Review: Rook City – More Awesome for your Sentinels World
Not too long ago, I had the great pleasure to review Sentinels of the Multiverse. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It continues to impress with every single play, and it garnered my Game of the Year award last year. One of the great things about the game is the extreme replayability. With four villains (each directing the game entirely differently) and ten heroes to choose from, there were near limitless experiences contained in the core game.
Then Rook City came out. Rook City featured new environments, new heroes, and new villains. But rather than just more of the same, Rook City pushes the game with better mechanics, new ways for heroes to work, and villains that bring very new challenges to the game.
The Basics. Mechanically, Rook City plays nearly identically to the base game. The expansion introduces the concept of “irreducible” damage. It functions just as you might think. But the best innovation is the H symbol. In the base game, difficulty was achieved by simply choosing a harder villain (or playing on the “Advanced Mode”). Baron Blade, for example, is simply not as difficult or punishing as Citizen Dawn. However, the heroes in Rook City scale with the H symbol. So the Villain might do H minus 1 damage where H is always defined as the number of heroes in the game. That way, the Villain is able to provide a challenge for any number of heroes, and the players have an additional metric to alter (if they choose) in order to increase or decrease the difficulty by simply selecting an H value at the beginning of the game.
The Feel. Rook City brings four villains, two environments, and two heroes to the game. The environments are both interesting experiences. Pike’s Laboratories is a deadly environment filled with mutagenic rats and vats of game-altering power. The other environment, Rook City itself, is filled with corruption, and tends to be the most punishing environment yet available.
The two heroes are Mr. Fixer and Expatriette. Fixer is a former martial arts instructor turned mechanic. His cards have mixed both worlds. For example, rather than a stance called “Monkey Fist,” his stance is called “Grease Monkey Fist.” He tends to be a Jack of all Trades in that he has cards that are situationally helpful, but he has a card in his deck somewhere for every situation. Expatriette, on the other hand, is all guns all the time. She uses guns and ammo to do tons of damage. She has guns for single targets, guns for multiple targets, guns with high damage, and ammo that adds effects. And, best yet, a card called “Unload” that lets her shoot every one of them on her turn.
The Villains of Rook City, however, tend to be much more difficult than base game villains. Plague Rat is a complete DPS race. Other than one starting card, he has absolutely no minions. So the Rat simply damages the heroes over and over and it is a race to see who can bring the other down first. He can also infect heroes and force them to fight one another.
Spite, likewise, is also without minions. Instead, he continually brings out victims and drugs. The drugs power him up until he has all five and then is a mean, mean entity to deal with. As he brings out victims, the players must engage in some undesirable action (like playing an extra villain card or discarding their own cards) to save them.
The Matriarch is a bird lover, and due to her combos, she can be an extremely nasty foe. Depending on which side of her card is up, she may bring out multiple birds each turn. All birds do something bad and they all have only one hit point. But whenever a bird is killed, Matriarch damages the heroes or otherwise darkens their day. Oh, and she heals herself. Did I mention that? Playing against her is a careful balance of direct damage, bird mitigation, and killing particularly difficult birds while gritting through the pain.
The Chairman is the crime kingpin of Rook City, and he’s really two villains in one. In addition to the Chairman, he also has an Operative. As long as the Operative is alive, the heroes cannot win, and numerous Chairman cards do more damage or more negative effects when the operative is alive. The Chairman calls out various “underbosses” who in turn call out various thugs. The Chairman’s network grows quickly and the heroes have to manage it quickly or be pulled under.
More than just adding in the specific cards, Rook City begins expanding the storyline of Sentinels. While there is no official storyline page in the rulebook, you understand that Expatriette is the daughter of Citizen Dawn. You find out that Spite and the Wraith have a history. You learn that a single event caused the Operative and Mr. Fixer to follow different paths. With Rook City, the world expands and, like more traditional comic characters, the Sentinels heroes become more three dimensional and interesting.
If I had to find a nit to pick, it would be that some of the new villains, especially Spite, are very fiddly. They bring a number of effects to the table and it can be difficult to remember, at the start or end of a villain turn, all of them. The villain’s innate powers, then the powers of minions or drugs, then additional powers that take place through the game. Plus, at least with Spite, there are a number of plus damages and minus damages that must be remembered. Not impossible, and very manageable, but worth noting for those who dislike the more mathy aspects of Sentinels.
Components: 4.5 of 5. While the base game had serviceable cards that I still use and love, Rook City went another direction. It included cards on much thicker stock: probably about the feel of a pack of regular Bicycle playing cards. In fact, standing up a deck of Rook City cards next to a deck of the original demonstrates that the difference in thickness is significant. I still think the base cards are fine, but the Rook City cards are definitely a step up in development. The artwork, in the same style and by the same artist, continues to be fantastic. If anything, I’d say it’s better in Rook City. And the new environments now have full art as well.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. This score remains unchanged from the base game. The players must work together to defeat the Rook City villains, something that I appreciate in this co-op game. But the challenge often comes from getting a particularly bad card draw at just the wrong moment (or a good one at the right time from the villain’s perspective). You’ll need to be comfortable with card draws and the whims of fate to enjoy Rook City and Sentinels.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. With the inclusion of the H symbol, Rook City improves over the base game. The scalability is very welcome and makes the villains able to challenge different numbers of heroes. That said, some villains still respond differently to different numbers of heroes, but the H scaling goes quite far in ensuring that you get a similar experience no matter the player number.
Replayability: 5 of 5. Sentinels had tons of replayability to begin with, but this just explodes things. The four new villains especially shake up the experience since each one really brings a different game. The new heroes and environments are good as well for variety, but the villains drive the main game play. This expansion doubles the available villains for that purpose.
Spite: 0 of 5. Still a co-op. Still no spite. Although there is a villain named Spite. Maybe that merits a higher spite score since the game now has Spite in it. Hmm…
Overall: 5 of 5. As an avid Sentinels fan, I could not be happier with Rook City. It allows you to incorporate new experiences into the Sentinels game, it addresses scaling issues, and the villains are crazy tough. I really enjoy the challenge and, even though I have lost to them (I’ll get you next time, Plague Rat!), it’s such a great feeling of success when you down any one of the Rook City villains, especially Matriarch or Chairman. If you enjoy the base Sentinels game, then Rook City is pretty much a must buy.