Stephen Mould
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Sentinels of the Multiverse


Superheroes. Aren’t they great? All those capes and powers and simple moral lessons. All the spandex. The warm familiarity of a character who you’ve come to know over ten, twenty, thirty years or longer. The inevitable reboots and crossovers and franchise resets. Not to mention the multimedia tie-ins. Films, TV shows, Video Games and, of course tabletop games. Batman, Superman, The Flash you know where you are with these characters.

Where you are, is not playing Sentinels of the Multiverse. This is a game produced by a small company whose second edition and subsequent expansions have been funded through the wonders (or horrors, depending on your POV) of Kickstarter. The campaigns were successful but not so successful that Greater Than Games could afford the rights to Marvel or DC characters.

Instead you have a cast of characters who are different and unique enough to avoid coming across as cheap knock-offs, whilst simultaneously bearing enough of a similarity to these established IP’s to allow Sentinels to use the players knowledge of how, say, the Flash’s powers work to make the use of Tachyon’s deck easy to understand.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a co-op card game, where players take the role of a team of superheroes, ala the Avengers or the Justice League, battling against a supervillain. Each hero is represented by a deck of cards, as is the villain you’re facing and the environment in which the fight is taking place.

However, unlike every other card game coming out at the moment, this is not a deck building game. Each of the base sets 10 hero’s has its own unique deck. And that’s not just in the sense that damage dealers have more attack cards in their deck than the support characters. No, in Sentinels each heroes deck operates differently on a mechanical level. There’s a core ruleset that applies to everyone, of course and here it is:

On your turn you play a card, use a power (which are printed on the cards) and draw a card. If you neither play a card or use a power, you can draw 2 cards. And that’s it.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating ever so slightly. There are a few definitions to learn, a few quirks of terminology and play order to figure out but honestly, that is almost it for core rules. The depth and complexity of this game (and it does get complex) is in those decks.

To go back to the example I used before; Tachyon is Sentinels version of the Flash or Quicksilver in that she can move at super fast speeds. In her deck she has a lot of one shot cards that have the keyword ‘burst’ on them and a number of cards that allow you to discard cards to your trash. She also has a small number of cards that say something like ‘Deal one target X damage, where X is the number of Burst cards in your discard pile.’ Do you see? Tachyon speeds through her deck in order to unleash devastating attacks on her enemies. To me, Tachyon’s deck is a beautiful piece of elegant, thematic design.

As Tachyon tears through her deck, dumping handfuls of cards into the trash, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, on the other side of the table Wraith, the Batman style techno-detective is slowly and methodically filling the table with a fantastic array of gadgets and weapons, all of which are working off each other, producing bonuses to the damage other cards are doing, buffs to defence and the opportunity to play more cards or use more powers. And in between the two of you is Legacy, the Superman/Captain America of the game. In a fantastic example of brave design choice, he doesn’t just fly about hitting people (though he does do a bit of that). Legacy is essentially a support character. He stands around giving inspiring speeches, leaping in the way of attacks on his friends and generally being a decent chap.

And the villains (you get 4 in the base game) all act differently as well. Fighting Baron Blade is a race against time to stop the mad scientist before he can fulfill his plan to pull the moon into the planet earth. Grand Warlord Voss sends an army of minions and attack ships to crush puny human resistance to his invasion. Citizen Dawn will send teams of her League of Evil Mutants style comrades to fight you. Omnitron, the giant sentient robot, upgrades himself with new weapons and buffs.

And then there’s the environment deck, cards that represent that bit in the comic book when the hero has to break off from the fight to save the school bus from falling off the bridge. Or the moment when the dinosaurs kept on the mad scientists island attack both sides looking for lunch. Or the misplaced blast of super powered laser fire that cracks the dome of the Mars base causing catastrophic decompression. The cards in this deck might hurt you, help you or mess with everybody, including the villain.

It’s a brilliant, action packed, stupid (in a good way) piece of thematic brilliance.

However, like Superman and his unfortunate allergy to a certain green mineral that, despite supposedly being super rare, seems to be available to every 2 bit super-villain with a plot, Sentinels is not perfect. It has flaws.

The box says the game takes an hour to play, which may be correct. Or, it may be wildly inaccurate. A bad choice of superhero team could see you all dead inside 20 minutes, whilst a perfect storm of ineffective villain, damage neutralizing environment and a hero team with limited attack options can see a game drag out indefinitely. As the modifiers stack up the game can grind to a halt as everyone stops being able to do more than a point or two of damage each turn.

With all these bonuses to attack, reductions to attack, immunities to certain types of damage, reduction in damage, increases in damage, limits to playing cards or using powers and simple damage tokens floating around sentinels can get a little...messy. Here is a not uncommon sentence in the midgame:

‘So, I’m getting plus one to my attack from this power, plus one from that piece of equipment but the villain is giving me minus one and his attack last time meant I get another minus one and the environment card is making all damage melee damage but that doesn’t matter because melee can hurt this guy, but he’s getting minus one damage from that thing that you put on him and plus one from that minion he’s got so I hit him for...1 point of damage.’

That was a lot of maths for one 75th of the damage needed to kill the bad guy. And this is a fairly commonplace example. Things can get really messy when every character has different buffs and weaknesses, environment cards are giving everyone a modifier, the villain has four or five ‘ongoing’ cards in front of them each doing different things at different moments and you’re using the more complex heroes, like Absolute Zero, who needs three or four cards in front of him to be really useful.

Really, the only way to keep track of all this is to check every card at the beginning and end of every phase which can be a little...frustrating. The Enhanced Edition (the version widely available now) comes with little markers to help you keep track of all these mods but often they can simply add to the confusion, as +1 and -1 modifier counters pile up in front of you and you begin to forget which mod comes from what card, whether that card is even in the game anymore or if the mod is permanent or just for one round. Apparently these counters weren’t included in the 1st edition of the game so how they expected you to follow what was going on, I don’t know.

The thing is though, if you do forget a modifier, or it slips your mind that, as the villains nemesis, Legacy should have been dealing and receiving +1 damage, or if you miss a start of turn power and do it at the end instead...it kind of doesn’t matter. Not because these things have no impact on the game, or that there aren’t interesting decisions to make, or because it’s too badly designed to make a difference. No, it doesn’t matter because this is a game about simulating men and women in tight fitting costumes punching Alien overlords in the nose. And in that it succeeds admirably.

Every hero deck feels unique and the mechanics that power them feel thematic. Haka is a big tough guy who needs to build up his energy to commit to big attacks. How does the deck handle this? By being a draw engine with cards that ask you to discard cards from your hand to increase their power. The Dreamer is Psychic and her deck is all about allowing you to look at and rearrange cards in various decks. Bunker is a robot whose deck requires you to go into ‘modes’, only one of which can be active at a time, which allow you to variously draw more cards and get a defensive buff (‘initialise mode’), play more cards (‘upgrade mode’), or deal more damage (‘turret mode’).

And this theming continues into the interplay between decks. Ra is a sun god character who deals large amounts of the ‘fire’ damage type. The environment deck ‘Wagner Mars Base’ is a base on Mars. One of its card represents the dome of the base cracking and the air escaping, meaning that fire damage doesn’t do anything. For most characters this is a minor annoyance but for Ra it’s devastating. The damage dealer in the team is now useless and the focus of your efforts suddenly shift to trying to plug the hole.

You can see how the game builds a story filled with all the over the top, logically suspect joys of a proper superhero comic, a story that is fed and enhanced by the background fluff for each character in the rulebook and the quotes from imaginary issues of their imaginary comics on the cards.

Sentinels of the Multiverse succeeds in creating an entertaining, challenging and thematic Superhero game, in which you really feel like you are playing an individual hero with their own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike a lot of co-ops, you have control over your own play, working and planning together sure, but at the end of the day, you get to decide whether or not to heed your teammates cries for help or to just blast the big bad to smithereens.

Finally, the enhanced edition comes with a lot of empty space in the box ready and waiting for you to spend lots of money on expansions, which you should because they do that thing that the best expansions for an already good game do, they give you more of the same with some interesting twists.


Positives:

Fun and thematic, great variety, mostly excellent comic book artwork, entirely excellent comic book style graphic design(your character’s stats card is the cover of an issue of their comic, with your health points as the issue number), vast replayability even with just the base set and a collection of excellent original heroes. One of the few co-op’s that doesn’t suffer from the Alpha gamer problem. Your hero is yours, only you know what cards you’re holding and only you decide which powers you’ll use. And it gives me that ‘just one more game’ feeling that I love to get in a game.


Negatives:

Gets fiddly, especially when using the more complex heroes, villains and environments. You’ll probably miss modifiers at some point in every game and occasionally those missed mods would have been significant to the outcome. Somewhat random play time that is difficult to figure out when using a new combination of decks. Also, at the end of the day, you’re drawing cards randomly from a deck, which means that sometimes you’ll just be screwed by the cards and there won’t be anything you can do about it. So if you don't like that, you won't like this.

Conclusion:

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game that sets out to simulate something very specific and for the most part succeeds incredibly well. The game won’t necessarily be balanced, in the same way that the Green Arrow fighting the Hulk is not a balanced match-up but just as I would like to read about Hulk smashing the Green Arrow, Sentinels tells stories that are just as good in defeat as in victory. Besides, we all know that a superhero never really dies. And Sentinels is such good fun that you’ll be eager to raise your battered and beaten heroes from the ground for just one more go at finally bringing down the dastardly villain.

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Bruce Glassco
United States
Charlottesville
Virginia
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Great review! I kind of want to go out and buy this game right now.
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An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it's going to launch you into something great.
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This. This is what I am. This is who I am. Come hell or high water. If I deny it, I deny everything I've ever done... Everything I've ever fought for.
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The Hulk wouldn't stand a chance against The Emerald Archer!

Great Review! The best superhero game out there.
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Rob Rob
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Great review. I highly recommend the "Sidekick" iOS app for tracking the fiddly bits.
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Kasper B. Hansen
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Very Well-written review. I love this game
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Kelly N.
United States
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Having come to the computer after just getting our rear-ends whipped by The Apostate on Insula Primalis, we sincerely appreciate your kind words. We are encouraged to tighten our spandex and live to fight another day!

Signed,
Tempest, Wraith, and Ra

P.S. Does anyone know the best medicine to use on a T-Rex bite?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Excellent review. Even in defeat, this game is a blast to play. We literally just finished a mid-afternoon adventure that turned out badly for the heroes who wrote the note above. You can certainly fit a great game in between Saturday afternoon chores.
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Stephen Mould
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That 'sidekick' app sounds good. Do you know if its available on android?
 
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Mark Zeller
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The Sidekick app is available in the Google Play store too. I love the app and the art is nice too. The developer also makes updates to it so there is a chance more functionality will come as it grows.
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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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I appreciate a good comic book, but am not a comic book fan. The game is very simple, and usually I tend to play very complex wargames. But man, I love Sentinels. Solo or with other players, I really like picking out a few heroes at random, yank out a villan deck, and start smashin' things.
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Viktor H
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BruceGee wrote:
Great review! I kind of want to go out and buy this game right now.

You should, its awesome! Just awesome.
To me the only real flaw with game is that I always want to play one more game, just one more and then maybe one more
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