My venerable first-edition copy of Innovation, circa 2010.
How do you distil all of human history into a game? How do you inscribe all of our knowledge and learning upon 105 cards? How do you condense millennia of scientific progress and technological innovation into a 30-minute-card game called Innovation?
With genius, guile, and a game designer called Carl Chudyk. You might have heard his name before. He is the genius board game designer behind Glory to Rome.
What's this game about?
- Designer: Carl Chudyk
- Publisher: Asmadi Games (3rd ed)
- Year: 2010.
- Game time: 30-60 minutes.
- Players: 2-4.
- Recommended for people who like Civilization, Age of Empires, history, technology or science.
Innovation is the second game by Carl Chudyk. Compared to Glory to Rome, it is grander in historical scope, simpler in execution, moderately less confusing, and (arguably) more delightful to play.
Yet Innovation is immediately familiar to anyone who's played Civilization. You're the science adviser for your people, and your job is to shepherd the technological advancement of your civilisation, navigating the rise and fall of ideas, and the power that each successive technological age grants, from prehistory to the nuclear bomb and beyond.
Technologies are divided into ten epochs or ages from Prehistory, via the Renaissance and the Enlightenment all the way to the Information Age. They're loosely grouped into five classes: blue (science and research), green (trade/transportation), yellow (food/medicine/population), purple (philosophy and culture) and red (military/industry). Cards of the same colour are played on top of each other in a stack (stealing canasta terminology, the game refers to it as a meld).
Gameplay is simple: on your turn, perform any two actions. Two of the same action are permissible. Actions are:
- draw a card
- meld a card (put a card down on the stack of the same colour)
- score (pick up a victory point card, if you meet the right requirements)
- doctrine (perform all actions written on a card)
Like Glory to Rome, cards are multi-purpose, but it's a great deal less confusing. For the most part, you'll be drawing cards and playing cards as technologies. On the front of each card is a technology that provides one or two actions (called dogmas), and three symbols, which might be castles, leaves, coins, lightbulbs, factories and clocks. Accumulating these symbols is essential to playing the game well.
Having more of these symbols than an opponent lets you 'follow suit' or copy their move when they play an action on one of their technology cards. Eventually stacks of cards can be splayed, meaning you fan out cards to the left, to the right, and then up.
This provides you with increasingly more symbols. Some dogmas are direct attacks on other players. In this case, you may only attack people with less of the requisite symbol than you. Cards can also be collected as points, and there are actions that let you move cards between your hand, your score pile, and your played technologies.
As you go, you score points. The number of points you have will ebb and flow, but having a requisite number of points will let you claim victory cards. There are special achievements that are won by meeting certain conditions (such as collecting colours, or symbols). The person who gets to a certain target of victory cards wins the game.
Even the biggest fan of this game will admit that the game doesn't look like much. The first edition looks like something designed in Microsoft Paint. But once you start playing, you realise the amount of thought, planning and design has gone into the game.
There are subtle touches: there's not just five colours of cards, but five different symbols, an feature for the colour-blind. Games with five times the art budget don't stop to do this.
The typography for each of the ten epochs is well-chosen. The placement of icons is precise, and is an important part of the gameplay.
Importantly for something with this level of precision, there's no ambiguity. The gaudy and colourful second edition, published by iello, highlights exactly how excellent the design of the first edition was.
Another subtle but significant touch in the game is the humour laced throughout. My favourite card is Nuclear Fission, which you can invent in the Postmodern Age. If you successfully carry out the dogma on that card, almost all cards in play are removed or reset, which hamstrings everyone: technology reverts to the prehistoric age. Basically, you've now entered a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland and have to start again. But there are lots of other clever things. If the AI card is played and Robotics and Software are out, then the least advanced civilisation wins, just like in Battlestar Galactica.
Innovation doesn't look like a thematic game—it looks like one of those abstract Euro games, but time and time again, it comes back down to the theme. There are dozens of clever touches that make more and more sense the more you think about them.
Part of the joy of drawing and playing new technologies is that joy of exploration and discovery. Not only are you figuring out how each card works functionally, but you're also connecting the dots and seeing how the game works thematically.
And work, it does.
Should you play this game?
If you like Civilization, Age of Empires, or other games that track human history, then you'll love Innovation. if you're a fan of history, or the development of science and technology, you too will love this game.
The game requires some amount of patience to figure out what's going on, but unlike Glory to Rome, after 2-3 turns, you'll figure out what's going on, and after 5-6 turns, you'll be making good progress. The game scales slowly, so in the early turns, decisions are easy as your options are limited.
As your technology stack grows, your decision space grows too, but so will your competency. The game is more accessible than it looks, but it does require some language skill, so I wouldn't be playing it with primary-school age kids.
I highly recommend it, it's been one of my favourites since I first played it, and I will never turn down a game of Innovation.
How can you get it?
Unlike it's predecessor, Glory To Rome, Innovation remains in print. Indeed, the Third Edition of Innovation featuring updated artwork has just been released via a Kickstarter campaign. Most backer copies have been distributed, and the new third edition is now in most serious board game stores.
Additionally, a sexy black Deluxe Edition was released which includes all released expansions, Echoes of the Past, Figures in the Sand, Cities of Destiny and Artifacts of History.