I should be ashamed! No not because of that.........or that......or that........okay I get it, I have a long list of potential reasons, you can stop now! But in this instance I know that despite having rated it as my "spoiler alert" #1 game on my Top 100 for two years in a row, I've never actually reviewed Sentinels of the Multiverse.
I did a quick review of one of the expansions and when Oblivaeon arrives I will no doubt do a full review, but never have I written my thoughts on why I love it so much. Well it's about time I did and I'm surprised I didn't do it sooner. Yes, you're not exactly going to be surprised by the rating I give it, but it's time you knew why and knowing what I look for in a great game, it might make more sense now.
Even if this was a brand new game, I'd be excited for it. It's a co-op and it's about superheroes, you've already ticked two big boxes for me right there.
But when you think about it, just how many decent superhero games are there these days? Marvel Legendary is certainly the big name out there and Dice Masters is still going strong. But what else? Heroes Wanted was a big disappointment for me, feeling more like a clunky mechanical Euro then a superhero game.
Cryptozoic's DC Deck Builder is also a bit of a dud for me where it jumbles up the theme a bit too much (Batman is using Superman's heat vision for example). I can think of a few others, but they are long out of print. And even though Marvel Legendary is excellent, the theme only reaches so high a level due to the inherent disconnect of a deck building game.
Now despite my love, no game is ever flawless, so let's look at all the factors. . . .
New Limited Special Bonus Issue
Sentinels of the Multiverse, despite featuring many cards, is so well priced that I'm startled it still sells for that these days - what with every other game being released at obscene prices it seems. You're getting a lot of variety (four environments, four villains and eight heroes) as well as a storage solution that works and DECENT DIVIDERS!
I can't tell you how many times it frustrates me when I buy a deck builder game that has more differentiation than Sentinels does and then find it doesn't even provide dividers or if it does, they're very cheap and basic (looking at you Upper Deck). Now, Smash Up currently holds the top spot since their Geeky Box provided glossy plastic dividers, but these are still solid, boasting full artwork for the respective character/location.
The artwork is a very divisive subject and usually the second key complaint I hear from haters of Sentinels. It's on par with how divisive Inis was on its release. Sentinels of the Multiverse uses traditional comic book styling across its cards, as if you were literally reading one in your hand, using many colours and tropes from old Marvel/DC issues.
Now, this ties directly to the theme and personally I really like it. We've been somewhat spoilt these days with the likes of Time Stories and other games where the artwork is fully rendered perfection. I'm not saying that the Sentinels artwork is a masterpiece by any means, but it's vibrant, colourful, thematic and interesting. I'd rate it above a lot of games I've been playing lately, but I can understand that it's not going to appeal to everyone. Calling it "bad" however is doing it an injustice I feel.
To add to the strong theme, there are back stories for every hero, villain and environment in the rule book - nice, short and to the point. You get the sense of the universe it's portraying. I especially like the Nemesis system, where a hero is directly opposed to a specific villain (more so in expansions) thus resulting in increased damage dealt to and from each other. It can change up how a game plays out and allow players to set up some story based battles.
Superhero co-op games aren't a new thing, we've already had Marvel Legendary dominate the market for a good long while, but while I love that game as well, there are some key differences here that appeal to me. Firstly, this is not a deck builder, as in you're not just buying cards from a row, from a mixture of different sources. Here you have your own deck, your own hero, your own identity. If you choose to be Legacy, you will get Legacy's custom tailored deck and you will fight the battle using Legacy's style. And even just within the base set you have a lot of different styles from tanking hits, dishing out damage, manipulating decks and support. But even where these overlap, the character still feels unique based on the composition of their deck.
Many of the characters will be based on fan favourites from the Marvel and DC universe, but they're not carbon copies. Bunker is blatantly a parody of Iron Man, but it's a big hulking metal suit out of the World War era's - looks a bit like the contraption Tony Stark builds in the first Iron Man movie to escape the terrorists. The Wraith is Batgirl through and through, right down to the ever expandable utility belt. It's a good way to introduce new players when they don't know who to pick - just ask them who their favourite superhero is and go from there.
We're Not a Team, We're a Bomb!
The Alpha player, like with most co-ops, can still rear its ugly head, but as you keep your hand of cards to yourself, you can have the final say in your decisions. But this is as pure a co-operative experience as you can get. You can't be a lone ranger in Sentinels. Oh sure you can be beating the living daylights out of the boss, but who's keeping you alive from the returning hits? You can stack up all the equipment you want, but who's ensuring that the villain deck doesn't turn up some nasty destruction card for you? No other game has made me feel like I'm part of a proper superhero team quite like this one.
This leads to a lot of interactivity between players. You'll ask for help, enquire about any surprise tricks they're holding back, debate on whether it's best to sit back and build up, or take out some of the annoying minions. No game of Sentinels is a silent one especially if anyone is role-playing their hero and this leads to some hilarious portrayals of cheesy dialogue.
And all of this including setup and teaching is constrained within a 60-90 minute period, keeping it to an acceptable game length. A lot of the game length is dependant on how many players you have and which villain you're fighting. Warlord Voss for example requires you to keep his minions under control and if you're fighting them, you're not fighting him. The difficulty also scales based on players, but it's not perfect. A four player setup is the most balanced experience you'll get, with the difficulty increasing the less players you have.
Collateral Damage = A Lot of Paperwork
Now, let's be objective here and talk about the elephant in the room, the most key complaint of all. The admin requirement for keeping up with a Sentinels game can fluctuate a lot. In-game effects will trigger at different times, including the beginning or end of a particular turn and frequently you'll need to check who has the highest or lowest HP for these. A villain with multiple minions will require the most upkeep so make Voss the last one you fight. This can be a put off for some players as they struggle to cope, but one thing I will say is that this improves a lot with experience. I've got to the stage now where the admin is second nature to me, but there is a learning curve so be aware of that.
Some players won't have a problem though, particularly anyone used to complex card games already, and it could be worse - did anyone ever play the Galactic Defenders from the same publisher a few years ago? THAT was too much.
I can also recommend the use of the Sentinel Sidekick app on Apple or similar alternatives on Android. These do a fantastic job of tracking HP and status effects. However, of course, not everyone is keen to pay for a side app, but when you factor in that the base set of Sentinels is so cheap in comparison to other games, it's worth that extra few quid in the long run.
Final Thoughts on Sentinels of the Multiverse
You already know what my rating is going to be, let's face it. It's my favourite game ever, but the praise is not given lightly. I truly believe that Sentinels of the Multiverse has one of the strongest superhero themes out there. Every player is their own hero, with their own deck and abilities and the comic book artwork, while polarising to some, is perfectly suited to the theme.
The level of variety in the base set is already high and yet it carries a very reasonable price tag, offering significant bang for your buck. Grab some expansions and the variety skyrockets.
Co-operative games should feel like a team experience with interaction among players and with Sentinels you feel exactly like a superhero team. No lone ranger can carry a game for you and all of those climatic battle scenes from superhero movies will come flooding back as you play especially if you role-play your character for added entertainment value. The admin upkeep of dealing with card effects can be an initial steep learning curve, but this will improve with plays and a companion app will make a big difference.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is the perfect blend of what I love in a game. Colourful artwork, a fun setting, super-strong theme, high variety, co-operative team play, unique identities, challenging, tactical decision making, the list goes on. Not everyone is going to love it, but if you're a co-op fan and willing to handle the admin, there is frankly no better superhero game in existence.