I know that most people who read my blog won't be too interested in what I have to say about Sentinels of the Multiverse. But I love this game. I really do. Maybe someone out there in Internetland will stumble across this post in a search and enjoy it. I have one group of friends (hereafter referred to as the PAX friends) who lost interest after having played a game or two and having lost badly. I didn't understand how they could have lost so badly until this past weekend when I played with 4 friends (hereafter referred to as the RPG friends) and we had a terrible night in which we lost three games in a row: First versus Citizen Dawn (difficulty 3), then against Spite (difficulty 2), and finally against Baron Blade. Baron effing Blade, who is the difficulty 1 introductory villain. I don't think I've ever before lost a game against Baron Blade. Maybe we'd had too much to drink. Still, since we've had so many good games beforehand, my RPG friends are gung ho to get revenge against Baron Blade and Citizen Dawn.
A quick intro before I get into the down dirty of it. Sentinels of The Multiverse is a cooperative card game in which you play superheroes trying to defeat a villain in a specific environment. Each hero, each villain, and each environment is a deck of cards. But there's much more to it than that.
The basic mechanics of the game have the villain taking a turn, then each hero taking a turn, and finally the environment takes its turn. A hero's turn involves first playing a card, then using a power, and finally drawing a card. But the powers available vary. Each hero has a standard power which is always available, but certain cards once played will make new powers available. It's not bad once you get used to it. Cards can either be one-shots, which are resolved and then discarded, or ongoing cards such as spells or equipment which stay in play.
I've often commented that choosing characters in Sentinels of the Multiverse feels like choosing a character in Street Fighter. Each character plays very differently and has different strengths. You have to play a character a few times before you learn the cards well enough to get good at it. And of course, it's best to select a superhero team that compliments each other well. You wouldn't want three support characters with no damage-dealers to support.
At this point, I think it would be fun to go over each hero in the base game. If you've never played the game, this will give you a good primer, and if you have, you might find it useful as strategy tips.
The Wraith - Wraith has got to be the best character in the game. Although people like to characterize her as female Batman, The Wraith is just a rich kid in a crime-ridden city, trying to make things better with her expensive gadgets and tech. She's one of the most well-rounded characters in the game, and her only real flaw is that she's so equipment-dependant. If the villain has something which destroys equipment, Wraith is in trouble. But when she has her razor ordinance out along with the targeting computer and her utility belt, she can deal a huge amount of damage.
In one game, we were fighting Omnitron, a sentient robotics factory that had set itself up within an abandoned chemical factory. As the chemical vats exploded around us, damaging both the heroes and Omnitron's drones, Wraith had set herself up away from the action in a back corner on her laptop. She kept playing cards that let her rearrange the villain deck to choose which villain cards would come up next, which ended up being a huge benefit, as she did away with some pretty nasty cards. Still, it was pretty funny to envision things this way. "Wraith, what are you doing? There's a fight going on here!" - and she'd respond "I'm helping!"
The Visionary - The Visionary is a strong contender for best character in the game. The result of a government experiment, she was born with psychic powers. Rather than picking away at the villain's hit points, The Visionary controls the entire game, choosing which cards from which decks come up, allowing other heroes to draw extra cards or retrieving good cards they've already used from the discard pile, changing an attack's damage type to something the heroes may be immune to, and even turning villains against each other. Knowing how the game works is key to getting the most out of The Visionary's powers. She's not a complexity 2 hero for nothing.
One of my favorite moments with Visionary is when our team had nearly lost a game, and the environment deck came out with a Volcano. The volcano deals huge amounts of damage to all heroes and villains each turn, and since villains have so many more hit points than heroes, getting rid of the volcano is generally the first thing to do. But in this instance, The Visionary put up a telekinetic coccoon, which protects her from all damage, although she can't play cards or use powers while inside it. In a few rounds, the volcano had finished off the villain, and The Visionary was the last one standing.
Tempest - His peaceful homeworld destroyed by the Intergalactic Warlord Voss, Tempest has fled to Earth, where he fights alongside Earth's heroes. As such, Tempest is probably the best character in the game. He is incredibly well-rounded and can do a little bit of everything. He does strong damage, specializing in lightning area effect attacks that damage multiple targets. But he can also manipulate the villain and environment decks, protect and heal his allies, and allow them to retrieve used cards. He doesn't do as well attacking when a villain has armor, but in general his deck has an answer to any problem.
I'm really not certain why, but Tempest is one of the least-played characters at my house. I'm making a mental note to take him out for a spin around the block more often.
Tachyon - A brilliant scientist, Dr. Meredith Stinson was bombarded with Tachyons in a lab accident and emerged unscathed. She is now the quickest woman on earth - a speedster. When I first started playing, I really wanted to like Tachyon. She seemed so cool. But at the moment, I'm not a fan. Tachyon is my least favorite hero in the Sentinels base set. One of the things that bothers me about her is that she is able to play cards so quickly that she often runs out and has nothing left in her hand. She does have cards that allow her to draw more, but they don't always come up. All too often, I play Tachyon and end up with no cards in hand. And that sucks.
She is a complexity 2 character, and this is in part why. Many of her attacks deal with what's in her discard pile. The more cards in her discard pile, the harder she hits. And she does go through her cards quickly. She's got one attack, Lightspeed Barrage, that can do an insane amount of damage, but aside from that one attack she doesn't do much damage. She has poor defense, and thus dies quickly. I'm having trouble finding much about her to like.
Ra - Ra is certainly capable of doing more sustained damage than any other hero. For this reason alone, he's probably the best character in the game. After all, doing damage is how you win. He was once a field archaeologist. But when he discovered the fabled Staff of Ra, he took on the persona of the Egyptian god. Now he burns villains with lots of fire.
If Ra isn't dealing fire damage, he's buffing himself so that he can do even more fire damage. My favorite story involving Ra is when we were playing with a new player who was about to play a card that made Ra deal even more fire damage in exchange for damaging himself. I advised against it. But then, my seven-year old daughter pointed out two other cards Ra had in play. One made Ra immune to fire damage, and the other stated that all damage done by all heroes was changed to fire damage. Thi meant that Ra was immune to all damage done by the heroes, including that damage done by himself. Who's got two thumbs and is a proud father? This guy.
Legacy - Legacy is the leader of the superheroes, and is certainly the best character in the game. I've read about groups banning the use of Legacy because he makes the game too easy. His story is a good one: Legacy is merely the latest in a series of generational heroes. His father was the previous Legacy, and his daughter is the next Legacy. Each generation has more powers than the previous. Interestingly, you can get variant promo cards and actually play his father ("America's Greatest Legacy") or his daughter ("America's Next Legacy").
Legacy's main functon isn't to fight the enemy directly. It's to strengthen and protect his allies so that they can get the job done. Right off the bat, he can increase damage dealt by everyone else by one. At his best, he can boost that to plus two, and when there are four other heroes out there, this becomes a massive boost. When he's not buffing damage, he can make his allies immune to specific damage types or grant himself immunities and damage reduction, making him a great tank. One thing my group has noticed is that when I play Legacy, we generally always win. And when I've played other characters, we haven't fared nearly as well. The damage boosts are much more pronounced in a five-player game than in a three-player game.
Haka - I used to think Haka wasn't that good a hero. I used to think that Wraith and Tempest would put anything Haka did to shame. And then I learned how best to use Haka. He uses his cards as currency, and when he gets a lot of cards, he is a machine. You could easily make the claim that he's the best character in the game.
Haka comes across looking like a big strong caveman. He's actually a Maori warrior who was mysteriously granted immortality. And he's been alive for centuries. His deck contains three signature cards: "Haka of Battle", "Haka of Defense", and "Haka of Restoration". These cards allow him to discard as many cards as he wants to increase his damage or damage resistance by that amount, or to heal himself by that amount. This means that if he gets a big hand, there's nearly no limit to what he can do. And he has a card that lets him draw an extra card any time an environment card is discarded. Played correctly, Haka is very very good, if not versatile.
The Fanatic - I was slow to get started on The Fanatic, but that's only because she's a difficult character to understand. She can dish out tons of damage, and she can take it as well. She's probably the best hero in the game. The fact that many of her cards are individually confusing and non-intuitive is what makes her a complexity 2 character. She also has more unique cards than any other character in the game. This means more versatility, and it means that she's less likely than anyone else to get any specific card she's looking for in her deck. But she's got some really good stuff in there.
The Fanatic is a paladin. A poor child in Lima, she was hit by a bus at age 6 and made a miraculous recovery. Since then, she devoted herself to the church, and at puberty she grew white wings.
The Fanatic really is a very cool character. The fact that her base power is to deal 1 melee damage and 1 radiant damage means that any damage bonus she gets is doubled. A +2 damage makes her 1+1 into a 3+3. She has many cards that are difficult to understand, or else difficult to understand the true potential of. Her best attack, Wrathful Retribution, lets her do damage equal to her full HP minus her current HP. When she's really hurt, this is a massive attack that can end the game quickly.
Bunker - The Bunker Armor is a suit of high-tech armor produced by a government weapons project. For a long time, I thought of Bunker and Tachyon as the two characters to avoid. Bunker's main reason for being a complexity 2 character are his three "mode" cards, which allow him to change up what he does, playing two cards, using two powers, or drawing extra cards each turn by sacrificing the other options. It sounds very cool, but when you actually play it's far less useful.
The thing is, Bunker is very good even without his modes, and I'm just beginning to realize it. In addition to his big guns (Flak Cannon, Grenade Launcher), he has a Gatling Gun which can fire every round without you having to use a power or play a card. And then there's his Omni-Cannon, which lets you discard cards and place them beneath it each turn, and then fire at will to do damage based on how many cards are beneath it. BOOM.
Bunker also has a "Heavy Plating" card that acts as armor and a "Maintenance Unit" which can heal him every turn. There's a lot more in there as well. I need to play him more often to get a feel. I'm not going to call him the best character in the game, but he's better than I've given him credit for.
Absolute Zero - Absolute Zero is the only complexity three hero in the base game. He's difficult to figure out and can be fiddly as all getout. When most people look at Absolute Zero and see that his base power is to do 1 fire or 1 cold damage to himself, their reaction is WTF? But the first time I played him to his potential, I was amazed. He was doing insane damage, and finished the game at nearly full hit points. When played correctly, he's an absolute beast. Without a doubt, the best character in the game.
The only problem is, he's incredibly reliant on his equipment, and before he gets the cards he needs, he's pretty much useless. But once he gets the card that allows cold damage to heal him, he gets better. Then, he gets the card which allows him to do equal cold damage any time he takes fire damage. Then he gets the card that lets him do an +1 point of cold damage. Now, if he's hit by 3 fire damage, he can either do 4 cold damage to any target he wants, or else heal himself by targeting himself with his cold damage. This amounts to one point of healing, since he took three damage and then healed four. You think that's fiddly? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Lets say that Legacy is in play and granting +2 damage to all heroes. And let's say that Absolute Zero has all the abovementioned cards in play and plays Coolant Blast. This allows him to do 2 cold damage to up to three targets, and then take fire damage equal to the total amount of cold damage he just did. Do you see where this is going? Saddle up. Okay, first off, each of those two-point attacks gets a +2 from Legacy's bonus and a +1 from the cold damage bonus that Absolute Zero is giving himself, which means that three targets take 5 damage each. I like to target Absolute Zero with one of these to heal him by five points, and do 5 damage to two other targets. So he did 15 cold damage. This means he needs to take 15 fire damage. No wait, it's 17 fire damage because of Legacy's bonus. Better hope he's got at least 17 points left or else he dies. If he lives, he then gets to do 17 cold damage to any target he likes. No wait, that's 20 cold damage because Legacy gives +2, and his cold bonus gives him another one. He can either heal himself 20 points and recoup more than he's taken this turn, or else unleash a truly massive attack. This is what it's like to play a complexity 3 character.
Team-ups - One of the things I love about Sentinels of the Multiverse is the way that heroes synergize. I'm still discovering things that certain hero characters can do together. For example, Ra's fire damage is often more effective when used to damage Absolute Zero than when fired directly at the enemy. Legacy's damage bonuses are doubled when The Fanatic uses her base power. The Visionary can give Tachyon or Haka the extra cards they so badly need. And Nightmist, my favorite expansion hero, is constantly damaging herself. If Ra were to change all damage to fire damage and then make her immune to fire, she would completely avoid the negative effects of her own abilities.
I haven't even gone into the creative villains and their unique "flip mechanics" that make fighting each villain like playing a different game. Baron Blade is trying to crash the moon into The Earth, and will do so once he gets 15 cards in his discard pile. Ambuscade has a cloaking device that flips him and makes him immune to damage, even as he shuffles face-up "trap" cards into his deck. And The Ennead are a team of villains who slowly come out one by one over the course of the game. If you let them all out, their card flips and they get much, much worse.
This probably isn't the last I'll ever write about the game. I only have two expansions at present, but I'm loving it.