Game Length: 45-60 minutes
A little over a decade ago, Pandemic popularized the cooperative board game genre with doctors and researchers matching cards to find cures to multiple diseases before the disease-cubes took over the world. While I appreciated the then-new concept, I found the theme a bit dry and card-matching too simple.
In 2020, Wonder Woman is here to save the day. Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons is a smart evolution of co-op cube-defense, with the much more exciting theme of defending Themyscira from comic book villains.
No Man’s Land
The Amazon island of Themyscira is gorgeously presented in a large game board with over a dozen different locations, such as the training grounds, the library, and the Temple of Aphrodite. Each player chooses one of five Amazons, including Diana, better known as Wonder Woman from DC Comics. Each Amazon has a unique ability and a bronze miniature figure that contrasts beautifully on the colorful map.
Challenge of the Amazons pits your team of Amazon warriros against one of three different villains: Ares the warlord, Circe the spellcaster, and Cheetah the lycanthrope. Each villain has their own agenda and tactics reflected in their personal card decks, as well as scaling difficulty for the number of players.
Each turn the chosen villain runs around the map deploying cubes and hazards, which could represent blocked roads, wounded amazons, or enemy minions. The players need to balance removing these cubes with chasing down the villain. Both the villain and the island itself have health bars, and if Themyscrica’s defense drops to zero, the Amazons lose.
Goddess of War
The Amazons’ turns are divided into two distinct phases. It’s here where Challenge of the Amazon’s clever game design helps solve one of the biggest problems with co-op games: players ordering each other around.
In the Strategize phase, players can openly discuss their plans for the turn, but only with about half their cards visible, face up in front of them. Enemy obstacles are cleared by playing cards, each of which features multiple numerical emblem symbols. Symbols include Vigor (sword) to defeat minions and Leadership (star) to summon additional warriors. Players can use this public information to plan out where to go and which obstacles to tackle, or combine their might into a big hit on the enemy villain.
Once they’ve finished strategizing, the Battle Plans phase begins. Players pick up the rest of their cards and plan their three actions in secret, without speaking. The flexibility on each card results in a satisfying balance between trying to coordinate with your teammates, while also improvising based on the cards. Sometimes your best laid plans go awry, as in battle, but it still feels thematic and fun.
While the Amazon minis, enemy character sheets, and game board are exceptional components, the same cannot be said of the cards. The hero cards represent abstract adjectives like Experienced, Resourceful, and Bold, and depict images of clouds, trees, and spiderwebs – not exactly a thrilling declaration when battling the forces of Ares. I would’ve much preferred scenes of our Amazon heroines fighting and training, especially as the cover art by comic artist Jenny Frison is so darn good.
Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons has a recommended minimum age of 10+. While DC Comics and Wonder Woman have become increasingly kid-friendly, the board game requires advanced tactical planning and coordination, which can be challenging for younger kids.
As a co-op game, Challenge of the Amazons would make an excellent pick for family game night with older kids, teens, and parents.
With the exception of big-box RPG Gloomhaven, co-op games aren’t usually very popular in my house, but I’m more than happy to make room on the game shelf for the princess of Themyscira. With colorful components and a nice balance of teamwork and solo planning, Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons makes co-op fun again.