Introducing Innovation



It's been a while since I've been quite as excited about a new game as I am about this one. It is, after all, by the same designer as Glory to Rome, about which I wrote a glowing review just over a year ago. Despite the less-than-glamorous-appearance of Glory to Rome, what I loved about it was its unique twist on the role selection mechanic from games like Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy, and its potential for exciting and sometimes crazy card combinations and interaction.

The good news is that Carl Chudyk is back with a completely new card game called Innovation! Unlike Glory to Rome, there's no role selection mechanic here. But as for the crazy card combinations and moments of gaming greatness when everyone stops open-mouthed and says "You're going to do WHAT?? That's crazy!" - they're all here, and more! If you like cards with unique abilities as in CCGs like Magic the Gathering or even in euros like Race for the Galaxy, you're going to get lots of that here. While some of its appeal lies in the same things that attract people to Glory to Rome, Innovation feels very different from its older brother because it has innovative and different mechanics. A big selling factor for me personally is that Innovation has a solid civilization theme - one of my all time favourite themes in gaming. For these reasons and more, I just knew that Innovation was going to be a hit even before I even saw the game, and I wasn't disappointed. And unlike Glory to Rome, which languished in relative obscurity for a long time before "breaking out", Innovation has a chance to be successful from the outset - perhaps even the best new card game of 2010. Read on to find out more about the game, learn how to play it, and draw your own conclusions!




COMPONENTS

Innovation is scheduled to be officially released by the publisher Asmadi Games at Gen Con in August 2010. Haven't heard of Asmadi Games before? Nor had I (although I had run across mention of their humorous light game We Didn't Playtest This At All more than once). But there's a real chance that this game is single-handedly going to help make a name for them. Producing a pre-production version of around 100 copies of the game back in April was a really smart move on the part of Asmadi - it allowed them to start getting word out about the game, as well as get further play-testing and so improve their product ahead of an official release. I was fortunate to get my hands on this pre-production version, and that's what I'll be showing you in this review. So take into consideration that the final published version is going to look slightly nicer, and a few minor rule tweaks and alterations to some card abilities will be implemented to make it even better. Aside from that, the game that you'll see in this review is basically exactly the same as what will go to print and hit the mass market.

Game box

I was very excited when the box arrived in the mail from Asmadi, here's what greeted me when I pulled off the packaging:



With apologies to Glory to Rome, I was happy to observe the absence of a cheap-quality budget-style plastic container! It's not a large box mind you (16cm x 12cm x 8cm), in fact it's not a whole lot bigger than the kind of box that you'll find in games like Pictionary for storing the clue cards. But this is, after all, a card game, and doesn't take a lot of space.

Hurriedly I turned over the box to read what it said on the bottom:



"Invent your way to an empire! Innovation is a card-driven journey through humanity's ideas and advancements from THE WHEEL all the way to The Internet. You must strategically guide your civilization through time and try to emerge victorious by claiming achievements before your rivals can! Choosing and effectively using your innovations are the keys to success."

Did they say civilization? I like the sound of this game already! 2-4 players. 30-60 minutes. Designed by Carl Chudyk. Wow! I just know this is going to be good! Get that box open quick!!

Component list

The box insert is fairly average, but look, do you see them? Cards!!!!



There's no time to waste, so let's haul everything out of the box and check out all the goodies inside!
● 105 technology cards
● 5 achievement cards
● 4 reference cards
● card sleeves
● rule sheet
● FAQ sheet



I kid you not about the card sleeves! Don't necessarily expect to see them appear in the final published version, but evidently Asmadi was feeling rather generous towards the 100 or so folks who had ordered the pre-production version. Yes, card sleeves! Clearly this is a publisher that knows and understands gamers! A big thumbs up to them right there! In fact, get this: the box and insert is specifically designed so that it has enough room to house sleeved cards! Now that's what I call forethought!

I admit that what you see here doesn't look like much. It is after all, just a card game. But this is no ordinary card game, and anyone familiar with the ugly duckling style wrapping paper and garish presentation of Glory to Rome should know that you can't judge a Carl Chudyk game by appearances. What's going to matter is what is on those cards, and how they work! I won't keep you in suspense any longer, let's get to work at peeling off the shrink wrap and exploring the individual components!

Rule book

The beauty about Innovation is that it's a cinch to learn. Much easier than Glory to Rome. Evidence exhibit #1: the rulebook. Are you ready? Here it is ... in entirety!



Yep, that's it. Just one rule-sheet! Admittedly it's double sided, but you get my point: the entire rules fit on a single sheet of paper! In fact, if you want to read them, you'll find download links in this thread. When I taught this game to my wife, it took me all of five minutes. I'm not making that up! The box does say ages 14 and up, but even my 9 year old son was able to play the game on his first try (admittedly, he has experience with CCGs like Magic the Gathering, but Innovation is chicken-feed besides a heavy weight like that), and he has no difficulty grasping how the game works (in fact he beat me at the game earlier this week). The beauty about Innovation is that the rules themselves are very simple and straight-forward - the learning process primarily comes in discovering the cards themselves, and exploring the unique abilities of each card. So you can be playing the game in no time at all! Admittedly, the first time you're playing, you'll feel a bit like you've fallen down a rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland, because in many respects Innovation is altogether unlike any other game you've ever played before, and there will be some very innovative things you'll have to learn and get used to. But you'll pick up the basics of game-play quickly enough - in fact you'll probably be ready to actually play the game after reading this pictorial review. Because all the 105 cards are different, the rules can't possibly cover every situation, and so you may find occasional card-specific questions come up that doesn't seem to be covered by the rules - although that may be addressed in a more updated FAQ that will undoubtedly accompany the published version. Meanwhile there's more than enough friendly people here on BGG to help you out when that happens, and for the most part the basic rules are easy to learn. Thumbs up!

Reference Cards

I'll start by showing you the reference cards, because these also function like your own player mat. There's four altogether, enough for each player to have one. The one side of the card summarizes the four main actions you can do on your turn (Meld, Dogma, Draw, and Achieve - which I'll explain later), while the other side of the reference card lists some key terms used in the game:



Notice the word "Score" on the left hand side, and "Achievements" on the right hand side? That's an idea that will be familiar to gamers who have played Glory to Rome. You'll tuck cards on the left of your scoreboard for points (somewhat similar to Clients in Glory to Rome), and you'll tuck cards on the right of your scoreboard for achievements (somewhat similar to the Vault in Glory to Rome). Basically the aim of the game is to get points in your Score Pile on the left side, and these points will earn you the right to obtain the Achievement cards that you'll place on the right side to win the game.

Special Achievement cards

There are five "Special Achievement" cards, that can be earned if their special requirement is met.



These will be the same size as the other cards in the game in the final published version of the game. The usual way to win the game is by earning a set number of "Achievements" (6/5/4 achievements in 2/3/4 player game). Nine of the Technology cards will function as normal Achievements, so these five cards are extra Special Achievements that can be earned in addition to the normal Achievements. You can download a player aid that summarizes the Special Achievements here.

Technology cards

Now for the best bit: the Technology cards! These are the heart of the game, and there's 105 of them here, all different!



Awesome! I know that you're dying to see what the technology cards look like, but let's start you off easy, with a very basic technology card from age 1: The Wheel, and a slightly more advanced technology card from age 2: Mathematics:



And it will get better yet! But not so fast, my friends, let's first take the time to take a deep breath, and understand what everything on a technology card means! The rule sheet has a handy reference explaining what the different elements of a card are:



The black and white card image is a flavour image that corresponds to the title of the card in some way, but all the other information on the card is important. At the top right is the age number, a value from 1 to 10, so let's start by looking at that.

Ages: The technologies are divided into ten ages, and there are 10 cards in each age (the exception being age 1, which has 15). Each age features different artwork on the back of each card:



The ten ages progress from Prehistory (age 1) to Information (age 10), and correspond to the advancement of technologies across these ages:
1. Prehistory
2. Classical
3. Medieval
4. Renaissance
5. Communication
6. Enlightenment
7. Romance
8. Modern
9. Postmodern
10. Information

I like the artwork on the back of the cards, and how the picture and style of lettering matches the age.



The technologies start simple, like The Wheel, Writing, Tools, Archery, Pottery and Clothing in age 1 (Prehistory). By age 4 (Renaissance), you'll see the appearance of more advanced technologies like Gunpowder, Colonialism, Anatomy, Navigation, and the Printing Press. By the time you get to the Information Age (age 10), you'll see things like Robotics, Software, Bioengineering, The Internet, and A.I, all of which do really cool and powerful stuff! I get excited just thinking about it!



Colours: The technology cards come in five colours: red, yellow, green, blue and purple.



The colours of the technologies don't strictly speaking have any specific significance, although there have been attempts to categorize the general areas that certain colours seem to represent. For example, many of the red cards seem to deal with military or industrial themes, as this sampling of ten red technology cards shows:



When a new technology of a particular colour comes into play, it replaces the existing technology of that colour. This means that you'll never have more than five technologies in play at once (i.e. a maximum of one in each colour).

Icons: Each card also has three other icons on it. These icons will be one of six different types:



These are commonly referred to as factory, crown, leaf, clock, lightbulb, and castle (for other suggestions, see this thread), and represent abstract ideas. Some occur across all ages, whereas others only occur in some ages - for example, the castle icon disappears after the medieval age, while the factory icon appears for the first time in the Renaissance age, and the clock icon only occurs in the last four modern ages.

An important part of the game is about revealing as many icons of these types as you can. You cannot be adversely affected by aggressive actions selected by other players (called "I demand" actions in the game, a vaguely similar concept to the "Legionary" from Glory to Rome) if you have at least as many of a particular icon as they have. And better yet: you can share dogma actions selected by other players (somewhat similar to the privilege of being able to "follow" in Glory to Rome as a result of owning clients) if you have at least as many of a particular icon as they have. But the best bit is yet to come - the specific "dogma" actions each card enables:

Dogma effects: The final part of a card is the "dogma effect", which is the term used in Innovation to describe the special action that a technology card allows its owner to take. It's somewhat similar to an activated ability in Magic the Gathering, except that it can always be used if you own the technology card. The dogma effect of Domestication is that it allows you to meld the lowest card in your hand and draw a 1. How cool is that?! But watch out - if someone else has at least as many of that type of icon as you do, they'll get to perform that dogma action as well! So for example if the only technology you had in play was The Wheel, and on your turn you chose to execute its "dogma effect" (Draw two 1s), anyone else with at least three castle icons on their board could do this too! Fun stuff!



At this point you've got a basic sense of the cards and how they work - just a few more things to explain, and you'll be ready to play your first game of Innovation!

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The set-up at the start of the game is going to look like this:



Supply Piles: The piles of cards from all ten ages are set out in a circle, from 1 to 10 - these are the Supply Piles from which players can draw cards. The concept of a 'clock' is very appropriate - as the game progresses, the wheel of time moves you forward through the ages! You'll be able to draw from the pile corresponding to your highest technology in play. (NB: Using a circular shaped wheel of time isn't the only way to set-up the game, for alternate configurations see this discussion.)

Achievements: At the start of the game you also set aside one random card from each of the first 9 ages. These nine cards are placed in the center of the supply piles, and will be the normal Achievements available for players to earn alongside the Special Achievements. Getting the required number of Achievements is the usual way to win the game. Note the circled numbers under the age number - this number is five times the age, and that's how many points you'll need in your score pile to earn one of these normal Achievement cards.



Special Achievements: The five additional Special Achievements are also placed together face up in full view (in the above picture shown on the right).

Player Cards: Each player starts with their own reference card, and two cards from Age 1 in hand. You're ready to begin!

Play Area

Each player has their own "play area", which consists of the following:

Reference Card: This is the base of your play area.

Score Pile: You'll put scoring cards face down on the left of your reference card as the game progresses.

Achievements: You'll put Achievements that you earn on the right of your reference card, face down. Scoring cards have their individual point value, whereas with Achievements all that matters it the number of Achievements that you have.

Hand: Whenever you draw cards, these go into your hand, from where you can meld them onto your Board.

Board: This is the area above your reference card, where you'll put your technology cards in play. You can have a maximum of one pile for each of the five colours (although if a pile is "splayed", you will see icons from earlier technologies that have been replaced, like the purple pile in the example below). Only the "Top Card" of each pile counts as a technology in play.



Terminology

Innovation features some unique mechanics and ideas, so before getting into game-play it will be helpful to give a quick overview of some key terms and concepts, so you'll know what we're talking about:

Return: Take a card from your hand or your board, and place it at the bottom of its matching supply pile.

Tuck: Place a card on the bottom of a matching coloured pile (continuing a splay if applicable).

Splay: Although you can only have five technologies in play at any time (one in each colour), there is a way to reveal more of the icons, and that's by a mechanic that the game calls "splaying." Splay is a real word that means "to spread out". In the game, splaying means to take the top card of a pile and slide it in the indicated direction (either left, right, or up), and repeating this process for all cards in a pile, in order to display more icons. Splaying up will reveal three icons on each card below, splaying right will reveal two icons on each card below, and splaying left will reveal only one icon on each card below. So splaying up is the most powerful, and is usually only possible later in the game. "Splaying" is cool, and it's one of the great innovative concepts introduced by Innovation! In the image below, the dogma effect of Metric System has first been used to splay the green pile, and then also the blue pile.



Dogma: An action enabled by a technology card, that works much like an activated ability in Magic the Gathering (but has no associated cost).



But enough of the suspense, let's get some cards on the table and play!!!

Flow of Play

At the start of the game, each player gets to put one of their technologies into play. From then on, players take turns in clockwise order, each getting the opportunity to perform two actions each turn. You can choose from four possible actions: Draw, Meld, Dogma, or Achieve. For your two actions, you may choose to do the same action twice.



1. Draw action

Draw a card from one of the supply piles. The pile you can draw from is the one that matches your highest technology in play (take from the next highest pile if that supply pile is empty).

For example, here a player has two level 5 technologies in play, and so he is entitled to draw from the age 5 supply pile. He executes the draw action, but since the age 5 pile is empty, he may draw an age 6 card.



2. Meld action

Play one of the cards from your hand onto your board. If you already have a card of that colour, it goes on top of the existing card and replaces it. If the pile is already splayed, you continue the splay.

For example, here a player melds the Writing technology card from his hand. If there was already a blue card in play, Writing would be placed on top of it, replacing it.



3. Dogma action

Execute the dogma effects from one of your technology cards in play. This is the most fun part of the game - getting to execute the "dogma effect" on one of your technology cards! You choose one of your technologies that is in play on your board, and execute the "dogma effects" listed on it.

For example, here a player executes the dogma effect of Code of Laws to tuck a green card and splay his green pile left.



But now here's the interesting thing - depending on how many icons you have and other players have, your opponents may be able to share in this dogma action or be adversely affected by it! So when you select a dogma action, you first check to see how many icons in play you have of the featured icon, and then your opponents also all check to see how many icons in play that they have of the featured icon. There are two types of dogma effects: demand actions that are "ignored" (if equal or more icons) or "obeyed" (if less icons), and non-demand actions that are "shared" (if equal or more icons) or "non-shared" (if less icons).

(a) Non-demand effects: Players with less of the featured icon than you don't get to share this effect. But if another player has as at least as many of the featured icon as you, they get to do this effect as well as you and before you (as compensation, you get a free "Draw" action at the end of that dogma action).

Here's an example of a non-demand dogma effect: Agriculture. If this was the only card you had in play on your board, then all other players with 3 or more leaf icons on their cards would get to do it as well. For example, you could return a 2 from your hand to the appropriate supply pile, and then take and score a 3 - and anyone else with at least 3 or more leaf icons on their card in play could do something similar.



(b) Demand effects: Players with less of the featured icon than you are adversely affected by this "I demand" effect. They must execute the required action, such as giving a scoring card or technology card, or whatever the card demands. If another player has at least as many of the featured icon as you, they are not affected by an "I demand" effect.

Here's an example of a demand dogma effect: Gunpowder. If this was the only card you had in play on your board, then all other players with 2 or more factory icons on their cards would be protected from it, whereas any player with less than 2 factory icons on their cards would have to take a top card with a castle symbol from their board to your score pile. What a great way to destroy your opponent's technologies and turn them into points! And if it does happen, you get to draw and score a 2 as well - talk about being rewarded for blowing up your opponent's stuff with gunpowder!



So in short, technology actions are either:
a) non-demand actions: players with less of the featured icon don't share the action, players with equal or more of the featured icon do share the action
b) demand actions: players with less of the featured icon must obey them, players with equal or more of the featured icon can ignore them

4. Achieve action

Claim one of the Achievements you're eligible for. If you have enough points in your score board to earn a normal Achievement, and have a technology in play that is at least as high a level as the normal Achievement you want to earn, you can take an Achievement card and place it under the right side of your reference card. The scoring points remain in your score pile, because to earn higher valued achievements you'll need more points anyway!

For example, to claim the "Communication" Achievement card (Level 5), you'd need at least 25 points in your score pile, and you'd need to have at least a Level 5 technology card in play.



Claiming Special Achievements

No action is needed to earn a Special Achievement - if you meet the requirement on any of these five cards at any time, you can immediately claim the appropriate card and place it on the right of your reference card in the same way as normal Achievements. For each Special Achievement there is also a technology card that has a dogma effect giving the possibility of earning that achievement, again with a specific requirement that must be met (see this thread for a discussion on these alternate ways of claiming the Special Achievements).



End of the Game

There are three ways that the game can end.

1. Achievements: The usual way that the game ends is when a player obtains the specific number of achievements to win: 6 achievements for a two player game, 5 achievements for a three player game, or 4 achievements for a four player game. This is how the game will end more than half of the time. In the picture below, the Combustion card proved very helpful to win a two player game with 6 achievements.



2. Scoring: The second way for the game to end is if the required number of achievements has not yet been reached by any player, but someone attempts to draw a card higher than a 10 from the supply pile. This triggers the end of the game, and the winner is then the player with the most points (not Achievements)! This mostly happens when the 10 pile is empty and a player executes the Draw action. In the picture below, the player ended the game by taking a Draw action when there were no 10s left, and won because his score of 33 points was higher than his opponents (earlier he earned the "Universe" achievement by having all age 10 technologies in play, but in this case the number of achievements turned out to be irrelevant in determining the game winner).



3. Dogma effect: There are six cards that can end the game through a specific dogma effect. These give an alternate win condition (much like the "Forum" card in Glory to Rome). Collaboration and Empiricism are two examples of such cards, and award a win to the player with a certain number of cards or icons. The other four cards that provide an alternate win condition are all from age 10: Self Service, Bioengineering, Globalization, and A.I. For a discussion on how infrequently these alternate win conditions end the game, see this thread.



Example of Game-play

So how does this all work in practice? Given that the game does have a few novel concepts and innovative mechanics, I figured it would be helpful to create a simple play example of a single turn, to illustrate the basic flow of play. This pictorial illustration of game-play will help show how all of the rules come together in an actual game, and I highly recommend you check it out - it will go a long way to helping you visualize how the game works and learn how to play. You'll find it here:

A sample turn of Carl Chudyk's innovative new civilization-themed card game
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/524444



And that is how to play Innovation! Once you understand the terms and mechanics, the gameplay itself can be explained in a matter of minutes. The fun part is discovering the cards, and the unique dogma effects and what they can do, since every one of the 105 cards has a different effect!

MORE ABOUT THE GAME

Crazy Combos

Innovation is all about the special effects, and big game-changing cards, especially in the latter half of the game. Let me give you a few examples of the craziness that can happen.

Physics + Bicycle example. You safely use the "Physics" action ("Draw three 6s...") multiple times to fill your hand with high valued cards. Now you activate the "Bicycle" action: "You may exchange all cards in your hand with all cards in your score pile." Suddenly you have a massive amount of points in your score pile, and are a prime position to earn all kinds of achievements!



Industrialization example. You already have a board with lots of factory icons, and manage to get Industrialization into play: "Draw and tuck a 6 for every two Factory icons on your board." With lots of splayed cards, things quickly go crazy due to the large number of factory icons which keeps growing: you're drawing and tucking massive amounts of 6s and 7s each turn!



Translation + Measurement example. You have a Score Pile filled with over a dozen low-scoring cards. You're losing, so you decide to go for broke - you activate Translation: "You may meld all the cards in your score pile. If you meld one, you must meld them all." You don't get to claim the Wonder achievement that you were hoping for, and at first the fact that many of these low scoring technologies are red seems disappointing, and you have a massive pile of red. But then you manage to meld and activate Measurement: "You may return a card from your hand. If you do, splay any one color of your cards right, and draw a card of value equal to the number of cards of that colour on your board." You trigger the effect by returning a card, and display your massive pile of low-value red technologies: 9 in all. Now you get to draw a card from age 9, which you meld on the next turn, and suddenly you've jumped straight from level 5 technologies to playing powerful level 9 technologies!



Other examples. These kinds of crazy situations are not rare, but seem to happen almost every game, just like in Glory to Rome! The above examples are all real examples from games I played recently. Here are a few more crazy cards:
Combustion: lets you steal two cards from your opponents score pile and put them onto your own.
Machinery: forces your opponents to exchange all the cards in his hand with the highest cards in your hand - if your hand is empty, he gets nothing, and you get everything!
Databases: forces your opponents to return half of the cards in their score pile!
Steam Engine: lets you draw and tuck 4s and then score your bottom yellow card - this means that late in the game you could be drawing yellow 8s and 9s and scoring them right away!
Gunpowder: Boom! I just blew up your favourite technology, and now I get to replace one of my technologies with yours.
Fission: Don't like the current game state? Remove all hands, scoring cards and boards, and start over!

Innovation has so many of those "you can do what?" moments! And they're fun to watch, even if it's your opponent who gets to do them. Even cards that appear to be useless can be very powerful in the right situation. Some low-level technologies like Agriculture, for example, can become quite powerful if they're used late in the game. Much of this is situational and tactical, to be sure. But it's fun, great fun, and for most of us playing this game, that's what it's all about! You'll sometimes end up with crazy looking boards full of cards, and yet love every moment of it!

Strategy

If it's strategy you're after, look no further than the extensive article written by BGG's own Alexfrog, who has played Innovation more than 30 times.

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Alex's strategic observations especially focus on two player games, but include much helpful information about things to consider when playing all forms of the game. I expect that most people (including myself) will first want to try to figure out some of the strategy for ourselves by discovering and playing the game, but Alex certainly makes a very useful contribution to the discussion about strategy for those who want to read more and discuss this. Here's his article:

Innovation Strategy Guide by Alex Rockwell
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/523320



Official Production Version

I have already mentioned that the edition shown in this review is only the pre-production version, which was a limited printing that consisted of only 120 copies. Further changes and minor clarifications have been made to the rules and cards - although in most cases they are merely a matter of tweaking an already excellent game and smoothing a few rough edges. The printing quality will be improved, for example the colorblind-assistance markers on the cards will be clearer in the production version. There were plans to reintroduce colour to the card backs to make differentiating score piles and hands slightly easier, but the latest word is that there wasn't a good way to implement it, so instead the backs are slightly lighter to make the numbers stand out more from a distance. The production version is due to be released by Gen Con in August 2010. Further details about the changes from the pre-production version can be found in this thread.

Video Preview

Still struggling to make sense of the game-play? There's a great 5 minute video from Myriad Games that gives a short overview of how Innovation works. If you've read a little bit about the game, it's well worth watching, as an additional way of getting a feel for the flow of play. Download it here:
http://pulpstudiomedia.com/shows/Myriad-Video-Overview-Innov...



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It's tactical. The technologies are more fragile than the buildings in Glory to Rome, since they can easily be removed or replaced, meaning that the game-state can change quite rapidly. It's part of the fun that the game offers, although I can appreciate that some gamers might dislike Innovation for the same reason, because building long-term strategies can be difficult. But it does make for great interaction and constant excitement. Sometimes it can feel chaotic and dependent on the cards you draw, but because crazy things happen, it's fun even if you lose. Will it see the same level of repeated play as strategic card games like Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome? Only time will tell, but for now it's certainly strategic enough to hold up well over multiple plays, despite having strongly tactical elements.

It's crazy. Innovation is full of those moments, especially in the late game, where anything can happen. And usually does happen. Crazy things! Massive things, like melding your entire score pile onto the board, and other actions that can in one instant change the whole face of the game. If you get joy out of these crazy kinds of combos - even if they're played by your opponents to make you lose - you're likely to have a fun time playing Innovation. Yet this craziness isn't completely out of control, you can harness it, and to some extent even plan it or prepare for it.

It's innovative. It's not often that we see genuine innovation in games these days, and even in the "cult of the new" there are many concepts that are recycled from other games. In Innovation, I think Carl Chudyk has genuinely come up with a few new and original ideas that are easy to learn and fun to play, like splaying, the way scoring and achievements work, demand and shared non-demand dogma effects, and more.

It's thematic. Admittedly the civilization theme isn't super strong - this isn't Through the Ages after all, and Innovation is first and foremost a card game rather than a civilization simulation. But nonetheless, many of the effects offered by the cards are thematic and closely related to the name and idea of the card, and while it's arguably abstract it certainly doesn't feel that way. It's certainly a game where different technologies give you varied abilities that allow you to make and do different stuff. So you do have a feeling that you're building a little system with wheels and pulleys that interconnect, and you're constantly trying to find ways to maximize what you can get out of your technologies by finding new and better ones, or optimize the way they work together.

It's easy to learn. Gameplay can be easily be explained in 5-10 minutes, and you're off and playing. It will take time to become familiar with the cards and maximize the interaction between technologies, but that is the fantastic fun of exploring and discovering the game! I do think that the recommended age rating of 14 and up is excessive, because even most 12 year olds should be able to manage this without too much difficulty.

It's intense. It takes time to get familiar with the cards, and staying on top of all the cards in play can be difficult at times. Thankfully you can never have more than five technologies in play at once, so keeping track of your own civilization and the abilities of your own cards is usually not too hard. But when each other player also has five cards in play, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Especially in your first few games, there may be times where you say "Hey, if I'd realized you had a card in play that could do that, I would have done my previous turn differently!" Familiarity with the cards and experience will mitigate this problem.

It's progressive. The first half of the game is usually a struggle focusing on getting the 'engine' of your civilization going, as you try to level up to the more powerful technologies. The really fun and crazy stuff usually happens in the last half of the game. The feel of the game thus progresses as you play, as you fight for survival in the early stages, and then ramp up to the ridiculous in the closing stages.

It's replayable. Every single one of the 105 technology cards is different! This means that no game will play the same. Granted, you'll see many of the technologies of the initial ages come into play on a regular basis, and it's possible that certain cards will become favoured over time and see more frequent play and use. But on most occasions the combinations will be different each time, even in the first part of the game. Certainly it will take a long time to exhaust all the possible combinations of higher level technologies, since these don't come into play every game. Moreover, the higher level technologies have the potential to combine well with some of the lower level technologies, and their effectiveness will often depend on the game state and the other cards from in play, and so their usefulness and function can vary significantly from game to game. Some people might feel a sense of "sameness" after a couple of dozen plays in the early stages, but I doubt that this could be said for the latter part of the game, which I especially enjoy. Any apparent sameness quickly disappears when you realize you that the effect of a given card will often be dependent on the cards in hand, the cards in player scorepiles, the achievements available, the technologies on your board, and how all these variables apply to your opponents - all of which will change from game to game. How the replayability of Innovation will hold up over a long period of time remains to be seen, but there are folks who have played it over 30 times already and still enjoying it, so it clearly can sustain considerable play before growing old.

It's a good length. Most games take around an hour, which is just the right length for this type of game. Even if a particular game session goes poorly for you, you've only invested an hour of time, and can just play another game back-to-back!

It's best with 2-3. Innovation is probably best enjoyed as a strategic game with 2 or 3 players. It does work with 4 players, but some people find the four player game too chaotic. To address this, a team variant has been proposed where you partner with the player across from you. It's still in the early stages of development, but it's worth exploring further if you are looking for alternate ways to enjoy Innovation with four players: Team Innovation (2v2)

It's interactive. There's lots of player interaction without it becoming overly vicious or confrontational. The way dogma effects work means that positive non-demand effects can be shared by other players, while negative demand effects can be suffered by other players. Yet the interaction is not gratuitous, because you have a measure of control over the amount of interaction by virtue of the amount of icons you have. So when you see that your opponents have certain cards in play, you can try to plan and prepare for the interaction you want to create or avoid, by trying to make sure you have enough of the featured icons on display.

It's tense. There are alternate ways to end the game, so you can never be totally sure that a leading player's win is guaranteed - the game can change very rapidly in a heartbeat! Just when you think you've got the card in hand to sew up a victory on your next turn, some key technologies or scoring cards might vanish or be replaced in front of your eyes! The state of the game is rarely static, but constantly dymanic, evolving, and this creates tension and excitement.

It's fun. Innovation is the kind of game that when you've played, you'll find yourself talking about the cards and combos, and immediately want to play again! To me, this kind of post-game conversation is a hallmark of an excellent game.



Do the above accolades mean that there's no shortcomings?

It's not perfect. First of all, what I'm reviewing is a pre-production version - which is only going to get better from here. There are a few things that could be sharpened and improved slightly, such as some of the rules and terminology, although these are largely cosmetic. For example, I personally don't think the word "dogma" is an appropriate choice, because it's a specialized term used in the field of religion and theology to refer to an core principle or indisputable belief. Using this word makes the core mechanic more opaque, and I think it would have been so much simpler just to refer to it as a "technology action". Standardized terminology for the icons would also be a good thing, so that instead of speaking about "dogma effects", you could simply refer to the different actions as factory actions, crown actions, leaf actions, clock actions, light-bulb actions, and castle actions - such language is more familiar from other games, e.g. being able to say something like "I'm going to use my Coal technology to do a factory action" during gameplay, implicitly instructs other players to count their factory icons, and communicates much better. Speaking of demand actions as "obeyed" or "ignored" and non-demand actions as "shared" or "unshared" would also be a simple improvement. The rules could also be clarified in a few places, and the game does need an FAQ that explains how certain cards work in specific situations that arise from time to time. I expect that the version of the game that most people will purchase upon its official release will have received the benefit of much feedback, that many of these minor criticisms will no longer apply.

It's not for everyone. I sincerely hope this game doesn't get hurt by all the hype it's getting, because there is going to be a small minority of people who won't like the game, as is the case with any good game. While the majority of people will love the dynamic thrills that a ride on Innovation offers, and find that the fun of the gameplay more than outweighs some of the luck-driven aspects, there will be some critics who find the shifting game landscape and strongly tactical nature of this game frustrating. Keeping track of all technologies in play will feel too much like work for some. But hey, not everyone enjoys the rollercoaster ride at the theme-park either, and people are entitled to different tastes! The potential ebb and flow of the game is part of the excitement that Innovation offers, and while I happen to think it's fantastic, I can appreciate that some gamers might dislike it for the same reason, so if that's not your thing, then this game might not be for you. Early indications do suggest that it will be well received and enjoyed by most gamers, however, and there is good reason to think that this game is going to prove popular. But even if it turns out that you're one of the folks who discovers that you don't enjoy the game, it won't break the bank, especially if it's marketed at the relatively low price-point that's typical of most card games. I suspect that most gamers will find that it is excellent value for their buck, and get more than enough return on their purchasing decision!

What do others think?

Innovation is only barely out on the market, but most of the early impressions and reactions to the game are very positive:
"Great game, really enjoyed. I like all the cards, I like the crazy powers ... Good pace, kind of scary. You can't get attached to your cards you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride." - Douglas Catchpole
"This game is, in my opinion, as good as the hype. It has some brilliant new ideas (splaying your cards is awesome!), and is very tactical. The game is the definition of interaction unlike others like RftG where most of the interaction is indirect, and the game often has an ebb and flow of stunning reversals of fortune that makes it fluid, dynamic and fun! People who do not enjoy tactics and demand long term strategy may not like this one, but for those who love an engaging, dynamic game where "read and react" is the rule of the day, it's a heck of a ride, and a real winner in my book!" - ggambill
"There are big, chaotic, game-changing cards in this one. It's kinda the point of the game. You have all these crazy technologies that you use on each other. It remains to be seen if I like a game this tactical and dynamic. The stunning reversals were a bit too chaotic for us." - Kurt R
"Gamers are in for a treat when this game is produced in larger quantities and sold through distributors' channels. The design is truly ingenious, and it's rare to say that now, what with so many knock-offs and spinoffs of popular mechanics. It is chaotic, but allows for clever play. The rules are extremely simple, but every card (like Magic: the Gathering) can break the rules slightly or massively -- easy to teach, but many plays will be spent learning what each card does. It's very tactical, but as you get to know the cards, long term strategy starts to emerge. And it does indeed feel, despite the use of cards-alone, that each player is developing a very different civilization throughout the ages." - Stephen Shaw
"Absolute brilliance. My feeling after five plays is that this is the best game since Race for the Galaxy. Incredibly fun civ game. If you like games with special powers, you will love this. Tons of combos and ways to make you feel clever." - Alex Rockwell
"Great game with some similarities to Glory to Rome. Very high level of interaction with some very powerful combinations possible. Seems to be an extremely tactical game, as you need to react to what is going on and do the best with what you have available with a few strategic decisions mixed in." - KAS
"Easy to learn with lots of depth. Each game is a story and can turn in unexpected directions. Tactically fluid. Each card can have very different impact from game to game - every card seems to be a great lever depending on the circumstances, and the circumstances vary wildly from game to game." - Tom Shields
"What a great and crazy game this is! Take a dose of Civilization and another dose of Glory to Rome and mix it up and you will get a little feeling what this is all about. I truly love it!" - Anders Olin




How does it compare to Glory to Rome?

What will fans of Glory to Rome think? This is an important question, because if you go into the game expecting the same thing as Glory to Rome, faulty expectations could lead to disappointment. While Innovation has a real chance of riding a wave of success on the back of Glory to Rome, there's also a real chance that its success could be hampered by sharp criticism from critics who discover it's not quite the game that they thought. With this in mind:

Don't expect the same game. It's harder to build a long-term strategy in Innovation, because technologies are constantly being removed and replaced. Although there's a sense of progression as your civilization advances and becomes more powerful, the choices you make will largely be dependent on the cards in play and cards in hand. This is not to say that the game plays itself - by no means, because there are lots of decisions to be made and different options available, and the best choices are not necessarily as obvious as new players might think. But it is more chaotic than Glory to Rome, especially in a four player game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that this is a different game, and should be judged on its own merits. There will be Glory to Rome enthusiasts who will find the constantly changing game landscape of Innovation frustrating, but this is a matter of taste, not a sign that it's a bad game.

Do expect the same craziness. On the other hand there's much here that fans of Glory to Rome will appreciate, because Innovation shows some of the same hallmarks as Chudyk's previous design: innovative ideas, and crazy combinations and possibilities in the late game. Not all, but most fans of Glory to Rome will find a lot to love about Innovation. There will even be Glory to Rome haters who find themselves appreciating this new game.

Don't judge too hastily. Don't come to conclusions too quickly about Innovation. New players may find learning the different technologies intimidating, and it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that the game plays itself or is heavily luck driven. But as you explore the game further, you may find that experienced players will beat new players more often than not, and there's a lot of tactical skill required to set up combinations or increase the chances of getting the cards you need. Chris Cieslik has played the game more than 100 times, and articulates this nicely: "It's a very unique brand of chaos. It's the same feeling in some ways as Glory to Rome, but in a totally different mechanics scheme. There's a lot of tactical skill involved in setting up combinations. I consistently beat new players if I'm trying to win and not trying to teach. Sometimes the game does take things out of your hands, but most of the time a good player can steer the ship well."



Do consider what others have to say. Here's what some fans of Glory to Rome have to say about Innovation:
"I think it's leaps and bounds better than Glory to Rome." - Sheamus Parkes
"Glory to Rome has the same feeling as this game in it's out of control, everything is broken but it all balances out. But Glory to Rome is both faster playing, and gives more choices." - Travis Worthington
"This game is insane, literally. It is by the same designer as Glory to Rome and it has the same "everything is overpowered so its balanced" mentality. The swings of power and cards can be impossible to predict which leaves it feeling a bit random, but there are many ways where smart play will enable someone to do better then others." - Jon
"With Glory to Rome, crazy was the new norm. Innovation is Glory to Rome crazy x2 with more polish and a tighter theme." - Cory Williamson
"Any designer would be happy with Glory to Rome, but to follow that astonishing piece of work with this equally brilliant game is, well, astonishing!" - Anthony Boydell
"More fun than GtR which I already thought was great." - William Crispin
"Absolutely love Glory to Rome, though it took a while to figure it out. My initial impression is that Innovation is a bit more tactical due to the lessened permanence of your infrastructure." - grayskale
"It's a fair bit more chaotic and fluid than Glory to Rome, and not even really in the same genre other than being a rules-on-the-cards game with lots of unique cards (110 or so), but I think it will appeal to a similar audience." - Doug Orleans
"Crazy economic machine building game where the best machine does not always win ... The author sure knows how to make some chaotic, out-of-control games, Glory to Rome being my favorite game." - Bruce Bridges
"As thoroughly addictive as the other big recent card games (Dominion, Race for the Galaxy). Here though, the card effects are much bolder--even more so than in Glory to Rome. They're so crazy sometimes that it's amazing that the game doesn't just rip apart at the seams. Occasionally it does, although that's the intent." - Ken Boone
"Very good card game from the designer of Glory to Rome that introduces novel card mechanics. The gameplay ramps up quite a bit faster than GtR in that you do not need additional cards to activate a card's power." - Tim Burnett


Recommendation

Is Innovation for you? I recommend this game very highly, but with a caveat: not every gamer's heart will be able to handle this level of tactical excitement. But if you're looking for a solid game that features strong card management, where every card has a unique ability, and where you're going to have a ton of fun using your technologies together in innovative ways, then Innovation is for you. I sure love it! I expect that Innovation will achieve the similar heights of success as Glory to Rome, both in view of its similarities as well as of its differences. As a card game, it promises to be relatively inexpensive, so what do you have to lose? Alternatively, you could wait until it goes out of print, and then groan over not having your own copy while everyone else is having fun with theirs. Now where have we heard that before? I think you know what to do. Get this game when you can! It's innovative, it's clever, and it's tremendous fun - bold prediction: one of the best card games of 2010! Thumbs up!

mb Another pictorial review by EndersGame



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Sean McCarthy
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Nice!

Though I wouldn't recommend using Physics multiple times in a row in most cases. It blows up your whole hand a third of the time!
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A superb, comprehensive review - many thanks!

Aside: 30 plays? I can see this being as much of a staple as GtR (which I'm now in the 300+ plays bracket) - plenty more fun to be had from this wonderful game. If there is any justice, this should be the blockbuster of 2010!
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Ben
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Great review Ender. You certainly leave no stone unturned.

I had an opportunity to play this last night and... wasn't that impressed. It seemed like every time I was starting to get some cards down onto the table or score cards and I would lose them. Even cards out of your hand can be stolen. I couldn't formulate any kind of strategy because by the time it was my go I would have no idea what cards I would be left with and ended up chancing physics (draw three high level at the time cards and if two are the same colour you lose them and all of your hand) to try and get back into the game (It didn't work).

Now this is only my first impressions and probably a combination of being a noob and not knowing the card powers and probably being very unlucky (I was last in turn order and lost my cards in the first turn). But the point is I didn't have fun in my first go (and I wanted to). I do want to give it another go though.
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Gunter D'HOOGH
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Again a fantastic review, dear Sir!

I just received the game and I'm going to read the rules, a pity we won't have the time to try it out for the first days to come (social "duties" do send us to other places) but at the end of the week my wife and I will certainly try this out. In fact your review and the video review are a big help and I already feel I know the basic mechanics of the game just by reading and watching the reviews.
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Marcelo Antunes
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As always, congrats for the great review. I´m already in love with this game (although i´ve had the opportunity to play just a few games) and it´s already a favorite.
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Kurt R
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paco paco wrote:
I had an opportunity to play this last night and... wasn't that impressed. It seemed like every time I was starting to get some cards down onto the table or score cards and I would lose them. Even cards out of your hand can be stolen. I couldn't formulate any kind of strategy because by the time it was my go I would have no idea what cards I would be left with and ended up chancing physics (draw three high level at the time cards and if two are the same colour you lose them and all of your hand) to try and get back into the game (It didn't work).

I had a similar reaction to the game and I'm still not sure about it. It should be noted that feedback was given and received on the game such that changes were made to the first turn as well as nerfing some of the cards. I've only played the original unamended version and have subsequently lent the game to a geekbud who, by contrast, has only played with the new cards and rules. He didn't have any of the problems I did with first turn imbalance and subsequent runaway leaders.

I look forward to trying the final version coming out this summer to see what I think. I totally forgot that when I bought the limited run I was entitled to a copy of the final print run this summer. Booyah.
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Jesse Dean
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Kurt, I would even go so far as to say that I typically try to position myself so I am not first player so that I can get two actions on my first go through. This may be an incorrect play, but it hasn't negatively impacted my win percentage, I do no think.
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As an aside...

Carl Chudyk should be listed right alongside some of the more well known designers. He creates innovative mechanics and fun games that run the gamut from lighter family games like Sneeze and Rootword, to his trio of innovative games Glory to Rome, Innovation and now Organic Soup. I think the only thing that's kept him from being mentioned in the same breath as other great designers is his relatively small number of games published and the fact that his best known game, GTR(as well as most of his games) are "owned" and/or released by a small publisher with a spotty production record and substandard artwork.

Asmadi seems to recognize the opportunity they've been given by having Innovation on their roster, and are taking an excellent approach to getting this game out to the masses in both the quality and quantity that it deserves.

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I think you sold me with Carl Chudyk and Civilization Theme. The rest of the review was a bonus. Thanks.
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Incredibly well done review! I love innovation and its nice to see such an excellent review.
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EndersGame wrote:

The colours of the technologies don't strictly speaking have any specific significance...


Red = Military/Industry
Yellow = Medicine(Biology)/Consumer Technologies(Soft Sciences)
Green = Trade/Economy
Purple = Civics(Government)/Religion(Thought)
Blue = Science/Knowledge(Information storage)


Yellow is by far the hardest to categorize. There is the clear Biology/Medicine aspect, but then it also has a variety of weird things, like Perspective and Statistics, which causes me to include soft sciences with it, and it has various consumer beneficial technologies: Fermenting, Machinery, Steam Engine, Canning, Refrigeration, Suburbia.


Some things that feel out of color to me (feel significantly more of a different color than their color):

Pottery (1/Blue) feels Yellow/Green. However, I justify the Blueness based on much early writing/numerical symbols being markings on storage containers such as this, denoting ownership, which would be blue. (This information recording is also why Calendar is blue).

Canal Building (2/Yellow) feels Green (but the green 2s, Mapmaking and Currency, are even more Green).

Paper(3/Green) feels a bit more Blue while Translation(3/Blue) feels a bit more Green. I'd personally switch them (and the symbols would match up even better if you did), but perhaps there is a game reason for this descision. Most likely, if translation wasnt Blue it would be too hard to score because there wouldnt be enough blue crown cards.

Enterprise(4/Purple) and Invention(4/Green) could be swapped, imo, but its not far off.

Perspective(4/Yellow) shouldnt be a technology, imo, I think something could be found to fit this better.

Colonialism(4/Red) should be purple, since it represents the use of military force by a government, not the military itself. But I justify this from the need to keep all the early factory symbols in red, the strongest factory color.

Astronomy(5/Purple) should be blue, but both 5 blue cards (Physics/Chemistry) are more blue.

Steam Engine(5/Yellow) feels very green, while Measurement(5/green) feels yellow. Maybe I just need a better understanding of what yellow means?

While Metric System(6/Green) and Classification(6/Green) dont feel green, neither does any other 6 card, except maybe canning.

Railroad(7/Purple) feels very Red, but the other Reds are Combustion and Explosives, so ok. (But if railroad isnt red it feels green).

Lighting(7/Purple) feels yellow, but both yellows are more yellow. I guess there werent any good 7 purple cards.

Then I get to the 8s and lots of things seem misplaced.

For the most part, I think there are good game justifications for any slight misthemings, or it is caused by there not being anything that fits well in a certain color in an age.
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Next time, Ender, try to include some details about the game.

Thanks for the in-depth review.

And thanks for presenting me with my first dilemma since deciding to freeze my game collection. Good thing it's not out, yet: it's easy to resist temptation when you can't get the thing.
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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Great review! Thanks!
EndersGame wrote:
In Innovation, I think Chuck Chudyk has genuinely come up with a few new and original ideas (…)
I think that the name is Chuck Carlyk.
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Marc Mistiaen
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EndersGame wrote:
just a few more things to explain, and you'll be ready to play your first game of Innovation!

Except for lacking the game itself, of course

Good job, Ender, I'm sold on this one.
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Aron F.
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Corwin1980 wrote:

Except for lacking the game itself, of course

Good job, Ender, I'm sold on this one.


hehe, I feel the same way

Between this an GtR, I'm having a very hard time not thinking about games that I don't yet have
 
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These two snippets...

EndersGame wrote:
It's harder to build a long-term strategy...because technologies are constantly being removed and replaced. [T]he choices you make will largely be dependent on the cards in play and cards in hand.


EndersGame wrote:
...crazy combinations...


...for some reason made me think: Fluxx. Odd.
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This is one of the best reviews I have ever read here

well done, it makes me want to play it .....RIGHT NOW!!
 
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    Please define "tactical excitement."
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Jodi Beth
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Thank you so much for taking the time to make such an in-depth review. I have this game on the way and I can't wait to try it!
 
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Kasper Hansen
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Great review, Ender!
Thanks for taking the time to do it.
I am definetely getting this.
 
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This is one of my favorite games - and my boys love it too.
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