Sentinels of the Multiverse Review
on May 6, 2015
Boy, oh boy. Sentinels of the Multiverse is the game I never knew I wanted, but it quickly became one of my absolute favorites (perhaps even the favorite) after just a few plays. In this cooperative game, each player takes on the role of a unique superhero. As a team, these heroes fight in a particular environment in an attempt to vanquish a supervillain.
Sentinels comes with ten different superheroes. All heroes are from a proprietary comics universe created by the designer specifically for the game. They may not be Marvel or DC, but they are invested with significant personalities or they draw on iconic archetypes so that players readily get a sense of their character and how they act. But more than just archetypes, the heroes are instilled with their own “Sentinels Comics” flavor. Every card depicts a scene and has a quote from the characters pulled from one of the Sentinels Comics. Of course, none of these comics actually exist but the sense of veracity adds a lot to the feel of the game world.
One of the best things about Sentinels is the extreme variety. There is no overlap among the ten heroes, all are completely unique. Legacy, the Superman-like character, can deal some damage but his real role is in supporting and bolstering his allies. Wraith is a Bat-family style vigilante who is all about gathering and using various gadgets to deal different types of damage – often with secondary effects. And then there’s the Visionary, a psychic who experienced an apocalyptic future and flung herself into the past in an attempt to prevent it. Her powers often revolve around manipulating the decks of others or psychically dominating the villain’s lackeys.
So, not only do the characters present rich and interesting backstories, but each provides different mechanical experiences. Speedster Tachyon plays completely differently from the alien Tempest or the avenging Fanatic. With Tachyon, you play fast and hope to fill your discards with “Bursts” which make her go faster. Fanatic can deal damage but is at her most deadly when sacrificing her own life or at low health. But variety isn’t limited to just the heroes. Sentinels also comes with four very different villains.
Villains dramatically impact gameplay. The goal of the game is to defeat the villain and each of these bad guys brings different powers and play styles to the game. Baron Blade is a mad scientist and players must wreck his terra-lunar impulsion beam before it destroys the world. Meanwhile, Citizen Dawn has created a society of supervillains that the heroes must battle while also trying to defeat Dawn herself. Blade requires fast aggression lest the timer run out and the players lose but Dawn requires a more nuanced approach and critical decisions about when to defeat her Citizens and in what order to focus some heroic attention.
The villains all have their own separate deck and the opposition is completely automated. Each round the villain takes a turn by playing the top card of the deck. Minions come into play and one-shot effects take place. In this way, Sentinels creates an “AI” of sorts that allows for full cooperation and which lends unpredictability to each play.
Each battle also takes place in one of four environments. The environments are mostly harmful to the heroes, though there are some good cards scattered here or there for relief. In Insula Primalis, the players will fight a variety of dinosaurs and other creatures in a forgotten island. But on the Wagner Mars Base, the players must avoid the base’s self-destruct sequence.
Winning the game means defeating the villain and the villains in the base set are defeated by punching them sufficiently. That’s how heroes get defeated, too. Each hero has starting life points and when they go to zero, they become incapacitated. But that doesn’t mean the player is out of the game. Instead, each hero has an incapacitated side with three minor powers. This allows the player to stay in and continue to contribute to the effort, but also ensures that players will generally want to avoid being incapacitated.
Between the heroes, the environments, the villains and all of the different cards in each subset the variety is astronomical. But all of the permutations of situations and scenarios would be worthless if the game wasn’t any good. However, I think Sentinels is amazing. The game does a fantastic job of creating a narrative in every story. I’ve played the game over a hundred times and I still talk about exciting experiences or epic tales that were created over the course of individual plays.
For all the many fantastic parts, Sentinels does have one potential drawback – damage modifiers. A hero or villain might do two damage. But if it does fire damage, another card might increase it by one. But if a villain is protected by a card, then maybe damage is reduced by two, and so on. The game provides tons of markers to help keep track, but the game does require a little mental effort to keep everything straight.
Now, I obviously don’t have a problem with the bookkeeping. And, in fact, I think most gamers will not. If you’ve ever played Magic: the Gathering or other similar systems where modifiers are commonplace, Sentinels won’t seem out of the ordinary. But for more casual gamers, this is something that will require some getting used to. I know a few non-gamers who simply won’t play without me there to help keep track of modifiers.
Overall, though, I cannot speak of Sentinels highly enough. Good mechanics, great variety, exceptional theme, and expansions that add worlds of new ideas and systems into the game. The design of the game is brilliant and this base set is just the first step into the world of Sentinel Comics and a host of great expansion material.