by Jeff Dougan
Headquartered down the road in St. Louis, Greater Than Games exploded onto the hobby game publishing scene in 2011. They’re the classic story of guys who succeeded because nobody told them they were “doing it wrong,” and in the space of a few months went from complete unknowns to award-nominated publishers with an intensely loyal fan base. Their flagship game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, rapidly became one of the Grasshopper’s favorites after we first got to play it late this summer. (He drew the picture anchoring this post, and the timing of this column is a late birthday present – I love you, kiddo.)
The bullet points:
Image credit: Greater than Games, LLC
The publisher’s description of Sentinels of the Multiverse is “a cooperative card game with a comic book feel,” and it delivers on each of those three key points. If you’ve been reading these columns since the beginning, the idea of a cooperative card, where the players either all win or all lose together, should be familiar. The comic book feel oozes out of every card in every deck, both in art style and in the flavor quotes at the bottom of each card. (More on these later.) In introducing new people to the game, I’ve been known to describe it as the last battle scene of The Avengers in card-game form, pitting a team of 3-5 heroes against a major villain, with the environment playing a part in the fight.
The game has separate decks of cards for each hero, villain, and environment — 10 heroes, 4 villains, and 4 environments in the core set — and each one feels very different in play. They touch on almost all of the major comic book archetypes, such as the lone multimillionaire vigilante, the speedster, the mad scientist, the invading alien warlord, the big city, and the base in outer space. The variety of combinations available means that no two games feel the same.
Unlike some of the other games I’ve profiled here, Sentinels of the Multiverse isn’t really suitable for young kids. Mostly, that’s because there’s a LOT of reading involved – every card gives you instructions for what to do – but there are a couple of villains who are a little bit dark. (I’ve avoided playing these with the Grasshopper, and will continue to do so for a couple more years yet.) There can also be a variety of temporary conditions that are much easier to manage with an adult involved. However, it’s great practice at adding, subtracting, and “making change” as heroes and villains lose hit points. Even a hero reduced to 0 hit points isn’t completely out of the game, as incapacitated heroes can grant one of three abilities to their allies. (To continue the Avengers analogy, this one’s for Phil Coulson!)
To me, the biggest genius of Sentinels of the Multiverse isn’t in the gameplay itself. Rather, the staff of Greater than Games has managed to create not just one fictional comic book, but an entire fictional comic book universe that feels just as old and rich as those of DC and Marvel comics. Every card features a quote from some issue of a “Sentinel Comics” title, and they’ve done it in such a way that the Grasshopper was very disappointed when I had to explain to him that Sentinel Comics didn’t really exist.
The sheer replayability from just the first box makes a great introduction to cooperative games for comic book-loving families, but tread lightly with struggling readers. It’s rare for people I know to sit down and just play the game once, which is recommendation enough in itself.
Jeff Dougan is a science educator, husband, lifelong gamer, and father to the Grasshopper (age 6) and the Munchkin (age 2). He’ll happily teach or learn a new game just about anytime.