Sentinels of the Multiverse: Akash’Bhuta

Jay: Our villain this week is Akash’Bhuta, a chaotic spirit of nature and destruction. She is so large the heroes have to scale her to fight her. If you’ve played a God of War game, this type of Titan fight will be familiar. Against Akash’Bhuta, the heroes are insects to be ignored. To chip away at this behemoth, who has more hit points than any other villain in the game, the heroes hack away at her various killer vines and rocky appendages. As her limbs are destroyed, Akash’Bhuta deals damage to herself in some sort of self mutilation ritual. In effect, the heroes mostly fight the appendages and ignore the giant herself.

Tom: Sentinels of the Multiverse has one of the worst boardgame interfaces I’ve ever managed, partly because it has absolutely no idea how to express gameplay in any way other than blocks of tiny print. It can be like vetting a legal contract. This self-mutilation concept is a perfect example. The idea is that as you destroy these appendages, you’re destroying parts of Akash’Bhuta herself. So when you destroy her cards, the cards tell you the tree inflicts damage on herself. Which can lead to weird things like casting a buff on the tree so she damages herself even more. But that’s not the worst of it. This will turn out to be one of the most convoluted games of Sentinels I’ve ever played.

After the jump, Disrupt the Field indeed

Jay: Being the destructive spirit of nature, Akash’Bhuta is inextricably linked to the environment. As she plays villain cards, she forces the players to discard from the environment deck. Once the environment deck is cycled, Akash’Bhuta flips over to her enraged side, dealing damage to the players each turn and generally making herself a nuisance.

Tom: Despite my grousing about all the text, I love how much freedom the designers have to to play with concepts like a 200 foot tall tree with deep roots in whatever environment you’re using. Akash’Bhuta’s environment churn reminds me a bit of how Omintron-X used terraforming to defeat me two weeks ago. So what environment will this magnificent tree sink her roots into? I roll my ten-sided die. It’s a one. I’ve rolled The Block. Really? The Block? An oppressive monolithic prison in which inmates and agents fight each other for control? It’s like the prison scene from Watchmen, but with a 200 foot tall killer tree looming over the proceedings.

Jay: So, you might be wondering what hero would be the counterpart to such a force of nature? Who is the archnemesis to this mighty villain? The answer may surprise you. Meet the Argent Adept, a musical virtuoso and defender of order. Last week Tom referred to the Argent Adept as a jazz musician. Well, I guess Akash’Bhuta just isn’t a fan of Miles Davis. Argent Adept is a tough hero to play well. He needs particular combinations of equipment and ongoing cards in order to shine. Protecting him while he gets these in play is key during the early stages of the game.

Tom: Even when he gets his instruments and melodies and harmonies and rhythms out, he’s tough to play. Actually, especially when he gets all that stuff into play! Argent Adept can be a nightmare of deciding which cards relate to which other cards. I guess that’s why I’m starting to warm up to him. There’s pretty much only two or three things you can do with, say, The Wraith. But there are about 800 things you can do with Argent Adept. Let’s see how he fares in prison.

Jay: While Tom wrangles with Johnny Cash playing Folsom Prison Blues, I’ll be playing the pied piper for a bunch of dinosaurs. I can think of no better place to combat the spirit of chaos and nature than on a tropical island deep in the arctic, better known as Insula Primalis. When you read over the back story for Insula Primalis you learn that it was discovered by Canadians, who I suspect of serious wishful thinking this time of year. Of course, this beautiful summer oasis has its perils. Dinosaurs abound and can ravage friend and foe alike. Active volcanos litter the landscape. Using Tom’s patented randomizer for the rest of my team beyond Akash’Bhuta’s nemesis, I roll Expatriate and Absolute Zero for this pleasure cruise. Getting Absolute Zero from the dice is like coming up snake eyes. If there is one hero more fiddly than Argent Adept, it is Zero. His default power is to deal damage to himself, for Pete’s sake. I think Tom gave me loaded dice.

Tom: I get half way through my game — Akash’Bhuta can be a long grind with all her hit points — before I realize I’ve been playing wrong for a while. I’ve got her down to about 150 hit points when it occurs to me that Akash’Bhuta’s own armor should have been protecting her from the damage she takes when a limb is destroyed!

All these little rules, all these exceptions, all these details and systems, and they’re always only little snippets of text! So I’m going to start over. Which is nothing ununsual. I’ll routinely get halfway into a battle and realize that, oops, I’ve been doing something wrong or I’ve been forgetting to do something or I missed a crucial detail on a crucial card that came out two turns ago. One of the very few advantages of playing Sentinels with multiple people is the extra sets of eyes to read all those little snippets of text. Sentinels of the Multiverse players and lawyers are more efficient in packs.

Jay: I should probably mock Tom and tell him he is bad at games. I mean, all he has to do is read text, right? Well, not quite. Sentinels is a game that benefits from having a rules lawyer at the table. While you don’t want to be “that guy” who takes over the entire table and tells everyone how to play his turn, it really helps keep a game running smoothly if you can make sure all the rules are followed and the pace stays brisk. When you are solo, all this responsibility rests on your shoulders and it can be a challenge to keep things straight.

Tom: A lot of it is simple concentration. For most of the solitaire boardgames I play, I can have a podcast or talk radio going in the background. Sometimes I can even have a crappy movie going on Netflix, half paying attention. Not so with most games of Sentinels. I either have to tune out everything or lose track of something important. I tend to play Sentinels with nothing but a little music in the background. Turned down music. It’s like that part of a drive when you turn down the radio because you have to look for the numbers on the addresses.

Jay: At this point, I wish I had made a mistake as big as Tom’s so I could start over. My game has been more Keystone Cops than Amazing Spider Man. From the start, things looked bad as Akash’Bhuta’s Living Rockslides started hurling rocks. But the good news is that my trepidation about playing Absolute Zero was unfounded. He has the gear he needs and he’s more than capable to both deal damage and administer healing. But Expatriate and Argent Adept keep falling all over themselves instead of, you know, saving the world. For most of the game, Expatriate has ammo but no guns. Is she just going to throw bullets at the raging mountain? Argent Adept is like a sad version of an a cappella competition, all songs and no instruments. On turn three, I’m finally able to get out a Flak Jacket for Expatriate and Telamon’s Lyra for Argent Adept, only to have Akash’Bhuta play Earth’s Sacrifice and destroy all the equipment in play. Things seem dire.

Sadly, the heroes never recover. After a few more fits and starts, the heroes are able to generate a small amount of offense, but nothing close to what is needed when Akash’Bhuta depletes the environment deck and flips to her angry side. Once flipped, Akash’Bhuta starts dealing three damage a turn to multiple heroes, along with all her primeval limbs doing their own damage. I’m getting villain turns that deal ten or more damage! The heroes can’t stand up to this for long. There’s a brief glimmer of hope in the form of a rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex. The heroes are so heavily injured the T Rex is more interested in chomping at the many primeval limbs flailing about. But this unexpected ally doesn’t survive more than a single round; Akash’Bhuta stomps it flat a turn later. As scary as a T Rex is, a giant angry tree is worse. The final tally for the fight is all three heroes defeated and Akash’Bhuta at 181 hit points, with 10 primeval limbs on the board. The heroes only managed to destroy two limbs. The moral of the story? Don’t mess with the ents.

Tom: So this is my fourth go-around. I am determined to make this work. It’s well into the game, the opening of the villain turn. Akash’Bhuta is in full effect. Her powerful primeval limbs are writhing into everything. In The Block, the inmates and agents barely get time to trade a few non-committal pokes at each other. A Lockdown is put into effect on an already empty prison. A lone rogue skulks ineffectually. A block guard tries to tase one of Akash’Bhuta’s Living Rockslides. It doesn’t work. Not in the least. The Block, a strange prison presided over by the imposing Warden Hoffle, is little more than a sand castle to Akash’Bhuta’s whims, knocked over again and again. On the way to the discard pile, the horrible villain Char flashes into view briefly. He is yet another victim of Akash’Bhuta’s relentless card churn.

On this particular villain turn, I draw Disrupt the Field, which means destroying all environment cards, then playing a villain card, and then playing an environment card. But as soon as an environment card is destroyed — farewell, block guard, we hardly knew ye! — Akash’Bhuta plays a villain card. Oh, look, it’s another Disrupt the Field inside this currently resolving Disrupt the Field. So we resolve this new card before we finish resolving the first one. And while we’re resolving the second Disrupt the Field, a prison riot breaks out, which means flipping up environment cards until a certain number of inmates come into play. But oh, look, we’ve depleted the environment deck, which means we have to shuffle it, which means Akash’Bhuta flips to her other side, which has a whole other set of rules, including having to play a villain card every time an environment card is played. So now we have to play a villain card for the second inmate of the prison riot, which is nested inside a Disrupt the Field itself nested inside another Disrupt the Field, and more villain cards tumble off the deck. A computer could handle this Russian doll of card plays within card plays. I’m not a computer. But I try to keep up as best as I can, and by the time it’s all over — Is it really all over? Have I forgotten anything? — Akash’Bhuta has in play nine of her primeval limbs. The table is a cluttered array of Arboreal Phalanges, Living Rockslides, Ensnaring Brambles, and Mountainous Carapaces. Plus an Entomb and Allies of the Earth for good measure. There are literally eleven cards in play from the villain deck.

I’m about ready to throw in the towel and write this off as unplayable. I love Sentinels of the Multiverse, but sometimes I feel the guys at Greater Than Games have opted out of actual game design and instead they’ve just thrown a bunch of rules into a box. They’ve unleashed their imaginations without restraint, leaving us to puzzle out these myriad complex interactions and nested instructions and ongoing effects and exceptions and bonuses. I’m running out of table space. I’m running out of brain processing power. I’m running out of patience. I’m running out of hit points. Legacy is down to nine hit points. Akash’Bhuta is still at 156 hit points. I’ve tried this battle three times before and I’ve never been able to get her lower than 120 hit points.

But the magic of Sentinels of the Multiverse is that while you’re busy brainpowering through all this clutter and text, wonderful things can happen. At this point in my battle, with Legacy, Tempest, and Argent Adept, it’s mostly superfishman Tempest doing all the work. He’s at +2 damage thanks to Legacy’s Galvanize power and Inspiring Presence. Tempest’s Electrical Storm zaps everything as soon as his turn starts. Then he can play a card. Chain Lighting rips through three of the primeval limbs. Then he can use a power. A Grievous Hail Storm inflicts four damage on all targets. All of them. Every single one of those primeval limbs. Then he can play another card thanks to Argent Adept’s Inventive Preparation, a rhythm tapped out on the superbard’s Xu’s Bell. Tapped out twice, by the way, because the Argent Adept fires off a deadly Polyphonic Flare that gives him a second power at the price of self-inflicting two points of damage. Oops, not two. Four. Sometimes doing +2 damage isn’t a good thing.

By the time the smoke, lightning, hail, and tintinnabulation have cleared, there are no primeval limbs left! And every destroyed limb has damaged Akash’Bhuta. She is down to 62 hit points. The story in all this card churn is absolutely operatic, a Wagnerian epic drummed out on Xu’s Bell, a symphony of upheaval, chaos, destruction, and shuffling. And when I get to the environment turn, I realize I have totally missed the prison’s Defensive Displacement that was supposed to reduce all damage by two points.

Damn you, Sentinels of the Multiverse!

Next week: Apostate vs Fanatic is a match made in heaven and hell!
(Click here for the previous entry.)