25 June 2023
An Unexpected Tournament
I was totally ready to dislike Challengers!. A sort-of capture the flag game with very variable set-ups and a Fortnite ‘wacky but somehow a bit bland’ aesthetic. Then I realised what Challengers! actually is: it’s an ‘auto-battler’ in the style of Hearthstone’s ‘Battlegrounds’ mode. It’s a tabletop version of my favourite extremely lazy gaming experience. During the early days of parenthood it was a vital way of staying awake while on ‘shift’. These games offer a kind of ‘hands off’ card game experience where the combat isn’t directed by the player, and is instead random. The fun comes from creating good combinations of cards and general team composition. The strategy is what comes before the luck-based ‘battle’ – the key is making sure that battle makes sense too.
In Challengers! you’re doing much the same. Players draw from piles A, B or C, depending on what round they’re on and keep a certain number of cards. These get added to their main deck, which is then shuffled and played off against one another on the battlefield. Each of these matches is one on one, and sees players playing out cards onto their side of the field until the combined power of their cards beats their opponent’s. Once you win you take the flag to your side, and now it’s your opponent’s turn to blindly draw off the top of their deck until they take it back. Once you’ve been disposed of the flag your characters go onto the bench. This bench has six slots (although the same characters stack), and if you need to place a card into an empty slot, and there isn’t one, you lose the round.
And that’s the gameplay… except it’s not just that. You’ll be checking your score sheets for the next round and moving around the table to face your next player. It’s an organised tournament structure that, once you’re in the swing of it, is as much a part of the game as the drafting.
The drafting is where the meat of the ‘game’ is, and there’s plenty here to think about in terms of ‘crafting’ your perfect team. Some of the cards have special powers which could make for clever decks if you really wanted to lean into it.
There’s a question of how much ‘game’ there is here – it’s a bit thin feeling if you’re coming at it as a board gamer who likes a lot of crunch. But it’s more of a social game. In the way we recommend A Game of Cat and Mouth as a natural tournament game, we can recommend this, but it’s baked in.
So relax, and lean into craft and redrafting, and let the trash talk flow in this little experiment in deck programming.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? YES
A curious game, but a great experience.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED A Game of Cat And Mouth…
Want to hold a tournament at home? Challengers has all the same vibes, but with a little less dexterity required.
Designer: Johannes Krenner & Markus Slawitscheck
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Time: 45 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 16 Warehouse cards
- 2 Player aid cards
- First Player card
- 36 Order cards
- Market board
- 2 Fleet wheels
- 8 Longship tiles
- 8 Coins
- 32 Merchandise tiles
- 2 Buckler tokens
- 8 Jarl cards
- 7 Jarl requirement cards
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED ODIN’S RAVENS
Both excel at being loosely Viking themed two-player duels.
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