Review – Match of the Century

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Designer Paolo Mori

Artist Klemens Franz

Publisher Capstone Games

Category Two-Player Game, Card Game

Length 30-45 minutes

Release Date Fall 2023

Player Count 2

Price $34.95

The “two player card game” genre is wide and varied, going back to Magic: the Gathering and other card battlers, and on the other side of the ocean, the fabled KOSMOS two-player line. Often, excellent games come from converting board games to card games, like Splendor Duel and 7 Wonders: Duel. Here we have something similar, yet entirely different: a card game that simulates… Chess. But not really Chess. One famous Chess match (meaning, several games of Chess were played) with worldwide political implications. So it feels more akin to Capstone’s games other “moment in time” card game, Watergate, but also it feels like 7 Wonders: Duel and its ilk, but also like Chess. Uh, but is it good? Let’s take a look!

I absolutely love two-player games, asymmetrical or otherwise. However, for some reason (probably unfair comparisons to Twilight Struggle), Watergate didn’t grab me the one and only time I’ve played it. So I was a bit paranoid about this being the “spiritual successor to Watergate,” but those fears were unfounded. Let’s just say it; this is the best brand new game I played in 2023. In fact, it’s got me thinking I need to go revisit Watergate.

The gameplay is an amalgamation of stuff we’ve seen in other games, but it comes together so naturally. And it “feels” like chess, not in that open-information brain-burner kind of way, but in that “short term sacrifice for long term gains” kind of way. During each “game” within the match, you have to be willing to lose an exchange in order to win a better one. Furthermore, the way you utilize mental endurance, on either end, is huge. You might even resign a game to get a huge boost in mental endurance with specific card effects (and the endurance then provides extra pawns, cards and starting advantage), or you might rail yourself down to the bottom and then abuse cards that would cost you mental endurance that you don’t need to give (because you don’t have any more). 

While the back-and-forth situational exchanges feel like Chess, they also feel like great card games, which means that I enjoy this game much more than actual Chess. It smacks of Battle Line or 7 Wonders: Duel, but it especially reminds me of Campaign Manager 2008, an incredibly underrated game with a weirdly recent topic for a theme. Fortunately, Capstone Games has zoomed out far enough in history for this series to feel more classic and important in its subject matter. But the absolute best rule in this game is that the card effects are only triggered by the loser in an exchange, a brilliant piece of cardplay that makes the entire flow of the game work. 

And honestly, there’s not a rule wasted in this game. Every single aspect of the rules feels thematically driven, while also motivating the intrigue of the gameplay. A great example is the bigger spread on Bobby Fischer’s mental endurance track, which jumps from 7 card hands down to 5 when it goes down. Not only was he the newcomer and challenger, but certainly those who know the story know that he was the opposite of unflappable (which I suppose is, you know, flappable). The board and cards are beautiful and smartly laid out, with (fake) newspaper headlines on the cards describing the events of the match. There’s even a bonus Historical Context booklet, although it confusingly references the fake newspaper headlines. The game is fast and furious, and tense the entire time.

I have two concerns about the game. One I can’t do much about, because I can’t remove my own lens around the game, but I think it would probably be very difficult to parse parts of the game if you’re not intimately familiar with Chess. You could still play it and have a good time, but I’d think it would be much harder to learn. For us personally, I realized after our first two games that we never even looked at the player aids once. On the other hand, if you don’t know Chess at all, you probably aren’t that eager to play this game anyway. My other concern is that the game might get stale. With only 16 card effects on each side, I am tempted to think it would not live up to hundreds of plays like Res Arcana or Dominion. On the other hand, this is an unfair thing to say since I haven’t tried to push it this far yet, and apparently I played Campaign Manager 2008 74 times on yucata.de, and I think this game is even better, with a deeper decision space.

And anyway, seriously? The worst criticism I can find for this game is that I might not play it one hundred times? Right now, I just want to go find out if that’s true. I want to play it again and again, and in the meantime I’m suddenly reading articles about the world chess championship and Fischer and Spassky and about to go look up movies and documentaries about all of this. When a game captivates me like this, and the execution – the art, the rules, the theme, the gameplay – is all flawless, it deserves a perfect score.

The Bottom Line

Wonderful gameplay, a fascinating theme, and flawless execution.

 

10

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.