Sentinels of the Multiverse: Holding out for a Hero
An alien warlord is invading planet earth. A self-aware robotics factory is running amok. A mad scientist intends to pull the moon into the earth. Who will stop them? You will!
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a comic-book style cooperative card game, with players taking on the role of heroes trying to defeat a super-villain and their goons. You’ll be fighting in an environment that can both help and hinder you, whether it’s a populated city, a base on Mars, land of the dinosaurs, or the ruins of Atlantis. ‘Sentinels of the Multiverse’ may sound like a prog-rock concept album, but it will be familiar to those acquainted with comic superheroes, who often inhabit a universe filled with different dimensions, timelines, and realities, often used to explain away continuity problems.
The cards are good quality; it’s obvious the developers are familiar with superhero archetypes, and the theme is one of the game’s strong points. The artwork has a rawer feel than you’d see with Marvel or DC, but it’s filled with colour, dynamism, and a sense of humour, doing a good job of world-building and putting you in the super-shoes of your chosen hero.
As well as the decks of cards you’ve got a clear and helpful step by step rulebook, counters – to help you keep track of hit points – and cardboard caption-box style markers, to help you remember ongoing effects. These are durable, look good, and fit in with the style.
Players must work together to reduce the villain to zero hit-points and win the game. If all the heroes are defeated first, they lose. Playing time is usually about 90 minutes. Sometimes there are special defeat and victory conditions; if you’re fighting Grand Warlord Voss, and too many of his minion cards are drawn, his invasion of Earth is successful. Take too long to defeat Baron Blade, and your heroes could end up with a moon in the face.
The game recommends three to five players, but it’s playable with two or six. The game scales depending on the number of players, so the damage dealt by some villain cards, or the number of hit points they have, will be greater if there are more heroes. This doesn’t quite work at the lower and upper end of the spectrum, so six-player games are easier, and a three-player game is usually more challenging unless players use more than one hero each.
Many of the characters will feel familiar, but are tweaked just enough to avoid the corporate lawyers; a female Batman, a Hulk-like super strong Maori warrior, an Iron-Man type who is essentially a walking tank. But rather than feeling like cheap knock-offs, these characters are intriguing and well-rounded. Each hero, villain, and environment has their own deck. The villains and environments ‘play themselves’, as you deal from these blind and follow instructions on the cards.
Building up new powers and equipment, and performing actions is the crux of the game. Each turn you’ll play a card, use a power, and draw a card. Cards allow you to deal damage, heal, and protect yourselves. You start with an initial power, but you’ll quickly gain new ones. Some cards allow you to break the rules, like being able to use more than one super power per turn. Cards are either one-shot – used once and discarded – or ongoing – continually in effect until removed by another card.
It’s mostly self-explanatory, but younger children or those unfamiliar with the game may need help. There’s a useful reminder of the turn order on the back of the rulebook. Heroes have a complexity rating and villains a threat level. Once you’ve learned how the game works, try giving a level 2 or 3 complexity hero a test drive. Or, if you feel like a challenge, pick a high-level villain, and see your characters get a pummelling.
Both heroes and villains have double-sided picture cards. The back of hero cards shows them incapacitated, which happens if they lose all their hit points. They can still support their comrades from the sidelines, but can’t fight directly. Villain flip-sides are generally bad news, giving them extra hit points, powers, or even temporary invulnerability.
To succeed you’ll need to work as a team. Each hero deck suits a different playing style. Haka is aggressive and can take a lot of punishment. Tempest is more of a glass cannon, with great offensive potential, but needs protecting. Tachyon plays and draws cards quickly, the frenetic style matching her super-speed powers. The Visionary can see the future by sneaking a look at upcoming cards in the villain or environment decks.
Some heroes are trickier to master but can be extremely effective. Cards like Bunker’s Omni-Cannon, or Fanatic’s Wrathful Retribution, take thought and preparation, but in the right hands are devastating.
You’ll need to decide when to bide your time and build up power, and when to go on the offensive. Do you strike now, or wait one more round, and risk your stuff getting stolen by a pterodactyl?
The look of Sentinels is a big selling point, but it isn’t all style and no substance. The art is backed up with engaging and entertaining gameplay; you’re constantly having to make difficult decisions about what will benefit your team of heroes the most. The replay value is strong, and because you’ll make different decisions and get different cards each time, no two games exactly alike. There is no player elimination. Even if a hero is defeated, they can still assist their allies, and by the time heroes start dropping, the game is usually nearly over anyway.
It’s great to see a variety of different characters, with both female and male heroes from a diverse range of backgrounds. It’s not just a parade of male and pale, making the game more interesting and inclusive.
However, the random order of cards can sometimes completely turn the tide of a game and occasionally, through sheer bad luck, it becomes unwinnable. The trickiest aspect of the game and the least enjoyable is trying to keep track of all the various ongoing effects. The reminder tiles help, but there aren’t always enough, and you will sometimes have trouble remembering when there are a lot of them in play.
A copy of Sentinels costs about £30, with expansions available for between £3 and £30. I can’t recommend this game enough. Everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed it. So go out and give it a try, and save the world while you’re at it.