J. Alex Kevern made some pretty good games over the years such as Homesteaders, Gold West and World’s Fair 1893 and his latest game is Sentient. Sentient does share some of the features found in his other games, but there’s one thing or two that Sentient doesn’t share with his other games. That is it’s dice manipulation aspect which is the core mechanic of the game. Sentient comes pretty much with awesome contents in a bit smaller box game. You can find a bunch of components inside like a deck of oversized cards, several wooden markers in player colors, 4 sets of custom dice, investor and VP tokens and several boards.
What is Sentient
The main appeal of the component lies on the custom dice, which they’re vibrant in colors and have custom etching than just regular d6 dice. I mostly attracted to the game because of the dice. Though the game has a small table footprint and presence because it doesn’t have a main board and the components are relatively not many.
So what Sentient is about? In the near future, the world has invented artificial intelligence that is applied to bots to handle most of human activity in diverse sectors such as industry, service, transport, military and information. Controlling these sectors will prove to be crucial to be the best corporate among others. In this game, players will control a mega corporate that race to program the best bots in order to attract the right investors toward their favors.
How to Play
A game of Sentient lasts for 3 rounds, which in each round players will assign agents to different locations to get their desired bots and attract investors. At the start of each round, players will get a set of dice, 4 agents and 5 assistants in their disposal along with a 2-pieces board that will form their corporate’s name. At the start of each round players will roll their set of dice and assign them to each location on their board based on the dice color. Starting from the first player and following the turn order, each player will either place an agent to get a bot card or pass by spending their pass marker (if they’re still have any). Placing an agent can be accompanied with assistants. They can place more than one assistant if it suits them in order to increase their chance to attract investors.
The card that they take, must immediately placed below their board between two of their 5 dice, once placed, this card will modify / adjust the dice on the left and right of that card unless they assign assistant to cover the card effect (they can cover both of the card’s effect using two assistants). They can choose to pass instead of getting a card, if they think it’s not a good time to take a card or maybe they need to reset the board. Passing is placing a pass marker on the next round marker, and then reset all the cards on the display, refill cards from the draw pile if only they still have at least an agent left, if they have none, they just place the pass marker and then end their turn.
Once all players have passed, the round ends and the bot cards are score. Each bot card has requirements in order for the card to score. These requirements are shown on the top center of the card that relate with the dice value beside the card. If the requirements are satisfied, the card scores a number of points shown on the bottom left corner of the card. Once all cards have been checked, the cards are removed and keep in a separate pile for each player to be scored at the end game. And then the investors are resolved based on majority of influence fight over that investor. Each agent and assistant in count as one influence, if there are ties the most agents will break ties, and then followed by turn order if there still ties. Player with most influence will get the investor tile while the second most get one point. Return all the agents and assistants back and reset the card display. And then the next round begins.
Players repeat the above process until three rounds and the final score takes place. All the cards that they have will be scored based on type. Count the number of card from each type and multiply it with number of investor of that type. Players do not score points of a certain type if they do not have either investor or the card of that type.
I find Sentient to be a very solid game. It has very simple rules and mechanic but yet it’s full of interesting decisions and deep thinking within the game. It’s not a dice rolling game, though the dice are rolled it is not considered to be dice rolling, since players only do it once per round and not taking actions by rolling it. Instead players manipulate those dice to achieve the goals from their cards. Its kinda inappropriate to say players modify their dice as it’s leads reader to assume they do it by choice. Partially players are confined with restrictions of each die to satisfy two cards while the means to modify them are come from the card itself. Such restrictions provide mini puzzle yet complicated to solve on their own. Each card modifies two dice and yet each die is modified twice (exclude two dice on the side) by two different cards. This interconnecting yet unrelated precedent lies something to ponder which makes the game such a clever gem. Not just that, it gets more problematic with how players allocate their assistants. Assistants are used for two things (unrelated to another and yet so essential to each of its own), to contribute in investor majority and to grasp control over dice manipulation. Five assistants are never enough for each player. Sending all five of them to investor majority is ideal, but how good can you modify the dice without the help of your assistants is the question players try to answer by choices of their actions. Not having assistant(s) at the last turn could be problematic since player’s plan might get ruined and soil the two cards scoring potential. Keeping a good deal of assistant for the last push to ensure majority also proof for easier control over majority.
The game has very simple rules, this really helps the game to shine with it’s core mechanic of puzzle dice manipulation and set collection. The investor scoring is very powerful though it’s seemed hidden because scored at the end of game. Don’t ignore it cause I don’t think there is no other way to score big as big as investors can potential bring. Focusing on single type is always the best way, since the nature of multiplication reveals as exact science, higher multiplication provides higher sum. Here lies the interactions, where players must carefully check their opponents’ plans. If one player was running freely to collect what he want, he’s most likely winning the game. With this being said, the player count will make the game different. In a 2-players game its most likely the game to be very tactical, with one opponent to focus on, players can figure out and counter or block their opponent intention, while with 3 or 4 players, there are things that players have to (or forced) to ignore due to which choices is more beneficial to them.
I like the nature of the game, it can be frustrating to some extent, not getting cards that you want or maybe your dice and cards are not perfectly aligned like other players. But for a simple rule game that last for 45-60 minutes, it surely packs a heavy punch. It offers you some extent of puzzle element to figure out the best optimal placement of your agents, assistants, card scoring and the investors. The core idea is to get maximal points from investors and card type while also scoring those cards via dice the best you can. I do not think that players can top that end game scoring with just scoring cards throughout three rounds while abandoning investors, they are the big bucks. It’s not a difficult game, but the restrictions put the players in such tight and dilemmatic position where they need to decide which card, which investor, where the card is placed within a series of actions in a round. This makes the game really shines.
Of course not everything is a plus inside this game. I think it’s considerably expensive for what the components and game weight level, but hey we’re in for the game play right? One nitpick is, it’s too bad that the card illustrations are not one of a kind. They’re the same for each type regardless have different scoring requirement. The wooden pieces could be bigger, especially the turn order and pass markers. Assistant markers are understandably fit to the modifier icons on the card, though agents could be more bigger. And having a play mat or game board to hold all the cards and round markers in one board sounds like a really-really good component improvement to make the game looks more exclusive. It is definitely improves the game presence in the table. I also think the game has so few variabilities, all the cards are used, all investors are used, it could use some randomizer in the game though it will surely affects game balance.