Thoughts on Innovation

Jason (JA): Innovation is a two to four player card game – there’s no physical board itself, but it plays like a board game. It was published by Asmadi Games in 2010. We’ve all played this game a bit, but haven’t looked at it from a design perspective before.

Aaron (AR): I’ve played it at least six or seven times. It’s nice because it’s fast, generally not too difficult to learn, although the instructions are terribly written, and people seem to enjoy it because it’s not too competitive.

Jordan (JO): One thing that sticks out for me is that it’s always different. Every game is so different and I think that’s probably due to the very fast-paced nature of the game play. It’s one, maybe two turns until you’re into the next age, so things move quickly. It’s very easy for someone–by chance of combination–to skip two ages ahead. You get to see a fair share of the cards, but there are only a few card effects that come into significant play in any given game, so you really do get a different experience each time.

Mechanics

AR: On your turn, you have two actions: you can achieve, use an action, draw a card, or play a card. But besides achieving and activating a card, everything seems a little weak. Drawing is slow because using cards often lets you draw and do something else. This motivates players to try out these new, wacky actions that everyone can do.

JA: Most of the time I’d say that games end by people gaining enough achievements or victory points, which you’re competing for throughout the entire game.

JO: From a design standpoint, the game suffers from poorly-written rules, and clunky visuals. I’m not saying the game is bad, but it could use streamlining. Even the words they use to indicate an action are poorly chosen – what is a splay or a meld? Part of game design is to get players comfortable with how the game environment work, and the easiest way to do that is go the simplest path possible with language.

AR: I think there’s a good level of interaction in this game. While you’re only playing on your board, you can attack others, but you can only do that once, twice per turn. Comparing your symbols to the ones on other people’s boards also offers a nice way for you to interact at all points in the turn, even though you’re not playing cards yourself.

JO: The whole game is based around those fun things that allow you to make crazy things to happen. You get excited when you have something ridiculous happen that gives you a a lot of points.

AR: The designers create exceptions to rules because they want an epic win where something magical happens. That’s kind of the feeling I get with these really random win conditions. You can’t predict that, you can’t plan that, but if everything aligns, it feels really satisfying.

Thematic Elements

JA: I think the game is based around creative-driven design. I wouldn’t be surprised if the designers came up with the names of the cards first, such as The Wheel and Atomic Theory, and then assigned rules. It’s also reflected by how certain states work – you start to be able to destroy castle icons once you get gunpowder, and overall, it’s generally reflective of technology advancing at an increasing rate.

AR: The pacing of the game is interesting. It starts out fairly slow, but once you get past age seven or eight, everything turns to chaos. What you had going on before playing your age ten card doesn’t really matter. It makes you kind of think – is that balanced?

JO: There’s a very evident sense of the game changing pace as you go along. You have castle icons in the beginning and time icons at the end. With many games that are age-based, the end is kind of glossed over and I don’t get to experience the complexities as much as I like. I get that the point is that technological advances move at an exponentially rate. I understand what they’re doing, and I like that toa degree.

JA: Part of the design impetus is to give the feeling that you have to keep building your civilization and replacing old tech. You can never become complacent with one particular card, because there are hard counters, or because it becomes obsolete. I think your previous decisions not mattering so much is completely appropriate for the theme of this game.

Similarities to Other Games

AR: I might describe this game by its opposite. It’s very different from Citadels. Citadels is very calculated and everyone plays a different role. Also, once you’re behind in Citadels, there is no catching up.

JO: I like the game, it fits the design intent, which is a more complicated Fluxx that fills a similar slot in that it’s not too difficult to learn or too long and has a bunch of combinations. It is a smarter game than Fluxx. Fluxx frustrates me to no end and I hate it – this is the Fluxx I would like to play. It’s smarter on the interactions, it’s more strategic and it’s more fun.

JA: I think this is a game of adaptation and flexibility. I don’t think this is anywhere as random as Fluxx, where you really have no idea what’s going on. I think you’re rewarded for your good decisions more here, but you’re right, it is “swingy”.

AR: It kind of feels like Race to the Galaxy in some way, since you’re building something on your board. But in other ways, it’s completely different – there’s zero interaction in Race to the Galaxy.

JA: And interaction is crucial to this game – it’s at the heart of the design.

Kudos and Critiques

AR: I’d be lying if I said I never got frustrated when playing this game. I really do enjoy the game for the most part, you just have to have a mindset that this isn’t a game of chess where you can predict what will happen next.

JO: I like it for what it is, which is a fun, quick game. It does allow for really fun things to happen, which I think is one of the primary design intents. And I think they prioritized this over a balanced, careful design.

JA: They’re frustrating at times, but I really like the game’s resource mechanics. The resources and different elements there are pretty cleanly executed, but so much of the game relies on splaying later on, and I think there are only so many options to do so later in the game. And if you don’t get your splays down early, you become reliant on winning through an age ten card.

JO: Because your resource management and creation are so dependent on the cards in play, it’s hard when you don’t get a card that allows you to score or tuck a card.

JA: Regardless, I’m always excited to see what’s next to come. The designers made the game in such a way that every card, more or less, is exciting.

AR: I think it could have used a bit more careful play testing; they could have kept some of the same elements of randomization and the feeling of being on a train barreling down a hill not being able to stop. I would have probably kept out a few cards and made the game a little less crazy at the end. But overall, I really like it.

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