You can now play catch the flag from your table at home! Challengers, published by Z-Man Games is a 1 to 8 game, tournament style, deckbuilding game that plays smoothly and quickly, with very easy to learn rules played in about 45 minutes. The goal of the game is to be the winning team in the grand final match after the end of 7 rounds between the two players that collected the most fans from trophies and card bonuses.
Capture The Flag!
The way the game works is very simple: each player starts with an identical deck of cards that represents their team. In each round, you will be paired against another player and will compete with them in a catch the flag match. You and your opponent reveal cards from the top of the deck back and forth to secure the flag possession. Different cards have different themes (the standard City Set plus 6 themed sets from which you pick 5 at the beginning of the game), strengths and effects and are the key aspect of the game. You can win a round either by making your opponent run out of cards while you possess the flag, or by benching a 7th different type of card from his or her team.
After your deck is shuffled for the round, you have no further control over it. While a play possesses the flag, his or her opponent reveal cards from the top of his or her deck until he or she beat the flag bearer’s strength, and the last card played become the new flag bearer, or they get defeated by not being able to reveal a new card.
Build Your Team Like Pro
At the end of the round, each winner receives a trophy token that is worth a certain amount of fans, then players proceed into the deckbuilding phase. At this moment, you have the opportunity to tune your deck to make it stronger for the following rounds. However, you don't want to look only for the card's strength when picking it up to your deck: the more different card types you have, the more likely you are to be overbenched by your opponents, which may make you lose a round before you unleash the full power of your deck. Moreover, cards have different types, and they usually have synergies among them. You can also choose to permanently remove any number of cards from your deck but, once again, it's a trade-off between the consistency of a thinner deck and the danger of running out of cards too early.
As the game progresses, trophies are with more fans and the cards players can draft from become stronger. More precisely, there are three decks A B C with increasing power that becomes available to pick from as you move into further rounds. You will be given a choice to pick more of weaker cards, focusing on combos and doubles/triples to save bench space, or less of stronger cards to try to find this powerhouse that will carry your team.
After players are done drafting and banishing cards, a new round will take place. To do so, players change places in the table according to the tournament's match schedule to be always facing new opponents (except in a 2-player game). Coins are flipped to define the starting players and the round begins. The game proceeds until the end of the seventh round, when final scoring is done after the winning players receive their trophies.
And The Finalists Are…
The 2 players with the highest number of fans after final scoring play a grand final match to decide who will become the grand champion of Challengers! The match plays just like any other, and there is no advantage for the player who finished first in the standings.
The game is suitable to all ages and knowledge about board games, being a very good choice to play at family gatherings in the weekend or to start/finish a board game night with friends. Even though there is a bot player to play at odd counts that works just fine, I personally prefer playing it with 4, 6 or 8 players. The artwork speaks very well to the theme, and components quality is very good, including the park playmats where the matches take place. Last but not least, even though the gameplay is always the same, the different card types to choose from when setting-up the game that will be made available during the deckbuilding phase gives a lot of replayability in that sense. There is not a single winning strategy, and an infinitude of different decks can be built each game.
All in all, Challengers is very relaxing in the sense that you don't have any decision to make besides when tunning your deck but is very tense at the same time due to its push your luck, competitive nature. By the way, some people may feel the game is too random and you don't really control anything, and that's why I like to think about it as a party game with lots of player interaction, dynamism, and elements of deckbuilding, being a good gateway to introduce newcomers to this mechanic. At the end of the day, Challengers is an auto-battler, where all the decision-making lies on when building up your line-up, but still very pleasant to play if you are in a more relaxed mood.