Full disclosure: A review copy of Unmatched: Cobble & Fog was provided by Restoration Games.
It’s kind of exciting to finally be writing reviews in 2021. I had a big push at the end of 2020 (and plenty of those reviews will go out before and after this one, as time continues to have no hold or meaning in this place), but now that 2020 is behind us I’m just looking ahead. And in front of me is a ton of games because I put a table full of games between my desk chair and the door out of my office, to serve as a reminder that I have a bunch of games to review. In deference to that, let’s pull another one off the pile and go for it. Today’s lucky winner is Unmatched: Cobble & Fog, the next Unmatched title from Restoration Games!
Honestly, I was going to write some fun flavor text here, but, have you ever watched literally any Sherlock Holmes property and been like “man I sure would like to punch that guy in the face”? Now you can! You can as any of Dr. Jekyll, The Invisible Man, or Dracula himself! The dream. Take to the streets of Soho or to a secret mansion, but in a battle of rivals, only one can be victorious!
Not a ton for this. You’re gonna start by picking a character and taking their relevant tokens and health meters:
Next, choose a map to play on:
Each player should take the cards for their character, shuffle them up, and draw 5:
And then you’re basically ready to go! Place your characters on the 1 or the 2, and place any sidekicks in the same zone as your character.
The core gameplay is the same as the base Unmatched, so I’ll just talk a bit about the characters, here:
- The Invisible Man isn’t too strong on his own, but he’s sneaky! He can use the fog to sneak around the board and hit you when you least expect it. Plus, given that he’s already almost impossible to see (save the hat), when he’s standing on a Fog Token and plays a Defense card, he gets a bonus +1 Defense! You can use his abilities to work the board to your favor and potentially stave off game-ending blows, if you can predict what your opponent is planning to do. Just make sure he doesn’t get caught too far away from any of his Fog Tokens!
- Sherlock Holmes is a master of deduction, and you must become the same if you want to win with him. His skills revolve around predicting what your opponent has in their hand, which can help you if you’re worried about getting taken out by a specific card. A lot of his work revolves around that level of deduction and prediction, but if solving mysteries isn’t your thing, you can also enlist the help of Watson and his trusty pistol to take out enemies from a distance. If you’re looking for a more deduction-focused combat game, Sherlock will be up your alley.
- Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde is all about transformation management. Hyde is strong, yes, but his power comes with a bit of a drawback: every time you Maneuver, you take damage! You have to manage Hyde’s powerful offense with Jekyll’s mandatory defense, as there aren’t too many cards that both can use that allow you to defend. That said, Hyde’s pretty strong, at his strongest, and there are certain cards that benefit from that duality. Just make sure if you need to escape, you transform into Jekyll at the start of your turn!
- Dracula is just pretty dangerous, yes, but you never want him to get too close to you. Those fangs are sharp and you’d prefer not to find out how sharp. For Dracula, managing him and the three Sisters he has in his thrall can be bad enough, but you may find out that he has tricks you didn’t expect. Sometimes he’ll just appear nearby, sometimes he can move you unexpectedly, and if you try to fight him directly, you might find that he can trick you into doing something else! Watch out for that, yes, but if you see him drawing and building up his hand, watch out as well! His ultimate move allows him to discard cards from his hand to add on additional damage to that attack. If you’re looking to trap your opponents and then go in for the defeat, Dracula will be a good fit for you.
Player Count Differences
I generally don’t play the team mode on this one; I find team games can be a lot of stress for players if there’s not like one cohesive team strategy, so I tend to avoid them unless everyone’s at similar experience levels. Also it’s just tough to play team games in the 2020-21 landscape, so it didn’t happen. I like 1v1 games better, anyways, so I’m more likely to recommend this at two.
- With Sherlock, it’s sometimes worth guessing a card that your opponent can’t have so that you can see their hand. Just list off a value like 0 or 7 or 8 or something, just to get a chance to see what cards they’re holding onto. There aren’t a ton of cards of this type in the game, so, you don’t want to do that every time, but you may be able to combo by looking at their hand and then immediately playing another instance of the card to get the most damage out of it. It may also be worth using this to try to get rid of your opponent’s most dangerous cards so that you don’t end up getting wrecked by Beast Form or Forever Hyde or something.
- Also Sherlock, the more you know about an opponent’s deck and character, the easier of a time you’ll have. If you’re aware of the options that you may be up against, you’ll have a better sense of when to Feint, when to try and heal, and when to send Watson in with a gun to solve your problems for you. If you’re going in completely uninformed, then you risk playing cards that would have been better suited for other choices too early, too late, or not at all. That said, your opponent may not be super keen on letting you memorize their deck before you play, so you may have to do a bit of your learning on the fly. In that case, keep in mind that every deck usually has one or two central cards that can do a lot of damage; you’d be best getting rid of those when you can.
- To counter Sherlock, stay out of Watson’s zone (or take him out) and try bluffing out Sherlock by playing mind games to draw his best cards out when he shouldn’t play them. Watson can pack a punch with a Ranged 5, which is pretty rough to deal with. Benching Watson isn’t too bad, or send sidekicks to keep him busy while you send the Main Event against Holmes. Thankfully, you’re not actually up against a master detective; you’re playing another player, which means you might be able to trick them into playing Holmes’ best defensive cards against your weak attacks to draw them out of play so that you can launch back in with the heavy hitters another time.
- For The Invisible Man, getting caught in a “corner” isn’t as bad as it would be for other characters. The Invisible Man benefits somewhat from kinda hanging out in a few spots (mostly on top of Fog Tokens), so if you manage to back him into a corner he’s very much able to fortify himself, mostly to your detriment. There are also cards that reward him being on top of a Fog Token, so be careful getting too close to him and ending your turn.
- In general, for our see-through friend, you’ll want to end your turn on a Fog Token. Mostly for the defensive benefits, but also for those cards that reward you being on top of a Fog Token when you play them.
- To counter The Invisible Man, try moving his Fog Tokens far away from him so he either needs to spend cards to get them back or he has to chase after them. He’s built for stealth, not for speed, so if you spread them out (or keep them close and far away from him), he can’t use them for additional movement and can’t hide from you. Just watch out! He can vanish!
- As Hyde, don’t forget that you lose health every time you Maneuver. This is something you may commonly forget, but limiting your movement as Hyde is a balancing thing and you need to do it. That also means that while Hyde is primarily offensive, he does not have a lot of ways to defend / regain health, so you don’t want to stay in your Hyde form at all times.
- Unfortunately, Jekyll isn’t the strongest, so you may not want to end too many of your turns as him. It’s a delicate balance! He has some decent defensive cards, but you also can’t attack too often. Generally for moving you want to be Jekyll, and to hit your opponents as hard as possible you really want to spend some time as Hyde.
- Dracula’s strengths are in having (and discarding!) a lot of cards for Beast Form and in letting the Sisters set upon a hero at the same time. The Sisters are an excellent distraction technique. There are a bunch of them, they can really mess you up if you get surrounded, and Dracula can revive them every so often (which is particularly annoying). Don’t let yourself get distracted by them, otherwise you’ll have to waste turns on them while Dracula builds up his hand for an Ultimate Attack.
- In general, if your opponent has a lot of cards in hand, you better watch out! A fair number of characters here can use bonus cards to their advantage, so, if your opponent is stockpiling cards, you may want to prep some heavy defensive cards (or Feint, if you have one).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the new maps. While I love the secret passages and all the different opportunities they open up (especially for non-C&F characters!), I really love what they’ve done with Soho. From an aesthetic perspective, it just looks really great, but from a gameplay perspective, I love the idea of ranged fighters sniping from (or at) the rooftops, and I think it makes for a very nice link between the like shadowy nature of the characters in Cobble & Fog and the map itself. Overall, I think it’s a particular high point in an already strong set.
- I also appreciate that these characters play pretty significantly differently than the base set. Naturally, this would be pretty bad if it weren’t the case (imagine getting a new set that’s just … the base set, with different characters), but I think they’re doing a good job in making the game fairly modular, with each new character having a very different feel. Different players are going to like different characters more or less depending on their play styles. For instance, Dracula and Jekyll / Hyde are much more aggressive, so I tend to prefer them a bit less to, say, Sherlock.
- I just really like the Sherlock set a lot. I think it’s the deduction elements that make it particularly fun, for me. You’re trying to guess cards and values and play mind games to trick your opponent into holding back an attack while you get into position for an incredible counter and I just think the entire set is super fun. Very powerful in the right hands, but also just extremely fun across the board. It also incentivizes players to try and mess with each other, which is always a good time.
- The art, as always, remains excellent. It’s not just that it’s good; it’s also that it’s very striking and consistent. The Jekyll and Hyde cards tell an evocative story while you play. The Dracula cards delve into horror without being too graphic. The Invisible Man conveys the sense of foreboding that comes with not being able to see your opponent. And Sherlock is just a classic set that really tries its best to evoke its subject matter. I think Unmatched is pretty regularly one of the strongest routine productions in the board game art space, and this is no exception. I would imagine as they make more sets, there are folks who would want prints of the card art for their faves. Probably even more so, now that the Marvel stuff has been announced.
- One thing I always have liked about Unmatched is that it’s fairly low-complexity to pick up and start playing, as there are only really three different potential things you can do on your turn. It does a good job of making the individual cards complex but the actual game flow pretty straightforward. You can do two of Maneuver, Attack, or Scheme, and you can do the same thing twice, and that’s pretty much the entire game. It’s a tight flow and it really works for this kind of strategic combat game. The card powers are fancy, yes, but you can plan around that when you know how the sets play. Having them all adhere to the same formula adds constraint and forces the character designs to be where the game shines, and keeping the focus on the characters is both wise and probably the reason I think Unmatched is such a strong combat game.
- If you’re just starting out with this set, you may want to take a quick minute and read through the various decks before you fight it out. I think that generally you could do with a synopsis for the base game, but for this one there are a few tricks and cards that benefit from you just being aware that they exist. Otherwise, you’re going to end up getting hit with a 12 strength attack and just exploding into a fine red Victorian mist or something. If you’re playing Sherlock, this is even more the case; you just need to know what cards your opponent has. Even then, since a lot of these are more aggressive melee fighters, knowing what the possible outcomes might be can help you better prepare, even if that’s not the most fun way to start up a game.
- We’re gonna need an Unmatched Big Box one of these days; I need some way to carry all of this stuff without filling an entire game bag with Unmatched boxes. I have an entire shelf that’s just Unmatched stuff. I’m blessed for it, and it’s quite fun, but it is going to make it hard to eventually transport all of these somewhere, especially as more content makes itself available.
- There’s not a ton you can do for “a set based around famous Victorian heroes”, but, lotta dudes in this collection. I think Unmatched has traditionally done well with a 50/50 split, but unless we’re getting real into Wuthering Heights my understanding of Victorian literature doesn’t give me a lot of options. That said, I would be perfectly satisfied with the three Bronte sisters punching Sherlock in his smug mouth. Frankly, I would have been here for a Miss Sherlock-style pair for Sherlock and Watson, if they were looking to have more fun with the canon. I could get into the race elements of a Victorian Men set but I really don’t want some commenter trying to challenge me on the race of the Invisible Man, so I’m going to just leave this here as a “it’s unfortunate, but hopefully not indicative of a long-term trend towards men-heavy Unmatched sets”. I would also just be very surprised if that were the case.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Unmatched: Cobble & Fog is probably my favorite Unmatched set, so far! I mean, it’s this or the base set, out of the ones I’ve played, because I’ve only played those. I’m definitely not the biggest fan of combat games, but, of the combat-heavy games I’ve played, Unmatched is probably my favorite. While I prefer the variety of the characters in the first set, it seems like they took the lessons from Volume 1 and refined, streamlined, and enhanced them for more interesting maps and more dynamic characters in Cobble & Fog, which makes me overwhelmingly excited for the subsequent sets, especially the Marvel stuff. I love the new maps, and I’m frankly excited about the possibilities of sets like Sherlock that play with the concept of Unmatched as a game. They’re interesting! While I do wish this set was a bit less … man-heavy, I do like the stuff that has been done with characters, tokens, and maintaining a sense of the narrative that each character occupies. I think for games like this it’s important that the designers acknowledge that the characters are products of some story and that being good stewards of that story is an important component of the character’s design, and Unmatched nails that dead-on. The designers seem to understand it from an art perspective and a gameplay perspective, and Unmatched is all the better for the mountain of effort that that must require. It’s impressive because each time I play I’m impressed by some nuance or some interaction while also still having my mind blown a bit by the balancing and mechanical trade-offs that must have to happen in order for a game like this to exist. It really is games like this that stress me out about the concept of game design, but while risky games are inherently interesting, risky games that land are just impressive. That said, the things that I’ve heard about Unmatched via The Rumor Mill suggest that there’s even more wild stuff yet to come, so, looking forward to that. In the meantime, however, if you’re at all a fan of the Unmatched series or just looking for a good strategic 1v1 combat game, I’d definitely recommend Cobble & Fog! I’ve had a blast with it.