For my money, no game released in 2010 was as excellent as Carl Chudyk's Innovation. It took the fascinating tactical card play from classics like San Juan and paired it with the bracing chaos of a game like Cosmic Encounter. For me, that's an intoxicating blend. For other people, it really isn't. My first game of Innovation was so off the wall that two players quit in disgust before the end of the game. Their loss, I say. Innovation feels different every time, and those who stick it out will find a real treat.
But I confess, I was a little skeptical about Echoes of the Past. Innovation is a very dynamic game, and it was able to pull that dynamism off because at its core, the rules were simple. If they cluttered that up, the game might completely collapse. Any expansion to this already chaotic game could overload the whole thing, like putting too much Tobasco on your food. And indeed, Echoes of the Past does increase the insanity of Innovation. But it does so in the best way it possibly could. Instead of making the whole thing too intense, it deepens and fills out the experience. Innovation was already terrific, but Echoes of the Past makes it even better.
Three main things are added to the game. The first is the ability to "forecast." Essentially, some cards let you draw a card and store it in on your player mat. When you use a meld action later on, you can also meld a forecasted card of equal or lesser value, and then immediately take its dogma effect. This is the strangest rule to understand, but if you time it right, you can do some serious damage. An "I Demand" action that is suddenly sprung on your opponents is pretty devastating. It's also nice to have a little more knowledge of what you have coming up. You can "tech up" faster if you fall behind on icons.
The second addition is one of bonuses. These take the place of an icon on some expansion cards, and they count towards your score for all purposes, mostly claiming achievements. That means if you get the right splay, you can reveal more points. This sounds pretty powerful, but only the highest visible bonus counts for its full amount. The other bonuses just bring one point each. I am a big fan of this addition, because it evens out a lot of the clumpiness of scoring. There are now far more cards that can give you a boost in points. There's still some luck of the draw, as there should be, but it's now a rare time when I am unable to get any points at all.
The third and best addition is echo effects. These are, in essence, mini-dogmas. Like bonuses, they also occupy an icon's slot. If they are revealed in a splay, they add onto the dogma effect of the top card. If you use that action, you occupy all of the echo effects, bottom to top, before resolving the top one. They are treated exactly like dogma effects, so if you are a fan of sharing effects, you could end up helping your opponent a lot. I can't overstate how much I enjoy this effect. It increases the "Innovation-ness" of the game by resolving a huge string of effects. That means more wild synergies, more dynamism, and more considerations when using a dogma effect.
In fact, the whole expansion adds to the "Innovation-ness" of the game. Innovation, at its best, goes to the 9th or 10th age, and the card combinations become highly unpredictable. That happens more often with Echoes of the Past. I've only had one game end from the achievement rush in age 6 or 7, and that was largely from some careless effect-sharing. I now find it easier to push the ages forward when I get behind on achievements. But the push isn't too far in that direction. There are also many more ways to achieve, so what it really does is allow you a little more flexibility in your game.
This sounds like it adds a lot to the game, and that's sort of true. But if you've played, say, five games of the base game, this shouldn't be a tough adjustment. In fact, all of the additions feel very organic to the experience as a whole. But I should warn, this is definitely "advanced" Innovation. I wouldn't introdue this to new players right off the bat under any circumstances. But I would recommend that ANYONE who enjoys this game buy the expansion. It adds a lot of meat to the game, but the effect is similar to playing Agricola with or without Occupations and Minor Improvements. It's easier to teach without the expansion, but when someone is ready, you move them to the full game.
More annoying is the increased setup time, which is a little obnoxious with the expansion. Each age uses a certain number of base game cards, and a certain number of expansion cards. So you need to sort a lot of cards before and after each game. It'd be a bigger problem if the game was a shorter affair. But with Echoes thrown in, the game edges closer to an hour long, even with just 2 or 3 players. You can now play with up to five people, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. The game supports it, but it's clearly not committed to the idea, since there are only 4 expansion player aids in the box.
That's a very small trade-off, however. The truth is, Echoes of the Past feels like the "full version" of Innovation. I've played a few games without it, and the base game alone feels thin now. I would even venture to say that this is one of the best expansions I've played for any game ever. It does everything an expansion should do. It makes the gameplay better in almost every facet, and it does so without forcing you to forget old rules. Nothing feels bolted on or forced. It could have been a cluttered mess, but instead it's a masterpiece of an expansion for what was already a pretty terrific game.