Gamers inherently love tech trees. Don’t you just love it when Leonard Nimoy starts talking in Civ IV, signifying that you just learned how to use a wheel? We all love that. It’s one of the driving forces in all civ-based games.
It’s the absolute reason the card game Innovation exists. It’s one big tech tree on individual cards broken up into various ages. That’s literally it. There’s no real “theme” here at all as you aren’t playing a specific “civ” or anything like that – it’s just a bunch of technologies with crazy powers jotted down on fairly ugly drab brown playing cards. When you look at Innovation from a distance it is absolutely impossible to consider that it might actually be enjoyable. Spartan does not begin to describe this game.
Then you sit down to play it.
And you’re hooked.
More after the jump.
Mechanics are fairly simple, although a bit confused at times due to weird lingo and the fact that some of the powers of the techs are a tad nebulous. You start with two “Age 1” techs – stuff like Tools, Mysticism, or Oars and from there you are allowed two actions per turn. Actions include playing cards, drawing cards, claiming achievements, or using the powers on cards already in your display.
The game confuses this a bit by calling these actions “Melding” (playing a card from your hand onto the table) and using a card’s power is dubbed using its “Dogma”. Once you get past the verbiage hurdle playing the game is pretty easy and after you have a few sample runs under your belt you can play a game in about 30-45 minutes regardless if it’s a two player game or with as many as four. The game’s pace is quick, but in order to reach this level of breezy play people are going to need to know the cards because there is, during the first few plays, a lot of card analyzing and early games can suffer from analysis paralysis as a result.
Cards do all sorts of nifty things, although sometimes you will be hard pressed to understand why a specific card does what it does in game terms. In a game of Civ, the wheel opens up wheel-like stuff. In Innovation, you may play something like the Age 6 tech Emancipation and wonder why the card does what it does. You’d have to ask the designer, Carl Chudyk, why all of that stuff is particularly emancipating. This is the reason that the theme here is basically non-existent. Still, just imagine you’re doing something about freeing people when you play that card and move on.
Let’s take a look at this specific card because it has a lot of stuff that’s crucial in understanding how Innovation works.
See all those icons on the card? They’re important because they allow you to play “demand” cards (like this one) and also affect your ability to share techs. For example, this card is a factory icon card, which you can see because it has that little factory symbol next to its two powers (and because it has two factory icons on the card compared to one light bulb and one generic icon.) That means you need to have more factory symbols visible in your display than another player in order to play this “demand” tech. So if another player has a lot of factory symbols they can tell you, “Piss off we aren’t emancipating anyone!” For those with fewer factory symbols the card’s ‘Dogma’ is activated.
The other important term on this card is the term ‘splay’. Normally, when a tech of the same color as an already “melded” card is played it simply is placed on top of the old card. Thus, early age techs become obsolete. “Splaying” cards allows you to spread out cards below the new ones in order to show more icons, which is a crucial element in strategizing because the more icons you have showing, the more things you can do to other players.
As you can see, this game can get downright vicious.
The symbols also come into play with non-demand cards, which can be shared throughout all players. So, let’s say you want to play Agriculture (which is a ‘leaf’ icon card) and other players have as many leaves showing as you do. Well, that simply means they get to use Agriculture too, and while you will get a free card draw as a result of this, still, everyone gets to use that power before you do. No fun for you. This back and forth creates all sorts of tension as you may want to play a powerful tech but then one of your opponents across the table looks at you as if saying, “Yes please play that. I could use it.”
Innovation is an incredibly sneaky game. It’s the sort of game that when you first sit down and start playing (sorry, melding) cards and using powers (er…dogmas) none of it makes much senses and it’s almost like the game is playing you. But after you work through a few games everything starts to click.
I also like the fact that every game of Innovation feels a bit different – some techs will show up one game and not the next as the game mechanics ensure that some techs are out of the game entirely and that others must be sacrificed as “scoring” cards. So one game your opponent may blister you early with repeated use of the Metalworking tech and in the next the early game might be dominated by Agriculture or the discovery of Currency and the later age techs (Rocketry, AI, Robotics, Stem Cells) are just ridiculously powerful and can turn the tide of a game in a heartbeat.. As a result, replay value is extremely high, especially with 3-4 players.
I can’t recommend Innovation enough. It’s easy enough to learn that you can teach it in a matter of minutes but will take exceedingly longer to get a full handle on how best to play it.
You can grab Innovation from the company website (make sure to email them to verify availability) or at many online retailers for around 25 bucks. I’ve never seen the game at a brick and mortar store, but your mileage may vary.
(Apologies for the quality of the pics. I snapped them with my phone today.)