Innovation – recap, review and session report

I’ve been waiting to play Innovation since about September.  Last night Tim and I played a game for the first time.  The game is for 2-4 players, but reviews say it is best with 2 or 3.  Apparently he four player game can change state so much between turns it becomes too random.

Innovation is a card game with a civilization theme.  There are 110 unique cards split among 10 ages and 5 special achievements plus reference cards to use as the centre of each players play area.  The goal of the game is to be the first to earn 6 achievements.  That number changes for more players.

Your play area contains three portions.  On your right is where you keep your achievements.  The achievements don’t do anything other than serve as a counter to how close you are to winning the game.  There are 14 achievements total.  One for each of ages 1-9 and 5 special achievements.  Earning each achievement has a different requirement.

On your left is your score pile.  Score does not typically decide the winner, but is the currency for getting most achievements.  Both achievements and score are done by putting normal cards face down in the respective area.  Each card has a number on its back from 1 to 10 referring to the age of the card.  This number is also the value it contributes to your total score.  5xthe age is the amount of score you need to purchase the corresponding age based achievement.  The achievement cost is also on the back of the card just in case you can’t multiply by 5 yourself.

In front of you is your board.  Your board can contain up to five piles of face-up active cards.  Only the top card of each pile is in play at any time.  There are five different colours of cards.  Each card colour gets its own pile.  Your board starts off empty and grows as the game progresses.  Although there are never more than five active cards, there is a mechanic called ‘splaying’ that means that the cards in the pile below the top card also impact play.

Between the players, the cards are sorted into ten piles by their age.  Each pile is shuffled.  These are the draw piles.  The top card from each pile (except 10) is taken and put facedown to the side.  These nine cards are never used for their front abilities, but represent the 9 age based achievements you can purchase.  The five special achievements are also put there.  Unlike the age-based achievements instead of using your score pile to purchase them, you earn them automatically for satisfying certain conditions.  (I earned one by have all five colours in my board splayed up or right.)

Deal two age 1 cards to each player and start.

The card fronts have the following – the card name.  They show the card age on the front.  (Thematically the ages are pre-history, classical, medieval, renaissance, etc. They represent the advancement of the civilizations.)  They have four symbols placed along the bottom and left side of the card.  One symbol is unique to each care.  The other three are icons.  There are 6 different icon types.  Your ‘power’ is represented by the total number of each icon you have visible on your board.  The key strategy in the game is to gain and maintain icon supremacy in a couple icons. prevent your opponents from doing the same and try to keep a relative balance on the other icons.  For example you might have the most leaf icons showing (6 to 3), while your opponent might have the most factories (5 to 2).  Perhaps neither of you are showing any castles or clocks and are close on crowns and light bulbs.

Finally each card has a unique dogma or set of dogmas.  These are the card abilities you can activate when the card is on top of its pile in your board.  Each dogma ability has an icon.  For positive dogmas, if you have the icon lead the dogma only affects you when it is played.  If you are tied or behind, when you play it your opponent also gets the benefit of the ability.  For negative/attack dogmas (called I Demand dogmas), you can only use them on an opponent if you have ion superiority.

Game play is simple.  Each turn you get to do two of four possible things.  You can do the same thing twice or two different things:

  • Draw – take a card from the age draw pile that matches the age of your highest top card on your board.  If that draw pile is empty, draw from the next higher draw pile that still contains cards.  If you attempt to draw from the age 10 pile and it is empty, the game immediately ends.  (This is an alternate end condition for if no player wins by achievements.)
  • Meld – Lay a card from your hand on the matching colour pile on your board.  If you don’t have that colour pile yet on your board, start it.  If the pile is splayed continue the splay.
  • Dogma – Activate all the dogma effects on one of your top cards.  Count icons to see if the ability needs to be shared.  This is the core ability in the game.
  • Achieve – If you have a total score equal to the cost of the achievement (agex5), at least one top card of that age or higher and the achievement card must still be available.  Take the achievement.  If you have 6, you win!

The rest is some terminology used in the various dogmas:

  • Splay (right, left or up) – take one of your board piles and spread it out so that the icons or the cards beneath the top card are visible.  Splaying left reveals one icon per card beneath, splay right does two and splay up does three.
  • Tuck – Put a card at the bottom of one of your board piles (instead of on top like for a meld)
  • Return – put a card back at the bottom of a draw pile
  • Score – Put a card in your score pile.  For example Draw 1 and Score would mean draw a card from the age 1 pile and instead of looking at it just put it face down in your score pile.  As an age 1 card it would add one to your total score.

The game

There were three phases to the game Tim and I played.  The start was slow as we got used to the rules.  It was pretty fun as we tried to figure out what we were doing.  Tim got an early lead on score and looked to be able get achievements easily.

The second phase started as we were drawing cards from age 4.  I got an attack dogma that wiped out four of Tim’s top cards.  Suddenly, even though Tim still had a score lead, I had icon supremacy in every icon.  Tim could still meld to rebuild his board, but couldn’t really dogma because either I was immune to the attacks or I would be able to share any positive effects.  I had a big lead.  I started to play a little recklessly.  I stopped using attack dogmas and I used a dogma that wiped out my score pile completely (I was behind there anyway) to get a short term benefit.

The clock icon doesn’t show up until age 7.  Tim struggled until we started to pull from that pile.  I was up four achievements to two at this point and looked good for the win.  Suddenly Tim got clock superiority and got some great dogmas.  He then stole factory superiority from me.  I was always going for the win, but now I stopped trying to use neat dogmas and just quickly get my last two achievements.  But Tim got rocketry and rocketry attacks my score pile.  I built it up three times, but never had the action left to achieve before Tim bombed it back to nothing again.

We both got our fifth achievements – not from age achievements, but by getting special achievements.  We ended up with four of the five special achievements earned.  Either of us could win at any time.  Finally I got an age 10 dogma that I had to share with Tim, but it single-handedly rebuilt my score pile to the 40 points I needed to buy the achievement I needed.  Because Tim had shared the dogma, his score pile was also huge.  He would have been able to achieve and win on his turn.

It was a tense, vicious and fun end to the game.

Review

The biggest problem I have with the game is that the cards are ugly.  The icons are clear and functional, but they clash with the card colours.  In general it just looks garish.  It doesn’t affect game play, but if gives a complicated but elegant game an amateurish look.

Second, the game was all tactics and no strategy.  Or rather our session was.  Even to be able to play a basic strategy requires a knowledge of the various cards.  You need to know what is coming or at least the type of abilities that are associated with icons.  The game is meant to be mainly tactics, but the learning curve to use strategy is a little intimidating.

Finally the game is times to be 30-60 minutes.  Our game took just under two hours.  Tim played really slowly in the mid-game because his choices were all hard, but even if that hadn’t been the case it would have lasted well over an hour.  Until all players get more familiar with the cards and can evaluate a board at a glance, the overall time won’t go down.  But the game was fun for the whole time…

Three complaints, but the rest was all good.  Each choice of each turn was interesting.  The mechanics were smooth and elegant.  The abilities of the cards were intriguing.  Stacking up icons felt like gaining power as a civilization so the theme worked.  While I had a hard time with strategy, there was a ton of tactical decisions.  What order should you execute actions.  Should you delay a single turn for an action?  Should you build your score or attack your opponent?

I am eager to play again.

Plus I have a winning record to maintain.

A mini-bus adventure

“Oh, no’s,” said the bus driver demurely.  Demurely is a euphemism for ‘with extra cussing’.  “Whtemud is all backed up.  We’ll be stuck here forever.”

“Appears so,” I contribute.

“How do I get out of this mess?” he asks.  We had just passed the Southgate exit.

“Well, we could get off at 119 street.”

“Which lane?

I stop and think, “Shouldn’t he know the streets better than I?”

“Right lane.  Exit northbound,” I respond.

“I’m going to call it in,” he says.  “Dispatch, is there a problem on the Whitemud?  How can I avoid it?”  The is obviously a problem on the Whitemud.  We’ve stopped moving.

“Yes,” says Dispatch.  “We are advising all drivers to avoid the entire Whitemud.”

The driver puts down the radio and says, “Oh no’s” demurely once more.

“I have another pickup at 5:30.  Do you think we’ll make it?” he asks me.

I check my iPhone.  It is 5:19 pm.  If everything had been perfect it is a 15 minutes trip from where we are, a few minutes to unload my scooter, and then a drive to the next pickup and 149 street.

“Nope.  No chance.”  We still haven’t quite passed Southgate mall – just the exit – trapping us on the road.

“I’d better call Dispatch.”  So he does.  A different bus is rerouted to that delivery.

Soon’ish, we reach the 119 Street exit.  We take it and get on a clear road.  Then the ride gets a little weird.

“How do you think we should get there?” he asks.

“You’re the driver.  I trust you,” I say.

“You are much smarter than me,” the driver replies.

“You give me too much credit.  Um, 199th to Fox Drive.  Fox Drive to Whitemud, Whitemud to 170th?”

“No good.  We are supposed to avoid the Whitemud.  Let’s take Groat.”

“I bet the accident is at Twillegar or Rainbow valley.  And we can get off at 149th street if there is still a problem.  We should also be able to tell if Fox Drive is backed up before getting on it,” I say without being argumentative.

“I bet Groat is clear.  I’ve got a good feeling about it.  I hate the Whitemud.”

Now my trip which is usually Whitemud to 170th is now: Whitemud to 119th, 119th to Belgravia, Belgravia to 113 st, 113st to University ave, University Ave turns into Groat, Groat to 107th ave, 107th ave to 163 st, 163 st to 95 ave, 95 ave to 170 st.

I spend the time trying to find traffic reports on the Interwebs.  I find an iPhone app that says it has Edmnton traffic reports after failing on both the CBC and Global websites.  I check.  It says that there is an accident on the Whitemud – at Terwillegar.  I was right.  Fox Drive would have been the better route.   Of course we are already on 107th by this time so I can’t say I told you so.

The rest of the drive went well and I was home by 6.  40 minutes from the start of the traffic.  That isn’t too bad.

But why ask my opinion if your are a profesional driver?   Courtesy I suppose.  But why ignore my opinion then?

Nothing to see here. Move along.

I got nothing tonight.  I will not go onto the Internets and find a poem by Poe or Blake or Service and post it here.

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, 
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee. 


-- John Donne

Right - turned out that I went with this classic instead.

Weekly Recap – with extra lift

Tried out my new lift on Friday when the guys came over.  (which was awesome – a nigh full house will only Troy and some of the Robs missing).

My house has several amenities to make is easier for me to get around.  My bed, Laz-y-boy and toilet are all raised – raised using a hodgepodge of methods from homemade boxes, to longer legs, to weird toilet specific enhancements.  But that is pretty much it.  I dislike having to make any concessions so only make them once absolutely necessary.

More noticeable would be that pretty much every surface is covered with crap from various hobbies.  Books, games and comics literally overflow from out of the guest room.

The scooter parked in the middle of the living room might be a bit glaring I suppose.

But the lift is new.  I contacted – actually I don’t know who I contacted.  I never wrote down the contact number.  I think I started with Health Link and they gave me a contact number.  Nuts.  Nuts – how can get back in touch with them?

Regardless, I have a lift.  I bought it because I am not, um, small.  Unable to stand myself if I fall, I need someone to lift me to my feet.  This has happened a few times in public and generally 3-4 people have participated in the raising.  It is an event that brings a community together.  At home, it is more difficult to gather a crowd at will.  Fortunately I have strong friends.  So far they have been able to do a raising all on their own.

Sooner or later that will not work.  My friends might grow older and more frail.  They might all have thrown out backs or hobbled ankles.  Worse, they might hobble themselves or throw out their backs doing the raising.  I would feel very, very guilty and there would be wo of us laying on the floor.

The purpose of the lift is specifically to make it a one person job to raise me.  Hopefully that person could now be pretty much anyone.

With seven people in the house on Friday, we gave the lift a trial run.  Even if it didn’t work, I had the manpower on hand to facilitate a raising.  It worked quite well.  With the lit a single person can get me either onto my bed or my chair.  Yay!

The only problem is that it clashes with my board game and comic book decor.  Nuts.

Other stuff happened this week too.

 

More games

I’m still pretty unsure about my last post.  Almost want to take it down.

I’ll switch gears and talk about something far less weighty.  I made it out to the game store yesterday and got five new games.  Yay!

The first two are simply expansions to existing games.  A Space Alert expansion which either complicates the turns or makes them harder.  It also introduces a campaign version where you can improve your explorers through series of missions – even if your team doesn’t quite make it out…

The second expansion is for Cosmic Encounter and introduces additional aliens into the mix.

The first new game is Dixit.  It is a party game that is perhaps most similar to Apples to Apples.  Instead of matching words though the cards are all whimsical pictures.  The current player chooses one of his/her cards and gives a a description on it.  Then each other players chooses one of their own cards that might also match that description.  They are all submitted in secret and then voted on.

The second is Innovation – I have been waiting for this game to be available for a long time.  It is a card game and a civilization game.  It only incorporates the tech tree idea of a civilization game.  It plays best with two or three players and should only take 30 – 60 minutes.

The final game is Mansions of Madness.  This game seems tailor made for the group.  I hope it plays as well and it looks to.  Based in the same universe as Arkham Horror it is a game pitting most players against a single keeper.  (ala Descent, but not really much like Descent).  The game has a very narrative element with different objectives and challenges according to five different stories included with the game.  Each story has three keeper decisions with three elements each so that the stories can be replayed.  Like many coop games you are pitted against the game – there is a timer element that can expire with the result that both the keeper and the players potentially lose.

That is what I have for games.

Treek is coming in tonight and flying out again in the morning to go see his brothers in Montreal.  I’ll say hello for y’all.

Violence

Note:   I started writing this blog entry yesterday.  I stopped at the 570 word mark when it got complicated.  I usually don’t review or edit these before posting.  I’ll do an edit with this entry as I finish it off.  I’m not really convinced of what I write in this entry.  I’ll make some notes to that point at the end.

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The cultural zeitgeist has moved beyond it now, but I am still thinking about the Australian kid who beat up the bully.  Less about the event and more about the reactions to it and what that shows about our relationship to violence.

Our relationship to violence is pretty messed up.  The pundits covered the spectrum from praising the kid as hero to castigating him as a horrible example to other kids.  Like scandal, violence moves eyeballs in media so we are bombarded with both fictional and real images of violence – from cartoons to the street of Libya.  Meanwhile it is declaimed as the last resort of the untutored, stupid and crass.

Modern horror movies no longer depict horror as I think of it.  But they revel in graphic violence and torture.    Perhaps that is horror to a current audience.  It is impossible to rationalize what we see glorified with how we are taught to live.  That schism creates a dichotomy that can be sensed as horror.

Here is my own take.  Violence is not in itself immoral.  It is not necessarily the option of last resort.  The first point can be argued by offering examples: self-defense, defense of the weak, a just war.  A true pacifist (arguing that the violence will only beget more of the same) obviously won’t accept any of those, but I’d contend that the majority of people would be willing to admit violence is at least necessary.  Can I make an argument that goes beyond necessity? That is to ask is the violence more than just a necessary evil?  (Implying a negative moral connotation.)  I think it is possible, but I don’t really have the correct vocabulary (edit: background/learning might be better) to defend that thought though.  I’d like to.  It would be complicated and I would stop well short of calling violence good though.

The second point of it being a last resort is also untrue I think.  It shouldn’t be the first resort.  But you shouldn’t to wait until you’ve exhausted every other option before using it.   You only need to eliminate the reasonable options first.  For example, if someone is punching you in the face it is pointless to try and convince them they are being cruel; to get them empathize with your pain; to point out the logical fallacy of trying to get what they want in this manner.  There are only four real options: run, cover up, call for help, and fight back.  Other options are not normally reasonable and whether the other three should be attempted before the fourth is highly situational.

But we have people that argue that even as a last resort violence should not be used.  Not only just we not instigate violence, but we shouldn’t react to it.  Bring the four options down to three – run, curl up and cry for help.  But there are so many options where none of those will result anything more than a solid beating.  I think it becomes even more apparent when you make the argument for defending someone else.

A problem with our current approach of painting violence as endemically wrong is that we don’t get to teach people about what level violence is reasonable.  Now when they finally use violence it is out of proportion.  You defend yourself in a fist fight with a gun.   We engage in war by destroying utterly and then attempting to rebuild.  We hit in hockey from behind or with cheap head shots.  By trying to simplify violence itself to right or wrong we lose the ability to distinguish what is far more complex – its appropriate use.

We are also presented with violence used to advance a ideology.  Terrorism and insurgency.  Violence is associated with terrorism; it is shown as its root.  But it isn’t the root it is just a horrific result.  There is a correspondence where one causes the other, but the inference cannot be traced in both directions.

A society without violence is a tempting utopia.  But it is a utopia that we don’t live in.  If we do not automatically pre-judge violence we can work on other concepts.  Anger, hatred, murder – these might cause violence or be the result of violence.  But are not themselves violence. Anger, hatred and murder – these are items that are intrinsically wrong.

And peace.  “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called sons of God.”  Violence can never lead to peace.  I’d argue that violence may not automatically beget more violence, but at most it can lead to a detente.  It may keep a bully from attacking but it won’t make you friends.

The peacemaker needs to be going after the root.  To address the true root – the fear, the hate, the lack of education.  Show a positive role model.  Greet one another with open hands.  Demonstrate love, forgiveness and charity.  It isn’t simply not being violent.  It has to be more.

To get to the point where we can actually follow Jesus’ instruction, “Put your sword back in its place.”

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Afterword: There is an unintentional lie in all the above.  While I could probably swing a frying pan to defend a child, I don’t think I could ever carry a gun in defense of my country as a soldier or my community as a police officer.  I can make the arguments above in the abstract, but in my specific case it just doesn’t work.

The last person I likely ever struck was my brother and I’m sure that is wasn’t justifiable as it would have been in anger.  I once threw a soccer ball at his face.  Even using words violently is pretty rare for me.

Adds just a slight flavour of hypocrisy to my position.