Sid Meier's Tech Tree, The Card Game - Innovation Review

Hello fellow gamers! Sorry for the large break in between reviews, as I mentioned on my podcast, it's been a busy period during the beginning of March and I've been experimenting with (a) more games (b) new recording equipment for the YouTube channel and podcast and (c) plans for future conventions and events. 

But I'm back, and it's time to get back to doing reviews and after listening to the recent Dice Tower Showdown podcast, I felt it was time to put in my review for a card game that I've been playing a lot recently, Innovation which as the title suggests I like to describe as Sid Meier's Tech Tree, the card game. 

Note that I only have the recent IELLO version so I won't be making comparisons between the two versions other than the fact that I don't like the graphical design of the original and much prefer the new cards. They look nicer, are much more colourful and have cool concept art on the backs specific to each age which I personally prefer to the rather bland, yet still fairly innovative (no pun intended) different fonts used on the old version.

"Now which version's box draws you in more?"

Designer: Carl Chudyk (2010)
Publisher: IELLO (originally Asmadi)
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 60+ minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 167/7.33
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: 79
Category: Civilization Tactical Card Game

Civilization . . . . Sort Of

The concept of Innovation resolves around the cards, which are split between 10 Age decks and each depict a specific technology from the early ages all the way through medieval, past industrial and up to the digital modern age. Each card has symbols on it and special abilities that either are available to all players or used only by you as an an attack on them to weaken their position or boost your own.

"The old version's font was cool and all, but face it, these look gorgeous and depict each age better"

Having the most of a particular symbol is what powers your cards. A co-operative power can be used by all players who have at least as many symbols as you, but doing so grants you a free card draw as a bonus. An aggressive power forces other players to abide by the power if they have less symbols than you. 

By using these powers, you will gain influence points which are used to dominate each age and on top of that there are specific objectives that can be completed which also count. There are three victory conditions in the game, one is to acquire a number of dominations first, one is to have the most influence points by the end of Age 10 and the final one can be obtained by meeting the conditions on specific technology cards in the later ages.

Tactics over Strategy

Normally most civilization games are strategic, requiring long term planning over anything else. However Innovation is the flip side of that where it's all based on tactics. You only have 5 piles of cards in front of you (5 different colours available) and even when you splay cards out, all this does is increase your symbol count. The art of this game is about utilising the powers on the active cards (those on the top of each pile) to your advantage, creating combos from technologies and upgrading your techs with newly drawn cards from future ages. That's not to say you have to upgrade though as if a technology is working well for you from an earlier age, then carry on using it until it becomes obsolete. 

This appeals to me already. I like a good strategy game, but with those games you have to come up with a plan and then generally do what's necessary to facilitate that plan. With tactical games you instead have to think more on the fly and chop and change your game plan depending on how the playing field changes. It's more exciting and keeps you thinking all the time. This game is a classic example of one which requires you to learn some skills of adaptation in how you play.

"Easy to see what's on the cards and they're nice and colourful"

Each technology is very different and there's a wide variety of different technologies over the ages allowing for a lot of combos to be created. Adding expansions increases this even more however I've yet to acquire Echoes of the Past for this game however that is on the wish list. But even as a base game every game will play out differently ensuring a lot of variety.

Chaos Theory

I've heard criticisms of this game from gamers and especially on the Dice Tower Showdown recently so I thought I'd address some of those concerns. Firstly there is the assumption that the game is nothing but chaos and therefore there's no control over what goes on. 

The combos can get quite creative and the balance of power can shift drastically in this game, but I wouldn't call that chaos. You have a variety of powers at your disposal and you can always draw more cards. What tactic you employ is your choice and I like that even if you start the game falling behind, it is possible to catch up and even win the game with some creative use of the cards. 

Some of that chaos mentioned by others is put down to the sheer amount of powers in the game. Each card has unique powers so it does have the potential of looking daunting to new players and I agree, this is one of those games that may require a play through for some people to get the gist of the game and start employing new tactics in future games. But that's not a bad thing - it shows a level of depth in the game that in reflection is not that difficult to pick up. You don't have to learn every card in the game to do well here. Knowing what cards exist in future ages will not help you in the slightest as you have to adapt constantly to the current playing field - you can't plan ahead and aim for a specific technology to find its way into your tableau.  

And even with the depth as mentioned, it's not a large barrier for new players to breach through. Granted the chances are that a veteran player will likely beat a new player, but that's true of most games, and if you really want a game that's infamous for that, play Race for the Galaxy where you will be beaten down to a pulp by anyone who's played the game before. It doesn't take long for the new player to get a solid grounding however and in four player games you can play in teams of two and balance it out that way.

"The reference boards are of good quality, very useful and double up as a place to put your scored cards"

Abrupt Endings

A small criticism I have personally is that when you change the number of players, it has a fairly drastic effect on the game itself. Now this is normally a good thing, but here despite making the game more tactical, it also affects the length of the game considerably. A four player game takes a lot longer than a two player game, unless you play in teams. 

But one thing I've noticed is that in two player games, the game ends usually before anyone has reached Age 8 by domination victory. Even in a three player game, you won't tap much into the later Ages unless someone is going for card drawing with his technologies. In four players, it's a lot easier to reach those later Ages and thus by doing so, the victory conditions vary a lot more, but typically in a 2-3 player game, the most common way to win is by dominations. This might just be how it's ended up for me and not a common factor among all other Innovation players (and if that's the case, please comment and let me know how your games go), but it does make me want to play the game with more players if I can help it. 

It's touted as a civilization building card game, but that should be taken relatively lightly. The abilities on the cards make sense, and you'll make fun jokes about how your civilization has turned out somewhat surreal based on what you've used (we've had a game where one guy won with a civilization that essentially consisted of cavemen that had discovered the internet).

Good Value For Money . . . . Almost

It's not the easiest game to pick up currently as I suspect it's requiring another print run from IELLO, but if you can, it should cost you less than £20 easily and you can even pick up the Asmadi version with expansions direct from their website for around £17 each currently even with US to UK shipping taken into account as it's on offer - you just have to accept that the graphic art is no where near as good to look at. That's very cheap for a card game with this much variety and depth to it and I appreciate that in a game. Loyal followers will know that I bang on about Spyrium for showing a similar "bang for your buck" quality and that's something that should always be considered when judging if a game is well designed or not. 

However there's one aspect of the package I don't like and wished they'd spent an extra £3 or so to improve on. And that funny enough is the actual package. The box is small so it's easy to store and has a cool "flip lid" style to it and has nice artwork on it. However it's TOO small. The cards will not fit in this box if you sleeve them and I'm a compulsive sleever so this is a pain. The cards themselves after a lot of plays WILL see signs of wearing out so you'll want to sleeve this game, but if you do so, you'll have to store the game in something else. I use Mayday sleeves, so maybe someone has had better luck with other types of sleeves, but for most, you're going to struggle and I wished that IELLO had shown a bit of awareness and made the box bigger as sleeving cards is not a new concept, let's face it. The game is cheap so it's something I can live with for now, but it's such a shame and if I buy an expansion, I'm going to encounter the same problem.

"The insert is great if you don't sleeve the cards, but even without that insert, you can't fit them all sleeved"

Verdict

I bought this game based on recommendations only. When I first played it, I enjoyed it and put it as an "8" rating. After more and more plays, I'm REALLY enjoying it and it has since boosted up to a "9". I'm enjoying it more and more as I play and no game has gone the same as any other. It keeps you on your toes and scratches my tactical itch nicely. 

It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea though. Some people may not pick up the game very quickly and thus feel a bit discouraged with all of the different powers you can use. There's a small element of chaos, but it's mitigated based on tactical play and if that's not your style of game, you may want to look elsewhere. I also wished that IELLO made the box bigger, that's such an easy thing to rectify. I'm all cool with small boxes for card games, but please publishers, remember that they need to be able to fit sleeved cards as well. Take a leaf from Fantasy Flight Games here, their new box for Citadels is about as perfect a box size as you can get. 

The above two criticisms are shared by other gamers and I'm fine with those, but after listening to the Dice Tower Showdown, I don't however agree with the criticisms that the game requires you to have an in-depth knowledge of the cards. This isn't an LCG or CCG, it's a self-contained game and because the playing field changes quickly, it's of little to no advantage to know what cards exist later on. And let's face it, who is going to have memorised over 100+ cards to that extent? I certainly don't have the intention, nor the mental capacity to do such a thing.

If tactical play is your thing, I don't see why you won't love this game. There's a lot of variety and fun to be had and all for less than £20. The expansions each cost the same and I'm told that Echoes of the Past improves the game even more - expect me to hopefully acquire this in the future.

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