My Favorite Game Mechanics: Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock

There are so many things I could pick as my favorite mechanisms for Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock, but I’ll try to stay on task with the one I chose for this article: artificial intelligence.

Cooperative games pit the players against the game itself so almost any cooperative game has some version of artificial intelligence. Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock just happen to be two of my favorites in terms of AI.


Gloomhaven has a leveled system for its creatures, so players can adjust the difficulty to match their tastes, and each creature type has its own action deck. The action cards within these decks dictate how quickly each creature moves, how or if they attack that turn, and who they target when they do. It’s a simple but elegant way of making each creature unique. Players won’t know what the creature will do from turn to turn, but if they’ve faced a similar creature, they may know its habits and that does a lot for characterization.

I also like Gloomhaven’s card-based combat. Usually I don’t like it when a player gets knocked out when they run out of cards in their deck, but this game is so balanced that it works. Okay. I promise that’s the only time I’ll get off topic—with Gloomhaven.


Assault on Doomrock has a similar system for its creatures, but it adds a threat level for each player’s character (or hero). Typically, the hero with the highest threat level will draw more monsters and that allows for a mechanism in the game that functions a lot like a tank in MMORPGs—a tank is a player with a lot of health that serves as a punching bag for monsters to attack, while their teammates wail on the distracted monsters.

There are more things that may affect a creature’s aggression in Assault on Doomrock, but the inclusion of a threat system gives the game more depth. I also like Assault on Doomrock’s addition of time as commodity. T.I.M.E. Stories has a time system too, but Assault on Doomrock’s use of time made me more concerned about wasting the time I had and that increased tension. Alright. I won’t discuss Assault on Doomrock—that much.


I’d be remiss to not give a quick mention to Sentinels of the Multiverse. The villain decks behave differently, giving each character personality. Pandemic almost made this list for artificial intelligence and how the viruses behave, especially how the epidemic cards function with location cards that had been played (currently in the discard pile) go back on top of the draw deck, so diseases can get worse in cities already affected.

Like I said, most cooperative games have some form of artificial intelligence, and there are many other great examples. I could go on for another five or six games at least, but good old Uncle Geekly would like to hear from you.

What do you like most about Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock? Is there another game that uses AI in a great way? Error Code 220: Service ready for new user. Let us know in comments.

Sentinels of the Multiverse Critique and Learning Moments

Your uncle Geekly mentioned before that Sentinels of the Multiverse ranks highly on his superhero games list. I’ve even talked about how well of a job it does with character and world building, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless. Far from it. Sentinels has some rather significant flaws. The flaws a game, or any creative endeavor, has can inform how to create something of its ilk. I like Sentinels a lot, but in this write-up, I’ll try to dig deeper and show some issues the game has.

The biggest issue Sentinels of the Multiverse has is a lack of scaling. Scaling in board games refers to a game playing well at all player counts. If a 2-5 player game plays well with 2, 3, 4, and 5 players, it’s considered to scale well, regardless of player count. Sentinels doesn’t scale well.

But scaling is an issue present in a lot of cooperative board games. Some co-op games do a far better job than others—Matt Leacock’s designs come to mind—but too often cooperative games overcompensate for more players or don’t compensate at all for smaller player counts. Unfortunately, Sentinels is the norm.


At 2 players, gamers don’t have enough options to defeat villains and can get overrun. My suggestion is that the players must run two heroes apiece so that they’re playing a 4-player game, but that’s not exactly scaling the game for 2 players. 5-player games result in too many options for heroes and villains become too easy. The number of heroes rule does its best to scale the difficulty, but it can only do so much against 5 hero awesomeness.

The game’s greatest strength can also be its undoing: variation. Some games of Sentinels can last 10-15 minutes because the hero combinations are too good and the villain too weak, while other games of Sentinels can last the same 10-15 minutes due to a deadly villain-environment combo, and the heroes never stood a chance. These occurrences don’t happen that often, but they happen enough to leave players with a bad taste.


Sentinels tries to address this by assigning difficulty/complexity ratings to heroes, villains, and environments. It’s an admirable attempt and something that can make the game accessible to new players. We’ve got newbies on our team. How about we play an easy villain-environment combo and give them a less complex hero? Yeah, but how many of us use these ratings when we play a random game?

No, really. Show of hands. How many of us concern ourselves with complexity and difficulty ratings?


Okay. Using the Sentinels sidekick app can help setting the difficulty just right, but most of the time I just click on any difficulty or complexity.

The last major issue comes from Sentinels’ longevity. Longevity isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Sentinel fans having an aversion of play the base game is an issue. There are too many characters to keep track of (the recent OblivAeon expansion should be the final one), but there are also a lot of ways to play the game. Like so many other games, veteran players try to force more complicated versions of the game—with all the expansions included—on newer players.


The tendency of gamers inflicting overcomplicated games of a certain type on newbies led me to begin the starter game series. Don’t play Vengeance (supervillain teams) or Oblivaen (Sentinels’ version of Thanos) with brand new players. Start with the base game and maybe a smaller expansion or two. Larger and newer Sentinel expansions don’t just add complexity, they also add minutes, if not an hour or more, to the base game’s runtime and that’s a tough pill for some new players to swallow. Ultimately, make sure they’re a fan and then expand.

I could expand on this list of shortcomings, but I like Sentinels. The world and character building are better than most other tabletop games on the market. I’m sure there are things I missed—either or purpose or by accident—and if you see one, two, or five of them, climb up to your roof and shout it out loud, or you could leave a comment.

My Favorite Game Mechanics: Sentinels of the Multiverse

There isn’t just one game mechanic that I like from Sentinels of the Multiverse, there are several, but most of them center around one thing: character building.

Sentinels may not be perfect—your Uncle Geekly will have to write an in-depth analysis about it after a while—but most of the design choices in Sentinels do something to characterize the heroes, the villains, and sometimes the world in which they live. Players feel like they’re heroes. They feel super. And that doesn’t happen as much as it should in board games with superheroes.

Some games like Marvel: Legendary (perhaps a better game than Sentinels overall) puts gamers in the role of someone like Nick Fury. You’re assembling a team of superheroes to deal with a threat. Others put gamers in the role of a superhero, but there isn’t an attachment to the character or the characters are flat. You are a unique hero in Sentinels.


While there may be some misses (in terms of character building), there are more characters like NightMist. She’s reckless. How do we know this? She’s just as likely to hurt her teammates as she is the enemy, and the mechanisms in her deck bring out that flavor. Legacy is the leader of the gang. A lot of his abilities promotes this identity. Visionary has a more hands-off approach and many cards in her deck reflect her personality.

The villains have just as much personality, and Sentinels does one of the best jobs in tabletop gaming of building antagonists. Some villains have no regard for their henchmen and prefer the heroes to squish them, others may care for their righthand man, but have no attachment to anyone else. Still others depend on no one else but themselves. These henchmen, if there are any, also tend to build on the eccentricities of the various villains. Citizen Dawn’s lackeys don’t behave like anyone else’s. Grand Warlord Voss has his own unique cronies. The Matriarch always has a murder of crows in tow.


There are even some villains like Akash’Bhuta who are more forces of nature than true villains. The Dreamer who is an 8-year-old girl whose dreams come to life, but she suffers from night terrors and therefore, she’s a victim herself. And Wage Master who’s the resident Mister Mxyptlk who turns game play upside down just because it strikes his fancy. The characters in Sentinels have plenty of—well—character.

Even the environment decks (that represent the location the game takes place) have their own sense of character. Certain environments like Wagner Mars Base aren’t so good for specific characters like Bunker (kind of like Ironman) or The Wraith (a female Batman) because it randomly destroys equipment, while other environments like Rook City (a Gotham City type) hates on all heroes because even the cops are crooked. There are even a few environments that handle heroes with kid gloves. I won’t mention them here. Greater Than Games has plenty of forums for that and many of new game copies rates each environment according to difficulty.

It’s easy to fall in love with Sentinels despite any shortcomings. It has personality. And personality is something more superhero games and antagonists in cooperative games need.

What do you like most about Sentinels? Is there another game that handles character building in a fun and interesting way? Let us know in comments.