Innovation: 3rd Edition Review - Controlled Tactical Chaos

OK, technically this is a bit of a cheat! Some very astute readers may have read the title and gone "hang on a minute, you've already done this game!". Of course that means you've read my reviews since 2014, so when I say "astute" I mean, maybe the one lifelong member that reads this blog! However that one person would be right, because I indeed already reviewed the IELLO version of Innovation 3 years ago - but I won't say my opinion of it, you'll have to read it to find out!

Asmadi however were the original creators of Innovation and they use a more abstract approach to their graphic design and styling, whereas IELLO was more artistic and colourful. Both have their pros and cons, but most people prefer the look of the IELLO version. Well now Asmadi recently did a Kickstarter for the Deluxe Edition of Innovation to co-incide with their 3rd Edition reprint. It seems that very little has changed from before though aside from a few keyword tweaks and some minor alterations to the graphic design.

It's however very difficult to get hold of the IELLO version any more and no more expansions will be coming from them. So if you want to play Innovation, you need to look at this new 3rd Edition. But should you? How has this game held up since 2014? Let's give this one another look. . .  


Designer: Carl Chudyk
Publisher: Asmadi
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-60 Minutes
RRP: £19.99


From Board Game Geek

This game by Carl Chudyk is a journey through innovations from the stone age through modern times. Each player builds a civilization based on various technologies, ideas, and cultural advancements, all represented by cards. Each of these cards has a unique power which will allow further advancement, point scoring, or even attacking other civilizations. Be careful though, as other civilizations may be able to benefit from your ideas as well!
To win, you must score achievements, which you can attain by amassing points or by meeting certain criteria with the innovations you have built. Plan your civilization well, and outmanoeuvre your opponents, and with some luck you will achieve victory!


I MISS MY ARTWORK


OK, let's not beat about the bush here. Asmadi has always stood on the foundation of being pretty basic with their graphic design and artwork. IELLO for the 2nd Edition on the other hand want everything to be pretty and made a very colourful version. For the 3rd Edition, we're back to Asmadi's norm, but there have been some improvements on the graphic design and look over the original. It's clean and easy to tell what's what on each card, but yeah, unless you're a Splotter fan this aesthetic won't be appealing.

Being cleaner however does mean it's a little easier to teach. . . mostly. The rulebook is pretty clear on all the key rules with very good pictorial examples of the dogma effects and what it means to splay cards left, right and up. I also would like to give Asmadi special credit for including a couple pages at the end giving a good example of how to teach Innovation to new players. I've not seen that before and I think other publishers could benefit from this, especially those who just dump a giant rulebook for a heavy Euro on us and expect us to sort it out.

However they've stuck to their odd terminology for basic actions, which is a pain. For example instead of "Play" which IELLO used, we have "Meld". . . . .why? Was "Play" really that bad or do royalties get paid on using the word "Meld"? The player aids are enough to ensure that there isn't too much confusion though so we're not talking Netrunner levels of obscurity. But really obscure terminology is something publishers should be avoiding in their games now.




THERE IS NO STRATEGY, AND THAT'S GOOD


Many games will involve tactics, but usually give you the opportunity to have a strategic game plan from the word go. For example you could play a civilization game going full military, but how you get there might be influenced. Innovation is just pure tactics throughout. You cannot form a strategy in this game period. Try it and see. The way the dogma effects interact off the players prevents you from setting long term goals. You have to be able to adapt on the fly, react to your opponents tableau and seek opportunities when they come up. And I can't get enough of it. This kind of game sings to me, I don't have to plan a hundred turns in advance and I don't have to spend 3 hours of my life seeing if one particular strategy works or not.

The dogma effects are what make the game and every single card is unique. Don't worry about the thematic connection because it isn't here, but deciding on the best way to utilise these abilities is fun in itself. Do you want to use your Atomic Theory knowing that the opponent is also going to benefit? Will it be better for them than yourself? Do you fear attack because they are hogging all the crown symbols, if so, do you muster a defence or take the hit and retaliate with something else? You'll be surprised how many important decisions you'll make over the course of one game and the game will differ depending on what cards come out and when.

I wouldn't go as far as to call Innovation a "mean" game, but be aware that there are a mix of co-operative and aggressive dogma effects. And there's nothing but your own cards to stop the opponent from utilising an aggressive dogma over and over again if it benefits them each time. So if you're down and don't think of a solution, you may get kicked in the stomach again. Games are usually quick enough though that you're not feeling the after effects for too long and you may even get a chance to repay them for their less than friendly card play towards you.



BALANCING CHAOS



Some tweaks have been made to the cards for 3rd Edition, but these are all very minor changes - in fact you would probably have to pain-stakingly inspect each card from both editions in turn to spot them and a lot of them are mostly to do with wording/phrasing as opposed to a balance fix. Certainly don't feel you need to get this if you own a previous edition already. I do wish perhaps they would have made some of the special achievements easier to get as they can be quite tricky. Sadly there's no extra cards compared to previous editions so you will see the same ones popping up in subsequent games - be on the lookout for expansions to assist with that.

Games of Innovation are very quick generally especially between two players. 30-60 minutes is pretty accurate for game length, but be warned about including any slow players. The tactical nature of Innovation and all the effects lends itself to analysis paralysis and it is for this reason that I almost never play Innovation with 4 players unless everyone knows what they are doing and it's a team game, which surprisingly is actually a cool way to play as it reduces the amount of chaos slightly compared to 4 players out for themselves.

Essentially the more players you have, the more chaos that may ensue from dogma effects. This is quite fun to witness however and so I don't mind a 3 player game for that reason, but Innovation is always at its best with 2 players or 2 teams. If you think that 4 players is all you'll do, then you won't get the best out of this game.



VERDICT ON INNOVATION


I loved this game back in 2014 and I still do now. It's a highly underrated card game that is wonderfully tactical in nature and great for combo builders among us. Games play very differently and repeated plays lead to greater mastery over the cards - if like me you like having to adapt within a game without being punished for it, this is as perfect as you can get. The theme is non-existant, but for a game that is done with in less than 45-60 minutes, that's something I can put up with. It's an abstract card game through and through and should be approached as such.

The graphic design is decent, but it's not going to win any artwork awards ever. The IELLO version looks a lot more colourful and if you prefer that and can find a copy, I strongly recommend you grab it, but if you're happy with Asmadi's stark look that admittedly is a little cleaner, then by all means pick up the 3rd Edition which is in a much smaller box for added portability - though sleevers will be frustrated at the lack of spare space.

For card game fans, this is a must-buy. But if your opponent is even remotely prone to analysis paralysis, don't say I didn't warn you.




BROKEN RATING - 9 SPLAYED RED CARDS 




YOU WILL LIKE INNOVATION 3RD EDITION IF:


You want a thinky abstract card game that rewards regular play.


You're keen on having multiple ways to win during the game.


You love pure tactical games - you can't form a strategy here, you have to adapt.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE INNOVATION 3RD EDITION IF:


You can't stand the bland styling that Asmadi uses.


You aren't a fan of abstract card games - there's no theme here to go by.


You play with anyone remotely prone to analysis paralysis.


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