We made it to Friday, folks. Get ready to turn up the music, pour a glass of whatever you fancy and sink into a comfortable position for the rest of the weekend. But first, help prepare yourself for a weekend of fun and games with the return of our regular feature!
Each week, the Dicebreaker team chats about everything they’ve been playing - including more thoughts on games that might have appeared on the website and YouTube channel, as well as some things that we haven’t had a chance to discuss elsewhere.
It’s also your chance to tell us what you’ve been playing and (hopefully) enjoying - or just looking at on your shelf, wondering when you’ll get a chance to play next. We’re always interested to know!
Whether it’s an overlooked indie gem, the latest Kickstarter blockbuster or revisiting an old classic to see how it holds up, you can expect to find it here. It’s the first place to find out some of the highlights of 2023, along with catching up with games you might’ve missed.
This week, we’ve been venturing into the Jaws of the Lion, ruling over kingdoms and answering the ultimate question: could Bruce Lee beat a T-Rex?
Let us know in the comments what you’ve been playing recently!
What We’ve Been Playing - February 10th 2023
I’ve been an admirer of Unmatched from afar from a while now, having enjoyed Restoration Games’ previous efforts to rescue decades-old board game designs from obscurity. (Downforce remains one of the best racing games ever made.) Even so, Unmatched feels like a level beyond the studio’s previous games.
The series takes its gameplay cues from Star Wars: Epic Duels, released over 20 years ago around Attack of the Clones. Despite having its origins in a licensed movie tie-in, you can see why Restoration’s Rob Daviau (of Risk Legacy fame) and Justin D. Jacobson decided to reimagine Epic Duels’ head-to-head combat as an all-out pop-culture battle royale.
Unmatched throws together characters and celebrities, both fictional and real, in a glorious mis-match of unique abilities. You can have Alice in Wonderland fighting King Arthur, Medusa battling Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or even Bruce Lee taking on the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. The premise may sound like a throwaway novelty (there’s more than a bit of Video Game Championship Wrestling to it), but - as Meehan wrote last year - Unmatched backs up its amusing premise with some honest-to-goodness gameplay chops.
Each character has a unique deck of cards, which determines how they attack their opponents. The cards in your hand double as a way to buff your strength and defence when combat occurs, but exhausting your deck too quickly will lead you to defeat. You draw cards when you move between spaces on the board, so the game becomes a carefully measured swordfight of spotting windows to attack and carefully plotting your moves to manage your effective stamina.
It’s an ingenious system that boils down the tactical timing and placement of skirmish wargames to a set of rules that can be learnt in a couple of minutes - although, like any good fighting game, mastering each character’s deck will provide plenty of reason to play and play again for hours.
With Unmatched hitting PC in early access, I finally had the chance to try it out, and came away impressed. The digital edition itself, however, has a few caveats for the moment - including some bugs that stopped our first game from ending (the game has since been patched). It’s also a fairly barebones adaptation to screen, recreating the original board and miniatures effectively yet with few digital flourishes. For now, there’s just the four heroes from Volume 1 - Arthur, Medusa, Alice and Sinbad - so you’ll want to hold on for the DLC to really start mixing up your matches.
Still, finally playing Unmatched showed me why it’s gone on to spawn instalments featuring everyone from Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Man to Sun Wukong and Bloody Mary. Could this end up becoming the Fortnite of the tabletop, packed with pop culture stars? I’d have few complaints if so.
Notorious is an obvious love letter to Star Wars’ assorted scum and villainy – the bounty hunters and mercenaries, the crooks and thieves, the hungry predators on society’s fringes - but reducing Jason Price’s solo journaling game to merely a Boba Fett simulator ignores some of the fantastic worldbuilding and narrative formation bubbling under its metaphorical hood.
Like any good solo journaller, the meat of Notorious’ play happens in a word document or notebook, where the player will record their Nomad’s exploits as they search out and neutralise (Wanted: Dead or Alive) their contracted target and attempt to uphold The Guild’s morally dubious code. They will cajole locals for leads, explore the planet’s wilderness and invariably raise the ire of whatever faction controls things in this sector of the galaxy.
Where Notorious shines is using prompts derived from character creation to present the player-controlled nomad as a conflicted individual whose motivations are never quite as clear – or objective - as they might seem. This isn’t to say Price is interested in some absolutist ideas about Good and Evil, though there’s space for that. More than anything, the stories interrogate what it means to live in a society that not only tolerates contracted killers but preserves space for them within its understanding of law enforcement - and what that kind of life inflicts on the people trapped within it.
King of the Castle
Maddie and I were very grateful to be invited to a preview event for King of the Castle up in Warwick. It’s a Jackbox-style party video game in which one player takes the role of a very stable monarch, just trying to survive the nobles in their court (you lot!) It’s very similar to board game King’s Dilemma for those that have played but allows for party games of up to 24 players or Twitch integration with thousands. Incredibly cool and worth a look, catch our stream of it on the YouTube channel next week!
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
After two years of sitting on my shelf, I finally cracked open my copy of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion this week. A spin-off from the mainline series, Jaws of the Lion is intended to provide an accessible entry-point for new players. Having already put many hours into the digital version of the original Gloomhaven, I wasn’t exactly a newbie going into Jaws of the Lion. Nevertheless, I did enjoy how quick and easy it was to set up and start playing, especially considering it’s a campaign game.
The first scenario is definitely bare-bones compared to the Gloomhaven quests I’m used to playing, with our group of three going up against a small Vermling ambush. However, it did provide my teammates with a great opportunity to learn how to play in a low-stakes environment, and for me to get used to playing Gloomhaven on an actual table. I can already tell that the characters we chose - the Demolitionist, the Voidwarden and the Hatchet - pair excellently together, as we were pulling off strategies that made quick work of even the elite Vermling soldiers.
Playing out of a scenario book did not take away from the action of Jaws of the Lion and made it a whole lot easier to set the game up. The scenario book also works in tandem with the game’s rulebook and setup guide in a way that I’ve never seen in another board game like this. Everything about Jaws of the Lion has impressed me so far, I’m looking forward to diving even deeper into the campaign in the future.