Publisher: Asmadi Games
This is my second go around with Innovation. I had previously acquired a first edition copy of Innovation from Craigslist 5 years back and held on to it for a mere 3 months before selling it. I recall reading the rules several times over and feeling rather turned off by the cryptic instructions. It also didn’t help that the cards were all unique, dense and filled with jargon. “Splayed”, “Meld”, “Tuck”….Ugh. When it was time for me to move, Innovation was the first few games on the chopping block. I eventually traded it away for a copy of Ticket To Ride: Africa. I knew that Innovation had gotten quite a name for itself and the game was well-received by my GeekBuddies on BoardGameGeek. Still, the presentation, graphics and packaging of the game really dampened my enthusiasm for playing. I guess it didn’t help that my collection was steadily growing at that time and I had at least 100+ games in my collection to choose from.
Fast forward to 2020. I recently spent an evening playing Chudyk’s Glory to Rome and really enjoyed the game. Yes, the game was chaotic and the card powers were everywhere. Even though I generally dislike games with too much card text, Glory to Rome really impressed me. I found the multi-use cards to be unpredictable and innovative. I also knew I enjoyed other Asmadi games that came out such as Red7 and owned a regular version of Mottainai (which remains to be played). So, when I saw a used copy of Innovation plus Echos expansion, I thought it was time to give this highly acclaimed card game another shot. Was it worth it?
First, I think Innovation ought to be played only with 2p. I just cannot imagine playing this game with more than two. This is just fine with me because I think Innovation is perfect with 2. The game is all cards and nothing more. Players try to build a civilization over 10 eras: or rather from 10 draw piles. To win, players try to score the most points at the end of the game. This is supposedly rare as it is easier to score 6 achievements to end the game for 2 players. There is an achievement associated with each era and one needs 5x points multiplied by the era to be able to claim that achievement (e.g. era 5 requires 5 x 5 = 25 points). In addition, there are 5 more one-of-a-kind unique achievements that can be scored if certain in game requirements are met. These achievements are available for all player and its a race to see who can get the right cards to complete the goals. The game ends as soon as a player collects the requisite number of achievements to win.
In Innovation, each card represents a facet of Civilization. From the prehistoric Era 1 all the way to the future in Era 10, players draw and play cards that are increasingly sophisticated and powerful. Players draw cards from each Era and as the deck is depleted, cards are drawn from successive eras. In this way, the advancement of civilization is reflected by the deck progression. If you have played Sid Meier’s Civilization, these cards represent the tech tree. You have cards labeled Masonry, Democracy, Philosophy, Wheel, etc. Each card is unique with its own set of icons and dogma (special powers). However, each card also belongs to one of 5 suits represented by 5 different colors. In each turn, players decide from 4 actions: Meld (play cards to tableau), Draw, Achieve (claim an achievement) or Dogma (trigger special power). From these 4 actions, players alternate turns playing cards in their tableau of 5 suits, advancing from Era 1 to Era 10 while amassing points to collect achievements. That’s it! However, because each card is unique, the interaction between cards is enormous and too varied to predict. No two games may end up the same. Another unique aspect of Innovation is the ability to “splay” cards. All cards have a collection of different icons (up to 8 I believe). However, as cards of the same color are played on top of each other, only the top card’s icon are visible. To re-introduce icons from the past, players can splay cards to the top, left or right to reveal icons from cards that were previously played and buried in the pile. Why then do you need to collect these icons? That’s because part of Innovation features set collection to gain a majority. Some Dogmas can be shared if you have as many icons as the fella that triggered the Dogma. Other times, having the most icons that match a Dogma also protects you from “I Demand” take-that type cards. In essence, you are trying to collect as many icons as you possibly can to fend off invaders and to trigger unique powers. Bar none, the splaying of cards is the most innovative aspect of the game and has not been featured in any other game I know of.
So, is Innovation worth the wait? For starters, I think the depth of Innovation is amazing. Each card has a unique collection of icons with a unique Dogma. This will make each game different in the way it is played out. It is tough to predict which cards you will draw and meld and how they will synergize with other cards in your tableau. That is the fun part. The not so fun part comes from cards that appear to be overpowered. I know there are many and they come out in different ways. Each Dogma, if played correctly and timed properly, can really propel you far ahead. Without the proper collection of icons to defend yourself against an opponent’s Dogma, you can really get hammered and lose a lot of ground. But herein lies the rub: you also have many cards that are powerful and can hurt opponents. Sure, the opponents can hurt you, but you can also hurt them. While cards can feel unbalanced and overpowered, because many of them act this way, the entire game evolves into a chaotic mess with lots of back and forth and filled with unpredictability. This makes the game really different and beautiful in an ugly sort of way. In a way, this Chudyk game reminds me of another Chudyk game: Glory to Rome. It also reminds me of the ridiculous special player powers in Voyages of Marco Polo. If one person is overpowered, the game is broken. If everyone has a crazy power, then it balances out.
Innovation is perhaps Chudyk’s best and most popular design. While Glory to Rome may be the most loved, Innovation is the most widely available and probably the most played game by Chudyk. I think Chudyk is a master of getting the most out of a deck of cards and Innovation is his masterpiece.
Initial impressions: Good