Board games for couples: Innovation

Next up in our series of board games for couples reviews is the Golden Geek award winning card game Innovation. Despite being a 2-4 player game, the consensus is that this game works best with 2 players.

We play the 2nd edition of Innovation, but other than upgraded art and a few keyword changes, this review should apply equally well to the original edition.

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Complexity: high

Like most card games, setup is a breeze. But don’t be fooled: this is not a lightweight game. There are 105 unique cards, each with substantial text. You’ll definitely learn the cards over time (hello FAQ), but as you won’t see many of them in a given play-through, the process can take a while.

The basic gameplay is building up 5 colour-coded stacks on your board. Initially, only the topmost card in each stack provides resources (via icons). Eventually, you get to “splay” your stacks left/right/up, revealing additional icons along the edges of the cards. This is a fascinating mechanic that adds a lot to the game! Unfortunately, this involves a lot of icon counting because every single card depends on the ever-shifting resource count of each player. (The developer in me wants to automate this…)

Analysis paralysis has definitely reared its ugly head a few times for us. For example: one player is devastating the other’s board with Gunpowder. There are several ways to counter this, but it takes concentration to figure out.

So far, we cannot carry on much of a conversation while playing. But the more we play, the more manageable this becomes. It also helps to accept that you can’t always make the optimal move: there are simply too many variables. I have read that some couples play with a house rule of not reading each other’s cards across the table, which is something we may try.

Interaction: medium

Innovation has more interaction than many turn-based games. Cards often involve co-operative powers that affect both players so you’re not completely idle when it’s not your turn. (We often help each other with the resource counts, too.)

There’s also interaction in terms of affecting each other’s hand, board and influence piles, which brings us to…

Confrontation: medium

Ultimately, you win Innovation by outscoring (or outpacing) your opponent, not destroying them. So your card draws may lead you to play as a pacifist, never interfering with your opponent at all. But usually there’s a fair amount of stealing, forced discards, etc. which makes this a fairly confrontational game.

Length: 90 minutes

The box says 60 minutes, but we tend to be fairly slow. The house rule mentioned above may help.

Value: high

With so many different cards, Innovation has incredible replayability. Lots of people on BGG report 100+ play-throughs. We tend to prefer compact games like this that we can play over and over. The sticker price is $25-30.

Overall

This review may sound negative, but while the complexity and length are not in our sweet spot, we keep coming back to Innovation. Here’s why:

  • We find the unpredictable nature of the game fun. An innocuous-seeming card can come out of nowhere to turn the game around (yay, Bicycle!). Innovation manages this without feeling luck-based at all.
  • The way card powers relate to the Civilizationesque theme is interesting. For example, Coal allows you to convert your own board into points, a powerful short-term strategy in some cases.
  • Every play-through feels like a new experience thanks to so many cards and unique board states. A common sentiment about the game is that “it’s so unbalanced that somehow it’s balanced.”

View more board games for couples reviews.

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