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Subject: A Math Problem Masquerading as Superhero Game rss

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Alex Martinez
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I do not like Sentinels of the Multiverse. I know people do love it, and I don't find it to be a terrible game, but neither do I think it delivers on what I would want from a superhero-themed card game.

There's a lot of great ideas in Sentinel. I love the idea of having a deck specific to your character, the villain, and the location. I love the idea that each character has a theme, from Superman analogues to speedsters to gadgeteers. I can even see how the game is intended to work, and I think it almost does.

But, for me, it always ends up feeling like a math problem to solve and loses most of its theme in execution. This might seem like a weird complaint since all games are simply a series of rules that place limitations and install a win / loss condition. As much as I might enjoy thematic games, they too are ultimately simply rules and goals to be met. So why does Sentinels not work for me?

I've thought about this a good long while, and ultimately, I think it's because it lacks personality. I know a lot of folks will disagree with me, but I've never felt as if I was playing as a superhero. Instead, I'm playing a card that gives me a bonus. I'm not saving civilians. I'm discarding a bad card. I'm not worried about the bad guy blowing up the moon. I'm just trying to keep the lose condition from happening.

Perhaps it would help if I used a few examples:

I love Rum & Bones, which is very much a game of resource management, risk assessment, and board control. These are all important elements, and as I play, I keep them in mind. But I also feel thrilled when Stumper Pete squashes a crew of enemy deckhands or get nervous when The Specter stalks the decks, ready to finish off my heroes. Sure, I'm rolling dice to remove objectives, but when they fall, I can see the results. Lose your mainsail, and I get an advantage. Take out the enemy deck gun to keep you from firing upon my crew. And so on.

Or, to use an even simpler example, I enjoy Flash Duel, which is simply a game with numbered cards and moving back and forth on a board. Yet the theme of a back and forth battle comes across well and even the simple differences in the character styles makes it seem like more than just playing cards at one another.

I never "feel" super when playing Sentinels. I'm never eager to play a particular character. I'm never excited by it. I'm engaged, but in a very clinical way.

That said, I don't hate Sentinels. I can play it if someone wants to (though I do think it's a bit clunky in execution and not something I'd ever go out of my way to play). Its popularity used to puzzle me, but then I decided it's the superhero equivalent of Ticket to Ride or Cataan or a lot of games that are very popular, but are mostly problems to be solved. Just as trains aren't really important for Ticket and Cataan could be collecting letter cards, so Sentinels is a puzzle that happens to have superhero-themed art. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's a pass for me most of the time.

I suppose it comes down to this for me. I don't mind abstract games, and I like thematic games. But Sentinels kind of sits in the middle of those two zones, and it doesn't do a lot for me.

Is it okay to write a review that ends with "Meh"? Because that pretty much sums up my Sentinels feelings. Neither great nor terrible. There are better superhero themed games out there and more interesting abstracts, but this one's okay.
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Joke Meister
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I'm only just getting into this game via Steam and so far, I have to say that I've been really enjoying it (to the extent that the latest KS is starting to look very appealing).

Re your comment on it feeling like a math problem, I do hear a lot of people complaining that the physical version of this game requires a lot of fiddly bookkeeping. As I'm playing it on Steam, I haven't encountered this but it makes me wonder if that is what is causing the game to feel like a math problem. For myself, the game does feel thematic.

I do agree that the game sits in an interesting middle ground between thematic and abstract though as I get the same feeling with regard to one specific mechanic. Most of the game feels brilliantly thematic to me - particularly when the heroes use their powers and play various cards. The element that feels a bit abstracted is the environment deck.

The environment deck has some great ideas in that you sometimes end up having to save hostages, defuse bombs, deal with air leaking out of the moon base or just have to deal with a dinosaur wandering past! And those feel brilliant and really add to the feel of you fighting in a real environment and having more than just the BBEG to deal with. At times, I can really picture one of the heroes taking time out (ie missing a turn) to deal with some passing civilians while the other heroes keep the BBEG occupied.

However, at other times, dealing with the environment cards can feel very abstract. For example, in one case, each of my heroes had to discard 3 cards from their deck (not from their hand) in order to clear the environment card. It's possible that I just missed the thematic reasoning for that card but it really felt odd and felt a little abstract.

I understand that it would have made the game way too complex, but a certain part of me feels that having certain heroes have bonuses to dealing with certain environment cards would have made the game feel less abstract. For example, when dealing with the ticking timebomb, Wraith, with her knowledge of technology and gadgets, could get bonuses to defusing it. As I said though, it would have made the game way too complex and trying to plan out interactions like this would like have been extremely frustrating (no matter how well they did, I can easily imagine them missing some ideas and therefore, missing potential bonuses).
 
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MGS
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I just love the way the theme is integrated in Sentinels so much. Just abou every card makes sense to me. I was just fighting Baron Blade yesterday and he was finally defeated after a chemical explosion in the environment. Then, against Omniteom, we were at risk of getting locked because Megalopolis was so busy that we always had a distraction to worry about: a little boy needing help, a monorail about to go off track, reporters, etc.

The excellent gameplay that follows in the steps of true card games is very engaging but it is the heme that keeps me coming back for more Sentinels.
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Ian Toltz
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I'm kind of surprised by your criticism, to be honest. I feel like one of the things Sentinels does really, really well is using mechanics to evoke theme. Honestly I think it's one of the most thematically evocative games I've ever played.
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Dylan Thurston
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Thank you for the thoughtful review. One thing that's missing in Sentinels is any sort of spatial positioning; I wonder if that's the crucial thing missing for you. (Your mention of Flash Duel made me think of that.)
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David Valadez
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dthurston wrote:
Thank you for the thoughtful review. One thing that's missing in Sentinels is any sort of spatial positioning; I wonder if that's the crucial thing missing for you. (Your mention of Flash Duel made me think of that.)
I was kind of thinking the the same. The game does get abstract at times. Otherwise, it looks like you might be looking for a Superhero RPG instead of a board game. Or maybe a game like Sentinel Tactics that uses an actualy map.
 
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Chris Laudermilk
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It's always good to get different opinions, and not everyone is going to like every game. Nothing wrong with that at all.

I am another of the fans of the game that don't see it the same way. I've always used a mobile device app to assist with the bookkeeping (not the official Sidekick). That reduces the overhead in playing the game somewhat. The video game handling all of the mechanical bits and leaving you to just choose what to do next, or view what is being done TO your guys helps even more.

It's kind of funny that the abstract comments are made right now. I just played against a new-to-me villain (Ermine), and I felt the character's personality came through very strongly in how the deck played & the game effects it had. In playing on the video game now, I am seeing the personality come through more for some heroes as well.
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Vic DiGital
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I see his point, but it's the same point with 99.9% of every game I play. It's learning the game quickly enough so that the math of it fades into the background to allow the theme to become dominant. SotM is doubly difficult in this aspect because it is incredibly fiddly and incredibly mathy, there's no sugarcoating it. But on top of that, nearly every character and every environment have unique mathy equations embedded within them that basically need to be learned on a deck by deck basis. There's dozens of decks at this point, so it's a daunting task.

It takes me two or three plays of any given deck to be able to enjoy it without having to read and think about and come up with the algebraic equation necessary to determine what I am about to do. I STILL have no idea how to use Absolute Zero. But for those characters who I have played enough to know what to expect and what to do, those are incredibly thematic. When you know Legacy is all about supporting his teammates, and you know the cards that best represent that, it's super easy to slide right into feeling like you're Legacy leading the team into battle. Once you realize the whole point of Tachyon is to blaze through your cards, you feel like a super-speedster.

So if you're even kind of enjoying the game, pick a few characters to get to know really well and focus on them. See if you still have reservations once the math becomes second nature.

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Fede Miguez
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KingCroc wrote:
There are better superhero themed games out there and more interesting abstracts, but this one's okay.
Interested. Which do you consider to be a better superhero themed game?
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Mike Spartz
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dthurston wrote:
Thank you for the thoughtful review. One thing that's missing in Sentinels is any sort of spatial positioning; I wonder if that's the crucial thing missing for you. (Your mention of Flash Duel made me think of that.)


I never thought about this but now that you mention it I think having even just minis in the table that I could set status tokens next to would make the game easier to track.

I enjoy it (and own very nearly all of it) and I've come to the conclusion it doesn't feel mathy to me, but there are so many freakin variables to track I can see why it was my first impression. A physical model would, I think, make it easier to remember all the linked ideas happening at the same time.

Now I regret giving away all my heroclix to my old roommate.
 
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Beau Bocephus Blasterfire
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I believe a part of what causes you to feel the way you do is that for almost every card played, you are basically solving an algebraic equation with a variable H that involves the HP total of one or more cards and requires you to check multiple cards for additional modifiers.
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Vic DiGital
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There needs to be a character where unless you show your work, you don't get to count the effects of the cards you played. Pythagore the Mighty!
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Jade Youngblood
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Thanks for the review.

Most games can be reduced to math. Just seems to me you are trying to justify your dislike for whatever reason.

I personally love the game. You don't have to, but don't make up arbitrary reasons that could easily apply to the games you like to justify it.

Sentinels has loads of theme, and is a coop. That is what most people love about it.

 
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Dylan Thurston
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Sparticuse wrote:
Now I regret giving away all my heroclix to my old roommate.
Have you looked into the Sentinel Tactics minis? They don't cover all the characters, of course.
 
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Dylan Thurston
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VicDigital wrote:
SotM is doubly difficult in this aspect because it is incredibly fiddly and incredibly mathy, there's no sugarcoating it.
You've never played Power Grid, I see

I find this whole discussion interesting. I am a mathematician, and I love math--it's a really fascinating series of puzzles. Almost every game can trigger that same puzzle-solving reflex: How to best optimize a give situation, and how to estimate, eg, how much an extra cow in Agricola is worth. Of course those kinds of tradeoffs come up in real life, too, and I'm well aware that not everyone enjoys that kind of analysis.
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Dan C
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The math problem comparison is apt; I agree. That and when there are about 12 different kinds of damage/defense and only have counters to track only half of what is going on at any given time. But I have enjoyed the iPad version because it solves all that.
 
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Damien
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As I note here, I find remembering the effects detracts from the game much more than the math. Overall, I think there are a lot of nice thematic touches with many of the heroes, villains and environments.
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Vic DiGital
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foldedcard wrote:
As I note here, I find remembering the effects detracts from the game much more than the math. Overall, I think there are a lot of nice thematic touches with many of the heroes, villains and environments.


Great point. A while back, someone tinkered with a version of the cards that highlighted some effects in red or green, indicating beginning or ending of turn effects, and I thought that would have been a major improvement with just that. I've also wondered if there would be a way to have icons on the top of the card where you could just line the card tops up and quickly count icons.
 
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Alex Martinez
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championstyle wrote:
Thanks for the review.

Most games can be reduced to math. Just seems to me you are trying to justify your dislike for whatever reason.

I personally love the game. You don't have to, but don't make up arbitrary reasons that could easily apply to the games you like to justify it.

Sentinels has loads of theme, and is a coop. That is what most people love about it.



This is a rude assessment, as if by disagreeing with you I am somehow objectively wrong. Theme-integration is largely a matter of personal taste, so I don't object to you disagreeing. It's just a shame that you feel the need to diminish my dissenting opinion.

I full admitted up front that all games are, to some degree, merely a series of rules. This one, however, doesn't seem like much more than that to me. I'm well-aware plenty of folks disagree. This doesn't mean my opinion is wrong in this case.
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Vic DiGital
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KingCroc wrote:
championstyle wrote:
Thanks for the review.

Most games can be reduced to math. Just seems to me you are trying to justify your dislike for whatever reason.

I personally love the game. You don't have to, but don't make up arbitrary reasons that could easily apply to the games you like to justify it.

Sentinels has loads of theme, and is a coop. That is what most people love about it.



This is a rude assessment, as if by disagreeing with you I am somehow objectively wrong. Theme-integration is largely a matter of personal taste, so I don't object to you disagreeing. It's just a shame that you feel the need to diminish my dissenting opinion.

I full admitted up front that all games are, to some degree, merely a series of rules. This one, however, doesn't seem like much more than that to me. I'm well-aware plenty of folks disagree. This doesn't mean my opinion is wrong in this case.


Agreed. Your opinion is exactly right. So is mine, lol.

For some, seeing the math/mechanics in action is a fun-killer. For some, they LOVE the intricacies of the math. For some, it's easy to embrace the theme of a game, regardless of how mathy it is. I'm sure there are tons of people who would shudder to realize that that game they love and get so swept up in, is nothing more than math. Enjoyment of most games (for many people) is contingent upon how well they are able to fool themselves into thinking it's not math.
 
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Alex Martinez
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jedimusic wrote:
The math problem comparison is apt; I agree. That and when there are about 12 different kinds of damage/defense and only have counters to track only half of what is going on at any given time. But I have enjoyed the iPad version because it solves all that.


It isn't the bookkeeping that bothers me, as some have suggested. It's deeper than that. And I think it's largely a matter of personal preference. I've tried the Sentinels miniature game as well, and it too feels very abstract. I think this is simply the style of the company's games, and that's okay. In fact, to the right group, this isn't a weakness but a strength. We all have varying levels of abstraction we prefer, but for me, this game always comes down to I inflict one damage on this card, and it inflicts one damage back, and eventually one of us wins.

Whether you see this as merely a series of card plays or an actual battle for the fate of the world is a personal interpretation. But for me, it's just a series of numbers to counter.
 
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Dylan Thurston
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KingCroc wrote:
I think this is simply the style of the company's games, and that's okay.
It sounds like it's their particular take on asymmetrical player powers, which ends up playing around with the mechanics in wacky ways. For me it works well and actually does convey the feel of the characters, but I can see how it wouldn't work for everyone.
 
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This is one of my favourite games... but then I love maths (and find the theme on top of the maths pretty awesome).

That said, I've played games with several people who like it, but continually miss bits off, get things wrong because they've missed a +1 here, or a skip damage there.

And a know several people who after trying it out a few times have called it "maths, the card game" - and will not play it again. Ever.

You are certainly not alone in your assessment of it, anyway - thanks for sharing this; I would rather anyone coming to this game know there is this aspect to the game which does make it unappealing to certain people's tastes and preferences.
 
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Vic DiGital
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Yeah, it doesn't work for everyone, but it DOES work for a lot of people. The current Kickstarter just blew past $1 Million, so apparently the flaws and fiddlyness of the game aren't big enough for those thousands of players, including me. I think it's equally important to let people reading know that the mathy nature of the game is not unknown to us, and we enjoy it immensely anyway.
 
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Quote:
I've thought about this a good long while, and ultimately, I think it's because it lacks personality. I know a lot of folks will disagree with me, but I've never felt as if I was playing as a superhero. Instead, I'm playing a card that gives me a bonus. I'm not saving civilians. I'm discarding a bad card. I'm not worried about the bad guy blowing up the moon. I'm just trying to keep the lose condition from happening.

Well, FWIW, I agree with you, anyway. The above describes very accurately why I sold the game and expansion after initially approaching it with great enthusiasm. Both my wife and I felt that way. Just couldn't get into it. [But I'm also very happy that hundreds/thousands of other people feel the game is 'super'.]


 
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