The Robot Revolution is upon us. Soon, robots will be taking over our lives, providing us with every luxury, moving us around, serving us, fighting our wars, and all of that good stuff.
And our economy will tank because nobody’s actually working.
Then we’ll be ripe for the picking. Skynet is giggling gleefully.
Maybe because of the wrecked economy is why there is actually no money in the Sentient game?
Food for thought.
But I digress.
Sentient is a 2-4 player game designed by J. Alex Kevern with art by Anita Osburn, Chris Ostrowski, and Gordon Tucker. It’s published by Renegade Games and came out in 2017.
And it is a really simple brain-burner, depending on how you feel about arithmetic.
How it Plays
Each player is a company that is investing in robots to plug into its network to…do something. I’m not sure what.
The rule book says:
“The next great technological revolution is here. Sentient robots for information, transportation and industry, all at our fingertips. Building them is now the easy part. Programming them has proven to be more complicated. A handful of companies have emerged claiming to pull it off, but only one will win out. Your mission is clear:
Procure valuable Bots and plug them into your network. They’ll have an effect on your systems. Anticipate it correctly, calibrate your Bots effectively, and attract the right investors to win and lead the sentient revolution.”
I’m not really sure what that means (though that last sentence is chilling), but let me just say that you are sending your agents out to procure robots that will best fit in your system in order to get you victory points.
There are five types of robot in Sentient that you will be trying to get: Military, Service, Transport, Industry, and Information.
The factory of four robots is placed in the middle of the table, between the five investor tokens that represent the five types of robots.
After rolling and placing your dice (more on why that’s important later), you can do one of two things on your turn.
You can either place an agent (the taller playing piece) above a card that you want to put into your network, along with as many assistants (the little playing pieces that look kind of like gears) as you want to place with it (this becomes important for end-of-round area control), or you can pass (only once per round).
The order of passing in a round will determine turn-order next turn. When you pass, unless you are passing because you no longer have any agents to place (you have four in total), then all of the robots in the market are wiped from the board and new ones dealt (Editor: How abhorrent!).
Sometimes none of the robots in the factory work for you. That’s when you pass.
If you do take a robot, though, now it’s time to plug it into your system.
This is where the dice become important.
In the picture above, the five dice were rolled and placed into the boxes that match the dice colours.
Each robot is worth a certain number of points (on the bottom left of the card), but only if the dice in your network meet the criteria set out in the arithmetical equation on the top of the card.
For example, the left-most military robot requires that the two dice on its corners add up to 7 exactly. If they don’t, you don’t get the 5 points.
The next one requires that the sum of the two dice is either less than or equal to 4 or greater than or equal to 10.
That can be harder than it looks. Each top corner of the robot has either a plus sign, a minus sign, or an equals sign. That’s what you have to do to the corresponding die when you place the robot (It’s called “calibrating” the robot). Increase the die by one, decrease it by one, or leave it the same.
But what happens if you don’t want a die to change because that will mess up the programming of the robot next to it?
That’s the other use for assistants. You can place an assistant to keep that calibration from happening (as shown on the two robots on the right).
At the end of the round, you score your robots and then the area control part of the game happens.
For each investor token, whoever has the most pieces (agents and assistants) next to the token gets it. The runner-up gets the 1-point token underneath it. Ties are broken by the number of agents, and if you’re still tied, then whoever is first in turn order wins.
For example, the Military token on the left would be won by White, since they have two pieces there. The yellow player would get the 1 point token.
The next token you look at both sides, so white has the most pieces again (three) and red has the second most (two). Yellow still has one, so wouldn’t get anything.
The middle token would be won by the tie-breaker (turn order), as all three colours have the same number of pieces there and the same number of agents.
What do these tokens do?
At the end of the game, for each investor token you have of a type, you get a point for each robot you have of that type.
Basically, you multiply the number of investor tokens you have of a type by the number of robots of that type you have and get that many points.
Thus begins the “my brain hurts!” part of the game discussion (more later).
That’s basically it. You go through three rounds of this, and then do the end-game scoring
Most victory points wins!
Is Sentient a host of Wall-E robots, or a host of Johnny-5 robots?
Let’s get the bad things out of the way first, just so we can then start talking up the great things in this wonderful game.
First, the theme is totally pasted on. There are so many other themes that would fit this game just as well, as it’s basically just a dice manipulation area control game.
Maybe Skynet forced Kevern to use all of these sentient robots to get us used to the whole concept, dulling us into a false sense of security?
And then the robots will take over!
Or maybe not…
Anyway, the other bad thing is the production quality of the cards. I had to sleeve them right away because even after just a couple of shuffles, they were already starting to get scuffed. You will be shuffling them probably 2-3 times per game.
This is the really surprising aspect because the rest of the production quality is quite good.
The dice are really nicely-made custom dice with that technological look to them (almost like the circuits in the network that you’re supposedly plugging your robots into).
The VP chips and the player boards, not to mention the investor tokens, are decent cardboard, though I could see them getting scuffed with more handling than is thankfully required (don’t shuffle the investor tokens, but instead move them around on the table to mix them up).
The cards work fine sleeved, so that’s ok.
The rule book is pretty good with one glaring omission that caused quite a few questions on Boardgame Geek: it doesn’t actually tell you that you retrieve all of your agents and assistants each round!
I found that fairly obvious (you can’t place agents in subsequent rounds if they were never returned to you). And I didn’t understand how anybody could have that question.
However, a number of people were wondering about it, and there is nothing in the rules that actually says to do that. Considering that the rules for what to do at the end of the round include “Remove the player order tokens from the round you just completed and distribute them back to the players,” you would think that would be a good place to mention returning the other pieces as well.
But what can you do?
It’s not a huge issue, I don’t think.
How is the gameplay?
This is where Sentient shines, with one caveat.
You have to not really mind the arithmetic.
That’s the brain-burning part of this game, how to plug the robots into your network and not have the dice go all wonky but also meet the requirements of the card. Sometimes no robot in the factory will get you any points, or maybe even cost you points because it will mess up the dice for another robot.
But you have already used all of your assistants and you’ve already passed once this round.
What do you do? That’s when you start thinking about end-game scoring, maybe seeing if you can get a good investor token with your agent-placement, or maybe a Service robot that won’t get you any points now but will get you three or four points at the end of the game because you already have three or four Service investor tokens.
Do I place an assistant with that agent I placed to get that robot (which will help with area control), or do I hoard them because I might need them to stop a die from changing?
There’s a perfect robot out there to place and get 7 points and will totally fit my board! And then your opponent passes and wipes all the bots.
This game has really simple rules, but it burns the brain with all of the possible permutations on a given turn.
There is no strategy in this game whatsoever. It’s all pretty tactical, as the board state will have totally changed by the time it’s your turn. You can have an idea of what you want, but you have to adapt based on what’s out there.
Maybe you’re trying to collect Service tokens, but all of the Service robots appear under other tokens. The tokens do you no good if you don’t have the robots, but the robots don’t do you any good (at the end of the game) without the tokens.
If you’re not a fan of ever-changing board states, then Sentient may not be for you.
Finally, let’s talk about the art. It’s quite evocative, though it would be nice if there was a bit more variety in the card art. I understand that having each card be different would have been untenable and would have driven the cost up enormously (some people already think it’s too expensive for what you get), but maybe a couple of different types of art for each robot type? Maybe three? As it is, all robots of the same type have the same art.
Great quality artwork, even on the player boards, but just a bit more of it would have been nice.
I really enjoy Sentient, though, because it’s a relatively simple teach and it’s not that long of a game. It seems to take about 20 minutes per player, give or take AP allowance.
I think it works best at three players, though I can’t speak for how it works as a 2-player experience. We played with four players yesterday and competition for the investor tokens gets really fierce. I noticed with 3-player games that the scores were fairly tight, but they spread out a bit in a 4-player game because of that competition.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.
That, and I love the 3-player time aspect of it. It’s a great game for about an hour, though it may start to overstay it’s welcome after that, which is where four players takes it.
It would require more plays for me to make a determination on that.
Given the few caveats above, I would heartily recommend Sentient and definitely would like to keep getting it to the table.
It’s staying in my collection and will make many a game day.
At least until Skynet activates all of the sentient robots and we all get wiped out.
At that point, maybe it won’t anymore.
We shall have to resist that for as long as we can!
(Editor: There’s a giant robot at the door. He wants to speak to you.)
(This review was written after 3 plays)