Sentient is a dice manipulation game for 2 to 4 players. Players will be drafting robot cards and figuring out how to efficiently program them into their networks. It is a nice little puzzle game that plays in 45 to 60 minutes.
In Sentient, your goal is to get all your dice to match the conditions shown on the robots in your network. At the start of each round, players will roll their dice and place them on their boards. Players will then take turns picking robots from the market to place in their networks. Each time a robot is inserted, they will manipulate the dice on either sides of the card.
As a secondary objective, players will also compete for investors. Cards on the market are placed under a set of investor tokens. As players pick up robots, they leave an Agent in its place which adds influence to adjacent investors. At the end of each round, players with the most influence wins the token. Investor tokens earn the players additional victory points at the end of the game for each robot of the same type.
There isn’t anything special in terms of components. The box has a nice hot pink design, which at the very least caught my attention, and all of its components are of decent quality. The real issue here is that the game is more expensive than it should’ve been. Custom dice are always a nice to have but I just don’t see their purpose here. They’re simply regular dice with a bit of design on each face. I would’ve preferred it if they went with a set of basic dice and cut down the cost. Same thing with the tarot sized cards. They are nice to showcase card art in games like Scythe. However, considering they recycled the same picture on all the cards and tokens of the same type, it was something unnecessary to add to the game.
The thing that I love about Sentient is that it doesn’t rely on complex rules to challenge its players. Instead, you are given a little puzzle each round. You will have to find the card that scores you the most point without affecting any of the other cards you already placed into your network. It won’t mentally drain you but it does make you think a little between moves.
After my first playthrough, I was concerned that Sentient would quickly get old. A lot of the cards are similar to each other. Fortunately, the puzzly nature of the game makes it highly replayable. It kind of reminds me of Sudoku. The random starting value of the dice as well as the different cards available in the market means you will have a unique game state each time you play.
With that being said, Sentient is not a game for everyone.
First of all, there is very little player interaction in the game. The main source of conflict is the area control aspect with the investor tokens. I found that these do not play too big of a role in the game. Sure, the multiplicative end game bonus can add up but I find that they just aren’t worth it if it means taking a suboptimal card in your network. You can also indirectly affect the other players by grabbing a card that they were after. This means more spiteful players can do some hate drafting but considering you only have 5 spaces on your board, it would probably do more harm to yourself. I think players are better off trying to maximize your own points rather than trying to minimize your opponents.
The next problem I had is with the limited number of actions per round. There are a variety types of cards in the game but a little bad luck and you may find that none of the cards fit onto your board. And given that you can only reset the market once, you may be forced to place a bad card onto your board. While this condition makes the decision process more interesting, it feels terrible when you lose because of something you have no control over. Fortunately, playing multiple rounds gives you a chance to offset a low scoring round.
I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Sentient. It is really easy to teach and quick to play. While its cost was a little hard to swallow, it has been played enough times that I think I got enough entertainment value out of it. I can’t say it’s a must buy game but I think it is worth a try.