Sentient (Brandon Kempf)
The KneeJerk Review series of reviews is a look at games after only a play or two, with hopes of giving an overview of the game play and then some thoughts. Yes, thoughts, not final verdicts, not definites, just general thoughts about the game while it is fresh in my head. Feel free to yell at me or tell me I am an idiot, but be aware and know that these thoughts are subject to change after more plays and are just initial Knee Jerk thoughts.
Designed by J. Alex Kevern
Art by Chris Ostrowski
Published by Renegade Games
Sentient (adjective): able to perceive or feel things
Sentient is a dice manipulation puzzle. An ever changing puzzle at that. In the game you are going to be purchasing sentient robots and then attempting to program them or calibrate them to best suit your needs.
So there are a couple things going on with scoring in Sentient that I want to start off with. You will score points through the game based on how well you calibrate your robots that you plug into your network, your network is essentially your player board. You also will score points based on an area control at the end of each of the three rounds of the game. Then, at the end of the game you will also score points based on the cards that you collected, as dictated by the Investor Tokens that you acquire during the previously mentioned area control segment of a round. That's how you are going to score points, now, how does that all come together? Let me try to explain.
In the game, you are acquiring robots that are drawn randomly and placed in the middle of the table, these robots can be of 5 different varieties. They are placed out with the five different Investor Tokens above them (there are three different sets of Investor Tokens in the game, one for each round), and a one point Victory Token between each, this is called the Factory. Like this:
Each player will have a Network board in front of them, those boards will have spaces for five different colored dice. Each player will also have four Agents, 5 Assistants and a Turn Order Marker with them at the start of each round. Like this:
Before your turns start, everyone will roll the 5 dice that they have and place them in the correct spot on their Network board. Do not change any of the die faces after you have rolled them, just match up the colors to the die and you are ready to go.
On your turn you are going to do one of two things, you are either going to Procure a Robot, or you are going to Pass.
To Procure a Robot, you have three steps. First, you are going to place an Agent above the Robot that you want to obtain, optionally, you may place Assistants there as well. You will see why you would want to do that momentarily. Then, with your next step you will take the procured Robot Card and Plug it into your Network between two of the dice on your player board. Next step is the Calibration step, this is where you are going to manipulate the dice on your Network based on what the Robot Card tells you to do, this will be either increase or decrease the value of the dice by one, or two stay the same. You can however cancel a calibration by placing an available Assistant on top of the calibration when placing the Robot.
The other thing you can do is Pass, if you have your Turn Order piece left in front of you, you may pass and place it on the turn order spot for the next round, when you pass like that, then, if you have at least one empty space in your Network, you wipe out the entire Factory and redraw four new Robots and place them out and it becomes the next players' turn.
Play will proceed like this until everyone has filled their Network with four Robots and the round will end and a scoring phase will happen. First off, players will score their Robot cards based on the adjacent dice and whether or not they fulfilled the requirement on the card. Each different type of card will have a different style of requirement. Next up, the players will earn Investors.
This is the area control portion. The Investor Tokens that are in the Factory are multipliers for end game scoring, you see, for each Investor in a specific division, you will get to score 1 point for each card of the associated division. So if you have 2 Information Investors and 3 Information Cards at the end of the game, that will be worth 6 points. Thusly if you have 0 Investors in Military and 4 Military Robot Cards, you will score 0 points. So this is how you gain these Investor tokens, by having the majority of Agents and Assistants touching an Investor. Whomever has control gains the Investor and Second place gains the Victory Point Token. Ties are broken in favor of whomever has more Agents, if still a tie then it falls to player order of the current round.
After you have divided up all the Investor Tokens, you wipe the Factory clean and start again, you do this a total of three times and the player with the most points at the end of the game, after gaining points from Robots and Investors, wins.
I like being as thorough as possible on the rules in these KneeJerk Reviews because in theory, I should at least know the rules after a play or two, it's what follows that will get people upset or wondering why I judge a game after one or two plays.
Game play wise, Sentient, is a breeze, you just need to make sure that you explain the scoring as clearly as possible before starting -- it will lead to fewer headaches after the fact. Not that I know that from experience.
There are going to be those who say that Sentient can overstay its welcome, I just know it's coming. Every Robot card needs to be examined and you have to take into consideration what it will do to your Network, so this takes a bit of time. Plus, by the second round, you may be focusing on certain Robot types or want certain Investors types so you may be buying looking forward to end game scoring along with looking at what the immediate effects are going to do. Then BOOM, an opponent takes the one card that you are looking at and you have to start all over doing the math. I LOVE that, I really do, but I can see how some people will be turned off by that immediately. Sentient is ultimately a really rules light, with family game weight rules and some chunk to it, in other words, some thinking involved.
There is a bit of player interaction involved with the Area Majority scoring for Investor Tokens or the occasional "hate" wipe of the board, but for the most part you are pretty solitaire. No one can mess with your Network or your Robots. Only through denial.
Sentient is fun, it's thinky, it's accessible, it's beautiful, what's to dislike? Well, the price. I feel like I should put another disclaimer in here, I bought this at our Local Game Store, I normally don't buy things at our local game store as there is no benefit for me in doing so, any rewards I get expire in 3 months time and I don't use the store much more than once or twice a year. But I did, and I paid $55 for this, well, nearly $60 after taxes. Whereas you can obtain it online via Miniature Market for $37.95 + shipping. Now another disclaimer, I do not know all about game production and costs, so this is just all coming from a consumer point of view, I just don't see how this one deserves to sell at that MSRP. There I said it.
I am going to assume that the dice are the biggest cost. There are twenty of them, 5 for each player in 5 different colors and they are custom dice. Sure, a normal D6 would have done just fine, but it wouldn't have looked as nice as these.
And I appreciate that, I appreciate trying to make the game look as good as it plays. But then each Robot type only has one piece of art, and that art is re-used on the Investor Tokens. We have a handful of player boards with some beautiful illustrations on them as well and box cover, is that where all the cost went?
The way you set up the Factory in the middle is fiddly, you take a card, you naturally move stuff, you put a card back in there, you naturally move that stuff again, so you are constantly, at least if you are me, straightening everything out each time. But that's neither here nor there, but I think at the price, maybe a Factory Board could have been involved, but I'm sure there were tests and such where they decided it was best to just not do the board so this is what we get.
Ultimately for me, I can't say if Sentient is worth what I paid for it yet or not, that will be decided with future plays, but I can say, it hurt to pay that much for this game at the point in time that I did it.
I am a self proclaimed Renegade Games fanboy, there is nothing wrong with admitting that you are a fan of a company that publishes fantastic games, but I hope this isn't the path we are taking, the rising MSRP costs. I defended the cost of Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, just due to the fact that it was IP based and original art from the original artist, but this one feels a bit different. Sentient honestly just feels overpriced.
But that's enough on the cost, as I feel like I maybe hammered on that too much, but that's what you get with a KneeJerk Review sometimes. All in all, game play wise, looks wise, design wise, Sentient has all the makings of a winner for Mr. Kevern. Some might think this is Kennerspiel des Jahres material, and I wouldn't argue against that at this point, I just hope that price point doesn't kill it before it gets that chance.
Other Player Thoughts:
Brad: A fun easy to learn game, that will challenge you to find the best move, but also be prepared to find a new best new move based on your opponent's play. The design of the game could draw people in that do not know anything about the game but the gameplay will keep them playing just to try to master it.
Kate: Lots of fun, interesting concept and fun to look at. I liked how easy it was to learn and play. I would definitely play again - especially because I won, haha. Other than procuring a robot that someone else had their eye on, there’s not a whole lot of negative player interaction, and by that I mean you can’t mess with anyone’s procured robots or dice after they have placed them, which is nice. Good clean robotic fun.