Challengers! is a great addition to the collection of any casual board game enthusiast. The gameplay is fast, fun and long-lasting. Oh, and the playing mats are really colourful too.
Since up to eight players can play at the same time, this is the ideal game to whip out for larger gatherings. There is even a solo option where you can play against a Robot player although for a number of reasons this mechanism doesn’t really work quite as well as it might. We’ll get on to that in a bit.
At its core Challengers! is a simple deck-building game in which players compete in races to capture the flag. The game plays in under 45 minutes and, with so many different character cards to mix and match, this is a game that you can keep coming back to.
So How Does It Play?
One of the nice things about Challengers! is that, although the rules can be learnt in under 10 minutes, the gameplay itself is compelling.
Each game consists of seven rounds in total, with players trying to win as many race trophies as possible. Each race takes place between two contestants, but all the races happen at the same time. Once all races of a particular round have finished, players rotate to different mats and race again.
Races are won by building up a deck of athletes, each with different endurance levels and abilities.
There are two phases to each race: the Deck Phase and the Match Phase.
During the Deck Phase, players refresh the cards in their hands, discarding cards that they feel they no longer need and taking new ones from the centre of the table. Knowing which cards to get rid off is an important part of the skill and strategy, since having too many cards of different types can harm your athlete’s performance just as easily as not having enough good ones.
Different cards become available during each race, with more powerful ones entering into play as the game progresses.
During the Match Phase, players lay down cards in order to make sure that they are the last one left in flag possession.
The mechanism here is elegant in its simplicity. The contestant who is trying to capture the flag reveals one card after another from the deck they have created until the combined power level of these cards is equal to or grater than the total power level of the last card that the other contestant played. This player then gains possession of the flag.
The idea is to be in flag possession once your opponent has exhausted his deck, or if your opponent has used too many different types of character in trying to capture the flag - hence the need to relentlessly prune the cards you will be playing during the Deck Phase.
Many of the character cards have special abilities, which keeps the game interesting.
What’s The Robot Player All About?
An innovative addition to the game is the idea of a Robot player, which not only allows Challengers! to be played with an odd number of people but also means that solo play is possible.
Whilst the Robot player is a nice idea, this particular mechanism still needs some more refinement to really work well.
The Robot uses a separate character deck during the race. It takes no action during the Deck Phase. In the Match Phase the Robot reveal cards according to the normal rules.
Having played with the Robot on several occasions, I can confidently say that it is very hard to lose against this player, especially in later rounds when more powerful character cards start entering the races. It’s true that the rules do suggest ways of increasing the difficulty level when playing against the Robot, but even so the gameplay is better when the Robot isn’t in play.
What all of this means is that the game plays best with an even number of players. Four, six or eight players are ideal. You can play with two players, too, but remember: more people equals more fun.
Challengers! is definitely a worthy purchase, especially for those that want a board game that is east to learn, fun to play and quick to set up.
The fact that all of the races takes place at the same time keeps the game exciting. Even when playing with the maximum number of players, there is no laborious waiting around for things to happen. All the action takes place at the same time.
As already mentioned, the large variety of character cards that Challengers! includes means that you’re unlikely to quickly tire of the game. The vibrant colours and engaging artwork are certain to brighten up your gaming evening.
It is true the Robot mechanism does have a number of design flaws, which have already been noted above, but this is only a minor niggle. You don’t have to play with the Robot at all, providing that you can find the right number of players to join in.
And, besides, there may well be some entrepreneurial game enthusiast out there who can work out how to tweak this mechanism so that the Robot becomes a much more valuable component of the game!