(By Alexandre Poirier)
Hell, it’s about time!
I’ve been writing for Jestermind since last November. The last time I wrote anything board game-related, it was snowing outside. Well, this doesn’t mean much since we still had snow a month ago. To be a little more specific, I published my top 10 english board games just before Christmas. It’s both a pity and a shame because, as of January, I’m supposed to be the coordinator of the comic book and board game departments. To repay my debts towards you, dear readers, I shall kill two birds with one stone. You heard me right : tonight’s review is about a board game set in the world of comic book superheroes. Got your attention, my fellow sidekicks? In that case, welcome to astonishing macrocosm of Sentinels of the Multiverse!
Material & Components – The thin line between « cheesy » and « classic » costumes
Let’s be honest. We all thought, at least once in our life, that Superman (among other members of the Justice League) looked ridiculous wearing his underpants over his skinny leggings. It’s definitely not as ridiculous as Adam West’s portrayal of Batman, where he had eyebrows drawn on his cowl and had an ambiguous homoerotic relationship with Robin. The first example is a timeless classic, simply because everyone went apeshit when DC Comics, during the New 52 transition, decided to put the Man of Steel’s underpants back onto… hum… his « Man of Steel ». The latter is a cheesy relic we want to keep buried : every single human being that has lived on this planet for the last 75 years is trying to forget Batman’s awful gadgets from the 1960s.
Fortunately for us, Sentinels’ visual style is reminiscent of that famous Golden Age era of flamboyant, classic and out-of-style superheroes. It may seem rather cheaply drawn at first and it definitely doesn’t look like something I would have bought compulsively. It assumes its particular « comic book touch » so much that you couldn’t do anything else but to admire the meticulous and lovable work of Adam Rebottaro, the incredible artist who has illustrated the rule book and the thousands of cards you’ll get to see if you buy Sentinels of the Multiverse and all of its expansions. Even if you don’t, you’ll still get 614 cards and 162 various tokens in the base game set. Each card is designed to make it look like it’s a page torn out of Avengers Vs X-Men. The character cards look like a monthly issue with the title being replaced by the name of the hero or villain, the issue number being replaced by its base HP (hit points) and the publisher being replaced by the « Sentinel Comics » logo. As for the other game cards (attacks, environments and such), the speech (or explosion) bubbles serve as a way to indicate the HP of minions or environmental threats, the picture shown is like a comic book panel, the font used for the card texts is like the one used in the old Detective Comics and the flavor text just makes them so much more amazing!
Like the Hero and Villain bios, they were written by Christopher Badell, who has done an incredible job creating these unique characters and filled them with multiple Easter eggs that’ll make you smile for sure if you’re a comic book geek. The tokens aren’t that special though : they’re just round and rectangular cardboard thingies that’ll help you keep track of your progress as you fight the forces of evil. As for the organization of the components in the box, publisher Greater Than Games was wise enough to include divider cards to easily find the different decks in the medium-sized box as well as little foam cubes to keep them in place. If you don’t want to find a clusterfuck each time you open the box, do yourself a favor and buy a couple of rubber bands so the cards don’t spread across the cardboard prison when you bring the game to your friends’ place.
Setup & Gameplay – We’re friends, but we need a bigger table like the Super Friends
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a fixed-deck cooperative card game for « 2 to 5 » players which means that, unlike deck-building card games like Dominion or Thunderstone, each deck will have the same cards in it each time you play. You’ll still be surprised since you’ll probably only get halfway through your deck before the Freedom Five wins (or loses) against one of the infamous Villains. Now, I’ve been putting quotation marks for a reason in the number of players, because Sentinels isn’t really designed to be a 2-player game, even though it’s written on the box. It is extremely difficult, even almost impossible, to win against a Villain with only two Heroes since each Hero has an average of 25 HP and the bad guy about 75 HP. To get over this awful design problem if you’re playing with only one your buddies, at least one of the players will have to pick two Heroes instead of one before starting, just to make sure you get the chance to kick Baron Blade’s butt (or any other evil dude) at least once in your life. It might give you headaches to play two different Heroes however, since Heroes are pretty much all different and offer different strategies.Your team will also have to choose which Villain (Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, Omnitron or Grand Warlord Voss) and Environment (Insula Primalis, Megalopolis, Ruins of Atlantis or Wagner Mars Base) decks you’ll want to play against, each one being really different regarding their attacks and strategies.
There are three different turns in Sentinels, played in that order: Villain, Heroes and Environment. The Villain and Environment’s turns consists of applying the effects of the cards already in play and then playing the top card of its deck. The Heroes’ turn is a little more complex: you still have the same two Villain’s phases (card effects and play), but you’ll also have to use (or not) one the Heroes’ unique powers and then draw a new card. Each player will use its Hero’s power and abilities to destroy the Villain’s machiavellian plans (which includes impossible gadgets and overpowered minions), protect his teammates or prevent the Environment from hurting you or your buddies by sending you a crashing train or a pack of raptors, for example. The game ends when you have beaten the Villain or when all the Heroes have perished at his hands. However, even if your Hero dies during the game, you still get to play, but you can only use a special “beyond death” power at your turn. On the other hand, the game might also end when your table is overflowing with so many cards and tokens that you can’t see a thing. So make sure your table is big enough to differentiate the various decks, cards in play and trashes from one another. For further help with this problem, you might also consider having a pen and a couple of pieces of paper with you at all time, because the round HP tokens and the rectangle-shaped ailment tokens are not that practical. Especially the latter because you’ll never find the same thing written on the front and the back side of these little things. Or you could spend an extra 5$ and buy the app from iTunes and Google Play to make things easier.
Fun & Replayability – Like the ever-changing roster of the Avengers
I’ve had the chance to play two games with my neighbor and good friend Julien last week. It was a good decision to play with him because he already played Sentinels a couple of times and, as comic book fans, we had a lot of fun finding and laughing at the Easter eggs. Especially him since he was almost always reading aloud (in the voice of his Heroes, if I may add) the little flavor texts and the name of the cards. It is simply amazing to find out that two games will never play the same if, of course, you decide to choose different Heroes, Vilains and Environments each time. We battled against Grand Master Voss (he’s like a red Thanos) with Legacy (a Superman/Captain America-like who protects his teammates), Ra (an egyptian Thor-like who uses the power of fire), Tachyon (a Flash-like woman) and Absolute Zero (a Mr. Freeze-like who gets fire damages each turn, but may transform these to attack his enemies with ice) during our first playthrough, which we won, but not by much. I almost sacrificed Absolute Zero to deliver a final blow to Grand Master Voss. During our second playthrough, which we easily won against Citizen Dawn (a once normal woman who uses the power of the sun to get her abilities), we decided to switch Ra and Absolute Zero for Haka (Kraven the Hunter + Black Panther) and Tempest (Aquaman + Martian Manhunter).
The designers have done an amazing job to reflect the superpowers of each Hero into its deck’s mechanics. For example, since Tachyon is the “Fastest Woman on Earth”, she may not cause many damages during her turn, but if you manage to combine certain cards, you might punch Voss’ guts ten times during the play phase while the other Heroes are going to attack once during their turns, two at the most: trust me, I’ve tried. Sentinels of the Multiverse might not be “Earth’s Mightiest Game”, thanks to annoying cardboard tokens and a couple of contradictions between the cards’ text that sometimes overcomplicates a playthrough. But at 40$, with amazing artworks and fun game mechanics that are easy to explain to your dog or your grandmother (I’ve managed to explain this game to a friend in less than 2 minutes), this gaming jewel will make sure you have an amazing time. You’ll also support an indie board game developer at the same time!