Imagine if the entirety of human civilization was distilled down into ten decks of cards. Here’s How to Play Innovation:

(click to view transcript)

Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Arounda Table, and this is Innovation, an engine-building card game for 2-4 players. Let me show you how to play!

You and your friends play leaders of rival civilizations who are racing to develop ever more advanced technology to edge each other out of the history books. The central pool of cards represents 10 different epochs in your civilization’s development. At first, you’ll be building a tableau of rudimentary tech like pottery and archery, but as you grow, you’ll develop satellites and software. The cards let you enact Dogmas that force your opponents to do different things, as long as your tableau has the majority number of icons showing. And certain cards let you splay your tech in different directions to reveal more icons, which helps you push your opponents around. The game ends when one player dominates a certain number of time periods or domains, or when someone has to draw a card higher than the 10th epoch, or when the dogma on a certain late-stage card tells you the game ends. If the game ends with no immediate victor or because you’ve run out of epochs, you tally up the Influence points you’ve collected to see who’s won.


The cards are laid out in a circle around the table, with one card from eras 1 through 9 stacked in the center. The 5 domain cards go nearby. Everyone starts with 2 cards from the first era. You put one into play in front of you, and keep the other one in your hand.

On your turn, you get to take 2 actions from this suite of available moves: Draw, Play, Dominate, or Activate. Your two actions can be different, or you can do the same thing twice. Let’s take a look at what each one does.

When you take the Play action, you play a card from your hand into your Zone, which is the game’s word for your tableau. The cards come in five different colours: blue, red, green, purple, and yellow. You can only have one top card in any given colour, so if you have a yellow card in your Zone and you want to play another yellow card, it goes on top of the first one. If the card is a different colour, it goes in its own stack. So later in the game you’ll have, at most, 5 stacks of cards. The card on the top of each stack is called the Active card.

When you take the Draw action, you pull a card from one of the epoch piles into your hand. You get to draw from the pile that matches the highest numbered Active card in your Zone. So if that’s a 1, you draw from epoch 1. If one of your Active cards was a 3, you’d draw from epoch 3. If you have an empty Zone, you draw from epoch 1. If you need to draw a card from a pile, and that pile is empty, you draw from the next available pile. So if your highest active card is 1, but epoch 1 and epoch 2 are both empty, you draw your card from epoch 3.

When you take the Activate action, you choose one of your Active cards and do the stuff on it. The stuff is called a Dogma, and Dogmas come in two flavours: Supremacy, which has a square with a single white arrow, and Cooperative, which has a square with four white arrows. Supremacy Dogmas only help you, while multiple players can benefit when you activate a cooperative Dogma.

There are 6 different Icons in the game: castles, crowns, clocks, wangs, broccolis, and military haircuts. When you fire off a Supremacy Dogma, you look at the icon inside the box. The dogma affects all players who have a lower number of those icons showing in their Zones than you do. So this Supremacy Dogma on the Archery card says “I demand you draw a 1! Then, transfer the highest card from your Hand to my Hand!” (and you have to use that voice – otherwise, you immediately lose the game) Now, this Dogma is only going to work on players who have fewer castle icons in their Zone than you do. The Archery card gives you 2 castles. Working your way clockwise, Player 2 has 3 castles, so he can tell you to go take a hike. Player 3 is rockin’ the pottery with zero castles, and Player 4 has the same number of castle icons that you do. So of all your opponents, only Player 3 has to bend to your steely will.

Activating a cooperative dogma works similarly, but this time, any players with as many or more of the given icon showing in their zones get to participate. If you activate the Dogma on your Mysticism card, which lets you draw an epoch 1 card and put it into play if it matches the colour of one of your Active cards, then any other player who has as many or more castles as you gets to do the same. So in our previous example, Player 2, with his 3 castles, could do what this card says too. Going clockwise, no other player has 3 or more castles, so no one else can choose to participate. If any player benefits from a cooperative dogma that you Activate, like Player 2 did, you get a free Draw action.

The last Action you can choose to take is to Dominate. This means that you really killed it in a certain period of history. Dogmas on certain cards will let you stash cards in this Influence area at the side of your board. In the center of the table, there’s a face-down card representing epochs 1 through 9. To Dominate an era, you need to have 5 times as many Influence points as the number on the epoch card. So to Dominate epoch 1, you need to have 5 Influence points banked – then you get to take the card, and put it on the Dominations side of your board. You don’t spend your Influence points to do this – they’re more like a prerequisite. And don’t look at what’s on the other side of that Dominated era – it doesn’t matter because you can’t use it, and it’s supposed to stay secret anyway.

There are also these five green Domain cards on the table. If you meet the requirements on one of these cards, you take it and stow it with your other Dominations. It doesn’t cost an action to do this. Each of these cards has a corresponding Epoch card that lets you dominate it – so for example, Activating your Masonry card lets you put any card with a castle icon on it into play in front of you, and if you get 4 cards out in one go, you get to Dominate the Technology card. Each Domain card also has a second condition that isn’t tied to a specific card. For example, you can also Dominate the Technology Domain if you archive or score six cards in the same turn. (We’ll see what it means by “archiving” later in the video).

If you manage to Dominate a certain number of Domains and/or eras, you instantly win the game. You need 6 Dominations in a 2 player game, 5 in a 3-player game, or 4 in a 4-player game to pull off a Domination win.


That’s the whole game. Pretty simple, right? The complexity in Innovation comes from what the individual cards themselves do. i won’t go over every single one, but there are some keywords that you’ll want to be familiar with before you play.

“Discard” means you yeet the card right out of the game.

“Exchange” means you give a card to a player, and take a card from that player. You can exchange even if the other player doesn’t have any cards.

To “Recycle” is to put a card at the bottom of its epoch deck.

When you “Score” a card, you put it face-down on the Influence side of your board.

To “Splay” a stack is to spread out your cards in a certain direction so that the icons on one edge show up, and count towards your Dogma totals. Certain splay directions are more valuable than others. If you’re told to splay your stack left or right, you’re going to reveal one or two icons on each card beneath the Active card in the stack that you splay. But if you get to splay up, you’ll reveal up to three icons on each card. If you play a card to a splayed stack, the added card gets splayed too. If you whittle a stack down to one or zero cards, it loses its splay-ness – when you build it back up, you don’t get to build it splayed.

And to “Archive” a card means to sink it to the bottom of its coloured pile, while also splaying it if the stack is splayed.


A game of Innovation can end in three ways: either someone Dominates a certain number of cards for the player counts, someone successfully Activates a Dogma on a late-stage card that says “You win,” or the game ends when someone activates a Dogma that says “the game ends,” or someone has to draw a card from pile 10, and there are no cards in pile 10. In that case, whoever has the most Influence points wins the game. Dominations break ties, and if there’s still a tie, all tied players win.


To set up the game, shuffle all of the numbered piles of cards and arrange them in a circle on the table. Take one card from epochs 1 through 9 and place them face-down in the middle, and have the Domain cards ready nearby. Everyone gets a player board, and 2 cards dealt randomly from epoch 1. Put one of these cards into play in your Zone, and keep the other one in your hand. There’s no hand limit in the game.

And now, you’re ready to play Innovation!

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[Music – Board Game Boogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]

Get Your Own Copy of Innovation

Those who like it, like it a lot. But Innovation isn’t for all tastes – particularly for players like my wife Cheryl, who finds it too “mean.” If you’re okay with your opponents getting up in your business while building a complex, dynamic tableau, you’ll be pleased to add Innovation to your own board game collection. Use the Amazon link below, and we’ll receive a small commission!