Surviving the Purge: Sentient (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: J. Alex Kevern
  • Artist: Chris Ostrowski
  • Publisher: Renegade Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times Played: 5

Sentient (adjective): able to perceive or feel things

Sentient is a dice manipulation puzzle. An ever changing puzzle at that. In the game you are going to be purchasing sentient robots and then attempting to calibrate them to best suit your needs. 

There are a couple things going on with scoring in Sentient that I want to start with. You will score points through the game based on how well you calibrate the robots that you plug into your network, your network is your player board. You also will score points based on an area majority at the end of each of the three rounds of the game. Then, at the end of the game you will also score points based on the cards that you collected, as dictated by the Investor Tokens that you acquire during the previously mentioned area control segment of a round. That’s how you are going to score points, now, how does that all come together? Let me try to explain. 

In the game, you are acquiring robots that are drawn randomly and placed in the middle of the table, these robots can be of 5 different varieties. They are placed out with the five different Investor Tokens above them (there are three different sets of Investor Tokens in the game, one for each round), and a one point Victory Token between each, this is called the Factory. Like this:

Each player will have a Network board in front of them, those boards will have spaces for five different colored dice. Each player will also have four Agents, 5 Assistants and a Turn Order Marker with them at the start of each round. Like this:

Before your turns start, everyone will roll the 5 dice that they have and place them in the correct spot on their Network board. Do not change any of the die faces after you have rolled them, just match up the colors to the die and you are ready to go. 

On your turn you are going to do one of two things, you are either going to Procure a Robot, or you are going to Pass. 

To Procure a Robot, you have three steps. First, you are going to place an Agent above the Robot that you want to obtain, optionally, you may place Assistants there as well. You will see why you would want to do that momentarily. Then, with your next step you will take the procured Robot Card and Plug it into your Network between two of the dice on your player board. Next step is the Calibration step, this is where you are going to manipulate the dice on your Network based on what the Robot Card tells you to do, this will either increase or decrease the value of the dice by one, or stay the same. You can however cancel a calibration by placing an available Assistant on top of the calibration when placing the Robot. 

The other thing you can do is Pass, if you have your Turn Order piece left in front of you, you may pass and place it on the turn order spot for the next round, when you pass like that, then, if you have at least one empty space in your Network, you wipe out the entire Factory and redraw four new Robots and place them out and it becomes the next players’ turn. 

Play will proceed like this until everyone has filled their Network with four Robots and the round will end and a scoring phase will happen. First off, players will score their Robot cards based on the adjacent dice and whether or not they fulfilled the requirement on the card. Each different type of card will have a different style of requirement. Next up, the players will earn Investors.

This is the area majority portion. The Investor Tokens that are in the Factory are multipliers for end game scoring, for each Investor in a specific division, you will get to score 1 point for each card of the associated division. So if you have 2 Information Investors and 3 Information Cards at the end of the game, that will be worth 6 points. If you have 0 Investors in Military and 4 Military Robot Cards, you will score 0 points. So this is how you gain these Investor tokens, by having the majority of Agents and Assistants touching an Investor. Whomever has control gains the Investor and Second place gains the Victory Point Token. Ties are broken in favor of whomever has more Agents, if still a tie then it falls to player order of the current round. 

After you have divided up all the Investor Tokens, you wipe the Factory clean and start again, you do this a total of three times and the player with the most points at the end of the game, after gaining points from Robots and Investors, wins. 

Gameplay wise, Sentient, is a breeze, you just need to make sure that you explain the scoring as clearly as possible before starting — it will lead to fewer headaches after the fact. Not that I know that from experience. 

There are going to be those who say that Sentient can overstay its welcome. Every Robot card needs to be examined, and you have to take into consideration what placing that robot in your network will do to your Network, so this can take a bit of time. Add on to that, by the second round, you may be focusing on certain Robot types or want certain Investors types so you may be buying looking forward to end game scoring along with looking at what the immediate effects are going to do. Then BOOM, an opponent takes the one card that you are looking at and you have to start all over doing the math. I LOVE that, I really do, but I can see how some people will be turned off by that immediately. Sentient is ultimately a really rules light, with family game weight rules and some chunk to it, in other words, some needed mathematical thinking involved. 

There is a bit of player interaction involved with the Area Majority scoring for Investor Tokens or the occasional “hate” wipe of the board, but for the most part Sentient plays fairly solitaire. No one can mess with your Network or your Robots. Only through denial. 

Sentient is fun, it’s thinky, it’s accessible, it’s beautiful, what’s to dislike? Well, the price. I feel like I should put another disclaimer in here, when I bought this at our Local Game Store, and I normally don’t buy things at our local game store, I paid $55 for this — nearly $60 after taxes. I do not know all about game production and costs, so this is just all coming from a consumer point of view, I just don’t see how this one deserves to sell at that MSRP. I am going to assume that the dice are the biggest cost. There are twenty of them, 5 for each player in 5 different colors and they are custom dice. Sure, a normal D6 would have done just fine, but it wouldn’t have looked as nice as these.

And I appreciate that, I appreciate trying to make the game look as good as it plays. But then each Robot type only has one piece of art, and that art is re-used on the Investor Tokens. We have a handful of player boards with some beautiful illustrations on them as well and box cover, is that where all the cost went? 

The way you set up and interact with the Factory in the middle is a bit fiddly, you take a card, you inevitably move stuff, you put a card back in the Factory and you move that stuff again.  You are constantly –at least if you are me — straightening things each time. That’s neither here nor there, but I think at the price, maybe a Factory Board could have been involved, but I’m sure there were tests and such where they decided it was best to just not do the board so this is what we get. 

Ultimately for me, I can’t say if Sentient is worth what I paid for it or not, five plays since September of 2017 doesn’t really scream value, but I can say, it hurt to pay that much for this game when I did. 

At the time when I purchased Sentient, I was a self proclaimed Renegade Games fanboy. In the years since, I have cooled on a lot of their content, and I wonder if this was part of it. Sentient honestly just felt way overpriced. Currently, over two years after release, it seems to be out of stock everywhere, with the exception of the Renegade store, which reports that four remain, still at that $55 price, so maybe I was wrong? Like a lot of things Renegade, it didn’t seem to be supported very well at all after the initial release. Like most of their catalog it just got shuffled to the back of the line. 

I honestly thought after those first couple plays, if Sentient had a German release, it could have been a Kennerspiel nominee. I don’t think the same thing right now looking back, but at that time I thought it had potential. For what it’s worth, 2017 was a really tough year for the Kennerspiel. The Exit series of games took home the prize that year against some really good titles.  

I feel like I may have hammered on the cost a bit too much,especially considering that I myself am not an expert on game manufacturing, cost analysis and everything that goes into deciding what to charge for a game. Thinking back on playing Sentient over the past two and a half years, I can say that each time I have played it, I have enjoyed it, and I wished that I played it more often. But when you have a collection of games of 600 plus titles, things are bound to get lost. Which is ultimately what brought on the Purge. For me, it’s games like Sentient that should be getting the play time at my table. I may have been a bit rough on the cost, but gameplay wise, it still stacks up with some of my favorites. Question is, now that it’s easier to reach for, will it continue to stand up, or does it falter now that the chaff has been removed and it can have it’s opportunity to shine or fade out?

This is a review that I wrote a couple years ago and posted on a smaller website. I figured since Sentient is one of my Purge Survivors I’d throw up the review as my thoughts still line up with these from two years ago. Not a whole lot has changed since I first threw together the initial knee jerk reaction that I posted after a couple plays. I still think that Sentient is a wonderful game, my family is a little less on board with this one than I am though, so that doesn’t bode well for Sentient over the next 11 months or so. Thank you all for reading and following so far and if you have any thoughts or suggestions for the series heading forward, let me know. My hope is to intermix some of these reviews along with the quick bites style that I had been using in the past handful of articles.

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3 Responses to Surviving the Purge: Sentient (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Jan says:

    You make me want to pull this from the shelf of shame and play it. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Surviving the Purge: Sentient (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

  3. Sam says:

    I really enjoyed playing this a handful of times at a cafe. Wanted to purchase it, but price and stock was a problem. If it was a little cheaper and easier to get, I’d probably have this in my collection. Fun little game.

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