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Subject: Innovation - My first review rss

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Simon Maynard
United Kingdom
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Preface

I thought I should preface this review by stating it's my first ever board game review. I'm used to reviewing the books but have never attempted reviewing a game. I've read a lot of reviews on this site since discovering it around 12 months ago I have pondered many times whether I could offer anything of value, anything different from the many others already there. I'm not sure but I'll try anyway.

Where I'm coming from

I discovered this game after asking for recommendations for games that combined depth with brevity, such as "Race for the Galaxy" that I had previously enjoyed immensely. This game was suggested several times and the fact that is a civilization building game made it stand out for my attention. Civilization building is a theme that I enjoy a lot but found that such games tended to have quite long play times (such as Through the Ages, a that which I've played on BGA and enjoyed immensely). I had not played any of Carl Chudyk's games before either but it appeared that he offered a unique approach to board game design.

Overview

The game is comprised entirely by cards which represent innovations throughout history and are grouped into ten different ages. In addition each innovation comes in one of five kinds (denoted by the card colour) so you can only ever have one innovation of each kind active at any one time. Also the cards contain a selection of icons (from six different types) that the players attempt to achieve dominance in (by having more of than any other player). Players progress by working up through the ages and bringing more powerful cards into play (superseding innovations of the same kind) yet these superseded innovations can come back from the past to bolster your icon dominance when you get to fan your cards out.

If you want a one line (but highly dubious) description: A marriage between Through the Ages and Fluxx.

Learning the game

I found the instruction booklet very well written (quite unusual apparently) and I picked up the basic mechanics of the game quickly. I didn't have anyone to teach me but the quick reference cards (that double as place holders for your points and achievements) most informative as a reference for the game terminology. Having taught several other people since I think they likewise quickly pick up these basics.

Somewhat less straightforward was grasping the concept of cards serving different purposes depending on whether they are in your hand, in your tableau, denoting points or achievements. Also not so readily apparent at first is understanding what you're trying to do, and how you go about achieving it. A new player might ask:

NP: How do you win this game again?
Me: You win by claiming six achievements.
NP: Then what are points for?
Me: For claiming achievements although some achievements can be claimed by meeting other conditions.
NP: Okay, how do I get points?
Me: You need to execute the right dogma effects.
NP: Okay, but I don't have any.
Me: No, you need to find them and meld them first.
(NP melds a card)
NP: Right, I want to execute that dogma effect to claim some points.
Me: Okay, but if you do I've got more leaf icons than you so I'll be able to do it as well.
NP: Oh, maybe not then.

Such is the variety of the cards and their effects that I think at least one game through is required before a new player really starts to get an idea of what how to play the game. They'll spend a lot of time in the first game reading the cards and scratching their heads wondering what to do with them. However, by the second game I find people will tend to have a much better idea and things will move a lot more smoothly after that.

Game experience

One thing I've noticed about this game is that each game plays out quite differently. In one game certain cards will seem really powerful and others completely useless but this can all change in the next game. Most cards are situational and can be powerful or weak depending on how many cards you (or your opponent) have in hand, the cards you've (or your opponent has) melded into your tableau, your relative scores and the balance of icons across the table. In addition, since some innovations are effectively taken out of play each game as they are used to denote achievements, the pool of available innovations is quite different each time. Hunting for particular cards can be a fruitless task, far better is to be flexible and adaptable, trying to find ways of making what you've got work for you.

I like games that present the players with plenty of choices. In each turn you can decide whether to draw or meld (play) cards, execute the effects of cards you've already played or claim achievements. One has to carefully consider what the opponent has on their board (for what they might do to you on their turn), and which icons you are dominant in so you can act with impunity against your opponent. I also like the fact that scoring points is usually a trade off with building up your hand, tableau or technological level.

I have played mainly two player games but also a few three player and a single four player game in which we opted for the team play variant and found it to work well in all cases. It's not quite as brief in duration is "Race for the Galaxy" but I can normally finish a game in about an hour.

Longevity

Such is the variability of each game that it will be a while before it grows stale for me I think. So far I haven't felt the need to get an expansion. Gaining enough familiarity with all the cards so that I can spot and utilise all the powerful combinations will take quite a few more plays.

Some people have bemoaned the fact that you it takes a while to become well acquainted with all the cards but I enjoyed that early time of discovery in uncovering new and interesting cards. Later this sense of novelty is replaced with an unfolding and growing understanding of the depth of strategy of this game has to offer.

Rating

[EDIT] Revisiting (three years later)

I still play this from time to time and still enjoy it although only really know one person who really took to this game and who always wants to play it. He bought his own copy and unfortunately it is the second edition Iello version which I can't stand. Why did they have to rename all the core game concepts?

I've still never gotten any of the expansions; I just feel that the original game has enough and doesn't need any more content (or added complexity).

My rating remains unchanged.
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Christian Morasse
Canada
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Very nice first review! You broke the ice!

And btw I totally agree with your thoughts on this game!

You make me wanna play it right now!!

Keep them coming
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M. S.
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Fried Egg wrote:


Some people have bemoaned the fact that you it takes a while to become well acquainted with all the cards but I enjoyed that early time of discovery in uncovering new and interesting cards. Later this sense of novelty is replaced with an unfolding and growing understanding of the depth of strategy of this game has to offer.


The thing is, and this may be related to most of the complains, that if you do not know the cards and additionally play this game for the very first time(s) you have the feeling that you are played by the game and there are not many things that you can influence...especially when playing for the first time with more than 2 people.

The more you play it the more you get the game "under control", because you know the cards better etc.

In general I really like this game but mainly as a 2 player game. I would also play the game with more than 2 people but 2 people in total are my sweet spot for this game.

BTW very nice review

Regards
Mario
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Simon Skov
Denmark
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Very nice review. I think you touch on many of the points that I find important about the game; the importance of adapting your play, how each game will play out quite differently, how the utility and function of cards depend so heavily on the exact state of the game.

After hundreds of games this is still fresh and enjoyable for me, and managing a particularly nice move - forcing you opponent to share in a dogma that cripples him or her, boosts yourself, and then drawing a card for sharing! - is still thrilling.

I do like the first expansion, especially when playing the four-player team game (in my opinion the only way to play four) where the cards in an age seem to run out so quickly. The extra cards from the expansion help pad the stacks.
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Simon Maynard
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I've just decided to start revisiting some of my old reviews and adding some comments regarding how well they have stood the test of time for me. Since this was my first review, I started with this one (see edited first post). Still a great game!
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