Sep 242012

I like super heroes.

I like card games.

This thing is a super hero card game.

Joy ensues.

Yeah, Sentinels of the Multiverse is a super hero card game. A cooperative super hero card game.

So here’s the deal for those of y’all new to the geeky board game thing. There’s a sub-strand to gaming where the players work together to beat some sort of elaborate puzzle or mechanic. My personal favorite game, Arkham Horror, happens to be such a game. There’s a bad guy to beat that plays something like a RPG end game boss– looking over the game, messing with stuff from afar and then laying the smack down on you at the end of the game. It’s all about playing against the game itself rather than playing against the other players. That’s what you get with Sentinels of the Multiverse. Each player is a super hero, and they’re working in unison to take down the super villain chosen for that particular game.

The game itself is pretty simple. Each hero has a deck of cards from which they draw cards into their hand. In addition to that, each player has a character card that tells you how many HP you start with and gives you your starting Power. Each turn you play a card from your hand, perform a Power on one of the cards already in play, and end the turn by drawing a card for future use. The villain pretty much does the same thing on its turn: play a card, follow what it says, and follow what the villain’s character card says to do that turn. There’s also an Environment deck that messes with everyone, villain included, that adds a little flavor to the goings-on.

What makes this game cool isn’t the actual gameplay. It’s a straight-forward “play a card, do a thing, try not to die” sort of thing. What makes this game one of my new favorites is how it captures the feel of super hero comics.

Each character feels different. While everyone shares basic game mechanics– dealing damage, avoiding damage, drawing extra cards, using extra Powers, and so on– it’s how each character’s deck brings all of this together to make each character unique.

Let’s look at Legacy, the game’s Superman equivalent. The way his deck works plays off of Superman’s capacity to be that symbol of hope and leadership. Superman isn’t just some guy in spandex flying around and punching, he’s the sort willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of others and inspiring his fellow heroes with speeches and action. His starting Power isn’t an attack, it’s the ability to buff everyone else’s damaging Powers by 1. His most potent abilities further buff other characters in some ways. He has one card that allows everyone else to ignore damage, and on the card’s art we see Legacy blocking a nuclear bomb from landing in a city. Legacy still takes damage, and he even has to take damage to play this card, but he’s doing so to make sure no one else takes damage for that turn. Even one of his attack cards doesn’t do that much damage, but it heals other characters at the same time– probably meant to represent him holding back the villain temporarily so that the others get a breather.

The other heroes have that same vibe. The mythological god as hero character, Ra, has a deck built around obtaining his magical item: The Staff of Ra. While Ra has that staff, he does massive damage, and his deck has ways to get that staff back even when it gets destroyed. The psychic character, The Visionary, does things that mess with the villain, like making him attack himself or shutting him down for brief amounts of time. The Batman equivalent, The Wraith, is all about gadgets and diverting damage away. Every character nails their intended hero stereotype in this way.

The villains are the same way. Each one has ways to attack the heroes and whatnot, but they each have different ways in which they try to win. Baron Blade, the game’s Doctor Doom wannabe, is trying to crash the Moon into the Earth. This countdown is represented by his discard pile. As things get discarded, the Moon’s getting closer to the Earth. Once so many cards are in the deck, BOOM, the Moon’s smashed into the Earth and we’re all dead. But if you deal X amount of damage to Baron Blade before this happens, his doomsday machine is destroyed, the timer is gone, and it comes down to fighting Blade in a giant robot. Another villain, Spite, is a serial killer. Victim cards appear in his deck, and you have to do certain things to have those victims rescued before the “kill a victim” cards appear and off them. You wanna do that because A) a certain trigger deals damage to Spite equal to the number of saved victims and B) Spite heals each time he kills a victim. He’s also trying to get all of his Drug cards into play, each of which makes him that much stronger. Once they’re all in play, he stops killing victims and goes Akira on the heroes, all mutated and tentacled and super strong.

Combined all this with the Environment deck, which brings a new threat (or potential ally) into play each turn that makes things difficult for each side. Maybe a bunch of raptors from some lost land are attacking. Or maybe there’s a hostage situation that keeps the heroes from going full tilt. So you’ll have a turn where Legacy bolsters his allies while Baron Blade is two cards away from crashing the Moon into the Earth, but the Raptor card pops up, dealing Blade that last 5 damage that destroys his doomsday machine.

That’s what makes this game awesome. Through the interaction with these different decks, a genuine super hero narrative is created. None of it feels mechanical and artificial the way some card games do– each game feels like a legit super hero comic. Good stuff, man.


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