Jay: This week, we dive into the new expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse, Vengeance. Vengeance is a new twist on the traditional Sentinels game. Instead of playing just one super villain, you play against a team of super villains in a new mode called Vengeance Five. In other words, get ready to have your teeth kicked in. Make no mistake, these super villains are out for revenge and aren’t interested in playing nice. I may have wimpered a bit.
Tom: I certainly whimpered a bit. But not for the reason you think.
After the jump, three vs three
Jay: Being a new expansion, I’ve had to run through a number of test games just to get a feel for how it flows. What I’ve found is that the new villains have company. Along for the ride are nemeses that tweak the game if you are playing heroes not already opposed by the main villains. For example, you thought you would be smart and avoid Ermine’s bonus damage against The Wraith by playing, say, Fanatic. Well, Ermine has an answer for that with a new card, a villain named The Seer. He is a nemesis for Fanatic. If the Seer is on the table and Fanatic is in play, The Seer changes how heroes take damage. Little quirks like this are littered all through the new villain decks.
Tom: I’m not as enamoured of the nemeses for a few reasons. The first is that there are four in each villain deck and it’s always and only the same four. Yet there is no thematic reason for this. Why is The Seer in Ermine’s deck and not Fright Train’s or Baron Blade’s? Why is The Seer taking up a slot in Ermine’s deck? Why isn’t there instead some card specific to Ermine? Nemeses are just random cards that have nothing whatsoever to do with the villain in play. And furthermore, they have such strange specific special rules that will probably never come into play. I have 23 heroes now. I only use three in any given game. So why would a deck include a single card specifically aimed at a hero I’m probably not using?
Some of these nemeses look pretty cool, but with such limited gameplay expressions, they don’t really have much meaning. The beauty of Sentinels is how well each deck flexes the game’s modest systems. But a single card? So, uh, Major Flay does 2 points of damage to the hero with the most hit points. So what? Some of the artwork is intriguing, but there’s no meaningful gameplay here.
Furthermore, there are nemeses with special powers that target heroes like Sky-Scraper, Guise, and Captain Cosmic. I don’t have those decks yet. Neither does Jay. Neither do you. No one does. They aren’t out. Yet here are specific rules for them in the Vengeance expansion. I’m not a fan of holes in my game where I’m expected to buy more stuff. Hooks are one thing. Holes are another.
Jay: I have heard that the entire story arc of Sentinels is already written. You can see this in the artwork. Villains appear in the base game that were just released with the Vengeance expansion. I love these hints at what is to come. Putting these same hints in the card text feels awkward. I’m excited to see who Sky-Scraper is, but I will admit to going through all the cards a few times wondering if he/she was mistakenly left out of the game.
In today’s supergroup standoff, we will pit The Wraith, Bunker and Tachyon against their respective archenemies: Friction, Fright Train and Ermine. As an aside, I normally don’t comment on art or character design choices, but I had to point out that Fright Train is a bit of an odd duck. His super powered equipment appears to be an old steam train cowcatcher. Now, I would think that you would need more at your disposal to go toe to toe with the Sentinels’ version of Ironman. The two groups will be battling it out in the home base of the Freedom Five, the Freedom Tower. It is shaped like an F, because, you know, symbolism. Didn’t the Teen Titans do something similar? Superheroes need to hire more imaginative architects.
Tom: On my first attempt, all the heroes died in a chemical explosion. For my environment in this battle, I had randomly rolled up the Pike Industrial Complex. And that’s the Pike Industrial Complex for you. If the rats don’t get you, the vats will. On my second attempt, we managed to arrest Ermine, but then Fright Train handily dispatched everyone, thanks in part to the arrival of five extra nemeses. I don’t remember which ones they were. Whatever. On my third attempt, we focused on Fright Train, who was finished off by escaped lab rats. Again, that’s the Pike Industrial Complex for you. But then Tachyon was consumed by a vat of supercooled trisolvent. Ermine never took a single point of damage thanks to a particularly insidious card called Subtle Diversion. On my fourth attempt, I gave up and played a real game of Sentinels of the Multiverse instead. I beat Ambuscade. It was great.
Jay: It wasn’t all roses and sunshine on my end either. The first game ended quickly with only Ermine arrested and the heroes defeated soon after. Ermine is almost always the first to go since her advanced mode forces heroes to discard both equipment and ongoing cards. Talk about rude. Her villain costume might as well come with a big target. My second game ended in disaster as well, when I failed to defeat anyone and Fright Train rampaged around like a psychotic Dwayne Johnson. My third, fourth, fifth and six games didn’t fare any better. Finally, I had an epiphany…
Tom: The Vengeance mode throws off kilter the entire dynamic of Sentinels of the Multiverse. If there’s one thing we learned from Spiderman 3, it’s that you can indeed have too many villains. I guess the guys at Greater Than Games haven’t seen Spiderman 3. Because they’ve added too many villains. The Vengeance Five mode completely abandons the set-up of three to five heroes battling a single villain whose abilities scale based on the number of heroes. Instead you have an equal number of villains and heroes, alternating turns like so: villain, hero, villain, hero, villain, hero, and so on. An environment phase happens in there at some point, but you’re liable not to notice. One of the many problems with this new mode is that it screws up the effect of the environment deck by having it come into play far less often.
Because there’s so much more to track, none of the villains has a flip side. Previously, each villain had two stages, or some special alternate mode. Something would happen to flip the villain cards to their other side and now a new kind of game was afoot. This gave every battle a unique structure. But there is no such structure with these new villains, who are only a set of cards you line up under their hit points. In fact, these new villain decks aren’t different in any meaningful way from environment decks. You’re just taking turns with different decks punching each other.
Furthermore, many of the heroes have deck management tricks that are now far less useful against an array of villain decks. The heroes don’t even get to act together, which messes up the sense of superheroes chaining together awesome moves. It’s now like a game of you go, they go, you go, they go, one, two, one, two, one, two. What used to be a funky rhythm is now a rote drumbeat. And there’s a lot more bookkeeping. If there’s one thing Sentinels didn’t need, it was more bookkeeping.
Jay: Tom, stop stealing my punch line! It looks like we both had the same epiphany. While I’m not as disappointed with Vengeance as Tom, I am sad that it relegates a bunch of heroes to “B” status. I could have played that combination of Wraith, Bunker and Tachyon a hundred times and never notched a win. There just isn’t enough there to get the job done. Poor Tachyon really suffers as she is mostly about the occasional huge hit that takes a few turns to get into play. In Vengeance, you just don’t have those few turns to spare and hitting only single targets is a recipe for disaster. Bunker and the Wraith have more tricks up their sleeve but are still woefully under equipped to get the job done here. Especially against Ermine, who seems tailor-made to halt them in their tracks. You know who can get the job done? Tempest. Add in Legacy and the pair are unstoppable. Once I replaced Tachyon and Bunker, I won the very next fight. It wasn’t even close as all three heroes still had double digit hit points at the end.
There are other villains that cause some of these same problems, but none to the same degree. Because you are fighting so many more villain targets and each has that many more hitpoints, the single target heroes fail to feel heroic. Greater Than Games has said that the game is designed so that any three heroes can defeat any villain on advanced mode. Sometimes they need luck and it may not be easy, but there is a chance. This doesn’t seem true anymore with Vengeance.
Tom: To my mind, this new mode, which is the heart of the Vengeance expansion, is an epic misstep and one of those disappointing exercises in a developer apparently oblivious to what makes their game great. Fortunately, Vengeance has a few new heroes and environments, so it’s not a total loss. We’ll be exploring these guys — some of whom are a real delight — next week, when we go back to taking on singular villains.