Carl Chudyk is a designer on the rise. He’s designed at least three great titles (that I know of) – Glory to Rome is a fabulous role selection/resource management game, FlowerFall is an excellent dexterity based game, and Innovation is one of the more unique card games I’ve ever played. And, after getting the first Innovation expansion for Christmas, I’m quite excited to learn more about the second one:
Figures in the Sand follows Echoes of the Past in the Innovation line, all published by Asmadi Games. The base game was for 2-4 players, but each successive expansion has added another player so that we’re up to six now. Most people seem to prefer the game with 2 or 3, but there it is. Innovation is a card game where you’re building a civilization on various inventions/ideas from history (innovations).
To give a brief rundown of the game: there are ten decks of cards, each representing a different age of history. You’ll start with Age 1, and as the decks run out, you’ll advance to the next age. Of course, there are things that can advance you early, but it’s a nice time mechanism. On your turn, you get two actions, and there are four different actions to choose from. You can meld a card from your hand, placing it on the table in front of you on top of a pile of the same color. You can draw a card from the age deck matching the highest valued card on the table in front of you. You can achieve if you have five times the number of points in your score pile as the age of the achievement you want. And, you can take a dogma action, which essentially makes use of one of those melded cards on the table in front of you. The dogma action is shared with your opponents that have more of a certain symbol than you. The game continues until someone has collected 4-6 achievements (depending on the number of players).
Echoes of the Past added some new mechanisms to the series, as well as a whole new set of age decks that get mixed with the base cards to make new sets of cards. It added the concept of foreshadowing, where you draw a card from a future deck and put it aside to be melded later when you can. It added echo effects, new actions that replaced symbols on some cards and that could be performed (and shared) when doing a dogma action. Cards also sometimes had bonus points which were not in your score pile and thus could not be gotten rid of in the traditional way. There were also new special achievements, and new ways to get regular achievements, which meant that you had to get one more than in the base game to win.
Figures in the Sand adds 105 new cards consisting of historical figures for each age, as well as five new special achievements, called “Decrees”. Each age deck is put under the base cards in a cross pattern (with the Echoes cards in between if using them). This is different from the way cards were put together in Echoes – there, certain numbers of randomly chosen expansion cards were mixed with randomly chosen base cards to form decks of ten. When cards are drawn, you’ll take a base card from the age indicated. If there are no base cards available, the stack is considered to be empty (even if expansion cards are present) and you move on to the next age. Echoes cards are drawn if you need to draw a base card, but have no Echoes cards in your hand. Figures are drawn if a dogma action tells you to, or when someone else claims a standard achievement. Standard achievements are set up with one card from the base decks of ages 1-9, with special achievements and decrees set to the side.
The main thing this game adds is figures. These are cards that can be melded just like any other card. They have what are known as “karma” effects that give a continuous benefit as long as the figure is a top card. Karm effects give you things to do when the card is melded, or when other conditions are met. They can also give you ongoing benefits (such as counting certain cards as achievements). Figures only give their benefits while on top, so if they are ever scored, achieved, or covered, they cease to be figures and are treated as any other card. They do not give dogma actions, but you can do a do a dogma with it to take advantage of any echo effects that are present. If, at the end of any action, you have more than one top figure, you must fade the excess. This means that you score it.
Echoes of the Past included echo effects, which were extra actions on previously played cards that could be used whenever that stack had a dogma action (as long as they were visible). Figures adds Inspire, which is another action to choose from (like draw, meld, achieve, and dogma). To do this, you choose one color and perform all visible inspire effects on cards. These are located in place of symbols, and are highlighted by a spotlight (as opposed to the box for echoes).
Decree is another new action. There are five Decree cards, which are treated as special achievements. If you have three or more figures in your hand, you may take the decree action to remove all cards in your hand from the game (figures and non-figures), choose a decree matching the color of one of your figures, and activate it. If the color you chose is in another player’s achievement pile, return it to the center. These are the only achievements that can be taken from you.
The game ends when one player gets a certain number of achievements (I’m not repeating the formula used to figure it out). They win.
One of the joys of Innovation is that every single card is different, doing something different from every other card in the game. Unlike its older brother Glory to Rome, if you have a card in your hand, you know that you are the only one with that card. And yes, some cards are more powerful than others. This is balanced brilliantly with the sharing mechanism – if you have more of a symbol than someone else, you can use their dogma effects before they do. I love exploring all the different cards and trying to build an engine that is going to build my score pile and win achievements.
The expansions simply add more to the game. Expansions for a lot of games simply give you an extra deck of cards, change a few mechanisms, or add some bits. Innovation’s expansions give you a full set of new cards – there are 110 in the base game, 110 in Echoes, 110 in Figures. And yet, you can’t play one without the other – unlike something like Dominion: Intrigue, which gave you just as many cards as the original Dominion set, you can’t play Echoes or Figures without the base game (you can play without one expansion or the other, but they still seem to work together quite well).
Figures in the Sand adds personalities to the game that play differently than other cards, but still work with the core mechanisms of the game – you don’t have to relearn the rules, you just have to learn how to add the cards in the set to the game. Adding Karma effects should give the game a little extra flair, whereas Inspire and Decrees look like interesting new actions to explore. So I think Figures in the Sand looks like a great expansion for what is already a great game, and I can’t wait to see how it all works together. Thanks for reading!