‘Sentinels of the Multiverse’: Co-op Tabletop Superheroes

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This summer, seven years after Greater Than Games released the cooperative superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse, the game’s 7th and final Oblivaeon expansion shipped. Now that I own every last bit of the game and have well over 100 plays behind me, I’d like to give you a comprehensive review of one of my all-time favorite tabletop games.

What Is Sentinels of the Multiverse?

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative game. Between three and five players will each be running a hero, and facing one of many super-villains. Each hero has different roles and abilities, and each villain plays very differently. This is one of the game’s strengths, and one of the things that’s kept me going back to the game again and again, even after having played it for over five years. In addition to the huge variety of heroes and villains, each game takes place in one of a variety of environments. Each hero, each villain, and each environment is represented by a deck of cards. After the villain has taken a turn, and each hero has taken a turn, the environment deck also plays a card. Depending on the environment, and on luck, this can be either good or very bad.

The basic mechanics are very straightforward. On each turn, a player plays a card, then uses a power, then draws a card. Each hero’s character card (similar to a D&D character sheet) grants one power which is always available, but your hero may gain new powers as more cards come into play.

The game’s real beauty and depth comes not from the rules in the book, but rather from the rules on the cards.

Sentinels of the Multiverse Components

  • Ten hero decks
  • Four villain decks
  • Four environment decks
  • Beautifully illustrated card dividers – one per deck (you use these to separate the decks in the box such that you can easily locate the one you want)
  • Hit point tokens in different denominations, to track hero and villain HP
  • Effect tokens (-1 damage dealt, immune to fire, cannot play cards, et cetera)

Every card has custom artwork, along with a reference to the comic book issue in which the event in that artwork takes place. Every piece of art references a comic book storyline that the creators have fully fleshed out. It’s seriously impressive what they’ve done, given that the referenced comics don’t actually exist.

The cardboard tokens are solid—I’ve been using them for many years, and there’s no detectable wear. And although I’ve personally long since outgrown it, the box that comes with the core game has far more space than you’ll need for the components in that game. Once you buy an expansion, you can just throw it in the same box, and the expansions all come with dividers for their new card decks.

Comic Book Villains

Baron Blade

Baron Blade is the game’s signature villain, and the starter villain in the core set. His diabolical scheme is to crash the moon into the Earth. Once he gets fifteen cards in his discard pile, his plan succeeds! The world is destroyed and the heroes lose! This sets a kind of turn limit which prevents the game from dragging on for too long. After Baron Blade’s hit points reach zero, his villain card flips. The heroes may have foiled his plan to destroy the earth, but he can still defeat them with his mechanized armor! Muahahahaha!

Omnitron, a self-aware robotics factory, is a villain that plays differently. Omnitron’s villain card flips every single turn, and it changes from a rampaging robot to a self-replicating robotics factory which manufactures hordes of killer drones. The third villain, Grand Warlord Voss, is invading the Earth with hordes of gene-bound aliens—if he ever gets enough minions on the table, the Earth is overrun. But if you destroy all the minions protecting him, his card flips and he becomes even more dangerous. The final and most difficult villain in the core set is Citizen Dawn, a powers-supremacist who has gathered many like-minded superpowered individuals to her cause. If you destroy too many of her allies, her card flips as she merges with the power of the sun and becomes truly undefeatable.

Each of these totally different games is fun for different reasons.

Comic Book Heroes

Just as each villain plays differently, likewise do the heroes. If you’ve just picked up the base game, you have ten heroes to choose from. The leader of the team is Paul Parsons, known as Legacy, who comes from a long line of American superheroes. His strength comes from the buffs he gives to his teammates. Joining him is the heavily armored soldier Tyler Vance, known as Bunker, and the teenage street level crime-fighter Mya Montgomery: The Wraith. Rounding out the Freedom Four is the accomplished scientist and matchless speedster Dr. Meredith Stinson, known as Tachyon. When you play Tachyon, you’ll find yourself playing cards so quickly that, if you’re not careful, you’ll soon have no hand left. The alien Tempest controls the weather and is excellent at dealing with multiple targets. The fire god Ra and the religious warrior Fanatic both excel at single-target damage. The psychic Visionary is great at deck manipulation. The gentle giant Haka is great at many things, but functions best when he has a huge hand of cards. And Absolute Zero functions like a heat pump, absorbing heat and redirecting it. His ability to self-heal makes him an excellent tank. Once his modules are in play, cold damage heals him and fire damage allows him extra offense. Of course, all these are oversimplified descriptions, as most characters fill more than one role.

Heroes in this game can also be defeated, but even when that happens, the player isn’t eliminated from the game. On the back of each hero card are three choices—you still get a turn after your hero has been knocked out, and each hero’s options when incapacitated are different.

Some heroes may take two or three turns to build up and get enough cards in play to reach a point where they’re truly effective, and it’s even more of a challenge to play those heroes against villains who can destroy hero cards. Likewise some villains will layer their defenses or gather a large horde of minions, and if the players allow a villain to accumulate too many resources, it can make for a punishingly difficult game.

The environment in which you’re playing also can change the game drastically. Some environments are more difficult than some villains. Others seem like they actually help the heroes. The four included in the base set are the city of Megalopolis, Wagner Mars Base, The Ruins of Atlantis, and the island of Insula Primalis, which is full of dinosaurs and volcanoes.

After a few playthroughs, you’ll notice certain synergies, team-ups, and combinations that certain groups of heroes can pull off. I would often find myself thinking up new combinations that can only happen with those three heroes, or these two in that environment.

The Sentinel Comics Universe

My first take on the superheroes in this game was that each was a knock-off of a Marvel or DC hero. The Wraith was obviously just female Batman, Bunker was Iron Man, and Ra was Thor with an Egyptian fire god origin rather than Norse thunder god origin. But I soon came to realize the depth behind each Sentinel Comics character, and to realize that superhero power sets really aren’t a large pool to choose from. Just between DC and Marvel for example, you could say that Quicksilver is The Flash, Hawkeye is Green Arrow, and Ant-Man is Atom. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are two movies coming out in spring 2019 with two different characters called Captain Marvel, although DC has rebranded theirs as Shazam to avoid confusion.

I first began to realize how much work Christopher and Adam had put into the Sentinels characters when I started listening to their Letters Page podcast in January 2017. They’ve since done a full episode on every hero they’ve created, and many more episodes on teams, events, and other stories in their comic canon. It’s incredibly robust, and I’d recommend the podcast to anyone with an interest in comics.

Although Sentinels of the Multiverse is its biggest seller, Greater Than Games has produced a lot more than just its initial game. There’s a digital version of the card game, which you can get on Steam, Android, or iOS. There’s also a tabletop miniatures game called Sentinel Tactics, and a newly-released Sentinel Comics role-playing game. I also recently backed the Kickstarter for the upcoming turn-based strategy video game Sentinels of Freedom.

Sentinels of the Multiverse Expansions

Sentinels of the Multiverse has seven full expansions, plus a number of single-deck mini-expansions. Their first add-on, Rook City, included gritty street-level heroes, villains, and environments. Infernal Relics delved more into the magical side of things, and Shattered Timelines dealt with alternate realities, including one where America’s greatest hero Legacy has become a villain, and one where an Nth-generation version of the robot Omnitron has incorporated morality into its programming and become a hero.

Mini-Expansions

Vengeance was the first Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion to incorporate an entirely new game format, wherein mixed groups of villains challenge heroes. However, the four new heroes in the Vengeance expansion are still usable in any style of game. The Villains of the Multiverse expansion continued the trend of multi-villain expansions. The Wrath of the Cosmos expansion deals with heroes, villains, and environments from distant parts of the cosmos. There are also more than a dozen standalone mini-expansion decks. If you’re trying to decide which of these to get, I can recommend two most highly. The Nineties hero named Unity builds hordes of friendly bots to fight villains, and The Scholar controls and manipulates the elements. He also has an uncanny resemblance to The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Either of these single-hero mini-expansions can be found online or at your friendly local game store. I’d recommend steering clear of the mini-expansion villains Wager Master and Miss Information, as they’re the only villains in the game I don’t think are fun.

The game’s long-awaited final expansion, Oblivaeon, shipped this summer, and it’s a doozy. Oblivaeon is a singular being intent on destroying all of reality, and every timeline in the Multiverse. I haven’t had a chance to play yet, but I’m not expecting us to win on our first playthrough.

Downsides

As any game, Sentinels of the Multiverse is not without its flaws. Especially with certain environments and villains, the game can get fiddly. For example, one of the game’s primary rules is that nothing is simultaneous. Imagine that you’re playing Tachyon, who has a Synaptic Interruption card in play. This card allows Tachyon to reflect a single hit that does 3 or more damage. If an environment card does 3 damage to all heroes, the players are allowed to decide the order of that damage. If Tachyon takes damage first, she can reflect the damage back at the environment card the caused it, potentially killing it and short circuiting the attack so that she’s the only hero to even take damage. This is a comparatively straightforward example, as it’s possible for multiple triggers and interrupts to stack effects into a long and confusing chain.

Damage bonuses and penalties at times can likewise be confusing to track. The included tokens for indicating +1 damage dealt or -1 damage taken are very useful, but with five heroes and multiple villains targets, I’ve run out of tokens more than once.

All that said, if you’re someone like me who doesn’t mind tracking effects and modifiers, and who enjoys the hero synergies and opportunities to set up that one epic turn where your hero ends up doing eighteen damage to the villain singlehandedly, maybe this is the game for you.

The Heroes We Deserve

I’ve been playing Sentinels of the Multiverse for many years now, and it remains one of my favorite games. My 11-year-old daughter and I play together often. If we’ve got nobody else, we’ll each play two heroes. We haven’t yet had the chance to dive into the game’s final mega-expansion, Oblivaeon, but we plan to soon. There should soon be a GeekMom article going more into depth on Oblivaeon, if you’re interested.

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a new cooperative game that your entire family can play together and enjoy, you won’t find a better one out there than Sentinels of the Multiverse.

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