Like GtR, Innovation features cards that not only have several purposes (the same could be said for San Juan or Race for the Galaxy), but are crowded with text and icons across several sides and the center. During play, none, one, or some parts of the iconography or text are relevant at a time; the others have no function at all. While clever and resourceful, and while this naturally enables useful decision making mechanics, the design is threatening or confusing to some types of players. If you're not able to process five different meanings on seven different cards at a time while always remembering exactly which is in effect at any given time, or you're always forgetting what's in effect or asking what "will happen if I do this", this may not be the game for you.
For those that like this type of thing, Innovation is far more chaotic that GtR, which was pretty chaotic. It is possible that my opinion about the chaos will change as I learn the cards. But in my first game, and with only three players, whenever my turn came back around nearly every players' boards had entirely changed. This made any kind of long term-planning nigh impossible, and so we played nearly every round simply grasping for the most points or progress that we could achieve each round.
Now this was not entirely the case; Abraham used the same card Democracy several rounds in a row because no one could find a light bulb to leech off of his card's usage. And I planned and executed a series of splay actions over three rounds that netted me the special achievement for splaying all of my cards. These were more exception than the rule.
Here is the gist of the rules: There are four actions. Each player has in front of him five card piles, one in each color. Each card has a series of icons, a number indicating 1) the deck from which the card was drawn, 2) it's point value if stashed as treasure, and c) the deck from which you may draw cards if it in on top of one of your piles. Each turn, you get to play two actions (the same or different, in any order). The actions are:
- Draw a card.
You draw from the deck matching the highest number on top of one of your piles. If that deck is empty, draw from the lowest number deck that is higher than that number. So if the highest valued number of top of your five piles is 6, and there are no cards in the 6 deck, draw from the 7 deck (if it is empty, from the 8 deck and so on).
- Play a card.
Play a card of any number on top of the pile in front of you of that card's color. It is now the top card of that pile.
- Activate a top card of one of your piles
The cards do lots of things. Each has one or more activated abilities, executed in order from top to bottom. Each ability is preceded by a miniature icon. There are two main types of abilities:
a) Force other players to do something. In this case, all other players who have LESS of the indicated icon than you do must perform the action. So, if the icon is a tower, and between all of your top cards you have 5 tower icons, all other players with fewer than 5 tower icons must do the action.
b) Do something. In this case, all other players who have THE SAME OR MORE of the indicated icon than you do ALSO perform the action.. They do it first, and then you do it. After you finish all the abilities, if ability of this type (b) was performed by any other player, you get a free "draw a card" action.
This explains the icons on the card. You are constantly watching not only the potential abilities on every other players' cards as well as your own, but also the icon count to see which ones, either positive or negative, will affect you.
Each player has up to five possible choices for card activation, one for each pile in front of them.
- Claim an achievement.
Some of the abilities let you take cards - from hands, piles, or decks - and stash them under your player mat as "points". There are 9 achievement cards numbered 1/5, 2/10, 3/15, ... 9/45 (these are actually regular cards from the deck being used for this special purpose instead of their regular purpose). To claim an achievement, you must use this action and have a) a top card in your pile equal to or greater than the achievement you want and b) have the required number of points (5 times the card level). Achievements cannot be stolen or lost.
That's the bulk of the game. You take two actions (each from the above choices of draw, play, activate 1, activate 2, activate 3, activate 4, activate 5, or claim) and play passes to the next player. On another player's turn, you might play an activity if another player activates it and you have the right icons. Many actions, unfortunately, cover over or remove the top cards from the piles of other players or from yours, so the available top cards - and thus player choices and powers - changes after nearly every action.
There are some other rules: five special achievements that are taken without actions if you fulfill their conditions, and card "splaying", which means uncovering the icons of cards beneath your top card in a pile, which basically adds some or all of the icons in these cards to your board.
We didn't get to finish the game by the end of about three hours, though we had a baby, first game learning, some interruption for cake, and a somewhat slower player. I took an early lead and we were fearful that this might lead to a runaway leader problem - I already had more points and better cards on the table. Thankfully, this was not the case, as first Sarah and then Abe caught up in points and achievements. We were neck and neck when we had to wrap up. It didn't look like anyone was going to win with the five achievements required (though still possible, I grant). The other way the game ends is when someone needs a card numbered 11, which doesn't exist.
Abe and I both wish to play again. Alas he is leaving for Houston. Bye bye, Abe.
Last night I had a family over for the first time, with some kids. Tal taught the kids how to play It's Alive, which they appeared to enjoy. One of the kids won. I then taught both kids and parents how to play For Sale, which they also enjoyed. I played together with the 8 year old and we won in a close game: 56 to 54, 54, 52, and 38.
Last shabbat I played some Gin Rummy and Oh Hell with my daughter, something I hadn't done in a while.