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.

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