Published on April 11th, 2013 | by A. J. Asplund
The Ultimate Superhero Crossover Episode
Remember the comic book where the self-aware robotics factory, Omnitron, fought the Freedom Five and defeated the brilliant scientist, Tachyon, leaving her for dead in the dinosaur-infested jungles of Insula Primalis? Or how, in the following issue, the remaining four members of the Five fought off a pack of vicious velociraptors and finally stopped Omnitron’s devastating rampage? Maybe not, but if that sounds good to you, you will likely want to take a look at Sentinels of the Multiverse.
Sentinels is a cooperative superhero-themed card game published by Greater Than Games, LLC. In the game, players take on the role of various superheroes as they fight a dangerous supervillain in a strange environment, the latter two being controlled automatically by a simple set of instructions. It is designed for two-to-five players and takes roughly 60-90 minutes.
Although originally released in 2011, an improved Enhanced Edition came out last year, adding new mechanics and art to the already existing game. This review addresses the Enhanced Edition, although much of it also applies to the original set.
PRODUCTION: What’s in the Utility Belt
Sentinels of the Multiverse: Enhanced Edition comes with eighteen separate decks of cards: ten heroes, four villains, and four environments. There are also a sizable collection of tokens, useful for tracking effects and damage affecting heroes and villains in the game. The high-quality box is useful for storing not only the cards in this set but also those from future expansions.
Each player uses a single hero deck representing one of the ten heroes. The hero decks have forty cards each, with an additional double-sided hero card providing a life total and a base-power usable by the player. Together, the players also select a single villain deck and a single environment deck to round out the game. This provides more than 10,000 combinations of heroes, villains, and environments, leading to a significant amount of replayability.
Every card features original, comic-influenced art by artist Adam Rebottaro. Thematically, I found it engaging, but I have had a number of players find the art less-than-impressive. The Enhanced Edition includes new art for a number of cards, including art for the previously image-free environment cards. Rebottaro’s art improves with every set that he does, so it suggests that things will continue to improve as the series goes forward.
Upgraded from the previous edition, this new version also has cards printed on thicker card stock. The cards are sturdy and do not bend as easily as their predecessors. The tokens are another nice addition, allowing for a convenient way to track damage taken by the various characters, status effects in play, and ongoing bonuses or penalties to damage. Overall, the components are well-constructed and stand up to a lot of play.
GAMEPLAY: Infinite Battles on Infinite Earths
At its core, Sentinels of the Multiverse has a relatively simple structure. Each round begins with the villain’s turn. Every villain has different mechanics that occur at either the start or end of the phase. In addition, the players play the top card of the villain deck during this phase. The cards represent specific attacks by the villain, special equipment, or even minions. Generally, the villain turn is where the heroes get attacked by the villain or by his or her minions.
After the villain phase, the players each get a turn. During the hero phase, players play a card from their hand, use a power or special ability listed on the cards they have in play, and then draw a card from their deck. The final part of the round is the environment phase, where a card is drawn from the environment deck and brought into play, potentially hurting the heroes or even the villain.
What makes the game compelling is how the cards from the different decks interact with one another. Citizen Dawn, a supervillain who wants to build a society of super-humans, has cards that represent the different citizens of her new society. A battle against Citizen Dawn requires dealing with a large number of weaker enemies. On the other hand, the sentient robotics factory, Omnitron, arms himself with different devices and weapons with which he attacks the heroes. Environments and heroes have similar variability in design. The result is that the same basic mechanics can yield very different gameplay experiences based on the selections made during setup.
EXPERIENCE: Unmasking the Superhero
The characters and situations in Sentinels are very evocative of popular comic book characters and tropes. Many of the characters resemble real DC or Marvel characters, such as Superman or Iron Man. Different cards reference different story elements reminiscent of story arcs from actual comics, including alternative universes, time travel, and a strange government organization that polices superheroes. Sentinels feels a lot like a Marvel/DC crossover game that could not get the necessary rights.
Let it be made clear that Sentinels is a theme-heavy game. The different decks all capture a recognizable character or concept from popular superhero mythology. The Wraith, a character clearly modeled after DC’s Batman, utilizes equipment and combat training to defeat enemies while Ra, an archaeologist imbued with the power of the Egyptian sun god, utilizes a variety of superhuman powers that deal significant power and rely on a single piece of equipment (the Staff of Ra). Generally, specific decks do things that feel appropriate to that character or environment. It may take a while to figure out how a certain character works, but once done it always makes sense.
However, the heavy focus on theme leaves the game with a potential lack of balance. Although the game has a very simple core mechanic, the different decks of cards provide different levels of complexity and sophistication that keep the game fresh after many plays. Not all decks are created equal, though, and learning which decks do well in specific situations can be frustrating. Certain combinations of characters can make for either a very easy or very difficult game, but that is not made clear until those decks are used in play. Thus, it is possible for players on their first game to inadvertently choose a collection of characters that do not play well together and end up with a very frustrating play experience.
OVERALL: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a solid cooperative game for people who enjoy superhero mythology, from iconic characters to memorable match-ups. The designers have even included meta-references, such as cards from earlier sets predicting later expansion content. Overall, Sentinels of the Multiverse is an entertaining cooperative game that provides a lot of variability and replayability, and although the basic game mechanics are simple, individual cards result in a wide variety of mechanics and play styles.