Innovation is a civilization/tech tree-themed card game by Carl Chudyk from 2010. Each card is tied to an age, 1 (Prehistoric) through 10 (Information) and represents a specific technology. Each has three icons, are one of five colors, and has 1-3 actions. Yes, it's one of those game where each card is its own thing and you have to read them to see what they each do.
Each turn, you will any mix of two of: draw, meld (play a card from your hand onto the stack of its color), take an achievement, or do the action ("dogma") written on one of the top cards on your stacks.
So far, this likely sounds fine and dandy, but pretty standard. The novel things in this game are the draw piles, the icons, and the splaying.
Ten ages means ten draw piles. Each player begins with two 1s, and will draw from the pile matching to their highest melded card (or the number specified by a card's invoked action) or the next highest card, if the pile you're trying to drawing from is empty. Initially, you're just drawing 1s, but the draw piles drain quickly so in a round or three you'll be drawing 2s or 3s even if you have no special ability to draw higher than a 1.
This has the added benefit of auto-scaling weaker early cards to be moderately non-weak. An age 1 card might have the action of "Draw two 1s", but later in the game, when piles 1-6 are empty, you'll end up drawing 7s. Still not the most powerful action, but it's not bad.
I said each card has three icons. It's actually four. However, one is the "card icon" which is unique to the card and does nothing but take up an icon spot. The useful icons are of six possible types: Castle, Leaf, Crown, Factory, Light bulb, and Clock.
Each card's actions will be tied to one of these six icons. If someone invokes a Castle action, and you have at least as many Castle icons visible as they do, you
get to must take that same action (and they draw an extra card because sharing should be rewarded). In the case where the action is a demand ("I demand you give me a card from your hand"), they'll be able to refuse the demand. For this reason, having the most of the icons is important.
"But wait! Cards stack by color, so there can at most be five cards and their icons visible. This pretty severely limits my visible icons, right?
The four spots where icons appear are top left, bottom left, bottle middle, and bottom right. Some of the actions are "You may splay your red cards left" (revealing the bottom right icon from each card in the stack) or "You may splay one stack right" (revealing the top and bottom left icons) or "You may splay your blue cards up" (revealing all three bottom icons.) Up, in particular, is quite powerful, and only comes up in the later ages.
Scoring an Achievements
These same cards can also be "scored", moving them to your score pile. If you have a card of age X on your board and the cards in your score pile sums to 5X, you can claim the achievement for that age, assuming no one has beat you to it. You never lose these achievements, so while quite a few cards' actions allow your opponents to return or transfer cards from your score pile, setting you back quite a bit, you'll still have the achievement you earned — and under normal conditions, it's the achievements that win you the game. (It varies by number of players, but it's 4-6 achievements to win.)
There are also a number of special achievements you can earn by getting your board in a certain state, or doing some impressive feat during your turn. Extra complications are what makes games fun, after all.
Achievements are the standard win condition, but there are others. If something results in someone needing to drawn an 11 (e.g., you're supposed to draw a 10 but that draw pile is empty), the game ends and score determines the winner. Additionally, 9 and 10 cards have some special win condition actions you can invoke. (e.g., if everyone has at least three leaves, then whoever has the most leave icons wins.)
Yes, good game. I think the pacing is good, for one. It ramps up fairly quickly as draw piles empty out, and while you may want to spend some time thinking about which cards to invoke on your turn, you only get two actions per turn, so they don't balloon way out of control.
I like the tech tree theme, though the cards' actions are only loosely correlated with their technology. There's also some theming along the colors and icons.
The decoupling of achievements and scores is also neat. Someone might get several achievements, but then we wipe out their score pile and they have a fair bit of rebuilding before they can get their next final achievement and win. I love how low-level cards auto-scale as early draw piles empty out, and the icons + splaying adds a fun game mechanic I don't see a lot. Finally, the varied special win conditions avoid things dragging on too long while also not being anticlimactic.