Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Early Thoughts on Sentinels of the Multiverse

As part of my birthday present to myself, I picked up a copy of the computer version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, a co-op card game I've played a time or two with friends, in which each player takes on the role of a superhero who is part of a team battling a supervillain in a particular environment. Each hero has their own card deck, as does the villain and the environment.

The genius of the game is that the villain and environment phases are effectively automated. Aside from occasionally needing to agree who has to discard some cards or choose which of two or more equally apt targets will get hit, no-one has to make any calls for what the villain does or to whom. Nothing is personal.

Basic set heroes: The Visionary, Ra God of the Sun, Haka, Bunker, Fanatic,
Tachyon, Tempest, Absolute Zero, Legacy and Wraith
While a much less effective way to play at parties, the advantages of the computer game over the card game are 1) cost, 2) no worry about card damage and 3) you feel less of a fool playing solo.

The basic release gets you 10 heroes (who can be combined into teams of between 3 and 5), 4 villains and 4 environments, for a total of... well, a lot of potential games (they say over 9,000, but it might even be more if you consider the order of the hero team to be important, and it can be.)

The heroes are a four-colour grab bag of classic types, each with clearly identifiable antecedents in the classic heroes of the Silver Age (Wraith and Tachyon are gender-flipped versions of Batman and the Flash, Bunker is Iron Man and Legacy a cross between Superman and Captain America) but bags of their own personality. Their decks are tailored both to maintain game balance and to match and model those personalities. Wraith is a gadget monkey, for example*, while many of Tachyon's cards have the special 'burst' type, which enable her to make powerful attacks based on the number of burst cards in her trash pile. Legacy is a classic buffer.

The villains meanwhile are glorious. Grand Warlord Voss is a Darkseid wannabe with an army of minions, although the real minion swarm comes from superfolk demogogue Citizen Dawn. Omnitron is a mad robot/self-aware factory who throws robots and guns at you, and Baron Blade wants to crash the moon into the Earth, just to show them all**. Each has their own challenges: Blade is relatively fragile, but has a lot of direct attacks and sneaky defences, whereas Dawn can go from nothing to an army in a couple of turns, and also has an annoying habit of wiping out your carefully assembled combos of ongoing cards.

Add to this the effects of the environment (be it the ruins of Atlantis or downtown Megalopolis) and the strategy quickly becomes quite complex. Thus far, I've kept to the fairly straightforward approach, but for enemies like Citizen Dawn I suspect that correct use of deck controllers like Visionary and Tachyon may be key. And all this before the forthcoming DLC adds more heroes, more villains, more environments and even rule variations into the mix. It's easy to see why people find the card game so compelling, and the computer game does a pretty bang up job of modelling the original. I think the only facet of the original that is missed out is that the computer never forgets to apply modifiers in your favour or accidentally skips the draw phase while reaching for the crisps.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game is not a replacement for the card game, but is an excellent supplement for solo play. It's biggest failing, to my mind, is the lack of a distributed multiplayer mode, allowing geographically disparate players to take on different heroes and battle villains together

* As a Batman analogue, she is also a detective, although this is played up not in her basic set but in her Rook City variant.

** No other villain in the main set is as cool as Baron Blade with his TerraLunar Impulsion Beam.