Unmatched Design Contest

In July of 2020, we launched a deck design contest for Unmatched. We hoped we’d get enough entries that we could fill out a set. Hoo, boy, were we off by a mile. All told, we received more than 350 entries. At that point, we were cautiously optimistic that we could find at least four decks out of them that we’d be able to develop enough to publish. What fools we were! We ended up with a final batch of more than a dozen absolutely stellar decks, and we only got there by cutting some truly inspired offerings. Our penance was having to trim down this pool of wonderful submissions to the final four. After much heated debate, we landed on these winners — truly the cream of the crop.

To all of the folks who entered, the quality of these winning decks is a testament to the competition you faced. To the winners, a well earned congratulations.


Did you have any design experience before entering the contest? If so, what?
I’ve actually never designed anything before this. But I will definitely be trying my hand at it now!

How did you decide to do the hero you won with?
Initially I narrowed down my design options to characters that were recognizable enough to be worthy of the roster. Then I cut out the characters that were likely to already be in development. Then I cut out characters that would play similar to those characters or characters that have already been released…cut the less interesting designs…cut the designs I’d have less fun making…cut the designs most people would probably submit designs for… and then I picked out my favorite concept from there.

How did you approach The Genie’s deck design?
I started by outlining the Genie’s most defining traits. He’s powerful to the point of being unbeatable. The Genie’s three wishes are some of the most recognizable thematic touches of the Genie’s later literary iterations so I included it in a way that made sense to me along with the duality of being so powerful yet being bound to the lamp. Most importantly I wanted to make every turn a tough decision for the player so that you have to pick between several good options to plan what the best action would be for each point in time.

What was your biggest challenge in designing the deck?
Tempering the overpowered nature of the deck was a bit of a challenge. At first glance the Genie comes off as the best at everything. But the way the deck makes you want to hold on to cards but also discard cards or the way it makes you want to win battles but also lose battles creates tough in game tradeoffs that hopefully people enjoy making.

Did you have any design experience before entering the contest? If so, what?
Nothing real. I made 1 or 2 custom unmatched decks in my own time prior to the contest announcement, but all just for fun!

How did you decide to do the hero you won with?
I started focusing on mechanics that I thought could be unique. When I had the idea of trying to incorporate card tricks into a deck, that was the first thing that really felt inspiring. From there I had 2 or 3 card ideas for a magician character before I even knew who my hero was. When I finally read a little more about Houdini, it just felt like he rounded out what I wanted: An early career of card tricks allowed for me to use some of the ideas I already was excited about, and the Escapes he became famous for felt perfect for a special ability/defensive set.

How did you approach Harry Houdini’s deck design?
Houdini is a magician going up against swords, guns, dinosaurs, and Bruce Lee. I knew that whatever I ended up with, he wasn’t going to match up with other fighters by force. I wanted him to feel tricky as a magician and hard to pin down as an escape artist. I think he’s got some fun moments with his card tricks, and some great synergy amongst his boosts and attacks. 

What was your biggest challenge in designing the deck?
Convincing myself to cut ideas that just didn’t fit… There are cards I spent so much time trying to design around and make work, but just never really made the deck the best version of itself.

Did you have any design experience before entering the contest? If so, what?
Nothing official, I have just always loved game design. I created a few games that never reached beyond a few friends and family. I saw this as my chance to prove my skill.

How did you decide to do the hero you won with?
I chose Rosie the riveter because I was looking for a strong female character to add to the game. I did this for my four year old daughter who is always sorting my current collection into the “boy team and the girl team.” It was because of her that I first noticed the gender imbalance and how it bothered her. As a former history teacher, Rosie was the first strong fictional persona to come to mind. After thinking about the steam punk lean of the Unmatched version of Alice I figured I would take the liberty to give this mechanic a mech suit. It fit Rosie’s story and I thought it would be a great chance to add a Sinbad like character who improves as the game moves on.

How did you approach Rosie the Riveter’s deck design?
My approach to creating Rosie was fairly refined by this point as she was my seventh or eight character design. I started with her power “the ability to keep her improvements permanently” then moved on to her modification cards. These are the schemes that make her work. After that I looked for what common cards would make her easy to play. Then I set about filling in the gaps by trying to make a few interesting cards unique to her and Uncle Sam. After that my friend Charles Peters was crucial as a play tester and critic. Charles has a great eye for finding design flaws he exploited more than a few in my original design. I couldn’t have done it without him.

What was your biggest challenge in designing the deck?
My biggest challenge in designing the deck was choosing which of my characters I thought had the best chance of winning. This deck in particular game me some trouble balancing her potential power with her potential weakness. The modifications card helped solve this. With the five upgrade cards arriving at different times Rosie provides a different play experience each time she steps onto the table.

Did you have any design experience before entering the contest? If so, what?
I had no game design experience before this contest.

How did you decide to do the hero you won with?
When I started brainstorming character possibilities for the contest, I ended up with a huge list; looking back on my notes, there were at least thirty. I found many of the possibilities I was most excited about came from two categories: real historical figures and Shakespearean characters. In hindsight, it took me a surprisingly long time to put the two together and realize I could do Shakespeare himself.

How did you approach William Shakespeare’s deck design?
As soon as the contest was announced I started making notes: character ideas, deck mechanic ideas, individual card ideas. I’m a planner, and one of the ideas I gravitated towards was setting up card combos in different ways. I went through a bunch of characters trying to make that work: Marie Curie combining chemicals, Ada Lovelace programming a computer, Scheherazade telling stories… When I moved from Shakespearean characters to Shakespeare himself, I thought of using the card titles to write lines and realized if I could pull it off I might really have something cool. Play-testing with the amazing Unmatched community from the Restoration Discord was the final and most important part of the process: we’d test our decks against each other, give feedback, figure out what worked and what didn’t, revise, and repeat.

What was your biggest challenge in designing the deck?
Coming up with ideas was relatively easy; getting rid of them was hard. There’s a lot of truth to the expression “kill your darlings”: sometimes an idea would persist in the deck not because it was working, but because I’d grown attached to it. As clever as it seems in concept, ultimately, it needs to work in the context of playing the game: “the play’s the thing” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist).