The Unmatched board game series is a smash hit, allowing players to put pop culture icons like Bruce Lee up against mythical heroes like Achilles and Sun Wukong. The franchise’s latest stand-alone expansion, Unmatched: Hell’s Kitchen, explores the grittier side of the Marvel universe — and it may be one of its best releases yet.
We’ve had Unmatched: Hell’s Kitchen on the table for the last week or so, and its three fighters — Daredevil, Elektra, and Bullseye — all introduce some new and curious strategies to the dueling game. Best of all, the elegant production values of this $50 set help it straddle a line, appealing to both fans of board games and fans of comic book collectibles.
The Unmatched series, launched in 2019, is a joint venture by Mondo and Restoration Games. It’s a reimplementation of two previously successful board games: Tannhäuser, an alternate reality World War II-themed action game designed by William Grosselin and Didier Poli and published by Fantasy Flight Games, and Star Wars: Epic Duels, designed by Craig Van Ness and Rob Daviau and published by Milton Bradley. Each player in a game of Unmatched gets a miniature and a pre-constructed deck of cards. Miniatures help with the tactical action, making sense of ranged and melee attacks on a game board (à la Tannhäuser). Cards, on the other hand, are what give players their offensive and defensive abilities (à la Star Wars: Epic Duels).
The result is a series of fast and furious games that can be over in as little as 20 minutes, but that also sustain themselves with a one-more-round mentality. Sure, the velociraptors from Jurassic Park are strong. But are they stronger than Buffy the Vampire Slayer? All you need is another 20 minutes to find out.
Despite the name of the game, the characters in Hell’s Kitchen are fairly well matched. Each one has a distinct play style from the other, however.
Daredevil requires players to use up all the cards in their hand in order to pull off the character’s most powerful moves. Combined with the ability to take a punch as only the son of a former boxer can, he’s a vicious close-combat brawler with some decent mobility.
Elektra has a bit more of a glass jaw, but that’s by design. Once knocked down to zero hit points, she resurrects as a more powerful version of herself, triggering special abilities on her cards. She’s joined on the battlefield by four allies from The Hand, skilled ninjas in their own right, who can help to overwhelm or confuse her opponents.
Finally, there’s Bullseye. The master tactician has a long reach, able to attack anywhere on the board — including outside his current zone — up to five spaces away. He’s also highly mobile, with the potential to take extra moves both at the beginning and end of his turns.
As a result of these abilities, combat feels very faithful to the Marvel universe. In one memorable exchange during a three-player game, Daredevil plowed through most of Elektra’s four assassins before landing the killing blow on the sai-wielding woman. On her turn, Elektra and her allies resurrected, leaving the scrum at the center of the board to take up positions all along the perimeter, her health bar even larger than when she started the game. Bullseye, meanwhile, took Daredevil out of the skirmish with a single well-placed shot. It was a daring, dynamic, and deeply thematic engagement that felt perfectly tuned to the source material. It opened the door for a grueling two-player fight to the finish, all of which came to a close in a little over half an hour.
But why the $50 price tag? My assumption is that it’s mostly due to the Marvel tax. Licensing costs money, and given the slim margins that hobby board games are developed and sold at, a premium price makes sense for this set. A companion product, Unmatched: Redemption Row, comes with Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, and Luke Cage, and costs the same. But the production on this set is just about perfect.
As with each of the previous games in the Unmatched series, all of the art here is unique. The cover and card art comes courtesy of Oliver Barrett, whose fluid pop art style has graced movie posters for A24, Lucasfilm, Konami, and Marvel Studios, among others. The game board was designed by Ian O’Toole, and both it and the other components in the box are top notch. The plastic pack-in holds the components securely for travel, and even accommodates sleeved cards and/or custom tuck boxes. Plus, the cardboard sheet that holds the game counters is covered in larger versions of some of my favorite images from the game.
I haven’t even mentioned the miniatures yet, which all come in firm gray plastic with a thin but effective paint wash already applied. Each one includes a kinetic pose and a custom base and they look excellent right out of the box. Fans who enjoy painting their miniatures shouldn’t be put off in the slightest, however. While these minis lack the heroic proportions (enlarged hands and heads) that other miniatures franchises make use of, all they need is a good primer coat and they’re ready to go.
Overall, Unmatched: Hell’s Kitchen is a premium board game with a price to match. It’s a stand-alone game, so I would have liked to have seen a fourth hero in the box. But as a collector’s item — either for a comics fan or a fan of the Unmatched series as a whole — it’s simply a must-buy.
Unmatched: Hell’s Kitchen is available for pre-order now and expected to ship by the end of March. The board game was reviewed using a pre-release copy provided by Restoration Games. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.