Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse (Enhanced Edition, Greater Than Games, LLC)
Posted by Denny Koch on April 2, 2013
Game: Sentinels of the Multiverse (Enhanced Edition)
Publisher: Greater Than Games, LLC
Published in: 2011
Designers: Christopher Badell, Paul Bender, Adam Rebottaro
Game Type: Cooperative, fixed-deck Card Game
Topic: Superheroes vs. Supervillains
Contents: 578 cards (63 x 88 mm):
- 10 Hero Character Cards- 10 Hero Decks of 40 cards each
- 8 Villain Character and Game Text Cards
- 4 Villain Decks of 25 cards each
- 4 Environment Decks of 15 cards each
Number of Players: 2-5 (meaning: 3-5 hero characters)
Our Rating (1-10):
Graphic Presentation: 8
Replay Value: 9
Overall Rating: 8.5
|PRO||Very thematic; perhaps the most “superheroic” superhero game out there; unlimited combinations of super heroes, super villains, and environments ensure a very high replay value; easy to expand; cool universe; very diverse heroes (tanks, supporter, damage-dealer, deck controller…), villains and environments offer much variety; very simple rules but demanding gameplay; almost no setup time; well thought-out gamebox (deck dividers provide a perfect storage system)|
|CONTRA||Hard to win with certain hero / villain / environment combinations; two players are required to take 2 heroes each or the game will be unbeatable; storage system doesn’t work with sleeved cards; some important info counters are not included in the game but have to be crafted by the players themselves|
Introduction: What is “Sentinels of the Multiverse”?
“Sentinels of the Multiverse” is a cooperative, fixed-deck card game based on a (non-existent) Comic book universe – it’s not Marvel, it’s not DC, but nevertheless – it conveys the authentic feeling of a rich, living, complex Comic book world.
Players take the role of a super hero. Each super hero has his or her unique back story, super powers, and own agenda. The “character card”, which shows the image of the player’s chosen character, is drawn like a comic book cover, and you can easily imagine that your hero is the hero of their own comic book series. In addition, you can even find different drawing styles for different heroes.
The hero’s fixed 40 cards deck consists of special powers, items, equipment, instant actions and you can find inspiring quotes from “Sentinels Multiverse” fictional comic books on the lower half of each card, together with a fictional reference to a non-existent comic book – which is quite nice and strongly reminds of references to other issues in Marvel comics.
In other words – Sentinels of the Multiverse (SotM) does a very nice job in “simulating” a Comic book universe. This works so good that it actually feels very thematic, very superheroic (it soon became for us the most atmospheric superhero game currently out there!). The fact that it isn’t based on Marvel or DC characters has one additional advantage: the designers are absolutely free in designing the characters. There are no limits, no restrictions on how to develop a certain character. That makes it much easier to design a “damage dealer” character, or a “deck control and support” character than in creating a Captain America or Green Lantern deck, where players have certain expectations what this character does – and does not. If you are a comic book fan, you will even recognize some of the most famous comic book heroes in SotM characters – some are obviously influenced by their “real” counterparts, but they are never a cheap copy (for example, we discovered aspects of Iron Man, the Punisher, Batman, or the Flash) .
Each SotM character, each Super Villain is very distinct and strongly differs from the other characters in the game. So playing a different character is an entirely new experience each time and you have to adjust your teamwork and tactics according to this character’s traits, strengths and weaknesses. Trying out a new deck without knowing what to expect, and finding out what it’s about, is really exciting.
The rule book tells the background story of “Sentinels of the Multiverse”. You will learn about the “Freedom Five” and their mission, about the Super Villains who plan to conquer or destroy the world. In the Core Game, there are four different arch enemies (varying in complexity levels). You can choose to fight Omnitron, the sentient robot factory, an Alien Warlord, Baron Blade, the mad scientist (who is somewhat inspired by Marvel’s Doctor Doom) or Citizen Dawn (with some similarities to Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). In addition, you can choose among four different environments where your game takes place, for example a hostile Mars Base, the Ruins of Atlantis, or Insula Primalis, an archaic tropical volcanic island with dinosaurs!
In addition, Greater Than Games began to publish little comic book episodes (the “Freedom Four annual #1″) in addition to the character biographies on their official Sentinels website which add some spice to the background story. If you want to learn more about the characters, the environments, and the back story, this website is highly recommended. After a while, you begin to believe that SotM is an existing, fully fleshed-out comic book universe. The official forum on the same website is also recommended; here you find in-depth strategies for all characters and a lively fan community.
The game can be expanded very easily by adding new decks, villains, and environments. Since all decks are fixed, you have to learn to play with what your hero has at his or her disposal. There is no deck building, no collectible element, and each character can (and must) be played out of the box. There are several expansions available which bring more complexity to the game by adding characters with very synergistic dynamics, who need much preparation time and optimized play. New special rules can be included in decks very easily without inflating the very lean rule book.
In the Core game, the 10 super heroes play very differently and their decks offer varying complexity levels. Some characters are easier to play because they work quite straightforward. Other characters require preparation and the combining of various effects – Absolute Zero, for example, who had an accident in a sub-zero atomizer, has the special power of dealing fire or ice damage to himself. At first, this doesn’t make much sense, because a hero is incapacitated once his Health Points have reached zero. But over the course of a game, Absolute Zero learns to deal damage others whenever he suffers fire damage or to heal himself by suffering ice damage, so this leads to very nice synergistic effects.
Villains (handled by the game’s AI) also play very differently. They have a personality created by their special rules (elegantly included into their character cards and deck), and are all very dangerous and very serious opponents which are quite hard to beat.
Last but not least, each Environment (also handled by the game’s AI) is generally hostile (both to the players and to the villain), and surprises the players with dangerous events and interruptions which can’t be ignored and have to be dealt with while fighting the super villain, adding another danger level to the game.
Graphic Presentation and Component Quality
Sentinels of the Multiverse is shipped in a solid box with a plastic inlay which is optimized for storing all decks (even the first two expansions!), separated by their deck divider cards.
The cards are standard-sized, so they can be sleeved quite easily with default card sleeves. But watch out, if you sleeve your cards (as we did), you cannot use the storage system provided by the game box, because your cards become slightly too large. It would be perfect if the designers would have added just a few millimeters to their plastic holding inlay to satisfy all players who prefer to sleeve their card games.
The cards are strong and glossy, but since they are black, they are more prone to tear and wear than white cards (this was the reason why FFG printed their LCG cards on a white background as opposed to the black CCG predecessors). So sleeving the cards is highly recommended, regardless of the fact that the overall card quality is very good.
Nothing to complain about the card print, though. Each deck has a distinctive backside and can be separated easily from the other decks. The counters and markers are sturdy. The printing quality of the cards is good, full color, and the pictures on the cards are atmospheric and modern. Each deck has a slightly different art-style and presents their super hero and their abilities, items, and powers in a very comic bookish style. The illustrations for Egypt sun god Ra, for example, who is one of the super hero characters, are very Egyptian while angelic Templar Fanatic has an almost Manga-like art style (reminding me of the Berserk comics). All in all, the art design is very fresh, very modern and very dynamic. Not all people like the art style (I read reviews where the author disliked the drawings on the cards), but we think they are very cool and very thematic. A matter of taste, surely.
There is almost no setup time. You don’t need anything else to play the game, just a table, your deck of cards, a villain deck and an environment deck, and some counters which serve as reminders, and you are ready to go.
For your first game, you have to unwrap the shrink-wrapped decks, sort them into the 10 hero, 4 villain, and 4 environment decks, and then you can begin to play the game.
If you play a new game, simply take your character deck of choice, choose (or randomly select) a villain and an environment, put the counters within easy reach of all players, and start playing. Setup time is under 1 min.
The box includes a full-color rule book which is also available for download in PDF format on the official website.
The rules comprise the smallest part of the rule book, since the core mechanics of the game are very easy and understood within minutes. The complexity and toughness of the game comes from the various decks and synergies and special card effects. The Core mechanic is very lean and elegant, and the game and even game depth can be expanded endlessly without inflating the rule book simply by adding more decks that have their own rules printed on the cards.
The rules are well illustrated and written in a clear fashion. We never encountered any ambiguities or questions we couldn’t solve on our own. The core rules are straightforward and if you take them literally without interpreting what a rule “doesn’t allow”, you will be fine. The card texts are also very clear. In contrast to the LCGs by Fantasy Flight Games (for example, Call of Cthulhu), there isn’t any need for including special rules, exceptions, and what-ifs into the rule book. The SotM rule book includes the most basic rules (sequence of play, card anatomy), and that’s it. The rest is explained on the cards and only there, and there are no special rules to remember or to keep in mind. Everything is detailed right in front of you if you play a card, and if you take the wording of a card literally, nothing can go wrong.
SotM certainly is one of the most accessible games with very easy core rules that can be learned (and explained to other players) within 5 minutes. Despite this, the game isn’t simple or one-dimensional or “light”, but a very tough challenge and with a certain tactical impact, especially since it is a coop experience where players win or lose together.
Most pages of the rule book (which is printed in a comic book style) are filled with hero and villain biographies, lists of the various complexity levels of all decks, a glossary which explains the most important key words, small boxes explaining basic concepts like combat, damage and hit points. One important aspect of the game is that, whenever ambiguous situations arise, the players choose the outcome – no random determination is required.
In addition, there are several examples for all core rules which help to illustrate the game mechanics. If you are still unsure how to play the game (which is unlikely after reading the rule book), there is also a slide show in the gameplay section of the official website explaining the rules.
The rules are exemplary in their simplicity and unambiguity. They really help to concentrate on gameplay and defeating the super villain instead of struggling with the wording of certain rules. We were delighted when we learned the game, and one of our co-testers in the HFC test lab (who didn’t read the rule book but was taught by us how to play the game) was excited about the fact that the game was understood within minutes without any questions left.
Only some very, very rare game situations could not be explained by consulting the rule book (mainly with regard to synergistic effects between villains and heroes under certain conditions when several conditions and effects happened simultaneously), but everything could be solved with common sense.
The most important rule of thumb is certainly that effects are resolved in chronological order from “oldest” to “youngest”, so cards which were played first resolve first; the longer a card lays on the table, the earlier its effect resolves within a sequence. This helps to clear most situations. So if you play new cards on the table, don’t place them randomly or separated by type, but place them in a chronological order. This makes things much easier.
In addition, there are “advanced” optional rules which increase the difficulty (but actually the game is difficult enough even on the normal settings).
One minor complaint, though. The “advanced rules” section also mentions the option that “two experienced players” could play with “two characters each”. This is somewhat misleading; if you are playing with two players, it is absolutely mandatory that each player chooses two characters each. The game is next to unwinnable with two characters, we tested this with all kinds of combinations against the “weakest” villain Omnitron (one story AAR of a two-character game can be found here). The game is sold as a game for “2-5 players” but actually, the game is meant to be a game for “3-5 hero characters”, regardless of the number of players involved.
So two beginners, taking one character each (because the rule book mentions the advanced rule only for “experienced” players) will likely be frustrated during their first matches, and even begin to question game balance. The game scales according to the number of heroes in play, nevertheless we don’t see how two players can ever win the game with only one character each. So we highly recommend that, if you are only two players, to play one test game to get a grasp of the rules (it won’t take long, you will be beaten within a short time), and then to start fresh with two characters each. This also allows for a much more balanced team because you need a good combination of damage-dealers, supporters, deck controllers, healers, damage-takers/tanks to have a chance against the very tough villains and hostile environments.
Gameplay and Playability
As mentioned before, the game is very easy to learn, but the various hero decks are hard to master and the villains are strong opponents. Some decks are easier to play and recommended for beginners, other decks should be played only when you have more experience under your belt. But testing the various decks and the synergies between different heroes is part of the fun.
The hero decks support different styles of play and you can experiment a lot to find out which decks suit you best. Then, if you learned which your favorite heroes are, you still have to master their decks to play them to their fullest potential. The decks are fixed and consist of 40 cards each, but nevertheless you have to optimize your gameplay to get the best out of your specific deck.
Some heroes are really tricky to play and require a lot of attention and concentration in order to get the full potential out of their decks. In addition, certain villains and environments are more dangerous to certain heroes while others are not too affected by their attacks and effects. To know which hero is suited for combat in a certain environment and against a certain villain is important, but to figure it out is very cool and offers much replay value.
Last but not least, it’s always a challenge to pick a difficult hero against an especially dangerous villain and try to defeat them. This is a typical “one more try, I won’t give up!” game which is highly motivating. We discovered some addictivity, and felt motivated to try again, even if we got our asses kicked again and again…
Sequence of Play
The game is played over a number of turns. The game ends if a. The Super Villain is defeated (=reduced to zero HP, but some have an additional victory condition printed on their cards) or b. all super heroes are incapacitated (=reduced to zero HP). There is no other victory condition; once decks are empty, they are reshuffled and the game continues (in contrast to many LCGs). All in all, the game portrays the epic battle between a super villain and super heroes, and this doesn’t end until one side goes down.
The Sequence of Play is simple and very easy to memorize. Nevertheless, the back of the rule book includes a nice player aid sheet which summarizes the sequence. In addition, there is a detailed summarization of the sequence in the rule book, and also a quick summary at the start of the rule book, just in case you didn’t play the game for a while and want to jump right back into it without re-reading the rules. Exemplary!
Each turn starts with the Villain Turn.
First, all actions on all current cards on the table which read “At the beginning of the Villain turn…” are resolved in chronological order.
Most Villains have an “at start” action which is triggered at the beginning of each new turn. In addition, over the course of the game, several cards will be placed on the table and remain there for a while (“Ongoing cards” or equipment or other characters, for example minions, drones, or soldiers).
After all actions “at the beginning of the Villian turn” have been resolved, a Villain card is played from the villain deck. In our games, one of the players assumes the role of “managing” the villain (which is handled by the AI of the game, but nevertheless, cards have to be drawn and actions have to be resolved). So, the player responsible for managing the villain deck draws the top card of the villain deck and reads out loud the card text (and inspirational quote ;-)). Since many cards contain a lot of text, and some players sit further apart from the center of the table and cannot read all texts on all cards, this helps to keep all players informed about what is going on. When decisions have to be made, and a player wants to know what’s currently on the table, the villain appointee recapitulates all ongoing effects and cards which are currently active and points out certain dangers, for example, “this device will heal the villain in his next turn” or “this bomb is going to explode with 12 damage if we don’t reduce it”. This usually works fine and all players are always informed about what’s going on without any need of re-reading all cards all the time.
The game requires a good deal of table talk anyway, so appointing one player to overlook the villain deck and to check if any conditions are met or triggered, while another player does the same for the environment deck, helps a lot.
The villain deck contains various effects, for example minions or other creatures are spawned on the table and protect the villain and attack the players, heal the villain, or give him / her other advantages. There are really brutal effects sometimes, e.g. Omnitron’s deck contains an electro-pulse device that will explode each turn at the beginning of the village turn, dealing damage to all players equal to its current hit points. This device first comes into play with 15 HP, so the players have one turn to reduce the device to as few HP as possible by attacking it before it goes off. Since heroes have only 25-35 HP at game start (depending on the chosen character), one explosion with 15 points of damage will be devastating for most heroes and has to be avoided at all costs. So, even if you follow an overall strategy against a certain villain, the game will force you to shift priorities quite often.
After a Villain card is played (some cards or villains allow for more cards to be played during a given turn), all actions with the text “at the end of the villain turn” are resolved in chronological order. This can also lead to more cards being played on the table or additional actions taking place.
It is important to keep in mind that when a card is played during the “draw a villain card” step, “the start of the villain turn” is over already and all cards with such a text will be resolved at the beginning of the next villain turn. If you draw a card during the “at the end of the villain step” and the card reads “at the end of the villain step”, its effect will resolve immediately, which can result in nasty surprises.
After the villain turn, each hero conducts all steps of the hero turn, beginning with the first hero. They don’t go through their actions simultaneously, but one hero has to complete all steps in their turn before the next hero can do their actions. So communicating what each hero wants to do or can do or should do in a given round is vital for successful teamplay. This is a true cooperative game and agreements about what to do, which target to prioritize, which powers to use are very important. The game is very hard and defeating a super villain isn’t an easy task, so talking and team working and planning together is a major aspect of the game. It is important not to waste a player’s turn because things can get nasty pretty fast and the game is full of unpleasant surprises, both from the villain and from the environment the heroes are fighting in.
The first player performs all “at the start of the hero turn” actions on all their cards that are already on the table. Here, each player is responsible for keeping an eye on their played cards, so that they don’t miss an action which must or may be taken now. If the moment has passed and the player went on to the second step, the “start of the player turn” is over and gone for this turn.
Next, the player may play a hero card from their hand. Each player has a card hand (hand size is unlimited, but cards are spent for many things, so the hand will never be large enough; some characters have a special talent for card drawing while others will often have much too few cards due to limited resources). It is important to note that the player can only choose and play one card in this step (except when using certain effects and powers that allow the play of more cards). Nevertheless, there will be lots of effects, powers, and “tricks” which will allow them to play more than one card in a given turn.
Cards can be anything, from direct attacks or instant-actions (called “One-Shot”) to Ongoing cards which stay on the table until they are removed by another effect. Cards can contain special powers which can be triggered under certain circumstances, or be an equipment or item which give the hero special advantages, it can be anything from reducing damage, changing damage type or helping others.
After playing the card and resolving its effect, the player is allowed to use one “power“. Each hero has a special superhero power which is printed on the character card. Some powers are straightforward (deal damage to an enemy, draw a card, use a second power), some are more esoteric (deal damage to yourself). In addition, to the power listed on the character card, you can have cards in play (on the table) which also have a power listed. If you have two or more powers in play, you can choose one in your power step – use the power on your character card or use one power on one of your other cards in play. Some characters or effects or synergies allow you to use more powers during a turn, but without such effects, you can only use one power now.
After using your power, you can draw a card from your hero deck. If you choose to neither play a card nor use a power in your turn, you may draw two cards instead.
Finally, the hero player conducts all actions which are introduced by the words “at the end of the hero turn…” on all their cards in play. This may result in more possible actions, card draws, use of powers etc..
Then, the next hero player starts their turn and repeats all steps. This continues until all hero players have done their turns.
Last but not least, it’s the Environment Turn. The Environment the battle takes place in has its own deck and is generally more hostile than helpful. As with the Villain deck, we usually designate a player who conducts the actions for the Environment and is responsible for keeping an eye on the cards and effects, drawing new cards and reading them aloud.
At the beginning of the Environment Turn, all effects with “at the beginning of the Environment Turn” are conducted in chronological order. This can be harmful effects like volcanic eruptions, attacks by creatures, toxic damage by oxygen leaks, or many other things. What is interesting is the fact that the Environment often harms both the players and the villain and his minions. After all, a volcano doesn’t care about heroes or villains, it simply erupts…
After all actions have been resolved, the Environment appointee draws a card from the Environment deck and puts it into play. Some cards have an immediate effect (One-Shot), some trigger at the end of the turn, some trigger at the beginning of the next turn. Some cards may also bring more cards into play, which is always unpleasant.
Finally, you may have guessed so, all effects “at the end of the Environment Turn” on all cards in play are resolved in chronological order.
After the Environment Turn is over, the next turn starts with a new Villain Turn.
SotM is a combat game, it deals with the combat between super heroes and super villains, so combat plays a central role. There is no dice rolling, no combat charts or anything like that – combat is conducted by using card effects and special powers.
The goal of the game is to bring the super villain down to zero HP. This is done by devastating attacks or other effects. There are several different damage types in the game, for example ice damage, fire damage, radiant, lightning, melee, or psychic damage. As long as no special effects are in play, the damage type isn’t relevant. You hit the enemy with damage (regardless of type), take all modifiers into consideration (e.g. equipment like armor or items that reduce damage) and apply the appropriate amount of damage by placing damage counters next to the character or villain.
Under certain circumstances, though, the type of damage becomes relevant. Super Hero Absolute Zero, for example, can heal himself by taking ice damage. Super Villain Omnitron can utilize “adaptive plating” which adapts to the last damage type used against him and renders Omnitron immune against this damage type until a different damage type is used by the heroes. This can be quite tricky if two superheroes use the same damage type – the second hero will be unable to change the damage type then and Omnitron will be immune as long as this adaptive plating is in effect. There are many synergies connected to damage and damage types in the game, there are effects and powers which allow heroes to switch and change the type of damage they use, or to use other effects which only work with a specific damage type.
The game contains some informational counters which can be used as reminders or markers during a game, for example “immune to damage” or “All damage: Fire” which players can use at their own discretion. When Omnitron uses his adaptive shield plating, we use to lay an “immune to damage” marker next to him, with a second counter that lists the damage type he is currently immune to. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t include markers for all damage types, only for the most common (ice, fire, melee). If you use a character that utilizes a more exotic damage type, like Fanatic with her radiant damage or Visionary with her psychic damage, you have to craft your own markers. We created paper counters for all damage types on the computer, using the same fonts as the original counters, but nevertheless, we don’t understand why the game didn’t include counters for all damage types. It’s a kickstarter game and probably the designers wanted to keep the price reasonable, but damage types are so basic and they will be used so often that they will be missed during the game. It’s an unnecessary skip in such a professionally produced game.
Another helpful addition would have been HP trackers. The initial HP are printed on the character cards, but soon players and villains begin to lose HP due to attacks and suffering other damage. Placing damage counters next to the character is not the optimal solution because you must always calculate your current HP by subtracting the number of damage tokens from your maximum HP, which is even more difficult if you want to get a quick overview over your coop partners’ current health. A tracker, no matter how primitive, where you can mark your current HP number, would have been a great improvement. The beautiful and effective HP trackers in the Lord of the Rings – The Card Game by FFG come to mind.
You can craft your own HP tracker, of course, there are several files on Boardgamegeek which allow you to print “health wheels” (similar to the hit point trackers in the above mentioned LotR Card Game by FFG). You can also draw a simple line with numbers from 1 to your maximum hit point number on a piece of paper and push a counter up and down. Nevertheless, including HP trackers into the game, would have been a great improvement.
Combat is conducted by playing cards (mostly one-shots like “deal 1 radiant damage to all enemies” or “deal 2 melee and 1 fire damage to one target”) or by using powers (“deal 2 fire damage to a target”).
You can increase and reduce damage by using special effects on your ongoing cards. The environment may also have an impact on damage, for example the Obsidian fields on Insula Primalis reduces the damage for all participating parties, the villains as well as the heroes. You can track current modifiers by placing a damage counter on the cards which are responsive for the effect. The game offers “Damage dealt +1″, “Damage dealt -1″, “Damage taken +1″ and “Damage taken -1″ counters which you can use freely at your own discretion, play and place them where they are most useful for you. Some players prefer to place such a reminder near the responsible card (in the mentioned example near the Obsidian field), whereas other players prefer to place all current effects next to their character cards to calculate the net result. You can handle this as you see fit, the rules don’t dictate when to use which counter and even encourage you to make your own counters or use other objects as reminders.
Not all superheroes are good at attacking enemies, though. There are some damage-dealers like Egyptian god Ra, Maori warrior Haka, “Iron Man” Bunker, or angelic Templar Fanatic. But there are also characters that cannot deal much damage at all – they are supporters and deck controllers. To find a balanced team is important; if you run into battle with 4 damage dealers, you will soon learn that it’s not very helpful if you don’t have any characters with healing capabilities. Controlling the villain deck can be much more helpful than dealing out one lousy damage point here and there and buffing other players attacks with extra damage is priceless.
Needless to say, the super villains can often heal themselves as well. So if you try to grind a villain down who heals himself each round by the same amount of HP you just dealt to him as damage, you soon learn that you are doing things wrong. Combat in SotM isn’t complicated, but it’s not all about dealing simple damage, you should keep that in mind. Villains can have up to 100 HP, and may spawn other objects, or minions that have HP as well, so you can imagine that dealing little amounts of damage with default attacks won’t do the trick alone. Figuring out how to dish out a major blow and destroying a certain equipment of the villain is part of the fun and necessary to have a chance.
The villain will also attack the heroes, sometimes only one hero, sometimes all of them. In addition, the environment often has damaging effects as well, so your HP will drop fast if you don’t watch out.
If a hero is down to zero HP, he or she isn’t out of the game entirely but considered to be “incapacitated“. In this case, the character card is flipped and instead of going through a regular player turn, the hero player can then choose to use one of three options (one player of your choice may draw a card, one player of your choice may use a power now etc.). In practice, you are out of the game. In most cases, the other players will decide which of your powers will help them most in the given situation, so you don’t have much to decide anyway. So you will grant one player the power of their choice, and then be limited to playing the Villain and Environment cards and take care of the counters and markers. Since it is possible that one character is out of the game early, this can be somewhat boring. The designers intended to give the “out of the game” players something to do by offering them three options if being incapacitated, but since these aren’t true options at all but determined by the situation and the remaining players (you won’t give a player with many cards a free card draw while another player could use an incredibly strong power, so you will follow the majority decision), you are actually out. Fortunately, we had this situation only twice where a player was killed early in the game. Sometimes, a player is incapacitated during mid-game, but most of the time, all players fought to the bitter end and went down within two or three turns.
In addition, the “incapacitated abilities” of some heroes are much more valuable than the abilities of other heroes. Ra, for example, can remove Ongoing cards or Environment cards when incapacitated, the Wraith can heal. Visionary, on the other hand, can make you draw a card. This makes Ra or Wraith very powerful characters even if they are incapacitated, while others have somewhat generic effects and are not of much use then.
The Replay Value is very high. As mentioned before, there are nearly endless combinations of super heroes, super villains and environments at your disposal. Some combinations will work better than others, and it’s usually more difficult to build a team consisting exclusively of supporters and slow characters. The more players you have (to a maximum of 5), the better they complement each other and you can afford to bring very slow (but strong) characters and more than one supporter to the table.
It is questionable and time will show whether it is possible to play all combinations of characters against all villains, especially if you are a small group (3 characters). During our first game sessions with two and three characters, we came to the conclusion that certain characters are simply a must in a team making the game much easier (or even winnable at all!) while other characters cannot be afforded by such a small group or at least shouldn’t be combined with certain other characters. This is all open to debate, though
In the end, the game is recommended for 4 characters and I think this allows for the optimal combination of damage dealers, tanks, supporters and controllers without raising the difficulty level scaling (which depends on the number of characters in play) too high. In a four-character-group, you can even afford a character who is very slow and takes his time to build up his most powerful moves. There are also very fast characters and characters which are very well-balanced between offense and defense, attack and support.
The villains are very different as well. From the easiest ones (Omnitron and Baron Blade) to the most complex ones (Citizen Dawn and Grand Warlord Voss), players will have to cooperate and play their decks well if they want to defeat their opponents. No villain is a pushover, each of them is dangerous and has his or her own tactics, means and agenda. They all play and feel very differently, which is a great thing. They are not interchangeable, they are personalities of their own and it’s fun to fight them, even if they stomp you to the ground.
The same is true for the Environments. You can choose between four very different Environments. All of them are very thematic, very true to their topic and they convey a very specific atmosphere by telling a story of their own. The Insula Primalis with dinosaurs and volcanoes feels very different from Wagner Mars Base with its defense mechanisms, biosphere accidents, and oxygen leaks, not to forget it’s timed self-destruct mechanism we know and love from many Sci-Fi movies. While the fight goes on on the dinosaur isle Velociraptor packs will pick out the weakest hero, a Pterodactyl steals equipment and brings it to its nest, on Mars an oxygen leak in space intoxicates the heroes if it isn’t closed soon.
Last but not least, the replay value is very high because the game can be easily expanded by adding new villains, heroes and environments. There are several expansions available already, for example Rook City, an urban environment with freakish new villains and some cool new locations to choose from (you could fight a creature half human/half rat that poisons and infects players and sends packs of rats against them, perhaps found in the toxic Industrial complex with scary vats, filled with strange stuff, which tend to explode from time to time). The other expansion, Infernal Relics, brings exotic environments like the Tomb of Anubis and new gameplay mechanics based on old Relics. These expansions deepen the gameplay and enhance the complexity without a need for a rule book change because everything is self-explanatory and introduced with the new cards.
Here is endless potential for expanding the game, for adding levels of complexity, for adding new exciting surroundings, villains, and characters, new stories that are told on your gaming table. All of these can be combined with each other, regardless of which expansion or core game the decks came from. Everything can be mixed and this allows for almost unlimited experimentation and new strategies.
There are also large expansions announced which will also add greatly to the replay value of the game. I’m optimistic that we will be able to spend a lot of time with SotM in the future. Even the Core game with its 10 heroes, 4 environments and 4 villains is challenging and allows for many combinations and different experiences. Since you can also play the game with a small group (2 players, taking 2 characters each) as well as a large group (5 players playing one character each), there is great potential for recombination and experimentation.
In my opinion, this game is one of the games with the highest replay value ever and will not get old soon.
This isn’t a deck building game (as the DC Deck Building game which is also currently in our test lab). Instead, players have a fixed set of 40 cards. These cards are not expanded, changed, or traded in any way, as in a Living or Collectible Card Game, and there is no enhancing of a deck. You cannot build your ultimate killer deck but have to operate with the character as-is. The true challenge lies in playing a pre-designed, fixed deck to its fullest potential and to learn to control a certain character.
This game feels new and fresh, especially when compared with the FFG LCGs or deck-building games like the new DC game. It’s a solid cooperative card game with many interesting mechanics. We like the hostile environment, which is a character of its own (of course we hate it during a game, but the general idea is very cool ;-)), and the villains are all very individual and differ much.
The idea of making a game about a non-existing comic book universe is also very cool and in our opinion, this comic multiverse is portrayed very authentically and convincingly. You don’t need the same old Marvel or DC characters we all know so well to make a good superhero game – you will become fans of Ra, or The Wraith, or Legacy, or Tempest as if they were real characters from a comic book series you love and have read for years.
The environments, the characters are very exotic, diverse, and innovative (ever fought in the Tomb of Anubis, followed by an Island full of Dinosaurs, and then inside a toxic factory?), and the character decks are well balanced and well thought-out. In addition, the designers are always open to input from the community, there are even character contests where players can suggest new super heroes, background stories etc. This leads to a highly creative process and a lively community, so I would say that the overall creativity surrounding SotM is high, despite the fact that the game system itself isn’t too exotic and new in all aspects.
Well… this is a superhero game and this is simulated perfectly! It’s not a consim, it’s not even a wargame, but what the game simulates, it simulates well. SotM simulates an entire comic book universe that doesn’t exist on printed paper, and it simulates epic superhero battles against megalomaniac supervillains. The game is great at story-telling, each game tells a unique story which is driven by the events from the Environment deck and the actions of the heroes and the villains.
Special powers, abilities, surroundings, items, all this is portrayed in a very thematic fashion, very true to the topic. In our opinion, this is the most thematic superhero game out there, and it beats other Superhero games (like the DC Deck building game) by far. It doesn’t need well-known super heroes – the heroes of SotM are cool and very individual and you will get to know them really fast.
Well, you can certainly play this game solitaire since the Villain and the Environment are handled by the game’s AI and all heroes cooperate with each other.
You could do this if you want to learn the game (but you should at least play 3, better 4 characters simultaneously), or if you want to try out certain combinations or synergy effects.
In the long run, we would always recommend playing it with at least one other human player, the more, the merrier. This is a cooperative game, after all, and deciding things together (and blaming the others if things go wrong!) is part of the game. Despite the fact that the mechanics allow for solitaire play, at least two players are recommended to make things really fun. This is a perfect game for families with (older) kids, or playing groups, but many players also report that they enjoy playing it solitaire with several characters.
Can be compared to…
You could compare the game to any superhero game, if you want to find out which game is the most thematic game on the topic, or you could compare the cooperative card game mechanics.
In regards to the superhero aspect, SotM is certainly the most thematic superhero game currently available. Compared to the current DC Deck Building Game, there is much more depth and love to detail. The DC game is much more generic and abstract, and much more repetitive while this game offers more diversity and replayability.
In regards to the cooperative card game aspect, I felt slightly reminded of the Lord of the Rings LCG by FFG. Here, two players also try to follow a story and beat the game cooperatively. The villains are also handled by the AI and the environments are hostile as well. But Lord of the Rings is a classic LCG where building your deck is the fun part of the game, while SotM has fixed decks, so here the similarities end.
Regarding the high difficulty level, we felt reminded of FFG’s Arkham Horror, where the Old Ones are as dangerous and unforgiving as the supervillains in this game. Both are games which are very hard to beat, but if you manage to beat them, it’s very satisfying.
Denny Koch’s résumé
You may have guessed this by now: I’m a fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse, I greatly enjoy the game and I think it’s one of the coolest and most thematic superhero games on the market. I’m a Marvel comics fan and know my X-Men by heart, but I don’t miss anyone of my heroes here – the (non-existent) Sentinels comic book Multiverse is so convincing that I’m completely satisfied with the adventures of Ra, Legacy, Wraith, Fanatic, Haka or Absolute Zero. In addition, this Multiverse is ever expanding, adding new villains, new locations, new heroes on a regular basis. Together with new expansions come new rules, more complexity, more weird environments and wild stories. The best of all: you decide how complex or straightforward your game is by choosing the superheroes that suit your play-style best.
Sure, you can choose Argent Adept, a character from the “Infernal Relics” expansion who plays several instruments that use special harmonies, rhythms, and melodies (thus allowing you very complex synergies within your deck), but you could also play good old Melee basher Haka or Fire God Ra who does not much more than… dealing fire damage all the time. It’s up to you!
Since this is considered to be a review about the Core game (reviews of the expansions will follow shortly), how about the replayability and variety of the Core pack as a standalone game? Well, you will certainly spend much time with your attempts to beat the four included villains in all four environments. Even if you own only the Core pack, there is so much to do and enough room for experimentation. You can experiment with combining various characters, by playing with 3 players or a larger group of 5 players. It’s fun to choose a new deck and play it, just to find out what it’s about and how to best use the characters abilities – is s/he a supporter? A damage dealer? A fast or a slow deck? Any chance of controlling the villain and/or environment deck? What about a character who profits from a large discard pile? How fun is it to buff and heal others without dealing much damage? The ten characters in the Core pack, combined with the villains and environments, offer surprisingly good replay value and there is no immediate need for buying expansions.
On the other hand, the more characters, villains, environments, the more recombination is possible and the more cool combos, synergies and pairings you will discover. So, there is no need to buy an expansion, but doing so is a great enhancement to an already fantastic Core game.
My complaints are only of minor nature. Why they didn’t include reminder tokens for all damage types remains a mystery to me (besides my suspicion that there are monetary reasons for including only a handful of damage types). But crafting new reminders, even by simply writing the missing words on small pieces of paper and placing them on the table next to the affected character works fine (it just isn’t very atmospheric to use ugly pieces of paper with handwritten ballpen font). Perhaps in a future expansion, the missing damage types will be included, my hopes are still high!
The box with its integrated storage system and larger deck divider cards is a great idea; it was built to include even the first two expansions. Alas, if you sleeve your cards (as we do), the storage system doesn’t work anymore because the cards are now slightly too large. A few millimeters only, so it would have been nice if the inlay was just a little bit larger to allow the storage of sleeved decks as well. The cards are printed on black background, which is always dangerous in a card game – so sleeving will help to keep them nice and unmarred.
The fact that the game is nearly unbeatable with two players when both players take only one character each should have been made clearer in the rule book. The suggestion that in a two-player-game, each player should take two characters, should be mentioned more clearly. The game is best suited for 4 superhero characters (not necessarily 4 players), so this is an important fact which could easily lead to frustration among new players.
There is still the question to be resolved whether the game can be won by all character combinations – meaning, can each player choose freely among all characters or are there some strong characters which are mandatory in a group? Can slow and complicated characters be brought into the game without hindering the group, or can they only be included in larger groups (4+) where players can afford to drag a slow character along? What if all players choose supporters / controllers only? Only time will tell.
We made the observation that finding a balanced group composition is much more vital – and difficult – with 3 players than in a 4 or 5 player game. Some combinations probably don’t work at all. But this is only theory; we are still combining and recombining all characters, finding out new synergies, debating the best and worse teams (and proving or disproving our theories), so all this is part of the game and part of the fun. Even if you pick very strange and esoteric characters with weird powers and slow power build-up, you will enjoy the game and probably discover new ways to use your heroes to your advantage.
If a hero is out of the game early (this can happen by disastrous events early in the game, but fortunately, doesn’t happen too often), it’s game over for the player, regardless of the game’s attempt to keep him in play by allowing him the use of one special ‘incapacitated power’ per turn. Most often, the power to be used is decided by the other players, and they don’t need you to speak the words “Well, then I use my power ‘Player 2 may draw a card now’”. But this is true for all cooperative or competitive games which continue until all players are out or victorious, and is not a specific problem of this game. I acknowledge the designers’ attempt to give an incapacitated player something to do each turn, even if this is only the illusion of actually having a choice.
So who should buy this game?
I can recommend the game to fans of superhero comics and movies (who don’t have a fixation on Marvel or DC or other existing superhero universes). If you are open-minded and enjoy the idea of playing a game which only simulates a superhero comic world, you will greatly enjoy the game, because it is very thematic.
A caveat, though – the game rules are very easy, but the game is extremely hard to beat! Most of the time, your teams will be smashed by the super villains and you have to play and coordinate very carefully if you want to stand a chance. The villains are extremely dangerous and if you are the player type who wants to have a fair chance of winning a game (at least at a 50:50 chance per game) or if you are easily frustrated, this game is not for you. Think “Arkham Horror” here – very brutal, very devastating villains and most of the time, you will be beaten. If you can enjoy a game regardless of whether you win it or not because figuring out combinations and experimentation is part of the fun, you should take a look! If you manage to win a game, this is a very rewarding experience.
If you like cooperative games, this game is also for you. There is a lot of table talk required, players have to coordinate their actions, and lone wolves who ignore the group won’t stand a chance. The game is very unforgiving, the villains are really tough, and you are forced to cooperate all the time. Your team will also get stronger the better you know your characters and decks. This is a game where experience helps a lot! Specializing on a certain role or characters within your group will make you a valuable asset and allow you for even playing the more complex characters in a helpful and supportive way. You can experiment together, decide tactics together, so this game is definitely a must for the dedicated coop fan!
All in all, SotM is a fantastic superhero card game which we can recommend wholeheartedly. It offers so much superhero stuff, variety, and longevity that we will greatly enjoy it for a long, long time to come!
Fear the all-engulfing might of the Sun God!
- Ra, Arcane Tales #63