For Christmas this year, I got a copy of Innovation from my Secret Santa. This was a nice complement to a game I got from my Secret Santa last year, Glory to Rome, also desiogned by Carl Chudyk. I like both games a lot, but I found myself wondering which one I liked more. Not that it matters – they’re very different experiences, and I could play either of them and be happy. But, just for fun, I thought I’d put them through my first ever SHOWDOWN! So, without any further ado, here are your contestants!
GLORY TO ROME
- Designed by Carl Chudyk
- Published in 2005 by Cambridge Games Factory
- 2-5 players ages 12 and up
- 60 minutes to play
- A card game about rebuilding Rome after the fire in 64 AD
- Designed by Carl Chudyk
- Published in 2010 by Asmadi Games
- 2-4 players ages 12 and up
- 30 minutes to play
- A card game about advancing your civilization through the ages of history
This being the inaugural version of this feature, I’m going to be experimenting with a format. There are eleven seemingly arbitrary categories that may or may not change in future editions. Each category will award a maximum of three points, but no more than two to one single game. This means that both games could get a point if I like what they both did, but a bonus point may or may not be awarded if I think one of them did a better job. I’ll keep a running tally of the score, and the game with the most points at the end will be declared the winner of the SHOWDOWN!
Before I begin, I should also add that my evaluation of Glory to Rome is based on the I.V edition. In 2010, Cambridge Games successfully Kickstarted a reprint with upgraded art and packaging – in fact, it was the most successful board game funding project in the history of the site until D-Day Dice blew it out of the water ($171,805 to GTR’s $73,102). So, some of my comments may not make any sense in a few months.
Now that we have the rules, on to the first category!
COMPONENTS: We’ll start with an easy one. These are both card games, and the cards are of a perfectly fine quality for each game. No complaints, so they both get a point. I will give Innovation the bonus point, however, because the player mat is a little easier to use. Both mats are very good reference points for the players, and both are designed so you have a place to store your cards in such a way that you know what they represent (client pool, stockpile, points for GTR; score and achievements for Innovation). However, the GTR mats never seem sufficient to store all the cards you acquire during the game, and always end up slipping around. Admittedly, you have less cards to keep track of with the Innovation mat, but it still seems to do a better job. SCORE: Innovation 2, Glory to Rome 1.
GRAPHIC DESIGN: You can’t have a conversation about Glory to Rome without discussing the art. Lots of people were turned off by the clipart nature of the art, which they felt lessened the pedigree of the game. I never had a problem with the art – it’s fun and whimsical, and I think it’s just fine. My problem has always been with the card layout. Every single card could potentially represent four different things. It’s very clever how they were designed – points on the top, materials on the bottom, roles on the left, building abilities in the center – but they always felt very cluttered to me. From the pictures I’ve seen of the reprint, this looks like it will be fixed.
Innovation, on the other hand, takes a much more minimalist approach. Rather than using full blown art on the cards, four icons are used to give you power in different areas. Unlike a game like Race for the Galaxy, the icons don’t mean anything other than allowing you to take advantage of different card abilities, also listed on the cards. Unlike GTR, the information you store under your mat is on the back of your cards. Each card belongs to a different age, and they will can be flipped face down to increase your score or to be used as an achievement. This wouldn’t be practical in GTR, but I do think it’s a great way to keep the front of the card decluttered.
To sum up – I will give both a point for designing the cards in such a way that they can be used in different ways. Innovation gets the bonus point for being more user friendly. SCORE: Innovation 4, Glory to Rome 2.
THEME: To be honest, I don’t really feel engaged with either theme. Neither of them seem particularly unique, and neither of them really stick out during game play either. I think that I probably like Innovation’s theme a bit more, especially since you’re working your way through history. It seems more tied to the game mechanics at any rate. GTR has some nice thematic buildings, but frankly, they could have been anything. The Innovation evolution through history seems more thematic, so I’m giving one point to Innovation. SCORE: Innovation 5, Glory to Rome 2.
CENTRAL MECHANISM: At the core of Glory to Rome is a role selection mechanism that drives your strategy. Role selection was not new, but I think that the way GTR approached it was very unique. Games like Verräter, Meuterer, and Citadels had players choosing a role that was exclusively their own. Games like Puerto Rico, and later San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, had everyone taking an action associated with a role, with a special benefit going to the selector. In Glory to Rome, roles are chosen from cards in your hand, cards that might otherwise become materials or buildings. Everyone can also take the action if they play a matching role card, and you can potentially take more actions if you have the appropriate roles in your client pool. The limited resources in your hand keeps the game tight, and makes choices important from the very start.
On the other hand, Innovation features a hand management mechanism where you are trying to balance all the different actions of the cards you have played out on the table. The more of a particular icon you have on the board, the more powerful some of your actions become, so you are constantly trying to balance what you can do and what you should do. It keeps you looking at your own and at your opponent’s cards, and trying to find just the right combinations to maximize your potential.
I like both central mechanisms, so one point each. But I really love GTR’s role selection system, so it gets the bonus. SCORE: Innovation 6, Glory to Rome 4.
DOWN TIME: A big complaint in a lot of games is that you don’t have much to do when it isn’t your turn. This is not really an issue with either of our games. In Glory to Rome, you will always have the opportunity to follow a lead when it isn’t your turn (unless the leader draws cards, in which case their turn ends quickly). Innovation is more turn-based, so there’s a little more down time in between turns. However, since actions can be shared if you’re more powerful in certain icons, you’ll often have actions you can take between turns. So, down time is not really a problem in either game…that is, unless you’re playing with the AP-prone. Nevertheless, I’m giving both a point, but GTR gets the bonus since there’s never a time when you’re not doing something. SCORE: Innovation 7, Glory to Rome 6.
ACCESSIBILITY: Neither of these games is terribly difficult to understand, but I don’t think I’d ever play either with non-gamers. GTR just has a ton of stuff going on, and it’s really easy to get confused by the myriad of ways to use each card. Innovation has some category that is unique to it alone – splaying the cards, dogma actions, tucking cards, and so on. Both require some mental gymnastics, but at least neither has terribly complicated rules. I’ll give both a point, but no bonuses this time. SCORE: Innovation 8, Glory to Rome 7.
REPLAYABILITY: Both games have a lot of cards in them, which increases the replayability inside the box. Because of the variety of uses for each card, two games of GTR rarely feel the same. By contrast, there’s a limited number of cards for each age in Innovation, but the way you use them provides a lot of variability. Tucking, splaying, scoring, achieving – these all increase the game’s replayability. Innovation also has an expansion, but it’s nice that it doesn’t need it. I’ll give both games a point, but no bonuses because I can’t decide. SCORE: Innovation 9, Glory to Rome 8.
STRATEGY LEVEL: This category is interesting. In both GTR and Innovation, randomness plays a strong role in determining your strategy. For GTR, you can only follow roles that appear in your hand (unless you have Jacks to play). Additionally, some buildings are much more powerful than others. The Forum card, for example, gives you an automatic victory if you build it and can get one of each of the six roles in your client pool. This can make things frustrating if you aren’t drawing the cards you need, or if you keep drawing the same cards (there are duplicates in the deck).
When playing Innovation, luck also plays a factor in the cards you draw. You have to be able to score before you can achieve, and if you’re not drawing score cards, there’s very little you can do, other than try to mess with the other players.
I always say that in games with a lot of randomness, the strategy comes with how you deal with what you’ve got. That goes for both of these games – you really have to be able to alter your strategy as the game progresses, or you’re not going to have a good time. I think both games are highly strategic, and I’ll give them both a point. GTR gets the bonus because the role selection adds another layer to the game. SCORE: Innovation 10, Glory to Rome 10.
FUN FACTOR: This one is one of the most subjective categories I have. What is fun to some people is not necessarily fun to others. If you derive fun from playing your own game and doing the best with the cards you have, Glory to Rome is more fun. If you like messing with other people, Innovation will be more fun for you. To me, I have equal amounts of fun with each, so they’ll both get a point. Your mileage may vary. SCORE: Innovation 11, Glory to Rome 11.
VALUE: Right now, Innovation and GTR both retail for around $25. When the GTR reprint comes out, it will probably be more expensive ($35 was the Kickstarter price). However, I think either one is a worthy investment. You get a lot of game for what you play, so this one is also even. SCORE: Innovation 12, Glory to Rome 12.
TIME: Well, this is exciting. We’ve reached the final category, and it’s a tie game. Neither game is particularly long. GTR lists for 60 minutes, and Innovation lists for 30. GTR’s length could be much shorter if someone succeeds in building the Catacomb, which ends the game immediately. It could also be much longer, and I have played a couple of games that dragged on. Innovation is fairly fixed. It may take longer than 30 minutes, but since you have to reach a certain number of achievements, you have a fixed goal. There are some cards that will end the game before the win condition is reached, but they come in the later ages. Since it is more consistent in its time, I’m giving the game point to Innovation. FINAL SCORE: Innovation 13, Glory to Rome 12.
I thought at the beginning that Innovation might win, but I didn’t know it would be this close. Of course, all points are subjective, so take it all with a grain of salt. Both games are absolutely fabulous, and I’d heartily recommend that you try either of them out.
Hope you enjoyed this review style. I may try it again in another slow period when I don’t know what else to write about. Thanks for reading!