Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tommy's Take on Sentinels of the Multiverse

So, for those who follow me on Facebook and Google+, you know that I have recently become obsessed with Sentinels of the Multiverse. With that said, this review is gonna be a bit fanboyish because, well, the game has turned me into a Fanboy.

The box art to the first edition of the game.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, this review is of the first edition of the game, which is no longer in print and has been replaced with the Enhanced Edition. I picked up the first edition on clearance for $10 at an area game store, and I’m glad I did. But I suppose I should tell you just what Sentinels of the Multiverse IS. Sentinels is a cooperative Superhero card game for 2-5 players (officially…if you are willing to run multiple heroes, you can play solo), designed to emulate a team of heroes battling a villain in a comic book environment. Each hero is represented by a character card that features their hitpoints, base power and card effects if incapacitated (more on that in a bit), as well a deck of cards that represent their tactics and abilities. Each villain is represented by two cards (one showing hit points and one showing any relevant powers, set-up requirements or alternate win conditions) and a deck of cards featuring their minions, powers and tactics. Lastly, each environment has a deck of cards that represents the perils and pitfalls of the environment.

Each game begins by selecting a hero for each player, a villain to face and the environment. For solo games, I use this very handy randomizer (which allows you to filter out cards that you don’t have). Each hero, villain and environment feels very, very different, making each game a unique experience. The base game has ten heroes, four villains and four environments, and expansions are available that include more heroes, villains and environments.

While the game doesn’t include established, licensed characters, the heroes and villains all feel familiar to classic characters, while having some quirks that help them stand alone. Each character comes with a bio in the rulebook, and many of the heroes and villains share symbols on their cards, marking them as archenemies (meaning they do more damage to each other).

Gameplay is simple at its core. All heroes draw four cards, while you set up any relevant set-up requirements for the villains. From there, each round consists of multiple turns, beginning with the Villain Turn. Draw the top card of the Villain Deck, resolve it and move on to the heroes. Each hero can play a card, then use a power, then draw a new card. When every hero has a chance to go, then you play and resolve an Environment card. Play continues until all the heroes are beaten, the villain is reduced to 0 hit points, or any alternate win conditions are met. The list of heroes include:

  • Legacy – A hybrid of Captain America and Superman, Legacy is a heroic leader who is capable of absorbing and inflicting damage, while also inspiring his team to greater feats.
  • The Wraith – A young, female vigilante who uses equipment and martial arts to fight crime, while using stealth to avoid damage.
  • Haka – A savage, tribal warrior. Haka is capable of inflicting great damage.
  • Bunker – A soldier in an armored suit, Bunker can shift between multiple “Modes” that allow him to manipulate his card deck and can command an impressive arsenal.
  • Tachyon – The Quickest Woman on Earth can keep enemies off-balance and inflict crazy damage if she speeds through her card deck.
  • Ra, The Sun God – A damage dealing powerhouse if he gets going, Ra can even boost his teammates’ damage output.
  • Tempest – A weather manipulating alien who can harm as well as heal.
  • Visionary – A psychic who has returned from the future to keep her horrible reality from coming to pass, she can manipulate not only her deck, but other decks in the game, as well as turning minions on their masters!
  • Fanatic – An angel on a righteous crusade. Can sacrifice her health to give the heroes an advantage.
  • Absolute Zero – One of the more complicated heroes in the game to play, Absolute Zero is kinda like a heroic Mr. Freeze, with all the pros and cons you might expect from that.

The four included villains are a motley crew of enemies.

  • Baron Blade hates Legacy with a passion. He’s intent on destroying the Earth by pulling the moon into it, and if enough cards make it into the discard pile, he succeeds.
  • Grand Warlord Voss tried to enslave Tempest, and he brings his army of slaves to Earth to take it over. If he ever gets enough minions into play, Earth is overran.
  • Omnitron is a sentient robot factory who can go on a horrible rampage. Even if you destroy him, he can still live on if you don’t shut down his other devices.
  • Citizen Dawn, leader of RISE, is a superhuman supremacist who will make you battle her followers in addition to her.

The four environments add their own personality to the mix.

  • Megalopolis has derailed monorails, traffic jams, innocent bystanders and more to deal with.
  • Wagner Mars Base can turn its automated defenses on you, and the red dust of Mars can be brutal on those that rely on equipment.
  • The Ruins of Atlantis has leaky rooms (that conduct electricity), fonts of power (that anyone can tap into) and even the every present threat of The Kraken!
  • Insula Primalis is essentially the Savage Land, complete with dinosaur attacks!

One cool and interesting effect is that the Hero character cards get flipped over if the heroes get reduced to 0 hit points…opening up three options that the player can pick from for their fallen hero, typically based off of the Powers and Cards from that hero’s card and deck. This is meant to emulate the idea of the remaining heroes fighting harder after their teammates go down. It’s a thematically awesome mechanic that keeps a player in the game after their hero goes down (albeit in a diminished role).

Many of the card decks can feed off of each other, and some heroes will have an easier time against some villains, while the environments can make all the difference in the world in some games. The game does have more complexity than your average card game, and I’ve taken to tracking hit points with dice, because you can have a lot of them to manage in a given game. The Enhanced Edition includes counters that you can use for that, as well as updated game mechanics meant to balance out some of the cards a bit better.

WHAT WORKS: Well, this is the most fun I’ve ever had with a superhero board or card game. At times, it rivals the fun I’ve had with superhero RPGs. Every card deck stands out, making their mark on a given game. The basic flow of the game is simple to learn, while the strategy of the card decks can take a bit to master.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Tracking all of the modifiers, hit points and card-induced conditions can get cumbersome and it can become easy to miss something. Also, the game is becoming a time sink because I’m playing it too much.

CONCLUSION: The proof is in the fun. I picked this up the same day I got Legendary and the DC Deck Building game. I’ve played the latter once and the former a handful of times, while I have latched onto this on and played it like crazy, even ordering the Rook City and Infernal Relics expansion (and just ordering Shattered Timelines, the Unity, Ambuscade, Scholar and Miss Information hero and villain decks and The Final Wasteland and Silver Gulch environment decks). There is a good chunk of strategy to the game (whole guides are available for each character on the internet), as well as a little luck of the draw, which helps boost the replayability, in my opinion.

The Enhanced Edition. Buy this unless you hate fun.
Just a fantastic, well-made game that is not only a fun playthrough, but a love letter to the superhero genre. This has quickly moved into position as my favorite card game, and I recommend it to anyone that loves superheroes and card games, but doesn’t mind a bit of book keeping. If I could do it all over, I would skip the $10 first edition purchase and go straight to the Enhanced Edition.

DISCLAIMER: While this was a purchase freely acquired with my own money, an affiliate link is provided above, which could result in me gaining a portion of any sales made through that link.