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Board Game Review: Sentient

At Gamicon , I was introduced to Sentient, from Renegade Game Studios. My friend Katie was manning the session and teaching interested attendees how to play, so with her encouragement, my husband Chris and I sat down and gave it a try.

It was love at first play for me. That probably sounds a bit odd to those who know the game and who know me well because I often emphasize that theming is really important for me and Sentient’s theme is wholly unremarkable. Something about acquiring and programming bots …blah blah blah… but the theme quickly fades from memory as I begin to play and am pulled into the logic puzzle that is at the core of the game. Do you remember those logic puzzles wherein a group of friends go to a movie and a few facts are laid out about each person and where they sat and you have to figure out the precise order of their seating across the row of seats in the theatre? Sentient  feels a lot like that, but with beautiful pastel colors and striking custom dice and it taught me that I’m not as wedded to theme as I thought. If a designer presents a compelling enough game, I’m willing to let a poor theme slide.

Sentient  is played over three rounds, which flow pretty quickly for all but the most deliberating players. I frequently suffer from analysis paralysis and didn’t find myself getting too hung up on decision making. In each round, players must select bots (cards) from an available pool of 4 to add to their network (individual player boards). Players take turns selecting their bots, as dictated by turn order, and prior to selecting bots, all players roll their custom dice and add the dice to their network (each die is placed into the network on top of the square the matches the color of the rolled die).

Each bot provides a condition for network placement, that if met, scores victory points at the end of the round. These conditions are mathematical and relate to the numbers on the dice on either side of the bot position in the network. Once the network is evaluated at the end of a round and points are scored, the bots in a player’s network are taken out of the network and placed into a pile on the side of their network; they will come into play for end game scoring. For example, one bot specifies this condition,  <—EVEN ODD—> ,  which means that when the network is evaluated, the die to the left of the bot in the network must be an even number and the die to the right of the bot in the network must be odd.

Here’s where the game gets tricky – bots cause an immediate effect on the network when placed; they can force an adjustment of the dice to the left and right of the bot’s placement. Adjustment possibilities are +1, –1, or no change. This means that even if you have some of your bots already perfectly placed in your network, ensuring that they meet the conditions specified, the dice they are evaluated against could change in value as the round progresses, upsetting your glorious plans for victory. There is an option to block one or both of the adjustment effects of a bot when placed using assistant tokens distributed at the beginning of the game, but doing so greatly handicaps your ability to score crucial victory points through the investor multiplier mechanism (IMM) at the end of the game. What is the IMM? Well, Sentient  implements an area control game that is conducted simultaneously in conjunction with bot placement. When a bot is selected from the market, the selecting player places one of their 4 agent tokens plus as many of their assistant tokens as they choose above the market space where the bot was taken from.

In this way, the player is competing to dominate the play areas above the market board with their influence (each agent and assistant token provides one influence). At the end of the round, the player with the most influence surrounding each investor token above the marketplace gains that investor token. These tokens are then used as victory point multipliers at the end of the game – each investor token provides 1 victory point for each bot of matching type (color) that the owning player has in their collection at the end of the game. 

I love puzzling out which of the 4 bots I should select on my turn. I evaluate each bot carefully, noting its type (color) and whether that could be useful to me based on the investor tokens I already have.

I also have to consider the point values each bot could bring – my favorite are the bots that specify a die value and offer 7 points if BOTH the die to the left and right of the bot in your network have that value. Finally, I need to survey the investor tokens up for grabs above the marketplace to decide if there are any I must prioritize, either because they help me or because they would help my opponent too much if I don‘t grab them first. If there are, I might need to take a bot I like a little less and figure out how to successfully plug it into my network in order to place influence next to the investor token I want. Note that there’s also an option to select none of the bots and send them all to the discard pile; each player must choose this option at least once during each round. If you’re not happy with any of your choices, it’s a good time to use that option.

Another thing I enjoy about Sentient  is that it doesn’t have a lot of player interaction. I am competing against my opponents to build the best network, but other than swiping a bot or investor token they might want, there isn’t any take-that element to the game. I like take-that games as long as they are light strategy and high luck, but it really stinks in a heavy strategy game to have someone screw you over and render impossible your well planned optimal path to victory. I much prefer the “I do my thing over here and you do your thing over there and we see who did a better thing in the end” style of strategy games.

Sentient  is designed by J. Alex Kevern, with artwork by Anita Osburn, Chris Ostrowski, and Gordon Tucker. As I alluded to previously, the artwork is lovely, with a futuristic vibe and soft color palette. I’ve got at least one other game in my collection designed by Kevern – ArtSee - and I really like it as well, so I’m going to make some time upcoming to check out his other games (he has 9 games released according to BoardGameGeek.com). I’m trying to get better at paying attention to the designers behind the games. I am realizing that game designers, just like great film directors, establish a pattern of style and technical mechanisms in their work,  and so if I really enjoy a game by a designer, it’s likely I will like their other games as well.

The components for Sentient  seem to be well made and I adore the custom dice. There are wooden and cardboard tokens as well as 60 large cards used in play.

The cards are probably the weak point in overall component quality; ours are starting to bend and wear quite a bit. I’d suggest sleeving them for regular use, using standard Tarot card sized sleeves. The rulebook is very easy to follow, grammatically correct, and laid out well.

I haven’t played Sentient  yet with our kids (10 year old boys and a 14 year old daughter), but it feels like it would be a good fit for them as well.  The guidelines on the box list ages 12 and up but I think 10 and up is a better guideline. It’s a solid family game, that plays in less than hour, without any objectionable content. And of course, the bonus is that it helps youngsters improve their logical thinking skills. 

 Strategy Tip: If playing against just 1 other player, it’s ok to pick out a few of the bots it would be nice to have and mentally work out optimum placement in your network of those bots to ensure the dice values are adjusted, if necessary, to score points for all the bots. If all goes well, and your opponent doesn’t select the bots you want most, you can stick to your original plan or select the new bot your opponent reveals at the end of their turn. This strategy does not work nearly as well in a 3 or 4 player game, as by the time your turn comes around again it is likely any bots you had your eye on will be gone. In games with more than 2 players, you need to be much more flexible in what bots you put into your network and perhaps focus more on the area control aspect of the game. 

-------------------------------------------------
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Players: 2-4
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 40 minutes per game
Game type: dice rolling, set collection, card drafting, area control, math
Rating:
review-OUIOUIOUI
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Comments

Unknown said…
U r amazing!!!!
hahnarama said…
The only thing that could make this game better is the name. It should have been called Boolean :)

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