I’ve acquired a new card game for my collection. It’s superhero-themed, and cooperative; two big thumbs up as far as I’m concerned! What could possibly be wrong?
So, Sentinels of the Multiverse. Pretty effin’ rad. The basic setup is thus; each player takes on the role of a super hero and has a deck of cards that represent that hero’s powers, equipment, resources, etc. The players are trying to beat the super villain, who has their own deck of cards and particular methods for winning; Baron Blade is trying to crash the Moon into the Earth, Citizen Dawn is leading a revolution of fanatical mutant followers, Omnitron is trying to eliminate all biological life with his various death machines, and so on. The fight takes place in a hazardous environment, which is another deck packed with traps, additional enemies, and if the gods love you, a benefit. Aim of the game is for the heroes to beat the villain by depleting their HP with powers and attacks. Simple.
Simple, but definitely not easy.
This is ideally a game for three or four players. I’ve tried a few two-player games before, but it’s simply too hard as the heroes are unable to pump out enough damage to deal with the various mounting threats. Thankfully there’s a fairly easy house rule around that problem (see below).
Each hero and villain is given a complexity rating; how difficult they are to play as (if a hero), or defeat (if a villain). For example, the hero Haka (the game’s Hulk equivalent; there are plenty of affectionate homages to existing Marvel and DC characters) has a straightforward strategy of “do lots of damage all the time”, whereas Absolute Zero’s combo-centric “kamikaze” playstyle is a bit more complex; his basic power is to do damage to himself, for Christ’s sake.
Personally I’m a big fan of Fanatic (a kickass female warrior angel) and Storm/Aquaman mash-up character Tempest, who’s a good jack-of-all-trades character, able to heal himself and team-mates, do crowd control on lots of weak minions, get stuff back from his discard pile, or focus damage on one target.
The rules are fairly simplistic at the core; anyone who’s played Magic: the Gathering could pick this up quickly. On a player’s turn, they play one card from their hand (for free, there’s no resource or mana system). If it’s a one-shot card, the effect resolves and it’s discarded. If it’s an ongoing card, it sticks around and provides a constant buff. Then the player can use one power. Each hero has a basic power listed on their card (Ra shoots something with fire, Bunker draws a card, etc), but every hero has ongoing cards that give them extra powers to choose from, and some heroes have cards that let them use additional powers on their turn. Then you draw a card and end your turn.
On the environment turn, the top card gets flipped over, and just like with hero cards it can be one-shot or ongoing. If it’s ongoing, there’s usually a way to get rid of it (defeating it if it’s a creature, or discarding cards or suffering some other penalty if it’s a hazard or trap). Then the villain acts; the top card of their deck gets flipped over and played (again, one-shot or ongoing), usually damaging the heroes in some way, or summoning minions. Very simple.
There’s some number-crunching involved to keep track of buffs and debuffs going around, and the real challenge comes from the “spinning plates” style of risk management; does your team divert attention to defeat the rampaging kraken that’s been summoned by the environment? Oh wait, someone needs to deal with that ongoing card that the villain’s got that increases all the damage he does. But you also need to keep pressure on the villain and do some damage to him! But he’s got that minion out that reduces the damage he takes! But you can’t do damage to him until you destroy the minion! But if his minion is destroyed, he’ll change into his more powerful form! Why is that fucking kraken still alive!?
All this serves to grind you down, exhausting your resources and your options. You need to work together as a team, coordinating your efforts. There’s nothing more satisfying than when you have a finely-tuned engine running, as the first player shuts down an annoying environment card, then the second player gives the third player a damage bonus so that they can windmill-slam the villain for 15 damage.
Of course, then the next villain card is some bullshit that ends the game, but them’s the breaks.
One thing I really like is that when a hero is defeated, the player is not out of the game. Each hero has a “defeated” side with a list of three powers; that player still takes his turn, and can use one of those powers, which are usually very good; after all, the heroes are down one guy, so they need all the help they can get! It’s a nice way of ensuring that a player knocked out early isn’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs for another half hour or so.
As for the actual look of the game? The artwork’s okay; there’s some stinkers but for the most part it’s bright, colourful, and very evocative of the feel of a Silver Age comic book. I really like how each card in a hero’s deck has a cool little quote on it from an issue of the (sadly non-existent) Sentinels of the Multiverse comic book.
On top of that, there’s just the value. I picked up the core game – ten hero decks (40 cards each), four villain decks (20 cards each), and four environment decks (15 cards each) – for under £30. That’s 540 cards. That’s mental. The box also comes with a load of tokens for tracking damage (I prefer using dice but each to their own) and conditions such as immunity, damage buffs/debuffs, etc, and best of all, dividers for organising all the cards in the box!
There’s a ton of replay value in Sentinels, as you can have mix up the combinations of villain, environment and heroes for a different game each time. Plus there’s a truckload of expansions adding more heroes, villains and environments each time. I’ve got my eye on Rook City, because holy shit I want to wreck villain face with Mr
As I said, it’s a tough game; sometimes you get lucky as the villain and environment spend their time tearing chunks out of each other instead of you, but most times some new problem will come out while you’re still trying to deal with three other things. Expect a few times when the game gives everyone a royal spanking. That said, the turns go by quickly, so a four-player game should only take about an hour; quick playtime added to a wide range of different heroes, villains and environments gives it a very “just one more” feel.
Like I said, I had some house rules, which are…
House Rule : Two Hero Variant
The game rules advise that if you’ve only got two players, one or both players should play two Hero decks each, which hasn’t gone down too well; you have to split your attention between two decks with different strategies and separate book-keeping.
The problem with fewer players is that it’s harder to kick out enough damage to deal with the mounting threats presented by the environment and villain, as the HP of these threats doesn’t scale with the number of heroes involved; meaning that Omnitron has 100 HP whether you have two, three, or five players. In one game, Trev and I couldn’t deal with all the minions of Citizen Dawn – let alone get through to her – and we got thrashed pretty thoroughly.
This is my two hero variant, which has worked out pretty well after a few test-runs. The game remains hard, but is no longer frustratingly impossible.
Players draw five cards at the start of the game. With only two heroes, you need all the help you can get, so an extra card will be helpful!
H = 3. Some villain and environment cards do “H damage”, where H is the number of heroes involved. However this “H damage” is usually modified by minus one or two, meaning that if “H” was 2, it would usually do minimal damage or even nothing at all, which makes some villains like Citizen Dawn or Baron Blade’s second form nonthreatening.
And the big one…
Halve HP (rounded up) of all Villain and Environment cards. Their damage output remains the same, but now they’ll be less of an ordeal for only two heroes to try and deal with! This doesn’t stop stuff like the Kraken from Ruins of Atlantis or Omnitron’s Electro Pulse Explosive being nightmares to deal with, but it means that two heroes have a chance, rather than none at all!
Other than that, everything’s the same; round structure, turn order, etc.
So go ahead, pick up the game and go save the whole damn Multiverse!