Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Warlock's Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse--Vengeance!

As I've mentioned in the past, I've become a huge Sentinels of the Multiverse fanboy.  Board games are typically an exclusively social activity for me, though I find myself playing SotM by myself when bored, taking down minions and defeating bad guys all on my lonesome, then turning around and dealing out the cards on our Friday night game nights.  SotM has become our go-to game, with its relatively quick play time and near-infinite replay value.

Sentinels of the Multiverse:
As you might imagine, I was more than excited to see when Greater Than Games announced a "mega-expansion" as part of their Shattered Timelines Kickstarter:  Vengeance.  And, while I wasn't able to back either Shattered Timelines or Vengeance, I've since picked up both expansions thanks to my Friendly Local Game Store.

The three prior SotM expansions each had something of a limited scope, focusing on a particular area or genre of comics.  Rook City emulated the Iron Age of Comics, with heroes like Expatriette (a gun-toting vigilante) and Mister Fixer (a mechanic-themed homage to Iron Fist) and villains like The Chairman and Spite, aping The Kingpin and Bane, respectively.  Infernal Relics focused on the mystic end of things, complete with homages to Dormammu and the Lovecraft mythos.  Shattered Timelines represented the 'possible futures' of the SotM universe, with heroes and villains that acted as dark reflections of their normal selves.

Vengeance, however, represents a turning point in the SotM world.  Tired of being foiled by the heroes, the nefarious Baron Blade recruits an army of minor supervillains and recurring foes to assault the heroes en masse.  Comics-wise, Vengeance most closely reflects the Marvel Comics' "Acts of Vengeance" storyline or any number of clashes between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom.  Within each of the Vengeance villain decks, numerous mini-nemeses lurk, complete with additional pain for a group containing a hated hero.

Mechanically, however, the Vengeance concept falls somewhat flat.  Rather than taking a single villain turn at the start of a round, each "major" Vengeance villain gets their own turn, requiring players to alternate Villain-Hero-Villain-Hero constantly.  This alternation makes the game significantly more complex, if only for sheer number of villain targets and ongoings out on the battlefield.  This says nothing of the additional time involved, particularly considering that the Vengeance villains are hard.  If a normal SotM game takes our group about 30-45 minutes to play, a Vengeance game easily takes twice that time due to the increases in challenge and in bookkeeping.

Four of the Vengeance heroes:
Setback, Parse, The Naturalist, and KNYFE.
If it sounds like I'm really down on Vengeance, let me clarify:  I like this expansion.  The heroes are varied and interesting, providing new and flavorful riffs on classic comics archetypes.  The Naturalist, for example, apes Beast Boy and can perform different roles based on which animal form he's in at the time.  Parse feels like something of a mash-up of Hawkeye and Oracle, able to alternate arrow shots with deck controlling abilities and able to buff herself and her allies through discards.  My favorite hero, KNYFE, mashes together Psylocke and Black Widow into a lethal damage machine who can chain card plays together for massive damage turns.  While still adhering to the core SotM mechanics, all three of these heroes provide new ways to play the game, new strategies and synergies to invoke, and solid homages to SotM's comics-born roots.

The environments, as well, provide flavorful and creative tweaks to the SotM formula.  The Freedom Five Tower is a generally beneficial environment, though numerous "Entry Point" cards can drastically increase villain damage if not controlled.  The Mobile Defense Platform makes for a great villain hideaway, complete with an alternate loss condition:  if the engines go down, the platform crashes and everyone loses!

Really, the only two decks I have yet to discuss somewhat sum up my Vengeance experience:  the heroes known as The Sentinels and Setback.  The Sentinels tweak the typical hero formula in that you play as a Fantastic Four-esque family of heroes simultaneously, while Setback utilizes an "unlucky pool" of tokens to represent his current karmatic state.  In both cases, the result is flavorful, interesting, and intricate.  In both cases, they provide a unique play style to SotM which hasn't been done before.  But are they necessary?  Do they add to the experience of playing SotM?  I can't say that they do, at least any more than a 'normal' hero might have done so.  They're fun, but they seem somewhat needlessly complex and can slow down the game significantly.

In the end, if you're a SotM fan, you've probably already bought Vengeance.  While I wouldn't say it's the strongest expansion--that's probably Infernal Relics or Shattered Timelines--it's a quality addition to the line with some unique tweaks on the existing SotM mechanics.  If you're new to the game, I'd definitely recommend picking up some of the other expansions before you start eyeing up Vengeance.

Friday, January 31, 2014

In Which The Warlock Updates...

No, friends and neighbors, I haven't totally discontinued this blog.  Obviously, entries are somewhat slow to come by in recent weeks, but I owe you an update at the very least.

In the past month, I've actually found some gainful employment, if not quite what I'd like to be doing:  I'm currently in training with Kaplan to become an SAT/ACT prep coach.  It's on a part-time basis, which isn't ideal, but coupled with my regular freelancing gigs and my (hopefully soon incoming) profits from Cold Steel Wardens, I'll be able to continue searching for a full-time position.

Speaking of CSW, we've hit another delay--this time, on the publication end.  Ideally, we'll head to press before the end of February and the PDF will be on sale before that.

I am, however, still intending on representing Blackfall Press on the convention circuit.  I've been hard at work on a new series of adventures, including ones based on DC Comics' Birds of Prey and Image Comics' Chew.  Ideally, I'll have my 2014 convention schedule up within the next few days.

Hopefully, I will have a few more entries as I get back into the swing of things and back into a 'normal-ish' routine.  Thanks again for your patience!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

In Which The Warlock Rattles Off Reviews...

With the massive "30 Days of Gamemastering" behind us, I feel like I've somewhat fallen behind on my geekly duty of reviewing the assorted nerdity that's come out in the last few weeks.  It's time we remedied that!  So, let's take a quick, encapsulated view of some of the comics-based items that have been out in the past few months:

Better than the first one, but not flawless.
I'm holding out more hope for Captain America 2.
Thor: The Dark World:  While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, it played something of a weak sister to Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, settling on a bog-standard "hero learns humility" arc.  The movie was serviceable, but the sequel's promotion promised raised stakes and a more nuanced plot.  Really, Thor: The Dark World didn't disappoint.  While Chris Hemworth's Thor is solid, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is the again the real star, chewing the scenery with aplomb.  Unfortunate, Christopher Eccleston is utterly wasted as dark elf villain Malekith the Accursed, whose motivations are enigmatic at best and whose lines are few and far between.  Seriously.  Darth Maul got more face time than Malekith

Overall, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, but I left the movie feeling that certain character beats were just missing.  I really look forward to seeing the Blu-ray/DVD release, as I wouldn't be surprised to see extended versions of certain dialogue scenes, particularly between Thor and Loki.  It's not a perfect movie, but it's a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic stable.

Give it time.  It's getting better.
Plus, Tahiti is a magical place...
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD:  I've really had high hopes for this show, hoping that it'd provide the "connective tissue" linking some of the Marvel movies and hinting towards an ever-expanding universe.  So far?  Ehhh.  Individual episodes have been somewhat hit or miss, with real winners like "The Girl in the Flower Dress" and "F.Z.Z.T." but also several mediocre filler episodes.  While Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson is still an inspiration--particularly as he slowly uncovers what really happened to him following his "death" in The Avengers--the remainder of the characters feel like they've been ripped straight from TVTropes.

But, there's promise.  Victoria Hand, played by an inspired Saffron Burrows, provides a unique glimpse at a darker, more covert SHIELD, seeming to point to the turmoil upcoming in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  An upcoming episode features the Extremis-enhanced Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) joining the core group, implying a greater focus on the superheroic universe.  This is a show that, more than many others, has been suffering from "First Season Syndrome".  Once it finds its niche?  It's going to roll on all cylinders.  I'll keep watching.

Poor animation, a middling plot, and
unnecessary gore keep this one under par.
Justice League:  The Flashpoint Paradox:  Ouch.  Just ouch.  While the DC Animated Universe has trounced Marvel's handily for the past decade--probably the only multimedia arena that DC has unequivocally won--this one left me utterly disappointed.  Based on a Geoff Johns plotline which led into the "New 52", the Flash's nemesis, Professor Zoom, alters the timeline such that the world sits on the brink of war between Atlantis and Themyscira.  Thomas Wayne has become Batman, following the death of his wife and son.  The Flash is left to navigate the chaos, track down Zoom, and find a way to restore the original timeline.

While the voice acting in Flashpoint Paradox is quality, the character designs and animations are clunky and ill-formed.  Many of the masculine characters are overly muscled and veiny; Aquaman, at times, appears to have no neck whatsoever.  Female characters, notably Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, are given "anime eyes" that look almost detached from the rest of the character model.  The art here simply is not of the same high quality that the DC Animated Universe has established thusfar.

Worse, though?  The level of violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is utterly deplorable, particularly for a film rated PG-13.  While I'm not averse to violent comics or the like--I enjoy Sin City, The Boys, and pretty much anything else by Frank Miller or Garth Ennis--this film is marketed to a younger audience, for whom it is utterly inappropriate.  Aquaman flat-out executes individuals on screen.  Dismemberment is rife.  Justice League mainstay Cyborg is literally ripped apart in one of the final fight scenes, while another scene shows Batman use a pistol to shoot another character...through the bloody hole in that character's skull.  The violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is gratuitous, distracting, needlessly gory, and totally unnecessary for the plot.  I can't recommend it.

Mechanics and theme clash drastically
in this disappointing board game.
City of Remnants:  I had high hopes for this game, after being given the elevator pitch by Sean while we were up in Columbus for a game night.  Imprisoned by an oppressive alien force, players took on the role of gang leaders, attempting to carve out a niche for themselves beneath the noses of their alien overlords.  The game promised cutthroat conflict, conniving, backstabbing, and underworld dealings.

What I got?  A Euro-style worker placement game with elements of "Dominion"-style deckbuilding.  Unless the players actively engage one another in player-vs-player combat--generally a bad idea for both factions involved, due to the clunky mechanics of combat--there are few ways to even influence another player's actions, much less backstab or even interact with other players.  After losing a key piece of territory--I made a calculated risk that didn't work out--my influence on the game was utterly nullified.  The game went on for over an hour more, with no meaningful contributions on my part.

City of Remnants could have been a tactical, backstabbing good time, but its Eurogame elements really hold it back.  Rather than achieving victory by accumulating wealth or territory--items that would thematically be fitting for an organized crime game--the game insists on using a nebulous victory point system.  Instead of being able to interfere with others' operations--shaking down a casino, tipping off cops to others' activities--players have no real interaction unless they directly confront one another, which is almost universally a bad proposition.  The theme and mechanics of City of Remnants are utterly dissonant, leading to a misshapen, poorly designed game.  Give this one a pass.