Designed by Christopher Badell, Luther Bell Hendricks V and Kevin Gregory Nunn. Published by Greater Than Games, LLC. Released in 2014. For 2-8 Players ages 13+. Plays in 30-60 minutes.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of my all-time favorite cooperative games. So you can imagine that I was excited – and skeptical – to hear that Greater Than Games was releasing a Multiverse spin off titled Sentinels Tactics: The Flame of Freedom, which trades in the cooperative focus and large decks for a competitive hex-based minis game with a focus on character versus character combat. After several playthroughs, it’s lacking some of variety due to having fewer characters and environments than its progenitor, but it does have some entertaining, fast-paced gameplay and a great deal of potential for customization.
The base game of Tactics comes with ten characters (6 heroes, 4 villians), all but one of which are classic characters, as well as several tiled hex maps that represent Megalopolis, a crowded city, and Insula Primalis, a jungle island complete with optional rules for lava and rampaging dinosaurs. Each character comes with a panel card detailing biographical info on one side (because, well, comic books) and gameplay stats on the other, along with their own small set of cards that represent their passive and active abilities.
Gameplay is split into four phases that are thankfully easy to understand and quick to run through after just one or two playthroughs of the game. First is your Power Up phase, where you can swap out one of your characters’ two active powers. Choosing the powers that best fit the situation becomes one of the core ways of how the game handles strategy.The fire-wielding Ra has many devastating attacks at his disposal, so you may want to swap out a power that affects a single opponent for one that can hit multiple targets at a time. Afterwards comes the Surge phase, where automatic effects granting you temporary attack or defenses bonuses in the form of tokens kick in, followed by the Action phase. The Action phase is the real meat of the game, as each character has a set number of actions per turn and it’s also where you make most of your decisions on how to use your character and their abilities.
Character movement is randomly determined through the roll of the die each turn, though the game does allow you to instead sprint characters two hexes and ignore terrain. The randomness of movement may seem unnecessary – the high-speed heroine Tachyon, for example, definitely feels like she should always be moving more than everyone else – but in practice it adds a good amount of unpredictability, since you have to take into consideration that a poor roll may mean you’ll have to put your character on the defensive in order to survive an impending attack. Other options include aiming or dodging, which grants you very powerful tokens that can make your attack or defense rolls equal to the highest die you’ve rolled. For the most part, though, you’ll be using your character’s own specific powers to attack enemy players. When you make an attack with your character, you simply use the number of dice listed on the ability and any that match the highlighted numbers on the chosen ability count as a hit. The game’s way of figuring range to your target and how hard by an area of effect attack can be slightly complicated to figure out, and can hold a game up or result in errors even after you’ve picked up enough experience on the system.
The characters themselves are different enough that no two characters feel like exact copies of each other, but some don’t feel like they have more than one role to play. The exo-suit wearing Bunker, for example, only appears to work best if you set him up somewhere as a stationary gun platform and pelt your opponents with grenades and missiles, and lacks powers that allow him to act as a front-line tank. The same can be said for The Wraith, a Batman-esque heroine, who only seems to work best as a sniper that attacks enemies from far away with her throwing knives. Those characters are disappointing when compared to some of the more varied characters, like the patriotic Legacy and the superhero supremacist Citizen Dawn. Both can act as either a support character that provides bonuses to allies or a more aggressive character that can get right into the thick of things with a few nasty attacks.
Tactics comes with three “Scenario” books that feature a set of storyline missions focused on a villain from the core set. Humorously designed like a comic book, they contain details on how to set up the game map for a mission and any special rules it uses, along comic panels describing snippets of the scenarios’ story. The scenario missions feature specific win/lose conditions (some which can affect the setup of a following story mission), special rules and specific powers for the villain player. While one or two of the special rules could use a little more clarification, the scenarios are fun to go through and having to think how to use a character’s abilities in less direct ways adds a welcome challenge to what’d normally be a straight up fight between heroes and villains. The robot overlord Omnitron’s missions, for example, have the villain player commanding hordes of drones in an effort to gather resources or trying to destroy the game map (through removing hex sections as “scenario markers” are destroyed) as quickly as possible, while the hero players try to figure out how best to stem the never-ending horde besides just throwing eye-beams or fireballs around.
The other method of play (as mentioned in the rulebook) is to simply run a skirmish. You and another player (or players) pick a team of characters and just battle it out to a set number of character incapacitations. This lends itself well to quicker games and also provides a good way to learn the mechanics of the game without any extraneous rules. As fun as they can be, though, they can become a little dry given the limited arenas available as there’s only so many ways you can configure the included hex maps. Luckily, even if Tactics may lack the kind of mix-and-match variety seen in its Multiverse predecessor with all its various decks, Tactics‘ mechanics are open ended enough that there’s opportunities for players to get creative and make their own custom game styles and scenarios. More dedicated players may want to purchase something supplemental, like a dry or wet erase hex map, so they can create their own arenas to use with Tactics.
Regardless of if you prefer general or structured play, the pacing of your Tactics games is going to be fast once you get the hang of the rules – in-depth strategy isn’t something you need to worry much about. Understanding the strengths and weakness of each character is straightforward once you’ve used them a couple of times, and it’s really enjoyable figuring out and using what’s the best combination of powers they have at their disposal while trying to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Whether it’s setting up just the right attacks to take out an enemy in one shot or rolling really well with your last surviving character to beat the odds, Tactics offers enjoyable superhero themed gameplay without a steep barrier to entry.
That said, there are a few minor issues that can add a thin layer of confusion to the game. It can be way too easy to forget to roll your character’s movement value at the end of a turn, and the rulebook is fuzzy on gameplay issues like friendly fire when it comes to area of effect attacks – a problem that arose several times in the games I played for review that, I’ll admit, had some hilariously unintended side effects. But with the promise of future expansions featuring new characters, rules and scenarios – The first of which, Uprising, is already on the way – Tactics is a decent start to a potentially robust minis combat game.
Bottom Line: With its smaller pool of characters and environments, Sentinels Tactics will definitely instill the desire for more content, scenarios and heroes. As it is now, it’s still an enjoyable, fast paced game with light strategy and fun brawls between superheroes even if some of the math can be a little tricky to figure out from time to time.
Recommendation: If this is your first foray into miniatures combat games or a fan of the Multiverse series, Tactics does have a few less-than-thoroughly explained rules that can cause the game to snag on occasion. It does make up for it with fast pacing, easy to understand strategy and a focus on superheroes beating the crap out of supervillains.[rating=4.0]