Sentinel Tactics Review: Yes, You Can Solo it

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Sentinel Tactics: Flame of Freedom box cover

Sentinel Tactics is a game published by Greater Than Games and released in 2014.  The game was originally funded on Kickstarter and I was one of the backers and will therefore be reviewing everything I got through the Kickstarter at once.  This includes the base game: Flame of Freedom, the first mini expansion: Uprising, and the 2 sets of miniatures that accompany these.  If you are going to purchase the game retail these four things will all be separate.

Sentinel Tactics takes place in the Sentinels of the Multiverse universe that G>G created for their card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, that was published a few years ago.  This game was billed as the tactical “dudes on a map” version of that game.  Officially, the game requires 2+ players but I have found that it plays excellent solo/solitaire, although it is one of those games where you have to play both sides.  There is no built in AI and it is a competitive game.  I feel the game plays well in this manner because the amount of stuff to manage and account for is low and the game has absolutely zero hidden information–which is a solo player’s best friend.

Gameplay

The game takes place over a number of rounds where the hero and villain players alternate turns. Each player turn is made up of 4 phases listed below:

  • Power Up
  • Surge
  • Go Time!
  • To be Continued
Sentinel Tactics Components
Sentinel Tactics component spread

During the Power Up phase, players will play or rotate out their power cards.  Heroes or villains are allowed to have 2 or 3 cards in play at once.  Each hero or villain has a deck of cards that they are able to play from but it functions more as a “hand” instead of a deck, since the order does not matter and you are not drawing from it in the traditional CCG style.  This deck of cards are essentially the options you have available to you some of the strategy in the game comes from deciding which powers to have active and when to swap them out.

Surge is a phase that only matters if you have a surge effect in play and if you do, it will trigger in this phase.

Go Time! is where the meat of the game takes place.  Players take actions or use powers with their character during this phase.  The four basic actions available to everyone are move, sprint, aim, and dodge.  Moving and sprinting are the main ways to move around the map.  Aiming and dodging give you tokens that improve either your attack or defense when you choose to spend them.

The other actions/powers you can take depend the abilities listed on your hero/villain panel, what power cards you have in play, what scenario you are playing, etc.  Bunker, who is a Iron Man type hero, has a basic attack innate attack listed on his character panel that he can always use and if he has his grenade launcher card in play this would give him another attack power to use if he wanted. Baron Blade, who is one of the main super-villains in the base game, always gains scenario powers that allow him to deploy his drones and other minions to the board and he would use those powers during this phase.

The To Be Continued phase is where players will roll dice to determine their movement.  Every character rolls a certain number of dice and assigns the lowest, middle, or highest die to be their movement value based on how fast the character is.  Bunker will take the middle of 3 dice whereas Tachyon, who is a hero similar to the Flash, would take the highest as she is naturally faster than Bunker. I am not the biggest fan of this mechanic and will talk about why I think it is unnecessary and fiddly later on.

The goal of each scenario will be different but some examples include having to destroy all of the villains minions or underlings in a certain amount of time, preventing the villain from moving around the board and activating scenario markers, or controlling x # of tiles after x number of rounds.  I am usually able to finish games in about a hour to a hour and half depending on how involved the setup is and how long thoroughly I think about and try optimize my moves.

Components

The artwork on everything is in the beautiful comic book style that was first seen in the Sentinels card game.  The only artwork I do not like is on the side of the board featuring Megalopolis: the city that most of the scenarios take place in.  I am not sure if it will come through in the pictures, but the artwork on the board has a very washed out look.  The best way I can describe it is that someone took the file with the artwork in it, opened it in Microsoft Word, and used the watermark feature to give it a faded look.

sentinel components 1
Some Sentinel Tactics components

I am not sure why they chose to do it like this but instead of making the city look like the background to an awesome fight between super-powered heroes and villains it just makes it harder to see the features and terrain.  If you are not using the miniatures, which have clear bases, then the opaque tokens will cover up most of the artwork in the space they are in, so it isn’t a game ruining choice, just a strange one.

The other side of the board features Insula Primalis, which is a tropical type location with a volcano in the middle.  The artwork on that side of the board does not have this same watermark problem, but only 1 or 2 scenarios in the base game and mini expansion use this side or a part of it–so unless you are playing the Skirmish game you won’t see this awesome place much.  My hope is that future expansions incorporate more of this side.

The miniatures are interesting.  They are actually a lot smaller and more fragile than I expected.  They come assembled but unattached from their bases.  They have to be inserted into 1 or two tiny holes in their base through which a tiny peg on the bottom of their feet will fit.  When I assembled mine a couple of them did not go in at first so I had to use my Exacto knife and shave off a bit of plastic to make them fit.  Not a huge deal, but for a novice gamer or one who has never player miniature games, it could be annoying.

The miniatures beg to be painted as they come in a dull white color.  The biggest problem with the miniatures is that on their clear base they have the name written in clear letters that is impossible to see unless you bring it up off the board and put it about 2 inches from your eyeball.  People who are not intimately familiar with the Sentinels universe will have a hard time telling some of the models apart from one another.  The Citizen minions that the villain Citizen Dawn brings on to the board are especially tough to tell apart and to even figure out which ones go on which base as they do not have much differentiating them unlike the heroes and villains who have defining features such as weapons, the fact that they are a robot, they are bald, etc.  I originally tried to solve this problem by putting the base game token with their portrait underneath the miniature but then this obscures the terrain and makes having a clear base through which you can see the board and elevation dots pointless.  Ultimately I just sucked it up and tried to remember which citizen is which.  The more you play the game the more you will learn who is who but this is a barrier to entry for new players and something ancillary that takes away from the smooth and exciting gameplay.

Scenario Books = Comic Books!

Probably the best part of Sentinel Tactics is the scenario books.  These, as you can see in the pictures below, feature a page or two of comic book scenes, then a scenario related to that, then more comics, then another scenario, and so forth.  This is similar to the way Mice and Mystics intermixes story before, during, and after missions but because of the subject matter the use of comic book format is perfect.  This really helps engross you in the story and give the scenario meaning.  The other awesome aspect of these scenario books is that the scenarios are linked.  Whether the heroes or villains win the first scenario will affect the setup or the abilities available to both sides in the next scenario.  These bonuses for winning previously aren’t game changing though; I have had both sides come back in subsequent scenarios despite having a disadvantage. These advantages can also be used to tune the difficulty slightly if you are playing against someone with less experience or maybe your kid who is quite on the same level as his/her parent.  It should be noted that the scenario book in the Uprising mini expansion has 4 scenarios which all feature a different villain and are not linked like the other ones.  I am hoping that the future expansions they create follow the format of the base set scenario books not the Uprising one.

Sentinel tactics scenario book cover
Sentinel Tactics scenario book cover example

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Sentinel Tactics Review
Sentinel Tactics scenario book inside

Final Thoughts

One thing I don’t like about the game that I mentioned above is the rolling for movement at the end of every turn.  This mechanic does feel thematic to me because how does it make sense that a hero has 6 movement one turn and 1 movement the next when they are just moving about the map and haven’t fought any enemies, had any slowing effects applied to them, or done anything at all besides moving?  Did they get tired?  Do super heroes ever get exhausted in movies or comics?  I think what they should have done is made the movement less random and more consistent by baking movement enhancing and impairing effects into the cards and powers.  There are some movement abilities and a few that give the ability to ignore terrain but there aren’t many that prevent you from moving or cause you to move slower.  If these were more prevalent or made more severe then the movement mechanic could be less random, more thematic, more logical, and less fiddly.

When I am playing solo I usually play 2 heroes and 1 villain who usually has some extra powers or minions he can use and the number one thing I forget to do is roll movement.  It is not exciting, very procedural, and the reason I always forget it is because I move on from doing awesome hero stuff to doing more awesome hero stuff and skip over the boring movement roll.  I understand the argument that it adds strategy or tactics to the game because based on what movement you roll you have to puzzle out what opportunities you have and which is the most beneficial for you to do, but I feel the tactics would still be there even if the movement was more static.

Sentinel Tactics villains
Baron Blade and his other villainous friends

With that being said, the only other negative I can think of are the component issues mentioned above.  The combat system is incredible; it uses a attack and defense dice roll where you compare the numbers and if your defense dice are greater or equal to an attack dice then they can block it.  Before any modifications are done, dice of a certain number will be auto misses.  The numbers that are auto misses are determined by the power the character is using.  Then you check for range.  Then any attack dice that cannot be blocked cause damage.  Attack and Defense +-1 token can reduce or increase the number of dice you roll and aim and dodge tokens change all your rolls to the highest roll.  The only hiccup with the combat system is that it can be hard to remember when aim and dodge tokens activate.  It is before you take out the misses, or before you check range, or after but before you roll defense dice?  Once you know that aim tokens are after range and after taking auto misses out, it makes sense I just messed that rule up a lot until it stuck in my brain.

The powers make sense.  A grenade launcher does what you would expect.  The heroes and villains are asymmetric; their powers are thematic and appropriate to their back-story and play-style.  Some heroes have lots of attacks, some support other heroes.  Baron Blade is a master inventor and has lots of cool technology that let him jump from one space to another and do all sorts of other tricks.

Ultimately, Sentinel Tactics is a nice progression for the Sentinels universe and G>G as a company.  It retains the elements that made people fall in love with their first game–strong theme, excellent story, incredible artwork, fun gameplay–while showing that they can evolve and innovate.  The scenario books are the best innovation that this game brings to the table and brings the story to the forefront instead of hiding it on the bottom of cards where you may or may not read it.  The main criticism with the card game was fiddliness and accounting for the 432563 active effects–Tactics reduces that substantially.  The rulebook is deceptively simple although you will have some questions you need to research on the forums for certain interactions or outside cases, but learning the core game mechanics is a breeze.  As solo experience, since the game is not cooperative, you must play both sides.  This is less desirable but the game plays well because there is zero hidden information and most heroes only have 2 cards in play at a time.  If you are interested in a super hero game that is not a card game and has tactical movement, insanely strong theme, and a story based campaign mode, check it out!

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