Unplugged: Sentinels of the Multiverse’s heroic exploits

February 10, 2012

Can the Freedom Five — Legacy, Bunker, Tachyon, the Wraith, and Absolute Zero — survive the Ruins of Atlantis in order to prevent the nefarious Baron Blade from activating his Terralunar Implosion Beam and causing the moon to crash into the Earth? Will Grand Warlord Voss amass his army of gene-bound minions at the Wagner Mars Base in order to take over the Earth before Ra, Tempest, Fanatic, and the Visionary can stop him? Find out in the next exciting issue of Sentinels of the Multiverse!

As you might have guessed, Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative card game published by Greater Than Games that simulates comic book action between a team of three to five heroes (of ten provided; The Savage Haka is the only one I didn’t mention just now) taking on one of four supervillains (including Citizen Dawn’s team of super-powered supremacists and the all-consuming sentient AI Omnitron) in one of four dangerous locations (like the prehistoric Insula Primalis or the sprawling Megalopolis). Each hero has their own forty-card deck containing special powers and equipment that they will have to use to defeat their opponent (each with their own deck of mooks, devices, and powers) all while fending off whatever environmental dangers might get in their way, which could include a runaway monorail, an active volcano, or even a kraken attack, among others.

Each round is divided into a number of turns. First the villain acts, usually playing the top card of their deck and then executing a bunch of abilities at the end of their turn. Then each hero in turn gets to play one card from their hand; some cards are one-shots, while others are ongoing. After playing a card, a hero can use one of their available powers; each character has an inherent power on their character card, and several ongoing cards provide optional powers as well. Finally, the hero draws a card from their deck and then the next hero’s turn begins. A player who neither plays a card nor uses a power may opt to draw an additional card instead, although this option does not apply to a turn skipped to deal with an environmental hazard. Speaking of the environment, that deck’s turn happens after all of the heroes are done and operates in a similar fashion to the villain. If a hero should run out of hit points, they lose all of their cards and flip their character card over to their “defeated” side; in this state the player has a choice of three minor effects that can be used to help out, simulating their teammates’ drawing inspiration from their fallen comrade. If all heroes are defeated the villains win, although Baron Blade and Grand Warlord Voss also have alternate win conditions of their own; the heroes obviously win when the villain runs out of HP (with the minor exception of Omnitron, which must be completely eradicated beyond just its core).

Overall, Sentinels is a fairly simple game, made complicated by the various interactions in the manner of most other card-based games. But where it really shines is in how well playing it feels like actually taking part in an outrageous comic-book brawl. If you have any history with comics at all, Sentinels is just a blast to play. Most of the heroes and villains are thinly-veiled expies of actual comic characters, but their own personalities come into play though the flavor text quotes on each card, designed to look like it came directly from their own (obviously nonexistent) comics. There’s even some backstory for each in the instructions, with a more detailed version on the official website. All of the cards are incredibly flavorful concepts as well, with the Wraith (a female Batman equivalent) featuring a lot of neat gadgets and stealthy combat maneuvers while Ra (Thor from a different pantheon) is filled with fiery destruction befitting a sun god, and so on. Sentinels is also very modular, with each individual character, villain, and environment having its own self-contained deck. Adding new characters and/or locations will be easy, and should give Sentinels a healthy shelf life. (In fact, the first expansion, Rook City, is expected to be released in March.)

The game does have a few flaws, though. Some of the cards have confusing wording due to the overuse of the word “target” (generally referring to any card with listed HP), but mostly the intent of the card is easy enough to determine. The bigger problem, however, is that the game doesn’t really scale very well. It seems balanced for four players; three heroes might find the challenge too much while having five could make it too easy (two players can either take on the supreme challenge or control two heroes each). A lot of this will depend on the specific mix of heroes and/or villain (some are more powerful than others), plus the random nature of what cards come up at any time (my only three-player game was a total blowout in our favor, for example), but if you accept the fact that the heroes are supposed to beat the bad guys in the end then you can probably overlook it. That said, each villain has advanced rules that make them much more of a challenge and actually tilt the odds in their favor slightly, so if nothing else, Sentinels at least provides some options.

Sentinels of the Multiverse retails for $40 and contains ten 40-card hero decks, four 25-card villain decks, four 15-card environment decks, and the character cards for each hero/villain. What it doesn’t come with is a way to keep track of hit points. You can either use dice, paper, or print out any number of player aids from BoardGameGeek (which includes HP trackers available on the official site as well), but you’re definitely going to need something, as there are a ton of cards with HP in addition to the actual characters themselves. It also doesn’t come with any neat way to store that large pile of individual decks, but a few rubber bands or small plastic bags can solve that problem. You should be able to complete a game of Sentinels in well under an hour, although that time doesn’t account for any heroic speeches that you may be inspired to make while playing.