The Unmatched franchise has taken the two player game by storm. This series can be mixed and matched to create fantastical or farcical match ups. With popular IPs such as Marvel, Jurassic Park and Buffy the Vampire Slayer already in existence the possibilities are endless. However, my introduction to unmatched started with Cobble and Fog which offered four Victorian literary characters to play with. I shied away from the popular IPs and never felt I needed anything more than these four great characters to play with.
That was until Houdini vs The Genie was released. I have always had an interest with magic and magicians so the great Harry Houdini was a big draw. I also felt the characters fitted with the genre I already had, so mixed matchups wouldn’t jolt. I tell you this so you know that while I have not played all the different possibilities, I am also not coming to the franchise completely fresh.
Unfold the board and choose your sides, taking the miniature, health dial and cards relevant to your character. The first player will start on the space with a tiny 1 beside it, the other player will start on the space with a tiny 2 on it. Whoever is playing as Houdini will place Bess in a nearby space that matches or partially matches the colour beneath Houdini.
Keep your reference card in easy reach and shuffle your deck of cards. Once you’ve dealt your starting hand of five cards you are ready to duel.
On your turn you will take two actions. You can choose to Manoeuvre, Scheme or Attack. You can do the same action twice if you wish. Manoeuvre sees a player draw a card and then move the number of spaces permitted, this can be “boosted” by playing a card to let you move further. If playing as Houdini you can move each character the maximum number of spaces. Scheme, sees you play a card with a lightning bolt on it which has an instant effect.
The final possible option is Attack. This is obviously the crux of the game. In battle there are three different types of cards, those that can be used to hit, those that can be used to defend or those that can be used for both.
During this action the attacker will place a card face down and the defender will have the option of playing a defence card. Card bonuses will get resolved at the relevant moments, otherwise the numbers are compared to see if the attack was successful and how many health points are being knocked off the dial.
Houdini and Bess have some cards that can only be used for one or other but most can be used by either. They can also only brawl by standing next to their opponent whereas The Genie has a ranged attack so can attack anywhere in the same zone.
If ever you burn through your deck of cards your fighters become exhausted which will generally be detrimental to a victory. Reduce your opponent to zero health and you win.
What it’s like
From my plays in both sets of Unmatched I have always been amazed how balanced the asymmetry is. It works in Houdini vs The Genie too. While balanced beautifully, I feel like Houdini is a character that is slightly easier to master. His main strategy comes from being able to boost attacks as well as movements and get bonuses when doing so. I particularly like this, as even if Bess dies her cards are still useful. This wasn’t the case with other partnerships in Cobble and Fog. The Genie is trickier to work with, but if you can get the extra actions combining he is a formidable foe.
Unmatched is a two player battle, and while there are variants for more players, I really wouldn’t recommend thinking of this as any more than a two player game!
There are lots of two player duelling games on the market. Unmatched does feel a little more grown up than some, even though you are ultimately reliant on the luck of the draw for your hand of cards. The luck of drawing the right card at the right moment can be game changing.
There is a hit and run tactic that I see quite often. I understand it can be frustrating if you are on the receiving end of it, but this Unmatched set mitigates it nicely with the cards and board thwarting the hide and seek tactic nicely. It turns it into a good ole slobber knocker, which I prefer.
Battles are often around 30 minutes and so my son and I will often swap characters and play two games back-to-back. My wife is happy to play it but it would never be top of her list and thus less enthused than me and my son!
The artwork on The Genie cards is spectacular. The Houdini artwork is generally good. I do struggle to unsee the uncanny resemblance Bess has to the British comic actor Alan Davies. I really love the card backs too.
Every single miniature I have seen in the Unmatched series is fantastic and seeing them dart around the board is a visual treat. Both minis in this set are equally good. They do cry out to be painted, and would be worthy of that extra attention. I’m not a fan of the token for Bess and would obviously rather this was a mini like the others.
The board is good, it is double-sided but the layout is the same, just the artwork is more streamlined on one side. In other versions you get different maps on both sides which is obviously more appealing for replayability.
The rulebook lets the game down. It takes a very rules lite approach. There is little exemplification and no additional appendix for cards. I think this really lets it down and wish that such a big franchise came with a more accessible guide. A few times I have had to look for a board game geek or Reddit interpretation.
Overall, Unmatched: Houdini vs The Genie is a really good looking production.
What the kids thought
Harrison (15): the artwork is brilliant, The Genie cards are probably the best to look at. I think the balance of the characters is good and anyone could win. The contrast between attacking and running away is interesting, but I am pleased that permanently running away isn’t a viable tactic. Houdini’s boost powers are excellent.
Final thoughts on Unmatched: Houdini vs The Genie
I really love the strategic duel that the Unmatched series offers. I appreciate how different sets mix and match but don’t feel the need to collect them all. I’m glad I started with Cobble and Fog as it feels like a better entry point than this one. I feel like the characters step up nicely in strategy with this set.
I do enjoy playing against the same player regularly as you get to know each other’s tactics. Then you have to adapt so that your moves and strategy aren’t too predictable in the next game.
I admire how Houdini and The Genie are matched. During attack phases I really like trying to read my opponent as well as the game and find this adds some much needed interaction that can be lacking from similar two player duels. It certainly is one of my favourites in the two player dueling genre.
Number of players: 2
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 12+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 9+
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 1 minute
Designers: Noah Cohen, Sam Crane, Rob Daviau, Adil M. Geresu, Justin D. Jacobson, and Brian Neff
Publishers: Iello/Restoration Games
I really like Unmatched: Houdini vs The Genie. Production quality is high and I think it is super cool to look at. I enjoy the card playing duel, but I can see some being frustrated by the luck of the draw. For me, managing your hand is all part of the game and so that doesn’t put me off. For a two player asymmetric duel the Unmatched series is easy to recommend.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Fantastic art and production
- Two player duel
- Hand management
- Well balanced asymmetry
- The rulebook
- Luck of the cards
- Both sides of the board are the same
- The accomplice token
Buy Unmatched: Houdini vs The Genie
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