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Innovation: Figures in the Sand» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A stream-of-consciousness response. rss

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Alex Brown
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I am writing this review from the perspective of three two-player games without Innovation: Echoes of the Past.

I am very experienced with two-player Innovation, playing regularly online and face-to-face and having played base game and games with Echoes in many, many times.

Implementation and Feel

The reptilian green of the new cards is slick but can blur with the brown of the base game a little for those with trouble seeing colours. The new card size isn’t really a factor though the new box doesn’t leave a lot of room with all three issues packed in. It certainly won’t carry sleeved cards, and it’s inability to hold each iteration’s cards as separate entities is an oversight in my mind. There’s a lot that goes into box design for board games, so I don’t want to be too critical. If you liked the minimalism of the first two sets you can still get that with the new box, but you won’t get anything more. I’m hoping the fourth release will allow for Innovation players to be able to pack in sets without heaping cards from different issues on top of each other.

The physical space the game plays follows suit as similarly unoptimized. While there isn’t really much more room needed than Echoes, for those who haven’t played Innovation with expansions the game has become much more of a boardgame now than a card game. With room needed for splays, achievements, age piles, etc. you need a well-organized play area and I don’t think the game gives you that out-of-the-box. The game really needs something like a small shelf to dispense age cards from at least, and my experience with both expansions leaves me unwanting to play all sets together without a stronger tactile organisation.

The abstraction of the Figures astounds with the creativity we now expect. At a time where a retread like Clash of Cultures books new Cultists for the New all over again, the originality and execution of the theme in this expansion should not go uncovered. Figures casts the spotlight on a varied and modern list of influential personalities whose contributions are mostly cleverly represented within the established ecosystem of the game. Although the usual suspects get their caricatures, it’s pleasing to play a game where scientists and political activists are as accessible as warmongers and dictators.

It’s reasonable to argue Innovation has never been a game built on it’s spatial aesthetics. The new cards take up a lot of space but you can tell the focus has always been on design rather than function. Even though I’d like to have both, I’ll always take creativity if I have to choose. Anything that keeps costs down is appreciated as well!

Mechanisms and Dynamics


Accessing Figures is easy. It seems hard when read, but it’s easy. In fact, both methods provide direct catch-up mechanisms, eliminating any argument that Innovation enables runaway leaders (when really it just enables people who understand scoring to beat players who don’t-but, I digress...). Now you are encouraged to share a lot, and the benefits are immense. To me, this makes the game much more enjoyable as both players are constantly trying to work out what they can get away with giving up to get a leader. Where in the past you might play to your symbol or tech lead in the mid-game, now you play all five piles much more often. The standard achievement bonus is a nice touch, even if rarer, and allows a fast start via too much luck (Metalworking, Clothing, etc.) to be pulled back by a quick Decree. Overall the methods established for accessing Figures involve a lot of anti-hedging bets, something the real world could use a little more of.

The continuous effects provided by the Figures integrate very smoothly for anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering or any of the collectable card games with rules structures influenced by Magic. The ‘static’ abilities are easily understood and benefit greatly from the design decision to restrict Figures to singletons, as the replacement effects would complicate an already very complex game if multiple Figures superceded the basic actions. My regular face-to-face opponent (whom has never played Magic) picked up this new wrinkle easily, though several times in the first two games we had multiple Figures as top cards before noticing.

The tilt towards needing to give a little to access Figures, combined with only being able to have one in play at any one time, provides a manageable level of new information without overcoming the plausibility of the base game cards. Although a single Figure can dominate the board, it always feels like a new Figure will come along with bigger and better ideas. Of course the last Figure is often the one that wins, but the game manages to surf the fine razor between providing superfluous fluff with the personalities and being too powerful if more than one could be played. Bravo.

Inspire effects are fun but a bit tacked-on. These effects are certainly marginal to the main mechanisms and felt to me as if they were trying too hard to simply not be Echo effects, to which they share superficial similarities. If you didn’t like the host of extra mechanisms in Echoes, then Inspire will annoy you. It doesn’t add a lot to the game’s strategy space but unfortunately is another category of rules you need to know to play well. Overall, if you like Echoes, and love a chaotic game of Innovation, the more the merrier, but for mine Inspire doesn’t.

The new achievements, and how to achieve them, are complex. However, unlike Inspire, I think this type of complexity really adds a lot to the game. They are very swingy, and I would imagine in multi-player they would change hands a few times too. Having to remove your hand to play them is clunky but also necessary: it means you often telegraph you are trying to Decree, but your opponent can’t really be sure of which one. If you are a competent competitive Innovation player you will know that the vast majority of close games are won by special achievement access, and I really appreciate how the new Figures specials are accessed differently than the Echoes extras, which tended to double the value of big-tuckers or splayers.

Judgements

For someone who loves the complexity and creativity of Innovation, Figures is a no-brainer. The ‘everything is broken so it’s balanced’ style is still there, and it’s all still broken-but-balanced. The new Figures make it feel even more historically intriguing, as several Figures are new to boardgame abstraction and give a much more modern take on who’s who in social evolution.

If you were someone who didn’t like how Echoes changed the base game, then I doubt Figures will be much different for you. If I had to choose, I think Figures is more interesting thematically, but with less control of the strategy space than Echoes. Unfortunately, I think the development of this set was in error in including the mechanisms of Echoes, as I can empathise with anyone who doesn’t enjoy Foreshadow despite liking it myself.

Overall, Figures (and Innovation) is brilliant like siphoning a trillion dollars from governments to build a particle collidor is brilliant. It’s a battle of ideas rather than territories, a contest between forces you can hardly see let alone control, but all-in-all it feels like something terribly important comes from it all. Even if it’s just a lot of fun to smash it all together and see what happens.
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Alex Brown
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I'm a big fan of Echoes and my attempts at persuasion would be centred on it creating a different type of game than the base game alone. Although I enjoy the mechanisms I see the complaints as to their finickiness. Still, the base game alone can become too much about early dominance after a while, whereas Echoes renews the cavalier, which-card-wins today feel you have in your first thirty or forty plays of the base game. I definitely don't think Echoes is a more skillful game than base game alone, at least not strategically.

I was suprised by the move towards different card and box sizes given how little they really improve anything. I prefer the game to remain spartan and cheap than to turn it into a faux board game through accessories, but I did expect a little more functionality. I like the shelf idea.

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Jon Ward
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Let me congratulate you on a very well-written discussion on this game. Innovation was one of the first games I was introduced to when I got into this hobby, and it one of my favorites. I was surprised and pleased with the newness this expansion provided, instead of just more Echoes. I like the non-share aspect of the Inspire effects, but I'll have to play more to see how I really feel about them.

Your explanation here provided me more to think about when considering which permutation of Innovation to play when it hits the table next.

Though I have really enjoyed Figures (Innovation is best with both expansions based on my limited experience), the rheostat is really amped up on the amount of brainpower required when adding both in. So I imagine we will probably continue to play mostly base game while throwing in Figures every once in a while for some added excitement and variety with the new cards.

I appreciated your words so much I'm subscribing to/bookmarking this post for easy access in the future.

Cheers and ciao.
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Rolante N
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Alex Brown wrote:
Inspire effects are fun but a bit tacked-on. These effects are certainly marginal to the main mechanisms and felt to me as if they were trying too hard to simply not be Echo effects, to which they share superficial similarities. If you didn’t like the host of extra mechanisms in Echoes, then Inspire will annoy you. It doesn’t add a lot to the game’s strategy space but unfortunately is another category of rules you need to know to play well. Overall, if you like Echoes, and love a chaotic game of Innovation, the more the merrier, but for mine Inspire doesn’t.


Inspire can be thought of as another way of providing "catch-up" or preventing runaway. If you need to seek out a new top card for your board to deal with your opponent you used to have to take the weakest action in the game, Draw, to try and get something. I feel like Inspire is a way of dealing with the fact that Draw is a crappy action to take.
 
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Alex Brown
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Although I agree that Drawing should always be the worst action to take, Inspire only gives you a card from your top card in that pile.

There were a lot of people who thought Echoed added a lot of needless complexity. I think Inspire falls into the needless category, whereas the new achievements are enabling.
 
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Nate Owens
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I agree that inspire actions feel a little underutilized. The real strength of Echoes was how thoroughly integrated it all felt. Figures doesn't quite feel as fleshed out, though I think it works best when all three sets are in play.

It's a good expansion, but I think it pushes the whole franchise right to the limit in terms of complexity. At this point, further mechanics might feel like so much noise. But so far so good, for the most part.

And don't be too hard on Clash of Cultures, because it's a pretty terrific game too.
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