Yes, there they are on the table, the revised plans for the latest service robot model. It is supposed to be able to serve a full five percent more customers per hour. But there is a problem with the basic operating system, according to our technicians, this robot cannot simply be integrated into our network. We have the choice of either putting the new model into the system with all our power or we leave it alone and hope for a new model that can be better integrated. These are the decisions you will have to make in Sentient in the distant future.
Yay! Dice! I must have that game
Renegade Game Studios is one of those studios that seemingly came out of nowhere, but meanwhile they have one or the other surprise title in their program. Clank! will probably tell you something. That’s why we were the first to visit the American stand at last year’s SPIEL 17 and stocked up on promising titles. Besides Ex Libris and the further developed Clank! in Space we also wanted to buy Sentient. The information we had gathered about Sentient in advance made us want to know more. Somehow it was about corporations in the future and we should integrate robots into our network and for that we also use dice. It seemed to be the right game for us.
And so the excitement was great when we unpacked it and were able to inspect the really high-quality components. Besides the dice, there were also a bunch of cards with robots, some punched out company tableaux and of course a rule book. Already the first look into this booklet caused a certain disillusionment. Because Sentient was supposed to be a nice Dice-Placement game, at least that’s what we had in mind. So a game where you use the dice to perform your actions. But we were disappointed, because the dice were not there to perform actions with them. Had we made the first big bad buy here and trusted Renegade too much?
Different from what I thought, and that’s a good thing
The SPIEL was over and now we could devote ourselves to the game in a calm manner. And the first impression should not deceive us. It was really not a Dice-Placement game. In this game the dice represent our company network. As a large corporation, we want to integrate as many robots as possible into our network. But such a network is fragile and can be quickly thrown off balance.
At the beginning of each round, the dice are thrown and then placed on the reserved fields of your corporate tableau. Not surprisingly, the dice can have values from one to six. So far it sounds quite unspectacular, if it weren’t for the trick with the cards. In the general display are a number of cards with the available robots. Each player, when it is his turn, must take one of these cards and insert it into his network. In Sentient, however, each card can modify your dice by increasing or decreasing the value of the dice by one, or doing nothing at all.
Still doesn’t sound exciting. Okay, so I take a card, put it in my network and then the dice values change. So what? Not if each card has its own condition for being scored.
Sensitively turning the screw
One scoring condition can be quite lapidary: The two dice adjacent to the card must have the same value. Or: Both adjacent dice must add up to 10 for the card to count. Whatever still fits in a moment can be invalidated with a new card and a new modification. And this is exactly what makes Sentient so attractive. This thinking about where to put the new card or the new robot without destroying the scoring conditions. For example, do I take a card that has not yet fulfilled its scoring condition, only to hope in further turns that the card that manipulates the dice in such a way that my network is correct and the card is scored after all? Or do I play it safe and risk little and only get cards that bring me very few points?
You have to ask yourself this question every time it is your turn. Because the cards on the table are dynamic. After a card is taken by you or your fellow players, a new one is drawn immediately and this one could give you more points and fit better into your network. Now it can happen that a card does not fit into your network. To reduce the fortune factor, you have the possibility to use engineers. They overwrite exactly one modification the card would make and thus make sure that your network remains stable. But you don’t have an unlimited number of engineers, exactly five are available per round. And since you have to bring exactly four cards into your network, each with two modifications, this results in a deficit of three engineers. So it’s again a matter of balancing when you actually use which engineer.
Points are scored at the end!
But engineers are capable of more than just keeping your network running. You can also use them to use your agents to acquire new robots. Usually you place an agent on the field that belongs to a card. But you can also send an engineer along to gain more influence. At the end of a round, not only will the points of your network be determined, but you will also be able to see who has collected the most votes from the investors. Whereby the sum always results from all agents and engineers who are on both sides of the investor. If you have the majority, you can welcome the investor in your company. However, there is no immediate bonus effect.
The true strength of the investors is only shown at the end of Sentient. In addition to the final evaluation for your network, the investors and their frequency will also be considered. Each investor acts as a multiplier for your robots, which you could integrate into your network. Each card is assigned to a category just like the investors. If you have only collected service robots, but do not have a service investor, you will not receive bonus points. But if you have collected service investors and the corresponding robots, these extra points can decide on victory and defeat – and they have done so more than once. That’s another thing that makes Sentient so appealing to me. You may have a certain idea where you stand in terms of points, but the winner is only determined by the final settlement.
You against the others
There is no explicit elimination of the other players in Sentient. Rather, you block your opponent by taking away the very card he has his eye on. The situation is a bit different with the investors. Sometimes your network runs so well that you don’t even need the engineers, and you can use them to win votes from the investors. That way you can really block your opponent and leave them behind. If he specializes in military robots and you steal the investors from him, he won’t be able to collect any great bonus points in the end.
Thus Sentient develops into an abstract corporate game, where the strings are pulled in the dark and hidden.
Not so positive is the downtime, though. Especially with the maximum of four players it can take a while until it’s your turn again. And until then you can’t use a great strategy, because the card you might be aiming for at the beginning of the round may already be with another player in the network by then. And especially with new players, it takes a while before they have internalized the game principle. In our experience, it’s best to play with two players. Here you can tactic accordingly and also use a real strategy. The felt downtime is reduced many times over.
Final shutdown for Sentient?
Sentient is not the game I was looking forward to back then. My expectation was to get a dice-placement game, but instead it became a dice-manipulation game. And I don’t regret that Renegade confused me in this respect. In my opinion, Sentient did everything right: It has a simple game principle combined with a wonderful puzzling, plus luck and gambling elements make a really well-rounded mixture. And after the second game, the game also gets off to a damn quick start, especially if you play it in pairs. Add to that the really good illustrations, and you’re immersed in this world of corporations and robots in the distant future. Renegade has managed to put an abstract game – and truly I’m not a fan of abstract games – into a robe whose charm I simply succumbed to.
One thing is certain for me: Sentient will not disappear from our household so quickly. But am I really completely satisfied with the game? Of course not, there’s always something to criticize. In the long run, the illustrations are a bit monotonous. The robots are always the same. Here I would have simply wished for a little more variance. And then I also have the feeling that there is more to the Sentient universe. Maybe cards that can start certain combinations when they are in the network. But who knows what other ideas Renegade has and if there won’t be one or the other expansion that will see the light of day. Also the already mentioned downtime and the missing strategic element, which gets lost the more players sit at the table, is not good for the game. But with two players it works really well and I still enjoy it.