Innovation Review

Innovation cards beautifully laid out

One of the most innovative games I've played in a while is Innovation! (First, yes I love puns. Secondly, this is actually a true statement.)

Innovation is an abstract version of a civilization building game. Whereas you go through "ages", your powers get better but you never really feel like you're building an empire (and you don't really get troops to attack people with). But that's ok. What you actually do is this: each turn you get to perform two actions. These can be to draw a card, play ("meld") a card from your hand, "achieve" if you have enough score (gaining a certain number of achievements wins the game), or activate a card effect for one of the cards you have "melded" ("perform a dogma"). That sounds pretty straightforward and possibly even boring. Where things get interesting, however, are when you are performing a dogma. When activating a card's power, the power is related to a symbol - a castle, leaf, crown, clock, etc. If another player at the table has more of the corresponding symbol showing than you do, then they have to do the card action first.  The game keeps going like this until one person has enough achievements to win (or the last draw pile is empty and someone has to draw from it; or one of the instant win conditions is met).

The first thing that I like about Innovation is how the dogmas work. Specifically, there are two different kinds of card powers - there are "demand" powers, and there are normal powers. Both of these are related to the number of resource icons each player is showing. If you perform a demand action, then all of the players with less resource icons than you of the given type are affected (generally negatively). If you perform a standard action, then everyone with as many of that resource icon as you get to perform the action first (this generally helps them, but it can sometimes allow you to perform the action more powerfully). This works really well. It encourages people to both have good cards in front of them, but also to make sure that they have large amounts of resources showing - specifically for whatever power their opponents are using.

splayed Innovation cards
Splaying Up
My next pro is something unique to Innovation (as far as I know). It's a concept called "splaying." Splaying is especially important because of the previous pro of how dogmas work. There are various cards in the game that allow you to "splay" cards in different directions. What this means is that you can take a stack of your cards (by default you can only have one card showing of each type (color)) and you can reveal part of the cards underneath the top one. For example, when "splaying right", you slide your top card along with each card underneath it to the right so that the far left resources of each bottom card are displayed. This can be very powerful as it can allow a player to suddenly have large numbers of resources showing - and since resources let you perform actions on other people's turns (or prevent them from doing actions on your turn), this is a crucial component of the game. This is a mechanic that works masterfully, and only works because the cards are both well thought out conceptually and well laid out graphically.

Innovation Skyscrapers
Skyscrapers - A very powerful card!
Now, with those brilliant pros, there are some other things that you need to be aware of with Innovation. First, there feels like a runaway leader mechanic while playing the game. If you are losing (especially because you have less resource icons showing), you can start to feel hopeless. However, there are enough resource types that it is very difficult for one player to be winning in all of the different categories. And, there are some incredibly powerful cards that can quickly sway a game. For example, if one player is winning in every category except for the "crowns", they can have entire piles of their empire (including all of the splayed cards underneath the pile) removed with the "Skyscrapers" card - suddenly the leader is the one playing catch-up! On the other hand, if a player that is already winning gains a powerful card like this, they may be able to completely obliterate their opponents! Essentially, it felt to me like one of the "balancing" mechanics was to make cards that were more and more powerful as the game progressed. This makes sense to some degree from a thematic perspective (we have better weapons and technologies now than 100 or 200 years ago), but you really need to be prepared for this kind of giant power swing before trying the game.  Some people will not have any concerns with this, but I wasn't a huge fan of it (granted, Skyscrapers was used against me, so take that how you will).

Another thing to realize before deciding whether you would like Innovation is that the game plays out quite differently with different numbers of players. I have played it with 2, 3, and 4 players. With 2, obviously you have the most control over what happens in the game - you're going every other turn. However, you have the hardest time catching up if a player starts winning (I believe) because you have nobody to help you slow down the leader. On the other hand, a 4-player game is almost chaotic because so many things can happen between your turns that you almost feel like the game is out of control. Yet, with key strategic moves, you may be able to score a victory. There is a good chance that you will have a strong preference of what size of game you enjoy most when playing Innovation.

My main con for Innovation is that I felt like it deserved to have some better art and graphic design. This isn't something that I normally care much about, but I felt it warranted mention here. Whereas the graphic design that allows for the splaying is beautifully setup, much of the art feels like generic "Clip Art" that you would find anywhere on the Internet. Plus, whereas the player aids are helpful, it would be nice to also include what the end of game conditions are as well as how to gain the non-age specific achievements (these are some special achievements that you can get throughout the game for being the first player to match a certain condition - like having all of the cards on top of your piles be from age 8 or higher).

Overall, I give Innovation an 8.5/10. I really felt like this game brought some fresh new ideas and I really enjoyed them. However, the power swings in the game are a bit more extreme than I would like, which kept the overall game score down just a touch.

If Innovation sounds interesting, you might also enjoy Glory to Rome, Race for the Galaxy, and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

I would like to thank Asmadi Games for providing me with a review copy of Innovation via Game Salute.


  1. Nice Pun!

    This does kind of look like a fun game. 8.5 out of 10, I guess it would be worth trying. Appropriate for kids 9-13?

  2. I haven't tried it with kids 9-13, so I couldn't say for sure. However, I would guess that they could probably handle it. The actual mechanics of playing the game aren't too tricky, and after a few games, they'd probably start understanding the strategy.

  3. There's already a newer version with new artwork which is great!

  4. This game is awesome! My only major complaint is that it is hard to get to the last three decks (8,9,10) without the game ending. Whether I play with 2 or 3 people, playing to 5 or 6 achievements, the game usually ends partway through pile 8. Only once has the game ever ended due to finishing the 10 pile, and even then I think we skipped 9 entirely. I don't think I've even seen what most of the 9 cards are. The 8-10 cards seem the most cool and interesting, though, so that part sucks. Anyone figured out any good workarounds for this?

    I was thinking that requiring players to gain a minimum of one special achievement in order to win would help this (if winning by collecting achievements rather than by another victory condition, such as needing to draw "an eleven"). Also, a lot of people are saying there's too much luck involved, but I don't see it this way at all. It's all about knowing the cards. Like many games, it takes a few times playing through before things flow fast and easy. Then you really don't need much time to think, and you can usually strategize pretty effectively. It does suck to be stuck with crap cards at the beginning, but just keep drawing... :-)