Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Designer: J. Alex Kevern
Duration: 45 – 60 min.
The future is here… and robots are here. They aid our information, transportation, industry… and you are one of the companies that are tasked to program them. It seems simple enough, but there’s a bit of math involved. But if you do it well enough, maybe you’ll attract the right investors and create the ultimate line of sentient robots.
Sentient is a set collection/dice manipulation game from J. Alex Kevern, who also designed Passing Through Petra. It uses dice, but not like most games: you roll the dice at the beginning of every round and set them on your board, and as you play cards you can manipulate them to suit your needs. The dice mechanics are so good, they made my Top 5 Unique Dice Mechanics, but does the rest of the game live up to the mechanics?
What’s in the box?
Inside the box there are 60 cards, 20 custom dice, 16 agent pawns (4 per player), 20 assistant pawns (5 per player), 8 turn order markers, 81 victory point chips (in 1, 5 and 10 values), 15 investor tokens, 9 player boards (4 left sides and 5 right sides) and a turn order board.
The components are great, the cards are oversized with great artwork, the player boards are nice and thick, the wooden components feel great, but its those dice that are awesome. They look and feel solid, with a nice futuristic pattern and vibrant colours. Renegade has great components for their games, and this is no different. I also love the art and the theme (its science fiction, but has a bright colourful palette), and reminds me a little of Blade Runner but not set at night, if that makes any sense. With great box art as well, Sentient is not lacking in the production department and really looks great on the table.
So how do you play?
To begin the game, give each player a left side player board, and randomly give each player one of the 5 right side boards. Each player gets one of each colour dice, 4 agents, 5 assistants and 2 turn order markers of their colour. Set the investor tokens into 3 piles based on the round number on the back, and set aside the VP chips. Shuffle all the cards, place the turn order board on the table, and each player gives one turn order marker: randomly create a stack, and when you are done, the turn order will be from top to bottom (so the marker on top will go first). Now you’re ready to start the first round!
Sentient is played over 3 rounds, and each round will be played the same. You will start by drawing the first 4 cards of the deck, and then placing the investor tokens between each card and at each end, so there will be 5 out per round, and place a 1 vp chip under each of them. Now take your 5 dice and roll them, and place them on your respective areas of your player board. Now it’s time to play. Each round you will play 4 bot cards below your board, and you also have to pass once per round. I’ll go into a little more detail about each action:
- To take a bot card, first, you will take one of your agents (and possibly 1 or more assistants, and place it above one of the 4 face up cards you wish to take. Then you will plug in the card between 2 dice on your board, and once a card is placed it can’t be moved or covered up. Then you will possibly calibrate the dice based on the card, or use assistants to avoid calibration. (I’ll explain this part a little later)
- When you pass (which you must do at some point in the round), take your turn marker and place it in the next round on the player turn order board (or the X if you’re in the last round), and if you have at lease one agent left, discard all 4 face up cards and draw 4 new cards to replace them.
Once everyone has had 5 actions (4 cards and one pass), the cards will be scored and points and investor tiles will be handed out. Do this 3 times and thats the game. But wait a minute… how do you score points and get those tiles? Well, thats where the dice manipulation, your agents and the assistants come in.
Yes, this game involves a little math, but don’t worry, it’s very simple! Every card placed between the dice will require the dice to be the values required on the card. Every type of card will require something different. For example, some cards will give you points if both dice above them are the number required on the card, some will give you points minus the dice value of the highest or lowest dice, some will add up the dice values and subtract them by a number, some will require the 2 dice to add up a certain sum, some will require the left dice to be greater than the right, or both dice to be equal value, or some will require dice will be even or odd, or left one odd and right one even… this is truly one of the best parts of the game. It feels like a big puzzle you’re trying to solve. But it gets even harder when the cards have manipulators on them that might make you change the value of one dice up or down, or both, or one up and one down, or maybe even make them stay the same (whew). But thats where the assistants come in: you can spend one or two assistants to cover up the manipulators, so the dice value stay the same. Or maybe you don’t want to do that… and change the values so it does satisfy what the card needs. But that’s not the only thing the assistants do.
The 5 investor tokens are up for grab each round, and there’s a little area control involved. When you place your agents, you can also place one or more assistants with the agent. At the end of each round, you will count up the total number of agents and assistants next to each investor token (the ones on the end only count the ones beside them, but the 3 middle count both left and right), and whoever has the most wins that investor token and places it on top of the one they started with on their player board. If the number or agents and assistants are equal for multiple players, and one player has more agents than the other, then that player gets it, but if they’re still tied, current round turn order determines the winner. The player who got 2nd most gets the 1VP token that was placed under the investor token.
At the end of each round, you will see if you completed the objectives of the 4 bot cards you took that round, and gain victory points based on that. Then you will check majority for investors, and remove all 4 cards and set them aside for final scoring. For rounds 2 and 3, you will set out the respective investor tokens with a VP chip under them, and draw 4 new cards, and re-roll all your dice to start the round. At the end of the 3rd round, you take all 12 cards you collected, and all your investor tokens (including the one on your player board) and gain points based on the cards you have. For example, if you have 2 service investor tokens, each service card you took during the game will be worth 2 points. After you tally up all your VP chips, the player with the most is the winner. In case of a tie, the player with the most investor tokens is the winner.
Is it any good?
Sentient has a lot of mechanics going in, with a mix of area control, dice manipulation and set collection. The great thing is, it actually blends them extremely well together and each mechanic feels complimentary to the other. It feels that you don’t have to just follow one, but a blend of all of them will do well, as you need to complete the objectives on the cards, but also get the cards that will give you points from your investor tokens, and get the investor tokens you want. It’s a really great balance of mechanics and offers some really meaningful choices
I also love the dice manipulation. Your initial roll sets what you need, and you always have the option to pass and refresh all the cards once per round, which can really help. I like hot the cards can change values, and placing them in the right spot at the right time can be really great, but if not you always have those assistants.
And the assistants may be one of the best parts of this game. Their double-use makes them interesting and one of the hardest choices of this game: do you save them so you cover up the manipulations of the cards, or add them with your agents to increase your majority? It also makes taking a card a hard choice, because you may want a card but also want a investor token, and take your 2nd choice of card just so you can work on getting that sweet investor token. There’s so many meaningful choices, and they all work together so well, you always have to think about every move.
And then there’s the math… it’s very simple, but I do love it. It makes you think (but not overthink), and the instructions are very well written and provide a breakdown of all the card’s objectives and explain what you need to do, and it’s very clear and helpful. If you don’t like math at all, but love puzzle games, then Sentient may change your mind, because doing the math is a huge part of solving the puzzle.
I said before how I love the art and components, but I do have one issue: the theme. Not the theme itself, I already stated I love it, but it doesn’t really come through as much as I want to in the gameplay, and the game has more of an abstract feel sometimes, and its a shame, because the theme is so great that I wish I would’ve come through more in the gameplay. I get how the math integrates with the programming, but I do wish there were some more thematic elements because I love the theme that much. It’s also not as good with 2 as with 3 and 4, because it loses a bit of the area control fight, but it’s still a great game no matter the player count.
Sentient came out in late 2017, and is one of my favourite games of that year, and is definitely in my top 20. It’s slick, smart, looks great and plays smoothly. It offers a lot of options and great choices, and plays under an hour which is perfect. If you’re looking for a game that really feels unique, easy to learn but with lots of depth to it, Sentient is truly a unique gem that shouldn’t be overlooked. A lot of great older games get left behind as new games come out, but Sentient isn’t one of them. Highly recommend you play this awesome game!
- Those dice mechanics are really great, especially the manipulation
- It’s actually a really great and fun use of math (yes, I just said math is fun)
- The art is great, and the components are awesome. Especially those dice
- Really good choices to make, especially on how to use assistants
- The theme is great, but really doesn’t come through in the game, as it’s fairly abstract