Will Baron Blade succeed in his plans to pull the Moon into the Earth? Or will the Freedom Five defeat him and save the world? Sentinels of the Multiverse by Christopher Badell and Adam Rebottaro is a cooperative hand-management boss-battler game in which superheroes work together to defeat a villain. It’s best played with 3-5, though it also works with fewer players, and games typically last 30-60 minutes.
Badell’s inspiration was that most superhero games were competitive battlers; he aimed to produce a game with heroes working together to defeat a foe too powerful for any of them to take n individually.
How To Play
Pick a villain, an environment (the place where the battle is happening), and a hero per player (more than one if needed. so that you have 3-5 heroes total). Each one comes with their own deck of cards, and maybe setup instructions.
Rounds go in a set order: first the villain takes a turn (playing a card off their deck), then each hero takes their turn to play a card and/or use a superpower, then something happens in the environment (perhaps help from the local cops, perhaps a monster that attacks everyone indiscriminately). Each turn progresses in phases, and cards in play may give you extra things to do in those phases (such as a villain bringing an extra minion into play). Each hero has an innate power on their character card, and some of the cards they play will give them additional powers, gradually giving them more options as the fight goes on. If the villain runs out of hit points before all the heroes do, you’ve won.
That’s the basic flow of Sentinels of the Multiverse, but the real interest comes from seeing the different play styles that go along with each element. For example, The Wraith (something like The Batman, a highly-trained normal human) does damage largely with weapons, which in game terms are Item cards which stay in play once they’re on the table; Ra uses One-Shot fire spells which are played once and then gone; Legacy (in the game’s lore, not entirely unlike Superman) is mechanically mostly a support character who powers up his allies more than doing damage himself. Some villains just need to be punched; some have more complex rules, such as becoming invulnerable for a time when enough of their minions are taken out of the fight or instantly winning the game if they become excessively bored, that will require the players to work together on choosing what to attack and when.
Randomness is a big part of the game: sometimes the cards will just fall against you, or everything will go your way. Recovering from bad situations can be great fun, and so can mashing a villain flat as the right cards come up at the right time, but the experience isn’t necessarily a consistent one.
The impression I got reading comics casually as a child was of a great big universe that I was getting a small window into by reading just one book at a time – and playing Sentinels gives me that same nostalgic impression now. Sentinel Comics, the notional books in which these heroes appear, don’t actually exist, but they feel as though they might, with some characters clearly inspired by superheroes in real comics while others are distinct to their own setting.
If you want more lore, the designers’ podcast The Letters Page goes into lots of detail – but I’ve found that I enjoy the game more as a relative outsider, and the jokes that I’ve built up with my own playing groups aren’t necessarily the same as anyone else’s.
One problem of the game is action at a distance: this card I play gives all heroes +1 each time they do damage, so you take a “+1 damage” token for your hero – but when the card goes out of play again, it cancels the bonus, so we need to remember to check the table and take away that token as well. (Ideally there’d be bits of string connecting them, like a conspiracy board.) Some cards trigger an effect whenever something else happens, like one of the villain’s minions being defeated. Even with just the content of this core box, it can get tricky to keep track of everything.
This complexity of Sentinels of the Multiverse also means that cooperation between players can become tricky to set up: perhaps I have a bonus to give out, but if most of my attention is going to managing my own play area, I can’t work also out who else at the table might need it most. It’s quite usual to ask “can someone else do at least two damage this turn” while choosing one’s target priorities.
This edition of the game relies heavily on procedure words: for example, “discover” means that you search your draw deck for the specified sort of card, put it into play, and shuffle the deck, while “salvage” means that you search your trash for the card, and put it into your hand. Previous editions laid this out explicitly on each card, which meant a lot of verbiage; this is mechanically cleaner, but does take some getting used to, and the back page of the rulebook gives a handy reference.
The artwork is all by co-designer Adam Rebottaro, and gives a good impression of how a character’s look might have changed over decades of comic publication. Sadly, the depictions of women do tend towards the cheesecake – arguably authentic to the superhero comics style, but it’s not a great look in the modern day.
The core box Sentinels of the Multiverse comes with twelve heroes, six villains, and six environments ranging from the heroes’ own headquarters tower to a base on Mars or the ruins of Atlantis. But that’s not the end of it: each hero has a “first appearance” variant, with the same deck of cards but a different core power, while each villain also has an “Event” and a “Critical Event”, particular famous incidents in the notional comics plotline – these change the way the villain works, while keeping the same deck. (And if you like you can put them into chronological order and use them as a campaign of sorts.)
Other components are hit point dials for heroes and villains, and card tokens to track hit points of the cannon fodder, or indicate bonuses to damage or defences. (The villain dial suffers from an off-centre hole, but this can be fixed with careful cutting.)
Editions & Expansions
This is the second major edition of Sentinels. It was originally released in 2011, and gradually built up a huge array of add-on content, new heroes, villains and environments, culminating in the OblivAeon event that ended the line in 2018. (This is the game that the current app version is based on.)
This 2021 edition, which completely revises the game in the light of what’s been learned over the years, tries to streamline the more fiddly rules so that heroes can get into action faster, but it’s certainly not an over-simplified game; the ultimate plan is to re-release all the old content (and some new) updated for the new system, all in large boxes rather than in hard-to-find single-hero packs. All that said, if you do own a lot of the older edition, it’s probably not different enough to justify buying it all again.
The first expansion is Rook City Renegades, bringing six new heroes (and variants), eight villains (and events), and five environments, all of which can be mixed in with the content from this core box.
Sentinels of the Multiverse carries with it a sense of fun: on one level, these are desperate life-or-death struggles against world-scale threats, but on another it’s all goofy superhero peril rather than real peril (and you can always play again). In spite of occasional complexity, especially if you’re managing multiple heroes in the solo game, it’s a game I play several times in a month.