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Professor's Cat
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(Edit: added highlights and notes and fixed typos.)

Disclaimer: I know I repeat many points of negative reviews which some people really don't like to see. I knew there are criticisms before buying this game for certain personal (unrealistic) hopes, knowing I'm probably not its target audience. Some seem to think people who are not the intended audience should keep quiet, but I think my points are at least somewhat novel, and I want to be constructive, find out what works and what's lacking in this game to a wider audience, and perhaps how to solve it, if only because I think the ideas have much more potential and people who have different preferences (say, don't have much time/like steep learning curve, don't like main strategy out of control, don't like counting/memorization) also deserve a nice science and civilization game.

About myself: I am more of a speculative fiction/video game geek(my current favorite is Dwarf Fortress), though would sometimes play other games and have hanged out at BGG unregistered for quite a while for game ideas. I found so may things that interest me and yet so many things wrong with this game, and my short notes so quickly grew into pages and pages of rant, that I feel I may as well say it and see if it resonates with anyone.

Recently I thought it's good for at least trying to capture mechanically 100+ of real innovations with nothing but cards(I don't like managing lots of components), so got a copy despite criticisms saying it's too tactical and no long term strategy, needs familiarity of all cards, and is generally unthematic. And after reading the content carefully I have to say they are right. Yes I haven't played this game. Don't get me wrong, I don't claim to know all there is in a game without playing, but I haven't got friends to play this one. People around me seem to prefer more intuitive, easy to pick up games, like myself. Here are my first impressions from attempts to "get" this game, as a possible way to explore the progress of science and society.

At first glance I thought the game tries to faithfully reflect civilizations and effects of innovation, through a set of abstract but meaningful symbolism. I thought red cards are territory/military/expansion, green are society and culture, yellow economy, blue science, and purple politics or religion. And the icons seemed like they have clear meanings. But as you probably all know that's not really true, and I came upon card effects and combinations of them that are puzzling to explain thematically, to say the least. Not because the art is abstract - I actually prefer abstract art, because more realistic art gets boring eventually and detracts from gameplay unless done really well(my experience - I am picky about looks), and abstract art rarely goes wrong or gets old. It's just that many cards seem like they reflect how the namesake technology works, if very abstractly, but when put together in comparison I realize the icons and cards in areas weren't intended to represent any real thing consistently at all, leading to unintuitive results. For a while I just picked up random cards and tried to construct a story that explains what happened in the game world, often to no avail. And then I realized depth and width of rules does not equal thematic faithfulness. There's a reason why reviewers called it abstract and even dry. The colorful icons really don't correspond to any definite thing.(edit: Clipper pointed out there are explanations of icons and cards: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/921765/cards-theme But as to how they form a consistent picture together, I'll let everyone come to their own conclusions. A recurring pattern is that the same cards in the same places seem to represent concrete things and abstract knowledge in different situations.)

And that's a big bummer personally. I thought this game has promise for it has 100+ unique cards with rules for so many different things. Now it turns out they don't represent those things, so much as to "shout out" to or symbolize them, like in a dreamy ritual where logic, conservation of stuff, and object constancy all went out of the window. Never mind why one civilization can't use technologies discovered by another actively, or why people would be so short sighted as to all but forget about past discoveries even if direly in need, or the fact that primitive achievements count as much as advanced ones... You get the idea. Yes it is silly to expect a game to capture civilizations accurately with a few types of icons only - but the promise of a faithful and elegant panorama of scientific development was what made me try this game, and one can always dream.

I remember when I looked the universe achievement card and somehow got a picture of nations looking to the stars as new territory despite only just having discovered rockets. "The stars, our destination," they seem to be saying, not knowing what difficulties lie ahead. I like the romantic yet cynical aspect of looking smugly down at imaginary people as they discover and grow proud and fumble, sometimes costing lives or planets, in the safety and comfort of our information-era lives. Yes I love flavor. Actually, I love good flavor. An optimistic, inspired or even propaganda-like tone with occasional boring, cold-hearted or sinister implications would be awesome for the theme.

Then I started reading rules and trying out the steps. The setup looked troublesome as cards would get mixed in play and there are so many of them, but there's a bigger logistic problem: text is small and complicated and hard to read across the table but knowing what your opponent's cards do is crucial. Again, forcing players to commit so many card rules to memory(or accept not knowing what can happen next) sounds like a bad thing to do, and I find it difficult to find players around that can put up with that.

Then comes the central mechanics: splaying. I thought splaying represented a kind of general maturity or methodology in an area - left could mean simple speculations and brute force, right could be balanced, conservative approaches, up could imply enlightened, automated approach... But I'm reading too much into it as the splaying seemed hard to set up and too easily lost, if that was their intended explanation. And the fact that a pile can only splay in one direction felt weird, I know it's meant to symbolize revolutionary stuff but it made the civilization somehow lose weight and inertia.

Yeah, inertia(or lack thereof) is a major complaint with this game. Often it feels like there's no long term goal and you do what's least bad right now, judging from the drastic effects of cards and other reviews. It makes the big picture of science and progress feel utterly aimless. Scores, board and hand can all easily be lost, and you have little idea what can happen next. I realize some people like this tactical aspect, but I have to ask, what's a civilization good for if its people cannot have long term dreams and stand up for their lifestyles? Not that tactical play is bad, but I don't like the civilization theme paired with pure tactics mechanics as opposed to strategy. It's unintuitive, completely unlike how an author fondly plans out an epic destiny for her galactic empires, or how real world scientists dedicate themselves to a lifelong vision(which is admittedly a short time in the big picture, that could give an illusion of control or purpose). It's more like how political leaders have to deal with all kinds of inventions and dangerous new issues, both inside and outside, that they don't (and don't bother trying to) understand and can hardly predict, and are slowly driven crazy by doing whatever they must to help the country survive. Maybe this is intended and is really fun. But not to me.

I think it's polarizing mainly because of the make-do attitude; people who like discovering and building their favorite strategy will find the tactical, take-that interactions frustrating because you don't get to be really efficient in an aspect you like. I don't understand how this allows for different strategy like some say: insofar that nothing can be taken for granted and you must roll with it to win, there's only one real strategy, that of not being attached to any strategy, and your style has much less say on the game's progression than the luck of the draw. This game allows too little personal style because of the lack of permanence. Worse, what's permanent - historical achievements - feel out of place in a game about technological innovations. The overall progress is also mostly permanent, and the level 11 winning condition is a welcome alternative, if also ad-hoc. Not every science person buys into that singularity belief, especially the version that basically any advancement from today's status quo would trigger a global cataclysm that inevitably wipes out all but one winner. Not me at least.

These complaints are not unexpected at all, and I'm not really dismayed, but thought hard to try and find a solution for myself and anyone who might be interested, which is why I am sharing my opinions here. I hoped the game would capture realistic science development in an elegant abstract system, but that could be impossible. There are simply too many aspects to fit into a list of colors and symbols that's short enough that players can tell apart. I want a game with lots and lots of truly different cards that are well-balanced. But that could be an oxymoron, as usually such games can only balance them to the extent that everyone may get them and every card is broken so nothing is dominant. I would like to make meaningful decisions in mechanically emergent gameplay, neither controlled nor chaotic, neither railroaded nor wide open and confusing. But that is hard to get right, as innovations tend to be paradigm shifters, and who knows what really is permanent in a fast-paced technological world like ours.

But I noticed that there's one complaint that underlies them all, that I can find no excuses for, that other critical reviews had foreshadowed and I didn't fully understand, and is where this daring game really breaks down.

That is, I expected to pick up a science-related game and walk away improved, as a better person with more insight into science and our wonderfully innovative civilization, and this game fails to deliver that. (Edit: Arguable as I haven't played; you are welcome to give examples of real world insights in gameplay) It doesn't feel like what it's claimed to be, and worse, it feels like there wasn't a real attempt at it, or maybe they started out wanting to implement multiple aspects of civilizations and then someone threw up their hands and stopped trying to make the colors and icons and areas have definite meaning, very early on. They are just content to implement their clever mechanics and make a statistically balanced game and didn't care about the theme or feeling, and that's where complaints of abstraction, lack of control, dryness and lack of personality really coming from.

Lack of realism is not usually complaint worthy for a boardgame, but it's made all the worse by the theme. Unlike Chess and light party games that never promised realism, this game uses clever ways to try to recreate "a journey through humanity's ideas and advancements"(edit: it says so on the box), but due to a mixture of abstract format limitations and dubious mechanical decisions, the numerous cards don't work like their namesake concepts in real life and never will. The learning curve problem is also related to this mismatch between theme and gameplay. In my experience with simulation games, what can happen at any given point would be more or less expected by a new player, if they try to translate common sense into the game. Not here. You have to learn what the cards do anew, and intuition is no help, and is even of negative use in predicting the numerous mechanical interactions that have no correspondence in real life. If there are deeper explanations to the types of icons etc. that make sense in reality(I have not found one), then the rules and the introduction did an unsatisfactory job at explaining it, because that's a very important step in making the game emotionally satisfying and have a smoother learning curve.

So someone complained that new players are really at a disadvantage, even if they are smart; while others say it's just because they are new players, and the game needs more time - but isn't this a flaw, reflecting the fact that it substitutes its own ad-hoc metagame for understanding of real civilizations? I think abstractions can be good, but the ad-hoc stuff invalidating real-life strategies is an objectively bad thing, because it is real life insights and beliefs that I hold dear that are behind those intuitions and personal strategies. I'm not saying player intuition must be followed by games, actually a good game should prove some preconceptions wrong, provided it makes the revelation all the more worthwhile by challenging my intellect and opening me to new insights into the real world topic at hand. When players make mistakes in this game they hardly have that kind revelations. They learn more of the metagame which is nothing like making innovative breakthroughs in reality, because it's a kind of mundane, fuzzy thinking tied down by circumstances, has no generalization or permanence; not crisp, crystalline and awe-inspiring, not general laws that once you discover through creative work you can always benefit from and build even more ideas upon, like in real science.

Some say the critics are thematic inclined players preferring experience to winning. True, I feel less compulsion than many to win a game just because I started playing, and I see nothing wrong with that. Though I can play abstract games and care about winning, a game must first earn that care by providing good experience. If a game uses some elements but doesn't offer the right experience it would be rightly criticized as having a pasted on theme. The selling pitch of the game was not a mechanically balanced abstract exercise, so saying you need to understand this game before it gets strategic is no excuse. Most players who would pick up a game about innovations already understand more of those concepts than this game can enlighten us, and are not doing their brains a favor trying to understand those cards and risk conflicts with existing understanding of how the real world works, thank you. (Edit: Again, I am not afraid to make it very clear that I haven't played this game as it is, because I believe my analysis is logical and stands nevertheless; still I'd like to see examples of in-game moments that give you insight into real civilizations that prove me wrong.)

I would like to end on a more optimistic note, and ask if there are known alternative games or house rules that may satisfy more thematic, strategic players. I'm looking into variants and solitaire rules and will come back when and if I can get a game played. If nothing else comes up, I am thinking of a variant that makes more use of varying topology of the cards created by splaying - five piles that splay in one direction each seems too restrictive to represent a diverse in-game world. There's no ulterior motive involving the fate of science and humanity, in-game or otherwise. Maybe.
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Jason Reid
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It seems like you've more or less figured out what the game is, and it's not what you were looking for. Fair enough.
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Simon Maynard
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A thoughtful review and I just wanted to comment on one particular aspect of it:
Quote:
Yeah, inertia(or lack thereof) is a major complaint with this game. Often it feels like there's no long term goal and you do what's least bad right now, judging from the drastic effects of cards and other reviews. It makes the big picture of science and progress feel utterly aimless. Scores, board and hand can all easily be lost, and you have little idea what can happen next. I realize some people like this tactical aspect, but I have to ask, what's a civilization good for if its people cannot have long term dreams and stand up for their lifestyles? Not that tactical play is bad, but I don't like the civilization theme paired with pure tactics mechanics as opposed to strategy. It's unintuitive, completely unlike how an author fondly plans out an epic destiny for her galactic empires, or how real world scientists dedicate themselves to a lifelong vision(which is admittedly a short time in the big picture, that could give an illusion of control or purpose).

It is interesting that in civilisation themed games people have come to expect to be able to form a long term view and to tailor their civilisation according to their plans. And certainly one can't do that in this game but I would argue that it is Innovation's haphazard and tactical approach to progression that is actually more like the way civilisations develop in reality. In real life, nations and societies are not long term at all; they are very focused on the short term and getting the edge over their contemporaries in any way they can at any given time. The future always has been highly unpredictable with unexpected events occurring that force nations to progress in unforeseen ways.

Individual scientists may well have long term goals but I don't think science as a whole does. Innovation (the game) probably captures the reality of how it progresses in the long term more accurately than games such as Sid Meir's Civilisation series (which ironically has shaped people's expectations about what people want from civilisation themed games, not to mention been responsible for a deeply misleading portrayal of linear scientific progress).
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Jorgen Peddersen
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Have you seen this thread where we came up with a general thematic description for all the icons, colours and dogma effects within the base set? It seems to be what you are asking for in much of the argument about the theme.

Yes, the cards are still quite abstract and some of the cards are a little harder to justify, but there is a logic to most of them.
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Alison Mandible
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It's awesome that you posted a deep reading of the game's symbology and approach to its theme. But...

You haven't played it at all.

There are things you just can't pick up by reading the cards. You have NO idea about dozens of more subtle experiential things, like how long a culture tends to milk one particular technology or advancement before changing its focus-- contrary to some of your comments, I would say the game is actually unrealistically static; in the right circumstances, you can have a renaissance society that's still progressing twice as fast as their neighbors because they've mastered The Wheel.

I'm not saying you should reconsider; it sounds like you would hate the game if you did play it. I'm saying, while the unusual step of reviewing a game without playing it even once is slightly less ridiculous on you than it might be on some other people, you're still talking about a lot of things you can't know. You've guessed right about more things than most people would. But you're still guessing wrong a lot.
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Jason Reid
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grasa_total wrote:
It's awesome that you posted a deep reading of the game's symbology and approach to its theme. But...

You haven't played it at all.


Cripes, yeah I missed that in the wall of text. Given that he hasn't played the game, this criticism really comes off as hollow:

Quote:
That is, I expected to pick up a science-related game and walk away improved, as a better person with more insight into science and our wonderfully innovative civilization, and this game fails to deliver that.


If you're not going to even play the game, and you expect to walk away improved, then I suggest what you're really looking for is a science textbook instead. /sigh.

There is plenty of insight into the advances, rise and falls, and disruptive impact of science in this game. But you can't get that from just reading the cards. You have to play the game.
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Ian Kissell
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jasonwocky wrote:
grasa_total wrote:
It's awesome that you posted a deep reading of the game's symbology and approach to its theme. But...

You haven't played it at all.


Cripes, yeah I missed that in the wall of text. Given that he hasn't played the game, this criticism really comes off as hollow:



I'd really recommend doing some formatting to make your review more readable. It's a lot of text without a lot to distinguish between parts. Breaking it up a bit more would be helpful.
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Ali Cali
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I really liked reading your post. It's nice to see what you desired from this particular game, even it doesn't measure up to what you want.

A few comments I wanted to make:

1. There is an overall strategy, but it flows with whatever resources you have. Generally, you either (1) go up in age faster than others to have better technology, (2) score and achieve quicker than others, or (3) build up your board to not share your stuff, demand from others, not be demanded back, and share in others' actions. I find that players end up following one of these three arcs (and possibly two if they are really doing well). However, the best players don't predetermine which arcs to follow; the available resources (cards) usually dictate.

2. While I did not learn a lot about individual cards from the base game, I enjoyed the Figures expansion, where there were a lot of historical figures that I looked up to learn what they were about.

3. If you want a strategic game that is more thematic and whose actions make sense in a historical context, you probably want a different game. My favorite is Through the Ages, which has much more strategy, but does not have the variety of cards represented by Innovation.

4. If you find variants to Innovation that make it more fun or thematic, please post them! I know there was someone who made a solitaire variant, but since my wife likes this game, I don't need to use it.
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David desJardins
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sciencecat wrote:
I would like to end on a more optimistic note, and ask if there are known alternative games or house rules that may satisfy more thematic, strategic players.


No. It's like trying to figure out how to play a simulation of WWII with a chess board and pieces. This isn't the game you're looking for.
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Professor's Cat
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Thanks for the thoughtful feedback! I know my bars are way too high, as a thematic yet elegant game would be the holy grail to many. As you are so nice to defend politely why you like this game, I should really try to make it more clear what that holy grail look like to me...

grasa_total wrote:
contrary to some of your comments, I would say the game is actually unrealistically static; in the right circumstances, you can have a renaissance society that's still progressing twice as fast as their neighbors because they've mastered The Wheel


Maybe that's true as I haven't played, or maybe it's just an unfortunate side effect of the (in my opinion dubious) mechanism of having all unique technology cards that can't be activated by opponents. I know this is like trying to simulate WWII in chess but one of the variant ideas I tried was making some basic technologies persistent and public. Not sure how that would work out though, as I don't even have players for the base game.

Clipper wrote:
Have you seen this thread where we came up with a general thematic description for all the icons, colours and dogma effects within the base set? It seems to be what you are asking for in much of the argument about the theme.


Thanks! I missed that in so many topics... It's interesting how everyone came up with slightly different interpretations, with blurred boundaries that it's hard to say where a new concept should belong. Might be a good thing, as civilizations really can't be classified neatly into a few aspects. But not so good if mechanically the colors and icons are important and distinct, as that makes that delicious ambiguity confusing when playing to win.
 
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David desJardins
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sciencecat wrote:
Thanks for the thoughtful feedback! I know my bars are way too high, as a thematic yet elegant game would be the holy grail to many.


With thousands of board and card games you can play, of course you should be looking for games that are perfect for you.

It's not a matter of a "high bar" or "low bar". This game is perfect as it stands. There's no reason to change a thing. It's just the wrong game for you, it's not even close to what you're looking for.
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Professor's Cat
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Fried Egg wrote:
It is interesting that in civilisation themed games people have come to expect to be able to form a long term view and to tailor their civilisation according to their plans. And certainly one can't do that in this game but I would argue that it is Innovation's haphazard and tactical approach to progression that is actually more like the way civilisations develop in reality. In real life, nations and societies are not long term at all; they are very focused on the short term and getting the edge over their contemporaries in any way they can at any given time. The future always has been highly unpredictable with unexpected events occurring that force nations to progress in unforeseen ways.

Individual scientists may well have long term goals but I don't think science as a whole does. Innovation (the game) probably captures the reality of how it progresses in the long term more accurately than games such as Sid Meir's Civilisation series (which ironically has shaped people's expectations about what people want from civilisation themed games, not to mention been responsible for a deeply misleading portrayal of linear scientific progress).


Good point! I haven't played the Civ boardgames, being more of a video game person. I agree that the way that Civ games work is unlike how a human leader runs a nation, and more like an deliberately epic story. And Innovations tried nobly to break away from that limitation, putting players in the shoes of a desperate political leader of a people ever on the brink of extinction.

But I have to remind you that both the Civ games and Innovations were supposed to be about civilizations, not societies and nations which are much more ephemeral. Civ games are exactly what it says on the tin, and Innovations has words like "humanity" and "civilization" on the box. Obviously there's a distinction between leading a nation politically and leading a civilization through technological advancement, and as a science person I very much prefer the latter.

This might be why many people intuitively prefer an epic plan of civilizations. It's more about science and hopes than politics and struggle for survival that way. It is less accurate because a civilization does not have an immortal leader's will, but players could prefer playing an immortal hero more than a mortal president for the enlightenment and exaltation alone. It's the sweet allure of "planning like you live forever" like researchers seek intellectual immortality in science.
 
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Alex G

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sciencecat wrote:
It's the sweet allure of "planning like you live forever" like researchers seek intellectual immortality in science.


As a working scientist and fan of Innovation, I can say:

1) Innovation is not what you're looking for.

2) For good and for ill, scientists don't really mostly get to do that, either. I'd say playing Innovation, in some ways, is much more like doing real science than something where you get to choose a master strategy at the very start and stick to it.
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David desJardins
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Even my friends who have Nobel Prizes in science didn't get them by starting with a plan and executing diligently on it for decades. They mostly put lots of irons in the fire and one of those many happened to pay off.
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Professor's Cat
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alexd wrote:
sciencecat wrote:
It's the sweet allure of "planning like you live forever" like researchers seek intellectual immortality in science.


As a working scientist and fan of Innovation, I can say:

1) Innovation is not what you're looking for.

2) For good and for ill, scientists don't really mostly get to do that, either. I'd say playing Innovation, in some ways, is much more like doing real science than something where you get to choose a master strategy at the very start and stick to it.


I'm not surprised by the fact there are actual scientists playing this game, but one that came out so quickly. I'm just a student, obviously. Care to elaborate why you like this game, and how it sheds light on science or is similar to what you do?
 
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David desJardins
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sciencecat wrote:
I'm just a student, obviously.


It's not obvious who you are when you don't complete your profile. I've worked both as a scientist and an engineer.

The actual practice of science is most characterized by the lack of control you have. You're trying to understand and describe the real world, and the world turns out to have its own rules, which you cannot control, you can only respond to. You perform an experiment or observation, and it gives you some information, and what you do next must necessarily depend on that information. It's rare that you have a plan that you can pursue for years or decades without responding to discoveries that change what you want to do.

Say you've been studying gene expression, and then suddenly someone discovers RNA interference or CRISPR/CAS9. Now you've got a whole new tool to use. The research you're going to do now is different than it would have been before, and in an unpredictable way (if you didn't know these tools might exist, you couldn't know that you were going to adapt your research to use them). If anything, Innovation permits more planning than science does. You can learn what cards are in the decks, and make plans based on cards that might come out, not just those that you've already seen. Science might be more like your first play of Innovation when you don't know any of the cards.

Engineering is more strategic than science; often, you know what the rules are, and you're trying to accomplish some goal (bridge a river, launch cargo to space, generate renewable energy, whatever) in the best possible way. So you might execute a long-term plan over a longer period of time. Maybe you should be an engineer. :-)
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David desJardins
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BTW, studying science is very different from doing science. When you're studying science, for the most part, you're being taught a succession of topics that build on each other in a logically coherent way, because someone has gone back through the history of discovery and chopped off all of the loose ends and reordered everything in the most pedagogically appropriate way. But that's generally not much like how the science was actually discovered in the first place. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that I think instructors and textbook authors make is to follow the historical development, to include topics just because they seemed important at the time even though subsequent discoveries or methods have made them largely obsolete, and so on.
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Patrick Riley
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DaviddesJ wrote:
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that I think instructors and textbook authors make is to follow the historical development, to include topics just because they seemed important at the time even though subsequent discoveries or methods have made them largely obsolete, and so on.


Teaching science, specifically physics, through historical development is incredibly useful because you can start with easier, simplified, base concepts and grow in complexity from there. You wouldn't want to skip over Newtonian Mechanics and jump right in with General Relativity or start with Maxwell's Equations before you described the works of Coulomb or Volta. In fact, describing the greatest "failed" experiment--the Michelson–Morley experiment--is really informative to how science works (and is a nice gateway in describing how gravitational waves were discovered). When teaching atomic structure, describing the various theories and experiments that shaped our understanding of the atom is informative, even if the "plum pudding" model is obsolete.
 
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David desJardins
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xenongames wrote:
Teaching science, specifically physics, through historical development is incredibly useful because you can start with easier, simplified, base concepts and grow in complexity from there.


Obviously, you can and should start with simpler and more basic concepts and proceed to more advanced concepts whether or not you follow a historical sequence. That said, the historical sequence is just not always the most logical or pedagogical sequence. Michelson-Morley is an excellent example. I think the people who call this a "failed" experiment are thinking about science all wrong (or just seeking to be provocative); the more unexpected the result of an experiment, the more successful it is. That said, modern physics instruction should spend essentially zero time even considering the concept of the luminiferous ether---there are perfectly reasonable reasons why people believed in it for many years, and the process by which they discovered their error is indeed instructive about the philosophy and history of science, but it's just a distraction for students who are attempting to learn how things actually are, to spend any time learning about how they aren't.
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Russell Martin
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To me, this "review" (and I use that word in quotation marks as I don't think it belongs in the Reviews forum) seems much like someone trying to describe the taste of a strawberry pie by only reading the recipe and, much more critically, having never tasted a strawberry!

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Peter S.
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I do have one very, very big beef with the original post, and I want to apologize in advance in that it did really get under my skin, and my tone may sound more aggressive or rude than I am intending. But, to have spoken my mind:

sciencecat wrote:

But I noticed that there's one complaint that underlies them all, that I can find no excuses for, that other critical reviews had foreshadowed and I didn't fully understand, and is where this daring game really breaks down.

That is, I expected to pick up a science-related game and walk away improved, as a better person with more insight into science and our wonderfully innovative civilization, and this game fails to deliver that. (Edit: Arguable as I haven't played; you are welcome to give examples of real world insights in gameplay) It doesn't feel like what it's claimed to be, and worse, it feels like there wasn't a real attempt at it, or maybe they started out wanting to implement multiple aspects of civilizations and then someone threw up their hands and stopped trying to make the colors and icons and areas have definite meaning, very early on. They are just content to implement their clever mechanics and make a statistically balanced game and didn't care about the theme or feeling, and that's where complaints of abstraction, lack of control, dryness and lack of personality really coming from.

Lack of realism is not usually complaint worthy for a boardgame, but it's made all the worse by the theme. Unlike Chess and light party games that never promised realism, this game uses clever ways to try to recreate "a journey through humanity's ideas and advancements"(edit: it says so on the box), but due to a mixture of abstract format limitations and dubious mechanical decisions, the numerous cards don't work like their namesake concepts in real life and never will.


In short, the game neither owes you a "better" game because it decided to use the advancement of civilization as a theme, nor does it need to excuse itself for taking this theme for an abstract game. Feeling mislead by the box copy is fine, but your criticism really comes off (to me) as implying that science-themed games must attempt to provide "insight into science and our wonderfully innovative civilization" if they're going to take this theme, or should otherwise choose a different theme. Choosing to use a theme in a way other than you would prefer is not a failing of the game.

Further, the game's designer may well make different mental associations among and between these concepts than you do. As noted, despite its abstract nature the use of the iconography is at least considered and does follow patterns - they are not "wrong" for following a pattern that's inconsistent with the associations you perceive. Similarly, others may well feel that they have "journeyed through humanity's advancements and ideas" even if you do not believe you will (or, more specifically, believe that only a game that "plans out an epic destiny" should make such a claim on its box).

This is compounded by not having played the game, in that as much as some associations, colors, icons, etc. may make less sense than they should in the ideal, these could very easily be due to playtesting revealing that in order to make the game work better as a game, some of these needed to be altered from what a "pure" conceptual representation would have been. I say this noting that the game is on its third edition and I believe changes to both the rules and cards have been made in each edition. A game must, in most cases, compromise between the concepts of its theme and the conceits of its mechanics, and again, this is neither a failure of the game nor something that needs either apology or excuse on its part.

It's clear that you would like a "better" game than Innovation, and you've explained very well what would constitute "better" for you. However, to couch this explanation of a grander game you would prefer to see as criticism of this smaller game as it exists right now is... as mentioned, it got under my skin. I don't believe it qualifies as criticism, as it becomes only a list of things the game does not do (or chooses not to be), not an examination of how the game could do those things better. A constructive criticism is not a list of greivances but a set of suggestions that you believe would improve the piece under critique.
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David desJardins
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ErsatzDragon wrote:
It's clear that you would like a "better" game than Innovation, and you've explained very well what would constitute "better" for you. However, to couch this explanation of a grander game you would prefer to see as criticism of this smaller game as it exists right now is... as mentioned, it got under my skin.


He's a student. When you were 20 you probably had some big ideas too.
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Professor's Cat
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Well, abstract inclined gamers can defend the game all you like, but the needs of other people are also real. This review is mainly written for people who would like more theme in return for mental investment, and anyone who would like to understand how such gamers might react to the game and help them, as someone have expressed that this game has "mysterious lack of personality" and I was trying to analyze what the root cause is for the benefit of those gamers(including any such gamers attracted to science games and stumble upon this one in the future). As for improvements, I'm sorry for not being able to figure out a solution as of yet, but that shouldn't be surprising as I'm not a boardgame designer and the issues I have with it are deep in its design, having to do with the whole symbolism and what kinds of things can/cannot be represented in such a structure. It's not like I didn't try.
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Alex G

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sciencecat wrote:
I'm not surprised by the fact there are actual scientists playing this game, but one that came out so quickly. I'm just a student, obviously. Care to elaborate why you like this game, and how it sheds light on science or is similar to what you do?


I mostly just meant that (most) science is pretty tactical, within a large "strategy" that's more in the line of choosing which game you'll play. While my general field is a strategic choice (made long ago, with little opportunity to change it radically without paying a big cost), and some other choices are "strategic" in a board game sense (how often to meet with grad students, how much to attend conferences), much of the real, and interesting, work consists of something like a card game. Through the process of knowing a lot, thinking a lot, and/or having good intuitions out of the blue even in an area you're not expert on, a scientist such as myself will end up with a "hand" of ideas to explore. Some are actual hypotheses, others are ideas about things that it would be a good idea to investigate, without a hypothesis, or a novel way to frame an experiment. You don't have time, nor do you have enough students, to actually "play" all of these in the short run, and if you delay on some, they may eventually become irrelevant, or you just may never get back to them. So you choose where to put your attention, with publication of results that contribute to the field being equivalent to achievements.

Other people may feel this is a weird way to look at it, but that's my perspective from somewhere past tenure and past the 2500 citations point on Google Scholar.

That said, I don't think Innovation actually sheds much light on science, and it isn't really very similar to what I do (even limiting that to the "science" parts, ignoring grant-hunting, administration, management, etc.*); however, that applies to more strategic games, and games intentionally about the scientific process. Alchemists has a nice parody of science, but again -- there's not really any science that you do by systematic deduction.

* a friend of a friend once said that being a professor mostly consists of writing new versions of your resume, tailored to different audiences, once a week, forever -- an exaggeration, but she had a point.
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Armand
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sciencecat wrote:
It's not like I didn't try.


Yes it is. You didn't try.

Play the game, then write a review.

You're studying science. Didnt you learn to do the experiment before you publish the results?

I appreciate quality b.s. as much as anyone, but your brand isn't so refined you should start believing it yourself.

Finally, regarding your 'sharing tech' idea: Stop trying to house-rule Chudyk. You're in over your head, young man.

(Note to self: insert positive statement and emojis here before posting so people don't feel obliged to defend this nonsense. Possibly praise OP's use of the word crystalline?)

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