Up in the air! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…no, it’s a bird. Or maybe it’s…
Sentinels of the Multiverse originally came out in 2011, published by Greater Than Games. The designers were Christopher Badell, Paul Bender, and Adam Rebottaro. It’s a game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up that takes around an hour to play. This is one of very few superhero games out there. It’s a fixed-deck cooperative card game where players are a superhero team fighting an evil mastermind built on world domination. The game smashed onto the scene at GenCon last year, has already come out with one expansion, and just Kickstarted another in May. I never had an opportunity to talk about it on the blog, but now that I’ve played it a few times, I thought I’d give a review.
First, a brief overview of how the game plays. Each player will select one of ten heroes to play. With that hero, you get a hero card that shows a special power you have, as well as a 40 card deck. You’ll also select one of four villains to fight, as well as an environment, and those decks will go in the center of the table. Each hero player begins with four cards. The game is played over a series of rounds, and each round follows the same sequence. First, the villain will take a turn. This is done by drawing the card on top of their deck and doing what it says. You’ll also need to resolve any existing villain cards that have start or end of turn actions. After the villain turn, each hero in order will get a turn. A hero turn consists of playing one card from your hand, using one power on one card in your play area, and drawing a new card. Some cards have ongoing effects, some cards are one-shots that are discarded after they are played. After each hero has had a turn, the environment takes a turn – draw the top card of the environment deck and resolve it. The game continues in this manner until the villain has been vanquished, or until the heroes have been defeated.
COMPONENTS: Sentinels of the Multiverse is a card game, so the only game component you get is cards. The quality is fine, though I’m sure you’ll want to sleeve them if you’re planning on playing a lot. The very best thing about them is the unique nature of each deck, and I’ll be talking more about that in the next section. I do have two minor component issues. First, the box is too small. It fits all of the cards with no leftover space, which is something I usually value in a game. However, there’s no inherent organization system for the cards, and so they’ll all be everywhere unless you decide to bag them. And if you bag them, there’s no longer enough room in the box.
My other complaint is about the lack of a health point tracker. Not that there’s any room in the box for it, but there’s no way to track health points that are lost by the heroes, villain, various henchmen and occasional environment problems. You can easily use a piece of paper, it’s just a minor annoyance. A bigger box, better storage solution, and health tracker probably would have increased the price of what is already a pretty good value at $40. The Infernal Relics expansion addresses both points, giving a big box and HP counters. However, if you want to be able to store your game without getting the expansion, you should poke around BGG to find some ideas, such as the included image here.
THEME: There aren’t a whole lot of superhero games out there. Marvel Heroes was kind of a dud for Fantasy Flight, and beyond licensed versions of HeroScape and HeroClix, there’s not much. It seems like Sentinels is leading the charge, however – Cryptozoic is working on a DC deckbuilding game, Midnight Men should be out next year from Z-Man, and Plaid Hat has talked about a superhero game they have in development. It seems like it’s an ideal genre for games, it just hasn’t been explored much yet.
The good folks at Greater Than Games did a phenomenal job with the theme of Sentinels of the Multiverse. In fact, I’d say the theme is the strongest part of the game. Each of the ten heroes has its own deck with its own unique abilities – Legacy tends to sacrifice himself for the team; Bunker is the muscle; Fanatic is a little crazy (she has one card that will wipe out everything that is currently in play); Wraith is the one with all the gadgets; and so on. Villains too have decks that show off their own evil tendencies. Each card has thematic art, and even a flavor quote at the bottom from one of the fictional comic books featuring that character.
The theme really drives this game, and I’ll talk about that in the next section. But kudos go to the designers for creating such a rich theme using hero archetypes rather than licensed properties.
MECHANICS: There are not many rules in Sentinels, and the complexity really comes from the text on the cards themselves. Knowing what to play and when is important, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what it is a card will do for you, particularly when they use algebra (for example, deal X amount of damage where X is the number of drones currently in play). However, your turn is very straightforward in essence – play a card, use a power, draw a card.
Artificial intelligence is a very important aspect of pure cooperative games. Sentinels of the Multiverse features not one, but two AI decks with the Villain and Environment. And as you play, you’ll be drawing new cards and resolving them, as well as dealing with lingering effects from previous turns. It’s a fairly clever system, but it can sometimes get confusing as to what cards need to be resolved and exactly what lingering effects are around, especially if you let things get out of hand.
As I mentioned before, the theme really drives the game – the Villain does something dastardly, the Heroes react, something happens in the Environment to further mess with everyone before the Villain makes their next move. The simple mechanics support the theme, so that’s good enough for this type of game.
STRATEGY LEVEL: Sentinels is a luck-driven game. The strategy comes from choosing the cards and powers you have to cause the most damage based on the circumstances you are given, but you have hardly any control over what those circumstances are. For this reason, it can sometimes feel like the game is playing you. However, it becomes a big groupthink puzzle – I’ll take out this minion so you can focus all of your energy on the villain. I wouldn’t call it a highly strategic game – you’re pretty much just trying to cause as much damage as possible.
ACCESSIBILITY: Comic book fans of all ages will eat this game up, whether they are gaming or not. Each hero is based on archetypes of the comic book genre, which will lead to shouting out of catch phrases from popular culture (in a game where I was playing The Savage Haka, I was told “Haka, smash”). The cooperative nature of the game means that people all ages can play, as long as they get parental guidance. In one game played with a 6- and a 9-year-old. The 6-year-old was picking cards that looked cool, and dad had to help him figure out which ones were really helpful. The 9-year-old was doing all right on his own, but needed some help simply because the Absolute Zero deck he was using is one of the more complex in the game. With another deck, he would have done fine. And that really is the biggest barrier of entry – some decks are more complex, and you should know what they are before trying to play with others.
REPLAYABILITY: One thing I always laugh about with the superhero genre, particularly with something like X-Men, is that all you have to do to solve certain problems is invent a new hero. That’s one of the thing that makes it such a good genre for games – there’s infinite possibilities for expansion. The base game in itself is very replayable, with ten different heroes, four different villains, and four different environments. Both expansions, Rook City and Infernal Relics, add two more heroes, four new villains, and two new environments. I’m sure more will be on the way, so I can see this game changing a lot over the years.
SCALABILITY: The game is for 2-5 players, but this is the only cooperative game I can think of that gets easier the more players you add. Most games work at that balance and come pretty close to providing a tough experience for all numbers. In Sentinels, the more players you have, the more players can attack between Villain turns. In my most recent game, five players fought Omnitron who has 100 HP and essentially plays two cards per turn. We destroyed it and all of its devices with full or close to full HP. That’s to the game’s credit, especially as a family game – if you have kids and parents playing, it’s more likely that you’ll be successful. For gamers who want a more difficult situation, I’d suggest playing with 2 or 3.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Sentinels of the Multiverse is not a game I feel any need to own. That’s not to say it is bad – I just don’t need it. I’ve never been a comic book person, and while I have fun playing the game (with the right crowd), I think its inherent randomness would get to me after awhile. However, the game definitely has an audience, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is a fan of the genre. The theme is amazing, and you’re going to have a blast playing your own team of superheros. Thanks for reading!