Unmatched: Houdini vs. The Genie
Here at The Family Gamers, we’re not shy about our love for the Unmatched series from Restoration Games. The breadth of characters balanced across a dozen sets is awe-inspiring, with new tricks in every set that keeps us excited for more. This time, a stage magician faces off against a legendary magical creature; find out who is the true master of escape in Unmatched: Houdini vs. The Genie.
How to Play Unmatched
The overall structure of any Unmatched game is straightforward. You move your hero and any sidekicks around the board, trying to avoid knock-out while reducing the hit points of other heroes to zero.
Every player starts with five cards in their hand, and must perform two actions on their turn. For each action, they can Maneuver, Scheme, or Attack.
When you maneuver, you first draw a card from your personal deck, then you may move any (or all) of your fighters any number of spaces up to your move value (usually 2 or 3 – specified on your character card).
You may also discard a card from your hand to BOOST this movement.
Instead of maneuvering, you may play a Scheme card from your hand for a one-time, immediate effect.
But most often, you’ll play an Attack or Versatile card to attack your opponent. Choose your card and hold it out face down, announcing which fighter is the attacker and which is their target. Your opponent may choose to defend, using a Defense or Versatile card. Then both players reveal their chosen card and resolve any effects.
You win if all other heroes (not sidekicks) are defeated. See our Unmatched: Cobble & Fog review for more detail.
What’s New in Unmatched: Houdini vs. The Genie?
Obviously, both character sets in Houdini vs. The Genie are new.
Houdini and his sidekick Bess are melee characters with a standard movement of two spaces. But Houdini’s strategy is built around using BOOST.
Houdini has a special ability – if he uses BOOST on a maneuver action, he can go anywhere on the board. Some of his Attack cards allow you to BOOST as well. But that’s not all! Many of Houdini’s (and Bess’s) cards have bonus abilities tied to their BOOST values – if you use the card to BOOST, you get to do the bonus action too. These range from “take another action” to “deal two damage to another fighter”.
The Genie is a ranged character with no sidekick. He can move 3 spaces on a maneuver. This allows him to cross the board quickly, and attack from farther away. His special ability is that he can get a third action by discarding a card at the start of his turn. And many of his cards reference the number three (like Bloody Mary but less extreme).
The Genie has many opportunities to draw more cards from his deck and discard cards for bonuses. He can often force his opponent to discard cards, too.
But the characters aren’t all that’s different here. The gameboard uses “secret passages”, which I haven’t seen since the Cobble & Fog set. These spaces allow fighters to move very quickly across a small map that is full of twists and turns.
As I’ve come to expect from Unmatched, the decks and special powers are incredibly well-themed for their characters. Houdini is all about escape and misdirection, while the Genie is powerful and unpredictable.
I absolutely loved the card art in Houdini vs. The Genie.
Houdini and Bess are illustrated with stage magic props on every card. Chains and manacles feature prominently, reminding us of Houdini’s specialty as an escape artist. And their artwork is mostly in muted greens and browns, suggesting the styles of the very early 20th century.
In contrast, the Genie’s cards are full of psychedelic bright colors. Chains, lamps, and fire also feature prominently on many of his cards.
He is presented as otherworldly and frightening. This is not the silly blue friend from Disney; this Genie is a malicious trickster of immeasurable power – and I like it.
Not Well Matched?
But as much as I enjoyed the art and the theming, the Genie seemed overpowered. I tried over and over to beat him with Houdini and Bess. But Genie has a larger movement and ranged attacking and cards that disrupt an opponent’s plans. I could not get the edge on him, no matter how hard I tried.
It did not surprise me to learn that these two character sets had been designed independently from each other.
We were able to beat the Genie when mixing with characters from other sets. But Genie’s style makes him an easy choice to do a lot of damage.
With practice, I began to see how Houdini’s BOOST ability and BOOST bonuses might allow him to gain the upper hand. But he’s a much more challenging character to play well, especially against a ranged opponent like the Genie.
Watch Your Step
King Solomon’s Mine, the board introduced in this two-character set, isn’t the easiest board to play, either. I loved the return of secret passages, this time on a smaller two-player map. This makes for really interesting challenges when trying to hit your opponent and back off again.
Since you cannot normally move through opponent fighters and secret passages aren’t “adjacent” for attacking, standing on a secret passage can be effective way to get some distance from your opponent. On this board, we found ourselves camping on a specific passageway on a dead end to get some relief.
The board art is also very dark. I appreciate that Restoration Games doesn’t want the mechanics to interfere with the aesthetic of the game, but it was too much here. Every time we played on King Solomon’s Mine, we struggled to find the two starting spaces, and then again to determine if certain spaces were connected.
Once again, Restoration has brought two interesting characters to Unmatched and coupled them with new, unique abilities that match their respective histories. Mixing these characters with other sets leads to countless new combinations to play.
I’ll be keeping Houdini and The Genie to spice up our battles on other maps and against other characters. But as much as I liked this set, I can’t recommend it for an introduction to the Unmatched series or as a stand-alone experience. For those, I’d recommend Cobble & Fog and Dr. Sattler vs. T-Rex instead.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Unmatched: Houdini vs Genie from Restoration Games for this review.
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Unmatched: Houdini vs. The Genie
Age Range: 9+
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 20 minutes