- Designer: Johannes Krenner, Markus Slawitscheck
- Publisher: 1 more time Games, Z-Man Games
- Players: 1-8
- Age: 8+
- Time: 45 mins
“Challengers” is a game that breaks the mold. I was lucky enough to play a prototype at the ‘Gathering of Friends’ last April and it was the game I was most looking forward to seeing at Essen. For my taste it is quite simply: fun in a box.
Firstly let’s talk about value for money. In the days where publishers are charging 60 Euros for a game, Challengers contains not only an enormous number of cards but also 4 colourful player mats in neoprene and three holders for the 3 decks of cards – all for 40 Euros.
And then the gameplay is as good as I remembered from the prototype. Played over 7 rounds, you swap players each game (you can play up to 8 players) and play a 5 minute face-off game against one of them, sitting either end of the neoprene battle mats. The winner takes a trophy with points on the reverse side and then all players select cards from one of three graded decks; taking 5 cards and choosing 2. As you work your way through the tournament, the cards you can take move upwards in grade and become more and more powerful. The idea here is to try to specialize in cards of the same type (denoted by symbols on the cards) or look for identical cards;and to get combos which work together well. Then, before the next game you may also throw away as many cards as you want to whittle down your deck and improve your chances of getting combos; shuffle your deck, and then pitch it against your new opponent.
The playout of the deck you have made is crazily simple. I start and turn over a card. You turn over cards until their accumulated value equals or exceeds mine. I ”bench” the cards that lost, i.e. I put them in 6 bench slots, putting identical cards in the same slot. Then I turn over a new card and try to beat the last card you played. The game comes with 4 heavy plastic flag counters, one per battle mat, which move continuously from one side to the other as you capture them by beating your opponents’ last card.
There are two ways this battle of decks will end: if one player has too few cards and runs out during a game, they lose. If they have too many different types of cards, then once 7 different cards have been benched you lose, because you have nowhere to bench the 7th. These two clever ways of ending each battle, which contradict each other, will seriously affect the choices you make when selecting cards to add to or remove from your deck.
During the playing out of the cards, there will be some small decisions made: some cards let you choose a card from your deck, put a card to the top or to the bottom, etc. But not many…so the playing out of the cards is more like watching how a machine you’ve built works in battle – and in this way the game is slightly reminiscent of computer games such as autobattle or robowars where you get to programme machines and send them to fight in the arena, seeing how they do.
So, the real twist and tactics in the game take place when you are choosing which cards to add to your deck, and of course here you are looking for synergies with the rest of your deck, a little like a collectible card game. Some cards once benched increase the value of some of your cards. Some cards are just very powerful but penalize you. Some cards erode the opponent’s deck. Some cards have a higher value when first played only. The choice of cards is super and the building of the deck very engaging, and very varied.
The other genius of the game is that each playout of cards takes only a few minutes; and while luck plays a role in the order in which cards turn up, there are 7 rounds to play and you can be sure that the best constructed decks will win battles more consistently.
At the end of these 7 rounds players tot up the value of the points on the trophies they have won – which get more valuable as the rounds proceed. Some cards will also award a few points and these are added too. Then, the top two players, without changing their decks, have one last engagement, and the winner is declared.
What I thought of the game
As you can probably already tell, I love the game. It’s different; it’s fast, it’s varied and fun, and I love the mats and the cards. So far I’ve never managed to get through a game without people wanting to play again. If you are totally committed to having full control of your games then you may find the actual battle in Challengers! frustrating – but so far I have only known a couple of gamers who didn’t like it. It’s highly suitable for families and for me it’s definitely a contender for SdJ.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Simon Neale: I got to play a few games of this in the evenings during Essen Spiel, and with the right group who are happy with some randomness and a lot of take that, Challengers! is fantastic fun. Table banter just adds to the enjoyment making each tournament a memorable experience.
Mark Jackson: (3 plays… and more coming since I know that one member of my family is getting it for Christmas) I’ll be the first to admit that reading the rulebook of Challengers! left me cold – on paper, it reads like “War!: The Deck-Building Game”. (Credits for that humorous title go to one of my fellow OG writers.) On the table, however, it was a lot of fun each time we played… and it’s been the game I’ve talked the most about to my two sons (both gamers). We were pleasantly surprised how well the bot deck worked (since we always played with an odd number of players) and all of us agreed this would be a great game to play with a large group (it will play up to 8 players).
Dale Y: (7 plays) – Man, we’ve had so much fun with this one, mostly at 3-5 players. There just seems to be the right balance of strategy and planning in the deckbuilding phase followed by the anticipation/excitement of watching your deck play out in the duel. Depending on which expansions you use, I definitely disagree that the duel is predetermined; there are definitely at least a few cards which will require you to make an active choice based on which cards have already been played or what is to come. But, there is a certain sense of joy just watching how the cards come out randomly and hoping for the best! It’s not uncommon for one duel to finish, and then those players turn their attention to another one on the table – cheering/jeering as the cards are dealt out. In the end, every game we’ve had of this has been a hoot – and this is one I look forward to playing again soon! Though I haven’t had a chance to play it at max players; the fact that it can stretch to 8 players is a definite bonus – and without much increase in overall play time!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Simon W, Mark Jackson, Simon N., Eric M, Dale Y
- I like it. Steph H
- Not for me…