Clockwork Wars: Sentience Expansion Review
on Jan 21, 2016
Clockwork Wars was a breath of fresh air, albeit one chocked full of smog and pollution. It immediately shot up to the cream of the Euro/Ameritrash hybrid crop alongside stalwarts such as Eclipse, Cyclades, and the recent Blood Rage. It's a thematic conquest game with smooth mechanisms, an honest playtime, and great dramatic tension. The Sentience expansion solidifies its bid by adding more variety and a fifth player to the proceedings.
The new Invention race is the billed headline of the show, even if it’s not the most crucial element - more on that later. This purple faction is a collection of sentient machinery and boasts the unique Arachnoid unit. This special troop is able to respond and move across the board while sporting a solid combat value. It's not quite as sexy or special as the Operative or Rhinoc battering rams, but one huge advantage it has is that it can be rebuilt if it's lost. This is the only faction specific unit in the game with this capability and it adds to that sense of recklessness and drama organically fostered by the deployment rules. Your eight-legged gear friend will be skittering about and shoving its pointy fore-limbs into squishy Troglodyte and Human flesh from the very first turn.
We're also given six new Espionage cards that rival the power and swing of those in the base game. The new Discoveries add one additional option to each category. Lastly, we have an excellent new Court option featuring a secretive group of sorcerers that offer powerful effects such as outright killing enemies on the map in the Middle Age.
The important factor here is that all of these naturally extend the sense of discovery and replayability inherent in the base game without adding any new rules or reference overhead. You never need to go to the expansion rulebook or a special sheet as everything is included on the cards. The variety in Clockwork Wars was already great and it was one of the hugely positive qualities you quickly pick up. This additional bulk is akin to giving Hulk Hogan in his prime a shot of HGH - totally not needed but why the hell not?
All of this is great but the real selling point and defining element of Sentience is in the two new scoring tiles. The base game features Lakes and Forests, both of which feel slightly different and require different expenditures of troops to maximize victory point acquisition. While only having two types of scoring tiles sounds skimpy, it never felt under-baked or lacking. The streamlined nature felt right in the context of the base game and combat was always interesting and unpredictable.
However, adding in two more choices certainly increases the saturation of tactical options. The maps you play on won't necessarily be bigger, but the decisions more nuanced. While players may fall into a pattern of ignoring the Forest and Lake tiles until the scoring rounds, there is clear incentive to treat the new Observatory and Nexus differently. They both command respect and proper valuation to seize victory on the battlefield.
The Observatory is the only terrain in the game that counts as both a Research and Resource territory. Yes - it generates IP research tokens as well as victory points in the scoring phase. The single Research point awarded is wild and may be taken from any discipline, which is very nifty for someone wanting to maintain a flexible strategy or massage their acquisition rate based on terrain available.
This strong incentive to occupy the Observatory prior to the scoring round changes the feel of this sector of the map dramatically. You have players pushing early to acquire this tile and it inherently becomes more valuable than the previous choices. Sometimes the Observatories will be hotly contested, other times players will feign offensive and then redirect their attack to the possibly undervalued Forests and Lakes. In every game I've included them the stakes have been raised and they've been properly respected.
The Nexus is perhaps the single most intense element of Sentience. This is a Resource tile that only scores points if a Discovery token is present. This paints a huge bull's-eye on the space as opponents will want to target your Nexus for the points as well as the sweet, sweet technology. The included reward for locking down the hex is a mighty four victory points, which raises above all other scoring tiles. The amount of bodies that will spill on this piece of terrain is striking.
The real benefit of these new scoring options is that you will need to re-assess your play and perfect new strategies. This will of course shift and be altered as different Discoveries wind up in play. The sum total is that a fantastic base game experience is given more depth and more creativity. For that reason Sentience is a real winner and something every Clockwork Wars fan should seek out.