The collaborative card game Sentinels of the Multiverse is a fantastic mashup of the comic book genre. It can also be fantastically complicated, something the digital version of the game deftly manages. The result is a fun, fast-moving game that riffs on the best ideas from Marvel, DC, and other publishers.
Created by Handelabra Games based on the original card game Greater Than Games, the Sentinels of the Multiverse app is available in the Steam, Android, Amazon, and Google Play stores. At its most basic the game pits 3-4 superheroes – each represented by a themed deck of cards — against a singular villain, also represented by a deck of cards. The two sides face off in an environment — such as the ruins of Atlantis or a Mars base overrun by robots — that can impact both groups.
The heroes are amalgams of the classic heroes of lore. Legacy is a Superman-esque leader who can take a ton of damage while inspiring his companions. Tachyon is a speedster scientist in the vein of the Flash and Quicksilver, with a touch of Tony Stark gadetry thrown in. Mister Fixer is the obligatory martial artist in the vein of Daredevil and Ironfist. There are 10 heroes included in the base game, but there are dozens — including variants — when you factor in the game’s numerous expansions.
The villains also evoke the the best of the Marvel and DC universes. The base set has four of them:
- Baron Blade: A mad scientist intent on destroying the world
- Omnitron: An artificial intelligence run amok
- Citizen Dawn: The charasmatic leader of a sun-worshipping cult
- Grand Warlord Voss: The obligatory alien overlord looking to conquer Earth with his minions.
Both villain and hero decks draw inspiration from the character’s fictional comic book titles, including memorable quotes and artwork (e.g. Tempest — an elemental alien warrior — has a card called “Otherworldly Resistance” with the quote “The weapons of this world are primative, and their workings inelegant” – Tempest, Stranger in a Strange World #1). Naturally none of these comic books exist, but taken together they represent a diverse and engaging world that makes you wish they did.
At its most basic, game play is straightforward. Villains and heroes have hit points. The heroes attempt to reduce the villain to 0 hit points before the villain can do the same to them. As long as one hero is still standing and the villain is down, the heroes win. That said, there are nuances to how they can lose the fight (and in later expansions, how they can win). For example Baron Blade wins the game if he accumulates 15 cards in his discard pile while Grand Warlord Voss wins if he has a certain number of minions in play on the start of his turn.
Where the game gets complicated is the fiddly bits. Cards can impose a variety of conditions, from immunity to damage to forcing a player to skip turns to damage bonuses and penalties. The print version of the game includes a bunch of tokens for tracking all this, but depending on the hero/villain combinations, it can be a lot to keep track of. The digital version avoids all this by doing the book keeping for you.
The base game costs $6.99. There are two season passes, each of which introduces a host of new content, that cost $24.99 each.
Uncanny Tales of Stupendous Heroism
I first encountered Sentinels of the Multiverse at MEPACon, my regional game convention and loved it. I bought the game for the kids that Christmas (really, it was for the kids) and we’ve since played the game a bunch of times. Those games always left me itching for one more session, and the app scratches that itch.
I got the iOS version in November 2016 and have been playing it regularly ever since. It beautifully replicates the offline version’s game play, with the added benefit of managing all of the game’s modifiers. One of the major benefits of this is that I’m much more likely to play a complicated hero or villain— one with a lot of different kinds of cards and modifiers — with the digital version. Though I love the game, it can get into these weird states where a lot of modifiers are canceling each other out and a lot of damage is being dealt and then negated. What could take a minute to resolve in the real world takes seconds to do in the app.
The game looks great and the one-card-at-a-time backstory is fun to read. The game’s takes full advantage of the “Multiverse” portion of its name, spawning variant heroes with alternative power sets while elegantly upgrading villains to tougher versions of themselves. For example Baron Blade’s basic version is Difficulty 1 – his special ability is that if there are 15 cards in the trash, his “translunar impulsion beam” triggers, smashing the Moon into the Earth. If you get the mad gadgeteer down to zero hit points, he flips, reseting his hit points and giving him an energy attack. His “Mad Bomber” varient is Difficulty 3 and forgoes gadgets; when equipment appears they are placed under his character card. The villain does damage to the heroes equal to the number of cards thus concealed. When he’s reduced to zero hit points he flips, and the trash deck shuffled into the main deck. From that point on, on his turn he does damage equal to the number of cards in the trash. It’s a rapidly escalating threat that makes him a much more challenging foe.
Even better, the game introduces “advanced”, “challenge”, and “ultimate” versions of these same villains. These additions give them powers that make them even tougher to defeat (and usually leave you grumbling about how unfair the enhanced villain is, at least until you figure out the trick to beating him or her).
The game is great, but what’s kept me coming back week after week are the weekly one-shots, in which Handelabra Games designs a challenge featuring a particular villain, set of heroes, and environment. Most times, the decks are stacked so that particular cards — usually particularly challenge cards — appear in such a way as to maximize the challenge. Beat the one-shot in a single try and you earn the “Mint” tag for that title; take two tries, you get “Near Mint”. If you win the current week’s challenge you get a “Fine” while if you beat one of the earlier one-shots you get a good. The scenarios can be infuriating, but they’re also excellent brain teasers.
The game boasts multiplayer but unfortunately I wasn’t able to play it. Attempting to launch an “online quick play” or “online custom game” opened a “Game Center” window with the message “Signing in to Game Center”. Unfortunately, it never did. I don’t know if this is a function of changes to the Game Center that happened in iOS 10 or something else.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is an excellent collaborative game that successfully makes the jump to the digital format. It faithfully evokes the best of comic book lore with compelling artwork, environments, and game play. Although pricey, the two seasons of additional content will keep you coming back to the game for months, if not years.