I played both the card game and the Android versions of this game. Though they have the exact same ruleset, they are different enough experiences for it to be worth noting. This review will cover both.
Sentinels of the Multiverse (probably so named because Guardians of the Galaxy was already taken) is a non-collectible card game in which the players cooperate against a villain whose actions are automatic. There is a whole host of heroes, villains, and environments to choose from, making for nearly endless combinations to ensure Sentinels of the Multiverse stays fresh even after hundreds of games.
Gameplay consists of each player controlling one or more heroes, all of which have pre-made decks that cannot be altered. They can play and use cards that have various effects. Each round a hero can play a card from their hand, use a power, and draw another card. The goal is to defeat the villain, usually by dealing loads of damage over the course of the game. The villain’s deck is also pre-made and simply has the top card played every round as opposed to the multiple choices of the players.
There is also the environment deck, a series of cards played every turn that can either hurt or harm the heroes and villain. These can range from minor alterations to play to game-changingly big events. The environment decks give the game even more variety, a welcome addition.
The first thing I noticed when opening the game box is that every hero has a complexity rating and every villain has a difficulty rating. The low-complexity heroes generally just dish out damage or protect the other heroes, whereas the high-complexity heroes can use more abstract cards that often enable greater effects, often requiring complicated combinations.
For example, there’s the 1-complexity Haka, whose cards are concerned with dealing melee damage, and preventing damage from villain and environment sources. He starts attacking from round 1 and never stops. The most complicated thing Haka can do is use a card that lets him discard stuff from his hand to get a big result, like healing or an increase to his next attack. He’s not a bad hero to use, just an easy one. Think of him as a DPS type.
Then there’s the 3-complexity Absolute Zero, whose regular power is to deal ice or fire damage to himself, which by itself is worthless. But his power becomes hugely powerful when combined with his equipment, which can convert ice damage into healing or duplicate fire damage he receives onto enemy targets. Both are useful in different ways and one can be more effective against a specific villain than the other. Absolute Zero is like a mage that requires a lot of momentum to get going, but can be devastating when he does. This is just one example of the strategy involved in this game.
What makes the game entertaining is that with your heroes’ pre-made decks, you are forced to use your limited resources to the best of your ability. The lack of flexibility in deckbuilding will undoubtedly irritate some players, but they can find the complexity they seek in hero variation cards, the more complex heroes, and different combinations of decks. There are like twenty expansions to this game. Sentinels of the Multiverse still is a fascinating game even if you’re a Magic: The Gathering fanatic. Sentinels of the Multiverse is more shallow than Magic: The Gathering, but it offers a completely different experience and one I found pleasurable.
Each villain is so impressively unlike the others that they can make you feel like you’re playing a different game. You could have a well-constructed team of heroes that works perfectly to shut down Villain A, but whose abilities are not at all ideal to compete with Villain B.
For example, the hero Legacy, Sentinels’ Superman equivalent, has a power that increases the damage of all heroes’ attacks until his next turn, in addition to a host of cards that protect and heal his allies. Legacy works great against a lot of villains due to his ability to buff his teammates, but his power is detrimental against the villain Plague Rat, who can infect the heroes and cause them to do damage to themselves, rendering Legacy’s ability to increase damage dealt by heroes into a liability. Unless you’re deliberately seeking out a harder game (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you will struggle in that matchup. Sentinels has heaps of examples like this, and I love it for that. There is even a villain in one of the expansions you don’t want to attack directly, as their death is a game over trigger and you have to beat them through another story-related means.
One gripe I have with the Sentinels: The game becomes exponentially easier the more heroes you have. You’re supposed to pick between three to five, but you would only pick less than five if you want to handicap yourself. Most of the villains have abilities that (for example) do more damage the more heroes they’re facing, but this does not equal the huge advantage that an additional character with all of their options gives the players. Some villains from expansions do rectify this, however, by having truly devastating abilities for five-hero teams that three-hero teams would have a much easier time with, which shows that even the game’s creators recognized it as a problem.
The game’s art shows as much creativity as the design. Though many of the characters are clearly based on existing ones from mainstream comics, they each have their own unique designs, and the art on most cards shows these characters in a strong and active fashion. The cards sometimes even show characters that appear in later expansions, proving the game’s creators have loads of more ideas to show. The only downside to the art is that some of it too closely resembles that generic 2000s webcomic look that still pops up now and then.
There’s also an extended amount of lore to the fictional universe here, found in flavor text on the bottom of cards as well as some tie-in comics and other materials. You’re free to ignore it if you wish, but I noted that Sentinels’ lore is refreshingly free of that omnipresent comic cliche wherein superheroes aren’t allowed to kill villains. Sentinels doesn’t care a whole lot about this (because the creators correctly believe that making a good game is more important than maintaining tradition) and it actually allows for more interesting storylines.
For example, the hero The Wraith explicitly kills the cartoonishly cruel villain Spite with a thrown dagger to the head, but the villain Gloomweaver reanimates Spite’s corpse as a new villain with new abilities. Bam, the story just gave you a new enemy to fight with his own unique mechanics. You can still play against the old Spite if you want (continuity will never get in the way of a good game), but you also have Weird New Version of Spite if you want more variety. This game’s creators get it.
If you’re going to buy Sentinels of the Multiverse (and I think you should) you need to determine which version to buy. The electronic and the physical both have their advantages.
Naturally, if you’re playing the physical card game version, you have to keep track of every effect and modifier, whereas one of the computer versions will instantly do all of the work for you without little possibility of you forgetting something or forgetting a specific rule and and screwing up. The electronic version also showed me some rules about complex situations I wouldn’t have understood otherwise, such as the fact that incapacitated heroes can still willingly skip their turn if allowed under the conditions of specific environment cards. I didn’t need to look up that one pdf with all the rules and errata, because the game instantly worked it out for me and let me continue playing. It also made villains with a lot of setup (such as Spite or The Chairman) much faster than they would be with physical cards.
The vidya versions of Sentinels have a rewind feature. Yes, it can be abused like save states if you want to take all of the fun out of the game, but I only found myself using it to fix genuine mistakes, like when I played the wrong card from my hand because it was right next to the right hand and I fat-fingered it because in whatever year this is we still don’t have good touchscreens. The electronic versions of Sentinels also have online multiplayer, and since it’s a cooperative game, you’ll find fewer raging pricks here than you would in most other online games.
The Android version I played has all the rules hard-coded into the game. This is good in most cases, but also means that it’s not possible to play variations, use home-brewed rules, or create your own cards–three things that the Sentinels of the Multiverse community performs heavily. The vidya version also isn’t updated as often as I would like, and buying it on one platform does not give you a free copy on the others. And if you want to play offline multiplayer on the Android, iPad, or Steam versions, you have to take turns by passing around the tablet or mouse, which isn’t as entertaining as having the physical cards laid out before the group, and it denies you the cooperative camaraderie that is the main appeal of the game.
Despite a few minor complaints, I think Sentinels of the Multiverse is a creative, effective, and enduring card game. I could see myself playing it for decades and not growing bored. The physical card edition is better if you consistently have friends to play with (so, that excludes me) or you want to tinker with homebrew. The electronic version is better if you want a more consistent single-player experience with no fuss. Buy it–either one version or both. The creators have earned your money.