Innovation: A civilization building game that won’t take a weekend to play.

A card game about civilization building.  That’s how the game of Innovation was described to me.  I really like civilization building games, in theory.  My typical problem is with their execution.  Most of them drag on for far too long, or at least far too long for my taste.  So when i saw that this games play time was 30-60 minutes, I thought I had to give this game a try.

A look at the game setup.  In the foreground you can see the different colored cards played out into the players area.  The circle of cards are draw piles.

A look at the game setup. In the foreground you can see the different colored cards played out into the players area. The circle of cards are draw piles.

Innovation uses a technology tree… sorta.  It’s more of a technology pile.  Each player has a playing area in front of them in which to meld cards (melding being the innovation term for playing a card down into your playing area).  Your card has one of five different colors.  If you already have that color down in your area, you play this card on top of the other one, thus covering your old card’s abilities.  Each card has a number on it’s top right hand corner which corresponds to the age from which the technology comes.  You draw cards from the appropriate draw pile based upon your highest valued card that is played in your play area, thus allowing for a forward progression through time, or up the technology tree, however you want to think about it.

A close up look at some played cards.

A close up look at some played cards.

The goal of the game is to gain achievement cards, but to get achievements, you must have enough scored points.  Throughout the game, if your score reaches certain milestones, you may claim achievements.  But you have to do so very fast!  Because each achievement can only be gained by one player, so if you are beat to it, you may have to wait a while before you are ready to pick up the next achievement at the even higher score milestone.

Really the heart and soul of this game is how the card’s effects interact with each other.  Some allow you to do things. Others force your opponents to do things.  But all of them hinge upon whether or not you have the most showing of a given symbol.   Next to the effect on a card is a small symbol, these correspond to the bigger version of the symbol shown on the card.  If you have more of those symbols showing on your board then your opponent, then you can perform that offensive ability.  If the ability isn’t offensive, and your opponent has more of that symbol then you, they may also do that same effect.   Because of this, we found that three and four player games were a lot more fun, because this came into play more often.  With only a two player game, we rarely got a chance to pick up a cool ability from our opponent.

This is a look at the generic achievement cards.  The little number in the circle tells you how many points you must score before you can claim the card.  Consequently, that value is always five times the achievements number.

This is a look at the generic achievement cards. The little number in the circle tells you how many points you must score before you can claim the card. Consequently, that value is always five times the achievements number.

So how do you get more symbols?  You “splay” your cards.  While normally the cards you play completely cover the previous card, when splaying a group of cards, you fan your cards out in one direction showing the symbols that came before it.  This gives you a huge number of symbols in a hurry!   But you only get the benefit of the added symbols in this case, the abilities of the splayed cards are still useless, except for the one on the top.

So… the real question becomes “is it fun?”.  We had mixed feelings on this.  Our larger groups were certainly more fun then our two player games, because of the added interaction among players.  But ultimately what really put a hamper on our fun was the feeling of being “stuck” and getting soundly trounced.  It seemed like every game at least one person got “stuck”, meaning that the cards they were drawing really had no meaningful benefit to them.  Essentially they were stuck waiting for a good card to be drawn, and despite there best efforts this was a problem that persisted for quite a while.  This really zapped the fun out of the game.

The other fun killer was extremely over powered cards.  There are a handful of cards that really are just game killers.  One such game killer allowed me to draw and score a six point card every turn, which consequently meant I also got an achievement every turn.  The game was over three rounds later.  Another card allowed a player to take all of the lowest valued cards you had scored.  This isn’t so bad the first turn when it only takes out a couple of one point cards, but it’s a completely different matter when in a couple of turns they are taking out six point cards or higher.  This squished me to nothing and left me just waiting patiently for the game to end, as there was nearly nothing I could do in a a matter of a couple of turns to switch the situation back in my favor.   I’m not a sore loser, I even won with such a card once, but it doesn’t seem like one card should have so much power.  If a player can make an awesome combination of cards that does something like this, kudos to them!  But one card doing it takes away from the skill, and thus the fun.

Other then that, the game was pretty good.  There are a lot of neat interactions among the cards, and I like the way that progressing through the ages is handled.  The game held up to it’s relatively short play time, it took us on average right around that hour play time that the box quoted.  Except for when one of the power cards came out, the game stayed really close and no one could really accurately call a winner until the last cards were played.

Given that this was the first serious game I had ever played from Asmadi, I was pleased.  These are the same people who brought us “Win, Lose, Banana!” and “We Didn’t Play Test This At All!”, both of which are fun, but extremely silly games.  This is the first game with some meat that I have seen from them, and for a first attempt, I think they did a good job.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Friday, August 19th, 2011 at 7:17 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Resource Management Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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