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Subject: It's so unbalanced, somehow it's balanced rss

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Brian McCormick
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My wife and I absolutely love Race for the Galaxy, and we're pretty fond of Glory to Rome and GOSU, too. The thing we enjoy about these games is how you can pull off insane card combos. We just....goodness! We freakin' love building up an awesome combo with our cards and unleashing it, and so obviously the above-mentioned games really resonate with us.

Innovation is made by the same gentleman who designed Glory to Rome, so surely we would rush out to buy this a.s.a.p, right? Well, Innovation has been out since mid-2010, and yet my wife and I have only just recently delved into its 105-card depths. Forgive our delay, but we've been too enthralled with other games.



Read this first:

I'll spare your time by addressing Innovation's biggest dividing line first. There's an aspect of Innovation that turns a lot of players away, so we might as well bring it out into the open.

Many people complain that you need to learn most/all of Innovation's cards before you can begin to mitigate the inherent luckiness of the card draws. This same complaint has been leveled against Race, Gosu, Glory to Rome, Dominion, Kingsburg, and pretty much any game with dice or cards. Okay, I'm not trying to downplay this complaint, because there are people who hate the idea of learning the cards before they can dig deeper into the game.

So, have you played Race or Glory to Rome, and did you hate the luck of the card draws? Did you hate how you had to learn the cards before you really "got" the game? Or, did you give up on the game because you could never manage to memorize all of those different cards? Okay, okay, then I'm sorry to say that Innovation is going to be no different. This probably isn't the game for you.


Are they gone yet?

Hey, did those Glory to Rome-haters leave the review?

Did those anti-Race for the Galaxy jerks get out of here?

Is it just us?

Okay.


If you love building crazy card combinations, then Innovation is going to be your new favorite game. It takes the so-unbalanced-they're-balanced card combos of Glory to Rome and cranks it up a notch. You have abilities that let you steal multiple score-cards from your opponent, or cards that let you annihilate every card in play. The game is very swingy, and there will be games where your opponent rushes to victory while you're still struggling to build Age 5 cards. However, most games will be found somewhere in the middle, where all players are evenly-matched and victory is given to the one who is clever enough and lucky enough to pull it off.

I'm not saying the swingy-ness is a bad thing. I'm just saying it is. For you to love Innovation, you need to embrace the chaos. Once you are more familiar with the cards, you'll see more viable paths to victory, but the chaos is still there and you can't always count on building your perfect card combo. Sometimes, you have to compromise.


courtesy trenttsd

Wait, how is this game played?

Glad you asked. Innovation takes you from the prehistoric age (Age 1) all the way to the modern information age (Age 10), and players add various technologies, ideas, and discoveries to their board. These technologies aren't just for show. Each card has a unique power that can be used on your turn. Though you'll have a max of 5 powers to choose from each turn, you'll be adding new powers and covering old ones up throughout the game, so don't get too comfortable with your early-game combos.

This is a way that Innovation sets itself apart from its predecessors. Unlike Race or Glory to Rome (where an early-game combo can be built upon throughout the entire game), Innovation requires you to adapt your strategy as old combos disappear and new ones materialize. It makes the game far more dynamic. You might have had a sluggish start, but a mid-game or late-game combo could lead to victory. And you can't get too cocky if you have a really good early-game combo, because it won't be able to last the entire game, and an early lead can easily be overcome.

Innovation is won in a couple of ways. The most straightforward way is to try to draw a non-existent "Age 11" card and then players add up their scores to see who wins. This right here is a good example of how flexible Innovation can be: usually, you attempt to draw an "Age 11" card when the Age 10 cards have run out. However, there are card abilities that - for instance - let you return one of your scoring cards and gain one that is two points higher in value. If you happen to return a 9 or 10 card, you'll attempt to draw from the non-existent "Age 11" pile and it'll trigger the end of the game.

Another way to end the game is to claim your sixth Achievement. No, you won't add this to your Xbox Gamertag. It's a card that requires a certain number of points to claim. This method of winning is also fairly straightforward, but there are special Achievements that are more difficult to gain.

There are other ways to win, too. There are cards that essentially say "If you have such-and-such, you win" or "If you have such-and-such, the game ends". Glory to Rome had a few of these sorts of cards, but Innovation adds a few more. Of course, you'll be comboing and updating your board of cards constantly, so it's very satisfying to claim that sixth Achievement or that imaginary "Age 11" card for the win.

Innovation's game-end condition places a fair and balanced (Fox News) frame on the game, regardless of players. In games like Race or Glory to Rome, adding more players means adding game time. In Innovation, a session takes 30-45 minutes (sometimes a bit longer) regardless of how many people are playing. That's because if you have more players, the cards will run out more quickly, hastening the game toward the finish line. Not a lot of games can claim to play in the same amount of time whether you have 2 players or 4 players, so I have to give Innovation a special nod in this department.

One big complaint: even if you like the crazy card combos, Innovation suffers from some bizarre terminology. Throughout the game, you will tuck, splay, meld, achieve, and use dogmas. I appreciate creativity, but I would have liked it if Mr. Chudyk used "normal" terms like "add on top" instead of "meld" or "activate ability" instead of "use dogma". Once you learn the game, the terms won't be a hinderance, but it does feel a bit weird, as if the designers used different terms simply for the sake of being different.

Another complaint: the rulebook can be just as much of a hinderance as it is a help when trying to reckon some smaller issues in the rules. For example, I was trying to figure out how to "splay", but it isn't even addressed until the last third of the rulebook, and even when it does show up, you have to look up an example at the beginning of the rulebook to figure out which direction to splay your cards. If you apply some common sense, you can figure it out, but it can be a bit frustrating for your first few plays.


courtesy MyParadox

But if I already own Race, or Glory to Rome, or...
Don't worry. Innovation doesn't feel like a raw duplicate of its predecessors. It's not better than them, IMO (Race is still my personal fav), but it's as good and as unique. It can happily co-exist with the other games of this style.

Of the games I mentioned, Innovation seems most like Glory to Rome, but the resemblance is still like that of a distant cousin. Glory to Rome feels very mechanical, almost "Euro" in its building construction and gradual build-up of Influence. Innovation is far more fluid, because combos will be coming and going, and you can never quite count on a single way to win. In Glory to Rome, you can usually pick a solid strategy within the first few turns and stick to it. In Innovation, you can change your strategy on the fly. Indeed, to win a game of Innovation, you usually must change your strategy on the fly.

The verdict?

I already told you that my wife and I love Race for the Galaxy, Glory to Rome, and Gosu. We also love a lot of other card games like Warhammer: Invasion, Dominion, Thunderstone, Citadels, and Arcana. We have a lot of card-based games, but with us, you can never have "too many" card games. We're happy to welcome Innovation into the family. It does a lot of things we love (crazy card combos), and it...well...innovates the basic formula in a way that keeps it distinct from our other card-based games. There's an expasion to Innovation, too, so I can't wait to see what sort of crazy new combos the expansion introduces.

For a deck of 105 cards, Innovation is unbelievably dynamic and replayable. If you enjoy Race for the Galaxy or Glory to Rome, this should be the next game on your "to try" list.

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Snowball
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Very Nice and informative, thanks
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Eric Seymour
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Aurendrosl wrote:
Innovation suffers from some bizarre terminology. Throughout the game, you will tuck, splay, meld, achieve, and use dogmas.


As a veteran card player, I'm sure you're aware that "meld" has been around as a card game term for a long time, particularly in Rummy type games. The author could have used "lay down," but it's not quite as precise. But I do agree that "dogma" was a strange choice. I played this tonight with a friend who owns it, and we found ourselves awkwardly trying to use "dogma" as a verb (I'm "dogma-ing" this card...) Toward the end, we started just using "activate" instead.

Nevertheless, nice review.
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Armando Gurrola
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Excellent review. Glad I added this to a game order that will likely ship in a few months. Can't wait to play it!
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Bryan Stout
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eseymour wrote:
Aurendrosl wrote:
Innovation suffers from some bizarre terminology. Throughout the game, you will tuck, splay, meld, achieve, and use dogmas.


As a veteran card player, I'm sure you're aware that "meld" has been around as a card game term for a long time, particularly in Rummy type games. The author could have used "lay down," but it's not quite as precise. But I do agree that "dogma" was a strange choice. I played this tonight with a friend who owns it, and we found ourselves awkwardly trying to use "dogma" as a verb (I'm "dogma-ing" this card...) Toward the end, we started just using "activate" instead.

As a very short overview, I tell newbies that for possible actions, you can:
- draw a card,
- play a card,
- invoke a card, or
- claim an achievement.
Then, looking at the mat, I show that "meld" means "play", and that the "dogma" is the effect on the card that is invoked.

I agree that the terms do sound a bit splay at first sight. As an adjective, "splay" can mean awkward, oblique, but as a verb it means to spread at an angle, so I like its use here a lot. "Tuck" is also fine, but "meld" doesn't seem the best fit, though I'm not sure what other word I'd use instead, to mean "place on top of its pile". "Build" doesn't quite fit either. I prefer a single word with a new technical meaning to a phrase (such as "put into play") at any rate.

But it doesn't take long to get used to these terms. Mapping them onto the simpler terms above makes it easier.

The Iello edition will be changing many of these terms because of their initial awkwardness, but that raises its own issues of confusion between different editions.

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Randall Bart
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Barliman wrote:
I agree that the terms do sound a bit splay at first sight.


Indeed they do.
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Mikko Saari
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Meld is an excellent fit, if you've ever played any rummy game.
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Bryan Stout
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msaari wrote:
Meld is an excellent fit, if you've ever played any rummy game.

I have, and that's why I say it doesn't quite fit. The term normally means organizing a set of cards from your hand into a matched set -- typically of the same rank, or of a sequence of ranks within a suit. Melding in Innovation is placing a single card onto the stack of its color, or starting such a stack if it's not there yet. The color stack can be considered a meld, so it's close, but the fact that you play single cards from your hand, not a set of them, makes it a little off. Not a lot, but a little.

As I've said, I prefer "meld" to any alternative I've heard so far.
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Mikko Saari
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To me melding means the act of playing the cards in the table. You also meld, when you add one card to an existing meld on the table - that very much like what you do in Innovation.
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Vince Lupo
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I think it's great fun even without knowing all the cards. I say, keep playing cards until something cool happens and keep doing it or find something else cool to go with it.
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Bryan Stout
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Neo42 wrote:
I think it's great fun even without knowing all the cards.

I agree! So with newbies, practically the first thing I say is that there are a lot of different cards in the game, so you can't expect to be familiar with them for a while, but that's OK since the act of exploring the game is a lot of fun in its own right. Having the right expectations about the game is crucial, so they don't get frustrated and quit after a game or two.
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Stian Kristiansen
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I read "Read this first:" and then stopped reading. This is not a game for me. Thank you for getting straight to the core of the game, so I could quickly judge if the game fits me or not. Here's some gold for the effort.
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