Sentinels has done a wonderful job of making a name for itself since it surprised everyone in 2011. Each of its expansions seems to have been very well received and I was accordingly very pleased to get to borrow this one. The cooperative game is themed around being comic book super heroes fighting a variety of villains in a variety of environments and this theme pervades every aspect of the game.
First impressions of this game are great, granted I had the enhanced edition. All of the cards are beautifully presented and easy to read, though where some of the decks are split between different wraps in the packaging there is a difference in the warp of the ones I played, but that is very minor. Token and chits are all of really nice card stock and once again clear and beautifully presented. The one thing I can see being a disappointment to those who don’t know when this edition came out, is the inclusion of all the dividers you need for some of the expansions. So if you think “I really like the look of that character” there is a chance it won’t have a deck in the box sadly.
And so to game play. Firstly, set up once you have the box sorted is a doddle, if occasionally long winded. The choosing of characters is a major aspect of the fun I had playing this game. The hero characters are familiar enough while being different, which allows for a preference without any prior knowledge. The giant villain cards that come in the enhanced edition feel like they are a huge improvement to play with compared to the smaller ones. This is just an impression as I didn’t give the smaller one much of a chance, where the large ones were so obviously preferable for me. The most different of the decks are possibly the environment decks. These were so very flavourful that even when I hated the environment cards I could feel the connection to that theme. Game play is a major learning curve for this one. There is a real risk that players can be put off by a selection of characters that fail miserably, making the game feel like a torturously slow exercise in attempting to gain ground while digging through your deck for options that aren’t there. That said, if the characters are right the game can be very easy to win. This game really is a pain to describe when it come to how it plays as the different decks play differently. There are decks that play like you would expect, dealing copious damage each turn just by throwing cards at the table, while others play almost like a Magic: the gathering combo decks. Whatever decks you play with and against the games many tokens are a blessing for making visible the multiple effects that it would be easy to miss by having tokens that are bright comic style banners that you can lay across the cards to make it super clear. The villains are as diverse with some being a huge threat on their own with only a few support cards, while others will flood the table with cards leaving you wondering how you will ever clear enough to make progress against the villain itself. I wish I could do the game play more justice, to describe it would simply be unwieldy given the number of different decks, but I will try to be clear as to my feeling of where it is on point and where it is perhaps less so.
If this game does anything perfectly it is the theme. It is so pervasive while playing the game that even when you’re essentially sitting there waiting for someone else to finish their choices, the cards art and flavour text is captivating enough for all but the worst analysis paralysis. Special mention should go to the flavour text on the cards, which are presented as if they are lines lifted right from actual comics complete with issue numbers. Not a functional part of the game, but something that many of those I played with notice and commented on how much they loved. As a cooperative game it does suffer a little from the risk of one player trying to run everyone else’s turns. However, it seems to be less so than in many other games like it. The final stand out success for this game for me is the variety and dearest gods there is a lot of it. With so many different decks for heroes, villains and environments even in just the base game the number of set ups possible is simply staggering.
When trying to think of this game’s faults I am very conscious of the fact that I was disappointed, not so much in the game itself as the fact that all the hype had made me feel here was something really fresh and different and as good as it was, it just wasn’t equal to that hope. While there is nothing I would slate, there are certain things I feel this game is lacking. Firstly, is a good starting point. Where there is so much choice and certain combinations are frankly howlingly bad, in the hands of very new players I feel an advised first game set up in the rules would have been great. For what it is worth, I would recommend for a first game fighting Baron Blade in the Ruins of Atlantis using Ra, Legacy, Fanatic and Haka. Another problem I just can’t get over is just how this game scales. Granted, I can see how a group of four heroes will have an easier time fighting the villain and his hoard than two will and this is once again a tribute to the theme, it just falls flat for me as a game. The villain and the environment get the same number of actions each round regardless of how many players there are. There are certain cards that make use of the number of players but they are very far from a majority. The favoured mechanic seems to be cards just singling out either the player with the most health or the player with least for damage or punishment and with more players this spreads out making a much easier game.
I wanted to love this game, I expected to love this game and sadly I don’t. Would I play it again? Gladly, and it would be great to play the expansions and see if they improve on the experience or not. As it stands there are just other cooperative games I get a much bigger kick out of with less glaring balance issues that concern me.