We have seen a pretty big surge of board game ports recently, and I am loving the amount of developer support this genre has been garnering. Handelabra Studio released the latest of these ports recently with Sentinels of the Multiverse($6.99). With an entire universe of lore,Sentinels seems like it could be a very strong platform to build expansions off of. Very rarely do we get to see a true co-op game that can challenge the competitive culture that has become a stigma for many would be gamers. I think it is important to point out, however, that lore and style are not the weak link of this board game. It is gameplay itself that has me concerned about the future of this franchise.
Sentinels of the Multiverse, the physical board/card game, is a cooperative game where each player assumes the role of a member of a super hero team. The team is pitted against one of the game’s enemies and placed into one of the game’s environments. Players take turns, usually playing one card, taking one action and drawing one card. Each hero has their own deck of cards that allows them to bend or break these rules in order to buff allies or thwart enemies. Each round consists of one turn for each hero, one turn for the enemy boss and any of his minions, and an environment phase that turns a new card each turn and continues any risidual effects from previous environment rounds. The environment phase is usually a much bigger problem for your team than for the boss, sometimes requiring you to discard or forfeit turns to prevent catastrophy from striking your squad. The player and his teammates work together to reduce the bosses hitpoints to zero and win the game. The biggest departure that the app takes is that you as a player are controlling up to 5 heroes yourself in a single player set up.
The app is solidly constructed. Other than loading for a few seconds between each turn, the graphics are seamless. None of the UI decisions are groundbreaking, but there don’t seem to be any hidden pitfalls. It’s an overall solidly built UI. With multiplayer and expansions in the pipe in according to rumors in our forums, there isn’t much I find lacking in the implementation of the app itself.
I think one major thing that preventsSentinels from being a top notch game is the lack of strategy. Now if you are still reading, congratulations. I’ve noticed some people decide to stop after seeing the first opinion. Just remember, I might have more than one reason for giving a game the score it gets so feel free to continue reading. For me, randomness that doesn’t promote strategy is pretty boring. For example, a deck building game certainly has random elements, but the strategy is in what cards you chose and which ones your opponent chooses. There are ways you can reduce the randomness and create a strong deck that counters what your enemy builds.Sentinels plays a little like a deck building game that lacks deck building. I can understand that for some people, random games can be fun. I mean, casinos aren’t exactly unpopular and most casino games are heavily random. If you are someone who just wants to see random things happen, I can solidly recommend staring at the sun, flipping a coin, playing craps, tossing rocks into a pond, or playing Sentinels of the Multiverse.
But Andy, I hear you saying from the comments already, doesn’t the game have some strategy? Don’t you have to pick between cards or choose to discard to end some of the environmental effects? It’s true that you have to make choices in this game, but after playing as many hero/boss/environment combos I could think of, it all boils down to the fact that there is always a pretty obvious optimal decision to be made. You don’t ever really get a choice that creates branching strategies that give you multiple viable solutions. You play the best cards at the most opportune time and there is no reason to diverge from that tactic. The Dice Tower’s Tom Vasel mentions the same thing briefly in his synopsis of the board game:
There is also no real downside to playing the strongest heroes. There are about 6 of the 10 heroes I won’t grimace at when I roll them if I do a random match due to the fact that on top of having far too many support cards that prevent a steady flow of damage, they also dont have a default attack. The worst of these is Tachyon, who by her artwork is either a speedster or in the middle of a jazzercise work out. Her default power is that she can look at her next card and chose whether to keep it or discard, which is the card game equivalent of bringing a nail file to a gun fight. Her entire deck is completely and thoroughly weak. Even if you get the best possible cards, its very tough to bring out anything other than subpar damage. In the lore she is credited as being solely responsible for curing cancer and putting humans on the moon, but you won’t see a breakout performace from her of any sort in the confines of gameplay.
The strong characters mostly have basic damage skills which can do 2 or more damage per turn situationally. They also have generally more useful decks built around doing various amounts of damage in various amounts of chunks. The strongest, in my opinion, is Haka. He starts with a 2 damage basic skill, has a weapon that will do 3 damage to 2 targets, and starts with higher than average health. If that wasn’t enough, most of his filler cards are of the ‘draw 2, discard X’ variety where X = damage or healing. Its like he gets an upgraded version of Tachyon’s base ability but then also gets the oppotunity to bust out a ton of damage or healing at will with that same card. It suffices to say I don’t really like the way that the heroes in the game are balanced. I found it extremely annoying to have more than 1 support hero in a squad to the point of, again, being forced to do the optimal thing or die horribly.
Despite my misgivings, Sentinels of the Multiverse is entertaining. It has an aura of desperation in fighting a superior enemy and really drives home the threat level of the 4 included bosses. Although I am not a fan of the hero balance, I really enjoy the fluff of each individual hero’s card deck. You get a sense of who each hero is and what archetype they fall into just by reading each of their cards. Even though I don’t think there is much meaningful strategy in the game, the game succeeds in telling an epic story with each game. With the impending feature upgrades the $9.99 price tag could be justified, but until then I think it might be a bit much for a game with some fundamental flaws.