Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Dreamer

Jay: Superhero fiction is at its best when it goes beyond the simple trope of a hero trading punches with a villain. Often, the more powerful a hero becomes, the less interesting they seem as their problems and solutions become farther removed from our own experiences. Bringing those conflicts and troubles closer to home can make a superhero tale more relatable and appealing. I have dealt with a two year old throwing a tantrum and I’ve soothed a child roused from slumber due to a nightmare. Now, spin me a tale of a super powered child that throws a tantrum that levels a city block and you have me hooked. Better yet, tell me a story of a child so powerful that her dreams and nightmares are made manifest. In one version of the story, the child is secreted away to a government facility and experimented upon in the hopes of controlling these demons. In an alternate version, the child is never taught how to control her abilities and those same demons run amok. Now, it is up to super heroes to rescue the child and put a stop to those projections. This is what we face in today’s battle, as the Visionary faces her greatest foe, the Dreamer, and is forced to confront this version of her past that grows ever more dangerous as her nightmares consumer her.

Tom: While Jay plays over over to today’s game using heaps of backstory, I’ll be in charge of the gameplay angle. This week’s villain, The Dreamer, is a superlative example of Sentinels developer Greater Than Games at their very best. The Dreamer plays unlike any other villain.

After the jump, awakening the dreamer.

Jay: Vanessa Long, known as the Visionary, is a psychic whose latent powers were amplified by a covert government project intent on creating super soldiers. After years fighting alongside the Freedom Six and defending the United States from foreign aggression, she realizes that to save the present, she must change the past. To alter her fate, she travels back in time and prevents her parents from participating in the psychic super soldier program. Unfortunately, the younger version of herself still manifests strong psychic abilities. Uncontrolled, the child unleashes nightmarish figures from her dreams. Now The Visionary must stop these terrifying projections and protect the child that is, quite literally, her future. Or her past. It’s time travel. Don’t try to make too much sense of it.

Tom: Someone should totally make a movie of this. But to sell tickets, it would need a Marvel licensing gimmick or Legos. For my own setting, I roll a die and come up with the Mobile Defense Platform as the environment du jour. This is Baron Blade’s counterpart to the SHIELD Helicarrier. I guess the idea in my game is that it’s Baron Blade, not the government, who’s trying to use The Dreamer for nefarious purposes to…wait, I’m starting to veer into lore. That’s Jay’s department. But in my defense, it’s nearly impossible to play Sentinels of the Multiverse without veering into self-made lore.

Jay: For this fight, I chose Expatriette and Nightmist as accompaniment for Visionary. I also throw in a wrinkle by playing alternate versions of the heroes using promo cards. These alternate hero cards modify a hero’s default power, but leave the remainder of the hero deck unchanged. For example, today’s version of Expatriette has the default power of Aim, where she can spend a turn to give herself a one round damage buff. Since all of her guns are also powers, it means she only shoots every other turn, but does more damage. These cards can be a great way to spice up a hero you may find too familiar.

Given all the trouble Tom had last week with The Final Wasteland, I wanted to see for myself how deadly it could be. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the nightmares living in The Final Wasteland do not enjoy having to share their territory with the nightmares conjured from Vanessa’s dreams. As you have no doubt guessed from the introduction, The Dreamer is quite unique in the Sentinels menagerie of villains. The Dreamer starts the game in a deep slumber surrounded by projections of her dreams. The goal for the heroes is to wake the sleeping child without hurting her. She has only six hit points and if she is ever reduced to zero, the heroes lose the game. This is not a typical game of whack the monster like last week’s fight with Plague Rat.

Tom: So how do you wake a sleeping child? By defeating all the projections. She starts with three and, of course, plays a card every turn, usually adding another projection. If she ever starts her turn with no projections in play, she flips to her awakened state. Now the danger accelerates as she directly attacks the heroes every turn and play projections at an accelerated rate. Once a certain number of projections are defeated, the heroes have successfully awakened the girl and won the game. But remember, you can’t do any damage to her. So leave at home the heroes you’d normally bring into play to spread damage indiscriminately. Sorry, Haka and Tempest. I’ll bring along Legacy for reliable team buffing and Knyfe to lay down some precise pinpoint hurt on bad guys.

Jay: In my game, the most dangerous of The Dreamer’s starting projections is a Whipacorn, which is a unicorn with a whip for a horn. The Whipacorn doesn’t do much damage, but whenever it damages a target, that target can’t inflict any damage during his or her turn. I guess you get tied up by the whip or stunned or distracted by the idea of a unicorn with a whip for a horn. However it works, the Whipacorn manages to temporarily take Expatriette out of the fight. This is unfortunate, as Expatriette is all about quick damage. She even managed to start with a combat shotgun. At least The Visionary can do what she does best: control. She’s a solid support character who works best when there are lots of targets to manipulate. In this case, the Visionary plays Wrest the Mind and controls the Whipacorn. Now The Visionary gets to choose who gets tangled up in the whip.

Tom: At one point, I have a pair of Whipacorns in play. Whipacorns are a great example of how Greater Than Games wrings personality from a combo of relatively simple gameplay mechanics and crazy imagination (it’s a shame there wasn’t more of this on display with the villains in the disappointing Vengeance add-on). In my game, The Visionary deals with Whipacorns by hiding inside a telekinetic cocoon for a while. This protects her from all damage while she draws cards, basically letting her spool up without getting hurt. So her hit points hold steady while Legacy and Knyfe take a bit of beating. When The Visionary emerges from the telekinetic cocoon, the Whipacorns, who attack the hero with the most hit points, turn their focus on her. But she puts into play a card called Decoy Projection, a target that takes damage on her behalf. Since the Whipacorns only shut down the card that actually takes damage, their whips incapacitate an illusion that wasn’t going to do any damage anyway. Pretty sneaky, Visionary!

Jay: In my game, The Visionary does not have it as easy. Instead of being able to vacation inside her lovely cocoon, sipping mint juleps and reading a novel, she takes the brunt of the punishment from the deranged projections. It doesn’t take long for The Visionary and Expatriette to clear the starting projections from the board, flipping The Dreamer. As in most Sentinels games, the flip side of the villain causes exponentially more pain. Now the Dreamer is flinging psychic energy about and playing twice as many cards each turn. Remember that nemesis mechanic whereby villains and heroes who are nemeses inflict extra damage to each other? Without a cocoon to protect her, my Visionary withers under this mental storm.

Tom: Another one of my favorite Dreamer cards is the Tooth Fairy. And by favorite, I mean I hate it a lot. When the Tooth Fairy attack, it does something worse than damage: it forces every hero to discard a card. Early on, that’s super painful because I need these cards. All of them! I can’t get anything going if a freakin’ grotesque Tooth Fairy is forcing me to discard cards. Fortunately, Tooth Fairies have very few hit points.

Jay: The Tooth Fairy is insect like and is literally eating the tooth it holds. I may have trouble sleeping after seeing that.

Tom: The Mobile Defense Platform is doing wonderful things in terms of its own infrastructure. Early on I have to deal with a couple of Baron Blade’s goons, who are a minor distraction from The Dreamer’s grotesque projections. But once they’re knocked into the discard pile, the environment deck keeps turning up support cards with nothing to support. This Mobile Defense Platform has a bridge, a shield generator, a propulsion system, and even a mechanic to maintain everything. It just doesn’t have much in the way of manpower. Fine by me! I’ll be over here punching The Dreamer’s projections.

Jay: In The Final Wasteland, things are more chaotic. I could fill an ark with all manner of strange and illusory creatures. I have skunk apes fighting insane toymakers and chupacabras battling illusory demons. In fact, it’s so chaotic, the heroes are able to sit back and recuperate while the environment and projections nearly wipe each other out. It really is serendipitous that all of the Dreamer’s projections have the lowest hit points of any targets at the table, and all of the Wasteland creatures focus on those targets. I can see why Tom had such a rough time using this environment against Plague Rat.

Tom: Once we’ve cleared the projections and awaked The Dreamer, the game takes an interesting twist. An Illusory Demon appears and attacks the non-villain target with the highest hit points. This would normally be one of the heroes. But since we’re all so bruised and battered, the card with the highest hit points is the Propulsion System for the Mobile Defense Platform. This card has 10 hit points. If it’s ever reduced to zero hit points, the entire game is over and everyone loses. The Mobile Defense Platform has crashed to the ground and killed everyone. Bad news. And now an Illusory Demon is banging on the Propulsion System card, doing very non-illusory damage, boosted by The Dreamer’s angry awakened state and an evil dream version of Legacy called Dark Hero. Fortunately, there are two Shield Generator Cards in play protecting the Propulsion System. This will buy us some time. And at some point, the Propulsion System will be damaged badly enough that the Illusory Demon will attack something else. Still, it’s an interesting situation: The Dreamer wakes up and her still angry dream manifestations turn to a particularly insidious type of sabotage.

Jay: In the story of my game, The Visionary is forced to make tough choices and ultimately sacrifice herself to save her teammates and the child. The psychic storm unleashed from The Dreamer each turn proves to be too much and The Visionary is defeated, unable to play most of her own damage cards because they are indiscriminate and would hurt the child she is working so hard to protect. Her sacrifice is not in vain though, as she has given Nightmist enough time to get her act together. With a couple of artifacts in play and a hand full of cards, Nightmist joins Expatriette in clearing the field of projections. At this point, Expatriette has more guns and ammo than an army surplus store. The heroes are ready to end the fight.

Tom: As much as I love this game, I consistently run into issues. For instance, when The Dreamer is flipped to her angry side, you place destroyed projections under her card. When you get six projections under there, you’ve won the game. But I also have in play an environment card called Sky Deck, which specifies that whenever a card is destroyed, it gets put back under its associated deck. So what happens when I destroy a projection? Does it go under The Dreamer to count towards my victory? Or does it go back into the villain deck, in which case I need to do something about the Sky Deck to make any progress towards winning?

These are the sorts of issues that Great Than Games has created with their occasionally amateurish gameplay. The basic rule, which can be a real pain in the ass to track, is that the cards resolve in the order that they were played. But does that mean the card itself, or the card side? Because the Sky Deck card entered play before the angry side of the Dreamer card, but the actual Dreamer card entered play during the setup phase before the game even began. I’m going to make a judgment call and read the rules literally, counting both sides of the villain character cards as having entered the game first. But it’s the sort of thing that a better designed game wouldn’t dump into the player’s lap.

Jay: Don’t listen to Tom gripe. To make such a wonderful cake as this, you have to break some eggs. The freedom their system gives to generate these stories is bound to have some kinks here or there.

Tom: Well, sure, but shouldn’t we discuss those kinks? The best way to make games better is to discuss them frankly, praising the strong bits and singling out the weaker bits. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a great game, and it deserves our adoration. But as such, it also deserves our analysis and criticism.

Jay: Ultimately, since it is a cooperative game, the players on the table need to use the overriding rule of maximizing fun. In all seriousness, though, these situation do come up and will probably get worse over time as Greater Than Games expands the mechanics and universe of Sentinels. It is a price I am willing to pay but I can understand why it gives Tom such a headache.

Tom: It’s also one of the reasons I’m particularly disappointed in the Vengeance expansion. Because instead of getting better at design, I’m concerned that Greater Than Games is getting worse at design and may very well become a victim of their own success. But that’s a discussion for another time. Meanwhile, back on the Mobile Defense Platform, we we need to destroy six projections. We take out two projections, but then Legacy is done in by a pair of Treacherous Apes. After we’ve destroyed four projections, Knyfe goes down to a Macabre Specter attack. I’m left with The Visionary with a single hit point, hunkering down in a Telekinetic Cocoon while she draws cards, hoping for a combo that allows her to take out two more projections, or at least a decoy to protect her from damage. But she takes too long! The Mobile Defense Platform gets into play a spread of cards including three Shield Generators, two Battalion Mechanics, and enough goons to ensure that The Visionary and her single hit point won’t survive beyond the environment phase if she comes out of the cocoon, even if she does play her decoy. So what happens?

The game pretty much plays itself out. The Dreamer’s projections flood out onto the table. Whipacorns, Macabre Specters, and Grotesque Arachnids start attacking the non-villain card with the most hit points. This is at first the Propulsion System. Then it’s the Shield Generators. The two mechanics, each with only two hit points, are instantly killed by the Macabre Specters, which do two points of damage to every non-villain card. The projections shred the environment cards while The Visionary looks on helplessly, holding out hope that at some point she can come out of the cocoon and kill two projections in a single turn. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. The projections destroy the Propulsion System and the ruined Mobile Defense Platform crashes to the ground, killing the heros and The Dreamer herself. Oh, the superhumanity!

Jay: In my alternate timeline, the heroes get a happy ending. Once the dark version of Legacy entering the fray, Expatriette decides enough is enough. This is her moment, and she does not waste it. Playing the card Unload, Expatriette is allowed to use as many powers as she has guns in play. She gets to fire her combat shotgun, assault rifle, and handguns all at the projections. I think she was showing off and auditioning for a part in the next Expendables movie. This is too much firepower for the projections and those not killed outright are grievously wounded. Nightmist follows up with a Scouring Mists that clears the board of all projections and Wasteland monsters, winning the game.

Next week, we’ll twist some probabilities with Kismet and Setback.
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