Imagine for a moment that there was another company that competed with, if not exceeded, Marvel and DC. This company was a competitor of the big two since back in the ’40s and had weathered the Comics Code and the ’90s speculator boom. This company had all of the spinoffs that we would expect from Marvel and DC: an animated universe, an Ultimate-style alternate universe, a big Crisis on Infinite Earths-esque reboot, and dozens of alternate universes. Now, imagine that this company had a card game based on these comics, with a unique deck for each superhero and supervillain, with each card referencing the many thousands of comics in this company’s history.
That is Sentinels of the Multiverse. The card game spin-off of a vast comic book universe…which just doesn’t happen to exist. Sentinels of the Multiverse revels in the grand complexity of superheroes, and takes all of the fun silliness of superhero universes and puts it front and center. Your superheroes include a time-traveling cowboy and a magical musician, and your villains include a blue imp a la Mr. Mxyptlk and a multiverse traveling pirate queen. Your battles with supervillains can happen in gritty Rook City, or in the Kirby-esque fantastical sci-fi haven of the Enclave of the Endlings.
With that for an introduction, you ask, how does it actually play?
Getting started with Sentinels is much like many other collectible card games, but without the elements of deck building common in Marvel Champions, Arkham Horror LCG, or Magic: The Gathering. To get started, one to five players pick a superhero, each of whom have a pre-constructed deck of cards. The characters are all complex, with different roles to play in a solid team. Legacy will be a support character, buffing your heroes and weakening the villains, while Ra or Fanatic will specialize in doing enormous amounts of damage at a time. Then, you pick a villain and use their pre-built deck of cards and an environment.
Playing is just as simple. Play a card, use a power, draw a card. After a couple minutes, as your tableau of cards grows, you’ll be playing three cards, drawing one, using a power or two, making the enemy discard a card, and so on and so forth. Your options and the strength of your characters grow throughout the match.
Finally, you draw a card for the environment and the villain. The cooperative nature of the game remains – you’re always working with your friends – but the villains are no slouch. I have been playing the game for several months now, and I can comfortably say that I lose more then I win. But the tripartite set up – hero, villain, and environment – combined with the deep thought and story behind each character means that even when you lose, you feel like you just read a great comic.
Take, for instance, a game that I played the other day. I was fighting Baron Blade with Tachyon and Ex-Patriette, in the dinosaur filled island of Insula Primalis. Tachyon jumped into the fray, dealing out several cards, and then sprinting at super-speed to hit every one of the mad villain’s minions, before smacking his robotic defense platform for ten damage. Then, Ex-Patriette used a card to fire off every one of her half dozen guns, wiping the rest of the villain’s things from the board. Finally, we came to the environment’s turn, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex bit into Baron Blade!
Of course, I lost in the end. Blade pulled the moon into the Earth. I’m not a very good superhero. But change the names to Punisher, Quicksilver and Doctor Doom, and you can see how that very story might appear in Marvel Comics Presents. And all that storytelling potential came from a couple decks of cards, and some middling artwork.
To be clear, there are some flaws in the game. The artwork is not great. It’s all done with passion, evidently, and it’s all the product of one man, Adam Rebottaro. But, even with all of that given, it’s still mid-tier webcomic art.
As well, the game is fiddly. You have to manage a half dozen different types of damage, some types of which are modified by some cards, and others are not. With every turn you have to decide if you want to redirect some damage, boost, subtract, or leave it as is. Each turn some cards that you have will only act to respond to villain’s damages, leading to more adding, subtracting, and modifying. It’s a lot of work.
Now to be fair, some of that is counterbalanced by the fact that the game takes all of thirty seconds to set up and put away. Pick your villain, hero, and environment decks, and bam! That’s it. Good to go. You can easily get a very solid game of Sentinels of the Multiverse done on your lunch break.
But even better, you can get a fantastic digital adaptation by Handleabra Games. The mobile version will automate all of that fiddly adding and subtracting, boosting and redirecting, and responding automatically. It allows the key strategic decisions that are the fun core of the game to remain, and removes the tricky bean-counting that saps all the fun and momentum. Especially nice these days is the game’s ability to play on your phone, tablet, or computer; in solo mode, pass and play multiplayer, and online multiplayer.
For the next week Sentinels of the Multiverse’s digital base game, which itself has hours of content, is on sale for a dollar. You can get all of the expansions for under thirty bucks. If you like either card games or superheroes, I can’t trying recommend the game enough. After all, it’s a dollar. What do you have to lose?
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