Tom: Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of the purest sandbox games for how freely you mix and match its components. There is no set way to play. You must make choices. Every game consists of at least three components, each a small deck of cards. The villain is a deck of cards, the environment is a deck of cards, and however many heroes you want to bring along is each a deck of cards. Although the idea is that it’s a co-operative game in which each player controls one hero, it’s also a fine solitaire game. The villain’s difficulty supposedly scales by the number of heroes he’s facing, so you could presumably play with a single hero. But we find that three heroes is the sweet spot for maximum synergistic superheroics.
Jay: I love this game for the stories it generates while you play. The mechanics can be fun and are full of little rules interactions that I enjoy exploring, but more importantly, the combinations create unique narrative experiences. One game you can be fighting a mad scientist on a tropical island filled with dinosaurs and the next game you are defending the earth from a hostile galactic invasion while on a martian space base. As a way to explore these stories, we’re going to fight each of the villains, with the stipulation that the heroes will consist of that villain’s rival and two others of our choosing. We’ll start with the easier villains and work our way up.
After the jump, robot roll call.
Tom: Another way to scale the difficulty in Sentinels of the Multiverse is to play the villains in “advanced mode”, which is an unfortunate name. I’d prefer to think of advanced mode as normal mode and normal mode as baby mode. Each villain is a framework for how the game plays. The villain determines the overall objective, unique gameplay mechanics, special obstacles, and so forth. Furthermore, since each villain has a front side and a flipped side that can change during the course of play, each battle is a bit like a two-act play. Since some villains flip repeatedly, some battles are more than two acts. And many of the unique dramatic elements are discreetly tucked under the concept of “advanced mode”. Anyone is, of course, welcome to play a sandbox this generous however he wants. But to really appreciate each villain, you have to play advanced mode. In other words, I’m one of those annoying guys proclaiming that you’re not really playing until you turn up the difficulty level. Imagine my voice all nasally and pinched. You’re sorry you’ve invited me over as I’m telling you that you’re not Doing It Right.
Jay: Up first is Omnitron. A sentient robotic factory that alternates between pumping out terrible robotic drones of destruction and tromping about the landscape zapping everything in its path. For this battle, I’ve selected Mr. Fixer, Tachyon, and Omnitron-X. That’s right, Omnitron is going to fight himself! How cool is that! We have a future version of this rampaging robot that developed a conscience and wants to right the wrongs of its past. So where does a time traveling robot from the future fight itself?
Tom: Anywhere it wants?
Jay: The answer for my game is a Time Cataclysm. This environment is chock full of oddities and strangeness that can turn a game upside down and ensure that the heroes can’t rest on their laurels even when they get the upper hand. A fun fact about this environment is that it contains a variant card from each of the other environments in the Sentinels set. We will encounter dinosaurs, time cops, cowboys, pirates and more.
Tom: While Jay makes things easy for himself with choices that make sense, I’m going to set the stage using one of the central tenets of gaming: randomness. There are ten environments in my collection. Oh, look, I have a ten-sided die here! I roll a four, count four spaces along the column of alphabetically arranged environments, and come to the Pike Industrial Complex. Rats. Literally. And vats. This is an industrial wasteland with ravenous vermin and toxic sludge.
Jay: To start, Omnitron begins as a self replicating factory and has 100 hit points. Our heroes’ goal is to reduce that to zero. Each turn, Omnitron will alternate between automated factory (getting to put a component or drone from the discard pile back into play) and a killer robot (getting to play an additional card at the end of its turn).
Tom: Going through Omnitron’s deck, there are two cards in particular to watch out for. Sedative Flechettes and Technological Singularity. The former will destroy all ongoing cards. The latter will destroy all equipment cards. Since most heroes spool up by playing persistent cards, either labeled “ongoing” or “equipment”, Omnitron is uniquely capable of completely shutting down a powerful hero, essentially resetting him or her to zero. So I need a spread of heroes who rely on equipment or ongoing cards. Omnitron-X, as you might expect from a robot, is heavy on equipment. I bring along Legacy for the powerful buffs he gets with his ongoing cards. And I’ll lead with Tachyon, who builds up powerful attacks by accumulating “burst” cards in her discard pile. This should be enough diversity to take whatever the giant robot factory can dish out.
Jay: Things start off disastrous for the heroes. In fact, they get what might be the worst start you can have playing against Omnitron, Electro-pulse Explosive. This device starts with 15 hit points and will do 15 damage to the heroes at the start of the next villain turn. Since none of the heroes has more than 30 hit points, this could end the game before it even starts. The heroes aren’t defenseless however as Tachyon is able to buy everyone some time with a Hypersonic Assault. This deals 1 damage to non-hero targets and prevents them from doing damage until Tachyon’s next turn. With this breathing room, our heroes are able to chip away at the bomb and come away only lightly singed a few turns later.
Tom: I have no such difficulty early on. Omnitron is dribbling out robots and we’re knocking them back. We’re the Major Leagues and he’s throwing out whiffle balls.
Jay: The next trick Omnitron attempts to play is forcing all the heroes to throw away their precious equipment using Technological Singularity. By this time, both Mr. Fixer and Omnitron-X have started to deploy their arsenal in an effort to stop the killer factory. Losing their equipment now would set them back many turns and also hit Omnitron-X with a ton of damage, since each destroyed piece of equipment causes two points of damage to whomever equipped it. Amazingly, the Time Cataclysm environment come to the rescue with Fixed Point. When this card is in play, all other cards cannot be destroyed. No equipment destruction, no damage to Omnitron-X, and the heroes live to fight another day.
Tom: Meanwhile, at the Pike Industrial Complex, I’ve got a Supercooled Trisolvent Vat dealing damage to everything every turn, a Biometic Plasma Vat healing damage to everything every turn, an Experimental Mutagen powering up any rats that show up, and an Escaped Lab Rat that attacks the targets with the fewest hit points. Since the targets with the fewest hit points are all Omnitron’s drones, this is pretty much all working in my favor.
Jay: As the battle rages on, Tachyon proves her worth by stopping a raging triceratops and destroying one of Omnitron’s railguns using her blinding speed. Mr. Fixer was using a pair of flaming crowbars and Omnitron-X had deployed an arsenal of plating and components that rivaled his evil nemesis. The heroes were nearly done in by a second Technological Singularity that got through and wiped out all of Omnitron-X’s hard work and equipment. Mr. Fixer was able to stall for time using his Grease Guns until Tachyon could respond with a punch heard round the world (18 damage from Lightspeed Barrage when she had most of her deck in her trash).
Tom: One of the things I love/hate about Sentinels of the Multiverse is how it sets up spectacular chain reactions of cascading failures or mounting victories. In this case, the spectacular chain reaction is a set of cascading failures. Omnitron plays a card called Terraforming. You’d think Terraforming would be no big deal, right? All it does is destroy all environment cards, and then play that many villain cards. Basically, the environment is converted into villain cards. Voila! Terraforming! At this point, there are four environment cards. This will most likely mean more cheap drones for me to dispatch. But as I flip over four villain cards, I get the Technological Singularity and the Sedative Flechettes. Goodbye all equipment cards and goodbye all ongoing cards. It’s a devastating one-two punch that also deals 13 points of damage to Omnitron-X (two per equipment card, four from the flechettes, and one for being Omnitron’s archnemesis). Everyone except Tachyon is reset to zero. At least she has plenty of burst cards stored up. Unfortunately, she isn’t able to translate them into attacks quickly enough. By the time we’re all defeated, Omnitron still has 68 hit points.
Jay: For the finale of my game, Omnitron is defeated by the noble self sacrifice of Omnitron-X. X discards all of its equipment for a massive 15 damage explosion that destroys Omnitron. Final tally, Tachyon at 13 hitpoints, Omnitron-X at 13 hitpoints, and Mr. Fixer at 13 hitpoints.
Tom: Maybe advanced mode wasn’t such a good idea.
Next week: Baron Blade! He may be the most boring villain in the box, but he’s packing a Terralunar Implosion Beam. Guess what that does! Because there’s nothing boring about a Terralunar Implosion Beam.