Over the last several years, I have developed an appreciation for (and healthy collection of) co-op board and card games. One of my favorites has been Sentinels of the Multiverse, a co-operative card game that pits a team of heroes against tyrannical villains in battles across a number of unique and appropriate comic book environments. I first learned to play at PAX 13 with the developers at Greater Than Games, and I’ll confess to the experience being love at first play. I’ve picked up every new expansion and mini-expansion for the Sentinels card game (GTG has also put together a miniatures game dubbed Sentinels Tactics), including a number of variant cards and promos. It is one of my go-to games any time we have company. GTG has also developed Sentinels for PC and mobile platforms as well, and as a die hard fan, I wanted to support GTG and give their digital version a spin.
Just as in the physical version, Sentinels digital puts you in charge of a team of superheroes fighting a supervillain. All of the heroes, villains, and environments come from a unique and well thought out universe. While characters might resemble certain heroes or villains from other comic publishers, each really has its own flavor, and stands well enough on its own. Legacy, for instance, looks and feels like a combination of Superman and Captain America, but through clever powers and character quotes, he really ends up with his own unique identity. Part of the reason the franchise does so well is because of the added flavor and fleshed out universe that accompanies the games.
In the digital version, players will need to pick 3-5 heroes to compose their team. One villain and one environment must also be selected. All heroes and villains have a hit point total (as do henchmen, some equipment, and some environmental items as well). The goal for the superteam is to bring the villain’s hit point total to zero while at least one hero remains standing (has at least 1 hit point).
Once all choices are made, play starts with the villain. Most villains will start the game with a number of cards/resources in play. As in the physical game, villain turns start each round, and are played according to a set of rules that effectively dictates their play without the player having to make any choices. This is accomplished through a number of if, then propositions, that help determine what happens in the round, when it happens, and to whom. Mad scientist Baron Blade, for instance, starts off with a Mobile Defense Platform in play at the start of the game, which prevents damage dealt to him until it is destroyed. The villain then draws and plays a card, following the text to find a result. Cards can range from villains using powers, to henchpeople, and even gadgets or magical items or spells, depending on the villain. After the villain’s card resolves, they normally have one power-like ability that happens (usually at the end of the turn, but sometimes before that; it differs from villain to villain). These powers normally damage heroes or otherwise impede them in some way.
Once the villain turn is up, the heroes go in order (chosen by the player at the beginning of the game. Hero turns consist of playing a card, using a power, and drawing a card. As cards enter play, these rules can be modified, but this is how they start. Upon drawing their card at the end of their turn, play passes to the next hero until all heroes have gone. Cards that heroes play can be one shots (played for an effect and then discarded, such as a one-time fireball dealing damage or healing with a medical kit), ongoing (cards that stay in play and provide a passive or triggered effect or power, such as dealing 1 cold damage to all enemies at the beginning of the turn) or equipment (basically like ongoing cards in scope, except that being equipment makes them target-able by other abilities).
After all heroes have gone, the environment goes. Yes, the environment gets a turn as well, and it adds a fun dash of chaos, uncertainty and flavor. Depending on the environment chosen, the cards could be helpful to the heroes or the villain! Most environments are a combination thereof, providing both advantages and hindrances to both sides, depending on the situations. Environments range from sprawling metropolis areas to criminal slums, lunar bases to Atlantis, other dimensions, and time-lost islands full of dinosaurs and other primeval dangers. The environment deck can play critters (Metropolis has police that back up the heroes, for instance, while Insula Primalis contains Raptors and T-rexes that attack both sides indiscriminately), ongoing effects (per the previous example, Metropolis has traffic jams, while Insula Primalis has lavaflows), or one time effects that are appropriate to the environment. One the environment deck draws and plays a card and resolves all of its cards in play, the turn is over, and play starts up again with the villain.
A lot to take in, isn’t it? Don’t worry, it sounds more complex that it actually is. The great thing about Sentinels digital is that it has an excellent tutorial (I felt like I was at PAX playing my first game with the developer right there again, it was great!), and the game itself does most of the heavy lifting for you rules-wise. For instance, when you are playing through the villains turn, rather than having to read carefully and interpret what happens to whom, the game streamlines this for you by showing you what the effect is, and who are legal targets for it. This vastly streamlines play, and after a few games you’ll have it all down to a science.
Sentinels digital does some other cool things that depart somewhat from the physical game, as well. For instance, when setting up a game, there is a “random” option, which populates the villain, environment, and your hero team (including randomizing how many heroes you get), making for some interesting combos, and offering a neat challenge to those who are well-versed in the game. The user interface during games looks like a comic, and even flips pages as play moves from the villain to the heroes and the environment, giving a sense of story. The game also modifies the art of the heroes with “battle damage” as they are injured or knocked out of the fight, which is a great touch. There are also hidden “achievements” that, when completed, will unlock new variant cards for your heroes and villains, which is an awesome feature. Most of these achievements draw heavily from the lore of the gameworld, increasing player immersion. There is also a great “Multiverse” menu with collected lore and bios.
There are some drawbacks, however, when you compare Sentinels digital to it’s physical counterparts. The game still has some bugs: for instance, in my first post-tutorial game, I was interrupted while moving a card to the play field. That card remained “stuck” in its between play and hand location, had no game effect, and was no longer in my hand nor in play, but was covering parts of the screen. While this will likely get better with time, its worth noting that now. Additionally, the physical game has much more content, having released numerous expansions, whereas the digital version has about half that. This will be rectified as time goes on (see upcoming release details below), and there are plans to release most of this content. Finally, the one glaring omission: Multiplayer! You read that right; Sentinels digital is pretty much a single-player affair. You cannot play with people online; the client only plays with itself (hey, get your mind out of the gutter). Now, that’s not to say that you could not play a game on a single device with friends, utilizing the old school “hot seat” method, but it’s worth noting. Veteran players (myself included) might not find this to be a big issue, as the co-operative nature of the game brings all players together to look at each other’s resources anyways, limiting the real difference here, but it is something to be aware of. The game does list itself as being “local co-op” on Steam.
All in all, this is a pretty good digital offering of a fantastic physical board game. The digital copy is only $15, a good savings on the $40 you pay for a physical copy, and doesn’t require a lot of storage (although the physical version is gorgeous and high quality, should you ever want to pick it up). Expansion packs featuring more heroes, villains, and locations are available as well. These are sold individually at a better price than their physical counterparts (which retail at 20-30 a pop). Only one true expansion is live at this time (Rook City for the vets out there), with Infernal Relics, Shattered Timelines, and Wrath of the Cosmos on the way (all expected prior to the end of 2015), along with some more mini-expasions. These may be bought individually, or you can get them all for $20. So, for $35 you could get the whole she-bang, and that is quite the deal.
So, why wait? Pull on your tights, fasten your cape, and prepare to fight evil today!
Also available for iOS and Android for mobile platforms.
Original content developed by Greater Than Games. Digital version developed by the fine folks at Handelabra Games.