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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Card Game Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse

This weekend I had the pleasant opportunity to play Sentinels of the Multiverse by Greater Than Games, a kickstarted, co-op, superhero themed card game. I admit that when I first heard about it I was weary, I am pretty much a card game carebear and the game looked dauntingly complicated from afar. That said, I'll be questioning my gut more in the future because my group played at least eight hours of Sentinels over the weekend and I would have happily played another eight.

A Kickstarter success story
The game is fairly straightforward despite an outward appearance of complication; you have a Villain deck, an Environment deck, and each player has a Hero deck. Each round involves doing whatever the Villain's identity card requests (usually drawing a card from the deck) and the deck is designed to play itself by automatically applying it's damage/effects to X players with the lowest or highest health. Each player hero has roughly 25-30 hit points depending on the hero which the villain deck will whittle down (rather quickly in some cases). Dropping to zero hitpoints means that hero is defeated and can only use one of three minor abilities on their turn determined by their hero. Then each player takes their turn one at a time. First the player gets to play a card from their hand, then use a power (each hero has one by default and can get more by playing certain cards), and finally ends their turn by drawing a card from their deck. Then the players draw the top card of the Environment deck, react to it, and the round is over. Surprisingly simple, but full of nuance.

What I found engrossing about the game is that it's roster of a dozen or so hero decks each plays differently despite that relatively simple turn structure. Each deck can modify what can be done in a turn in various ways with some allowing the use of multiple powers or the playing of multiple cards. Each hero approaches that in a different way however, which is part of what makes things interesting.

The iconic hero of the series is Legacy who dresses in red, white, and blue spandex, wears a cape, and totes a shield around like the alternate dimension lovechild of Captain America and Superman.* Though depicted as the flying, super-strong hero, he acts like the mix of a tank and party buffer with most of his cards allowing him to direct damage to himself and reduce it or temporarily buff/heal his teammates.
Steve Roger's blond locks, Superman's chiseled chin,
and MURIKA's colors, all blended into one.
Alternatively there's War Machine Bunker, a military super robot whose mechanic involves swapping between three modes; recharge, upgrade, and BLOW SHIT UP turret, which allow you to draw more cards, play more cards, and use more powers per turn respectively. There's also Chrono Ranger, a time traveling gunslinger who puts bounty cards on enemies which grant him bonuses both while the bounty is active and when the target is defeated. Another, Omnitron-X, plays cards that allow him to do certain special effects, like damaging an enemy or healing an ally, at the start of his turn (thus preserving his play a card and use a power options), but the cards are destroyed (discarded) if he takes too much damage in a single turn. Those are only a few examples of the variety among the heroes.

If the heroes weren't unique enough, the villains take it up another level. For example, The Dreamer, is a little girl who summons demons from her nightmares, but the group isn't supposed to kill her because she isn't really evil, so you fail if you do so, intentional or not. Thus the team ends up focusing on her minions. Iron Legacy is just a super-powered alternate dimension version of Legacy who wrecks your faces fights you alone, while Omnitron spawns an endless army of drone minions and constantly swaps between a high damage and tank variant.

Each game, if the players know what they hell they're doing, takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on the villain. I know it supports smaller numbers, but our group was 4-5 and the higher number seemed to work well.

However the game does have a few issues, primarily in it's difficulty options. Playing on normal the game often feels a little too easy, with the heroes easily ramping up and stomping over the villain in question. However, advanced is significantly tougher, and some of the villain's modifications on advanced can make certain heroes feel ineffective or render certain powers (even inherent ones) useless. Some advanced villains can be simply frustrating because it feels like the heroes have no control over the game.

All in all I think it's a fantastic card game and I am planning on buying my own copy in the near future, I highly recommend it if you're looking for a co-operative, RPG-esque card game to play with your 2-4 friends.

*Greater Than Games, if you're reading this, I only tease because I love.

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