze – and the cards in all four of the decks. They are beautiful. There’s an almost chiaroscuro style in the cards themselves, a darkness that is interrupted by bursts of color, rather then color with darkness imposed on it. Spike and Angel’s cards show people who deserve the title of scourge of Europe, a violent threat in the dark. Buffy and Willow on the other hand, are beacons in the dark, people standing for what is good and just in a world full of monsters.
Spike and Angel use dark reds and purples as their dominant color schemes. They’re blood and bruises. While Buffy and Willow use yellow, light red and blue, respectively. Those are lights – something distinctive against this overpowering darkness, rather then the blending of the former two. If they sold a poster of just a few of the cards, the card art blown up to be larger, then I would buy all of them. The game as a game might not be a work of art, but there is certainly some works of art in that box.
Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays well just as itself. I only own this box, myself, and I’ve had a lot of fun pitting Willow against Buffy, Spike, and Angel. Even just two maps provide a lot of tactical flexibility, and that the randomness comes from shuffling a deck, and not dice or whatnot, means that a loss feels like an opportunity to get better, and not just an unlucky roll. If anything, it’s my brother – a great poker player – who is the best person I’ve played against, because he’s got a fantastic poker face.
You can get the other boxes. They play well together, and, as I talked about earlier, it’s a lot of fun to bash together the little figures, and have Bigfoot fight Buffy, while Angel fights Red Riding Hood. But I think the Buffy box is fun – if not more fun – on its own. As a television show Buffy was a big deal. It shined a light on important aspects of pop culture during its era, and, well, it’s just fun. Sure, someone without that connection to the show might have more fun with the Jurassic Park box, but if you’ve seen the show and like it, then get this game. You’ll have a fantastic time.
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