Innovation (2010) is a card game by Carl Chudyk, published by Asmadi Games (not to be confused with Asmodee).
You might recognize the name of the designer if you are familiar with Glory to Rome, the game for which Chudyk may be best known. Like GtR, Innovation is a card game with some very interesting and original mechanics. It is themed around civilization, which is pretty much a guaranteed buy for me. I have no self-restraint when it comes to civ-themed games; I want to try ‘em all!
In practice, Innovation turns out to be more of an interactive tech tree than a typical civilization game. However, to quote Kip Dynamite, “I love technology…”
Each of the 110 cards in Innovation is unique. Cards represent technological advancements that characterized human history as we know it. The game begins with techs like The Wheel and Agriculture, and in the most modern era, includes techs like Databases and The Internet. The cards are separated into piles, one for each “Age” of history (Ancient all the way up through the Digital Age). What’s more, 1 card from each Age is selected face-down and set aside as an Achievement to be earned with points, forming a sort of “kitty” in the middle of the table so the overall pool of cards in play cannot be known at the outset. There are also 5 “special” Achievement cards that can be earned by satisfying specific conditions, like having so many of a particular symbol, or having all top cards of a certain level in play.
That’s it. Just a big deck of cards, some player mats, and a lot of ’splaining to do…
Photo by Mikko Saari
Players’ general objective in Innovation is to obtain Achievements by various means. Picking up a certain number of Achievements is the primary victory condition of the game. Certain cards in later Ages have alternate winning conditions as well. The game also has a built-in “clock” as a winning condition, in that, if a player attempts to draw a card from Age 10 (the highest pile) and there are no cards left, the player with the highest score (not Achievements) wins. The alternate winning conditions add a tension to the game that I rather enjoy… multiple paths to victory and all that.
In play, cards come in 5 different colors, and each contains text describing particular effects listed on it along with an associated symbol, as well as 3 large symbols that add to the strength of a player’s tableau in those areas. These symbols, and the strategy behind stacking, are what makes the card actions so interesting. When a player plays a card of the same color as a card already in your play area, the first card must be covered by the newly played card, creating a stack, and thus concealing the pre-existing card. This is important, because in Innovation, when it comes to symbol counts and executing card actions, only the top-most cards count. However, there are ways to “splay” (spread) stacks of cards in various directions, which exposes 1-3 symbols on cards in the stack underneath the top card.
On a player’s turn, he can take two actions, in any order: draw a card from an Age pile into his hand, meld (play) a card from his hand to his board, achieve (take an achievement if the requirements are met), or take a dogma action allowed by a top card in his board. A player can achieve twice, achieve and draw, draw twice, draw and meld, etc.
That’s as far as I will go with covering rules specifics. Let me just say that while the rules are extremely straightforward, the cards are less so. However, in contrast to a game like Race for the Galaxy (one of my all-time favorites), there is no encyclopedia worth of iconography to learn – every card does exactly what it says, and the game uses a vocabulary that is very easy to get familiar with.
At the core of Innovation is the variety of special powers made available to a player by each card’s dogma actions. Dogma actions can break the rules in some pretty crazy ways, and yes, the potential for constructing card combos is pretty huge. For example, using the Paper technology with the Perspective technology is a combination that can create a formidable scoring engine. Believe me, there are far more, and many that I haven’t discovered yet.
Innovation is an almost purely tactical game. As it is a card game, luck of the draw is a major component, and there isn’t much getting around the very real possibility of a player top-decking his way to victory. The nature of the cards make wild swings of fate fairly prevalent, which is a double-edged sword: on one hand, a player can slap down a killer combo that lifts his civilization up out of the ashes, or even win the game outright. On the other hand, a player will sometimes be able to build up such a head of steam that he ends up being unstoppable, and rolls effortlessly for the win.
For some, this kind of chaos can be somewhat off-putting. It’s true that with a full complement of 4 players, Innovation can be very chaotic indeed.
For fans of other medium- to high-complexity strategy card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Race for the Galaxy, Innovation should be a big draw. It is very different from most other games of its kind, which makes it worthy of adding to most any game collection.
To date, I’ve played Innovation over a dozen times, and each play has been completely different and interesting in its own way. As you can see in my 2010 Retrospective, I am a fan of it. Innovation also won a Golden Geek for Best Card Game in 2010.