Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A war of ideas (Clans, Ra, Scrabble Slam, Innovation x2)

Work prevented me from arriving on time last week, so I missed the first few games. The group was kind enough to play a number of short games until I arrived (Clans, Ra and even Scrabble Slam!) where played, though I do not know the details).

When I did get there, Bharmer perused the games I brought and selected the newly acquired "Innovation", casting aside Troyes and Junta- Vive el presidente! Shemp promptly added "Y'all have got too many games", and we were off.


I read the rules. I reread the rules. I played a few hands. I still had no idea what was going on, or why. Mostly, I didn't know why. I was afraid that a four player game would lead to certain brain asplosions.

I really like the designer's previous game, Glory to Rome. It's a kind of managed chaos. Despite similarities to Race for the Galaxy, I doubt anybody would describe the experiences as similar. The game plays quite differently each game because of the variety of possible super combos that inevitably come out in the later game. Innovation has a similar barely contained chaos but the games are distinctly different.

Innovation is about the evolution of great ideas through different periods of history. It's a card game, and every single card represents a different idea. At the start of the game, all the cards are grouped by era and each stack is placed in a circle. All players are dealt two ideas from the prehistoric era and the game begins. Players get two actions per turn, which can be to draw a new idea, to play a new idea or to activate an existing idea. The meat of the game is in the activation if ideas... Each player's tableau of active idea cards will feature a number of icons, and each time a player activates an idea it's necessary to compare how many of the pertinent icon each player has. If it's a beneficial idea, any player with equal or m ore icons also get the effects. If it's an aggressive idea, players with equal or more icons are immune. One of the main, ahem, innovations of the game is the concept of "splaying" cards. An idea that permits the splaying of a stack of cards allows a player to slide all the cards in a stack to the right, left or top. This allows a number of icons from the cards below to be seen, and the revealed icons then count as forming part of the tableau... Very powerful.

So,it's a game about creating synergy between ideas. As expected, some of the powers become quite powerful and can create unexpected combos. One thing we hadn't expected was that some earlier ideas can become quite powerful if all other players move on. For example, Shemp discovered that in the beginning, when everyone has "plant" icons, a card based on them can be hard to pull off. However, as players move on and everyone else starts to shed their "plant" icons in favor of science and industry, it's much easier to dominate in that field. To win, one player has to claim a certain number of achievements (however there are cards in later ages that provide alternate win conditions, so if you are behind you could always make a rush for those).

Although there is some effort made to tie the card's powers to the idea it represents, between the abstraction and the bland cards it's hard to feel the theme in the game. Still, from a gameplay perspective I quite enjoyed it. Chaotic, definitely, but fun. Also, not nearly as hard to grasp or play as I had thought.

I will say for the record that Shemp destroyed as in both sessions. This is untrue, of course, because Kozure and I each won a game, but since I miss reported a few of his wins in previous weeks this will be my olive branch.

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