Gentes (2017) Review
Gentes is the new sensation for optimization. This is a game from author Stefan Risthaus, known for his highly calculating Arkwright. Gentes was born in 2016 at Spielworxx but has recently benefited from an update and a small tidying up by Tasty Minstrel Games and Game Brewer. There are two versions of the game: a normal one (which I'll talk about here) and a Deluxe.
Gentes is a game sold as a civilization game. Immersed 1000 years before Jesus Christ, near the Mediterranean, you will take in hand the destiny of a population and advance them in History through three eras. The goal is to leave a trace and prosper for future generations. Well, that's on paper. Concretely, we quickly realize that the theme is only there to justify the game or to sell. Yes, civilization games are very popular. And it is not the presence of an aged map of the Mediterranean on the board, that will save the situation. You are not in front of a game of civilization. Gentes could very well have talked about something else, it would have worked just as well. This is purely a German style game. This fact, you will be able to immerse yourselves in what makes the real interest of the game: its mechanisms.
Gentes shares a very simple mechanism. At first glance, this is a worker game. With the difference that to perform an action, the players do not place pawns but take pawns off the board. Each action corresponds to a specific area of the board. Each zone contains associated pions that will specify the action allowed and especially the cost to achieve it. In Gentes, there are two indispensable resources: money and time.
Money is indispensable for a large number of actions. In the majority of cases, the more one pays dearly, the more one has choices and especially the less time to spend. But finding money is not necessarily easy. You will have to develop accordingly and find a good income driver if you want to escape unscathed.
Time is the main mechanism of the game and especially what makes it original. Each action is linked to a cost in time. It is represented by small hourglass tokens. Each player has an individual board. On this plateau, there is a track on the top. This track is going to be used to put the hourglass tokens when taken. This temporal space is not trivial. Each player can continue to play as long as they have room available. If they can not add an hourglass then their turn is over.
You start to see the subtlety? It will be necessary to choose to optimize your actions in order to gain the right number of hourglass and not to be trapped in the fact of not having enough time to continue to develop. Fortunately, the author thought of us poor players. In order to torture us a little more, it gives us the opportunity to gain some time. How? When an action asks you to take and therefore to put two hourglasses, you have the choice to do it on two boxes or to put both on one box. Which means that, yes, you may be able to glean some future actions as well. Sorry ? Where is the trap ? At the end of a turn, players remove from their track all the unique hourglasses. In other words, if there are two hourglasses in one box, only one is removed. So there is still one left. And since it is only possible to add an hourglass to an empty box ... Yes, putting two hourglasses on a box will benefit you on the current round, but you will feel it in the next. Not that easy. You will have to choose between playing more now and then depriving yourself or playing less to play normally after. Knowing that there are very few turns ... Yes it will be hard to choose. The hourglass system is really cunning but at the same time very ingenious and gives a real interest to the game.
The game also has another originality: the citizens. What would a civilization be without its inhabitants? Or rather, its citizens. Your population is divided into six occupational categories (a healthy population must be occupied): religious, noble, blacksmith, trader, warrior and scholar. Your population is represented on your individual board. Each trade is grouped in pairs. In this blossoming society, you can only have up to seven members for each pair. In other words, if you have three of one type, you can only have four of the other. But if you want more? You will simply have to decrease the other side. Citizen markers will often have to move from left to right on your track according to your desires and your needs. Each decision is quite tense and if you get lost in too frequent changes, it can cost you time and therefore valuable actions. It is advisable to stick to a strategy even if sometimes changing it can save you the game. The management of the type of its population is a thing very well found and quite devious at times. It will be necessary to think beyond the current turn. Of course, fluctuating population is not free and each place is limited. You will have to be careful and act quickly.
The game is also based on a third mechanism directly nested within the citizens. During the game, you will need to recover civilization cards. These cards change according to the current era. They will be more and more powerful and you will offer bonus games or victory points. To recover a card, you must not only do the action (pay attention to your money and your time) but also have the prerequisites of each card. These prerequisites depend very much on a specific type and number of citizens. But what are they for? Each card can give you a bonus of victory points as well as a bonus for specific actions. Although you can choose to play without them during the game, they are essential for better optimization and better chances for victory.
Of course, that's not all. The map of the Mediterranean is not just there to make it "pretty". It also has a mechanical interest. You can build cities and gain specific resources from each. Or position these cities a space "foyer" which allows to benefit from permanent effects or a possible action in addition. Again, each action of this type is limited in spaces but also in number the number of cities available. And they can be expensive ...
The vast majority of actions are limited in their availability. So there is a kind of race between the players if you really have the optics to achieve the same. This offers a bit of interaction in a game that ultimately just a little. Many may blame Gentes cold side, calculating and where players plays in their own corner. Because the interaction is only indirect, it can, depending on the game, go from a little to zero. It is still rare that players do not bother for a position or for taking an action. But unlike the announced theme, no war, no interference in the others. You’ll stay at home.
To support a certain race aspect, there is also the presence of objectives which will bring back more important points to the first who realize them. These goals are based on three things: to have eight civilization cards in play, to have eight cities in play, to have eighteen artisans. The first to fulfill each of these goals will gain eight points and the other players four. There are thus twenty four possible points to win ... Even if it is not negligible, it is rare that it is the ultimate goal of a player.
The game is played in six rounds, divided into three eras. Each turn is divided into two phases: the climax and the decline. The climax is the phase where you will realize your actions. Decline is a faster phase. This is close to a maintenance phase. You’ll clean your individual trays, gain resources according to your cities and cards, and change the cards (in the case of a change in era). At the end of the sixth round, the points are counted. Whoever has the most wins the game. Be careful though, some things can be penalizing, like having still unplayed civilization cards.
Gentes has a solo mode too. There is not really any difference with a two-player mode for example. Here, no bot to beat, you just have to play to beat your scores from one game to another. An interesting way to learn to play, this mode is quickly anecdotal.
Gentes is a pure representative of german games. A theme quickly forgotten, absent of luck, a very strong dose of optimization, errors that cost dearly, and relatively absent interaction. So yes, you’ll watch each other, sometimes have to change focus, but it's still rather superficial. Some will also blame it for it’s third era is very focused on the points of victory. Indeed, it is essential to prepare for this phase. Not only can the points gained be huge, but not being prepared can cost you a lot. In terms of components, the rendering has a little old air that is nice, but the bits in general, with the simple version, is not a dream.
Still, the game offers interesting mechanisms. Time management and the citizen system are things that work very well. Having to take tiles to do the actions instead of pawns also changes a bit of what is traditionally done. With two players the game remains pleasant even if it really takes off at the three or four player count.
What marks especially at the end of Gentes, is its ease of access. The rules are clear and in the game, apart from some icons, the actions are fluid and easy to handle. There are no complicated things to understand or convoluted actions. It can serve as an entry point for players unaccustomed to the expert game. But be careful, behind an accessible aspect hides a game devious enough and having a certain depth.
Gentes is not the game of the century. However, it can largely satisfy players eager for optimization. The playing times are more than correct for this type of game. In terms of replayability, unless you are a fan of optimization and absolutely want to search for the perfect score, the game may suffer from some repetitiveness and run out of steam with time.
Gentes is a good German (or Euro) style game. Not without defects, it will still warm up your brain and offer you good moments of optimization. However, if you were looking for a civilization game, walkaway. The game offers pure mechanics without unnecessary complexity, uncomplicatedly mixing time management with the action race and card management. Mistakes can be expensive. Gentes can serve as a springboard for novice players who want to discover the expert german game. Without being complicated in its rules, the game holds in reserve a lot of surprises and reflection.
Technical Score 7/10
We feel that there has been a de facto effort in dusting the game to make it more attractive. The material has been reviewed and it is not unpleasant. But against a Deluxe version, expensive but beautiful, the normal version is pale in comparison. Visually, this is still close to the games of the 80s. In terms of iconography, it will take at least a game or two to understand.
My BGG Score 6/10
(Ok game, like to play from time to time)
Even if it has ingenious and well adapted mechanisms, Gentes suffer from an absent theme and a lack of real interaction. Because of the absence of luck and a relatively fixed board, in time, the game may also run out of steam against players looking for a bit of new challenge between games.
Combined Score 6.5 / 10
Now, it's your turn to play …
First Impressions of Arnauld:
Gentes is a fake civilization game. It is cataloged as such, but it is simply a management game. You do not see your civilization evolve, just your population is growing. But it is still an excellent game I did not play it until after the second Kickstarter. I expected a lot and I was not disappointed. The Deluxe version saving grace has a “Folded Space” insert and upgraded component.
The game itself can be defined as a reverse worker placement game. Action tokens are chosen on the main board until each player's line of action is full. Actions that usually waste time depending on the power or choice remaining. The objectives are many, but go through the construction of buildings that are a big vector of victory points.
Gentes offers original, unusual rules that give a fresh twist in this type of game. Served by illustrations that are simple but stick perfectly to the antiquity theme of the game, it is one of my most beautiful discoveries of early 2019. Adepts management games, this one is a very good choice!