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  • Back In Time - Innovation: Echoes of the Past Review

    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.

    Holy crap! This review is posted on my blog, The Rumpus Room. Check it out, leave some comments.

  • Back to basics with X-Wing and Armada

    My wardrobe is full of spaceships. So many spaceships that there's barely room for clothes. Most of them live in an enormous box which crushes my shirts out of all recognition when it's squeezed in and out for play. It's a good job I play with spaceships a lot more than I wear shirts.

  • Back to the Future: Dice Through Time Board Game Review

    "So, let me illustrate. Imagine a line that represents time and at one point is 1985, to the left of it the past and to the right of it the future. If we travel back in time and make some small changes, the timeline skews off at an angle, creating an alternate 1985 - or rather, it's an alternate to you, Einstein and me, but a complete reality for everyone else. It turns out that Biff took the Sports Almanac into the past and thereby created this new timeline. It's now up to us to find a new way to get Back to the Future: Dice Through Time by Ravensburger."

  • Bad Jokes, Deadly Hippos, and Seating Arrangements - Jungle Cruise Review

    Prospero Hall's take on the classic Disney Parks ride is featherweight fun, but may not please the thrillseekers.

  • Banditos in Review

    Banditos, a new and rather under-the-radar game from Baksha games, isn’t going to win any awards for its design. It’s a disorganized, somewhat sloppy game plagued with a badly written and confusing set of rules that fail to convey the relative simplicity of its gameplay. The enormous card deck which drives the game is ridiculously bloated with redundant cards. It’s an amateurish mistake- throwing in the kitchen sink instead of brandishing the editor’s machete. The first third of it tends to be oddly paced and hesitant, with players waiting to fish multiple cards out of that giant deck to really get the game started. There are a couple of errors and the card backs are poorly printed with indistinguishable markings between decks. Banditos, a game about robbing banks, looks like a heist gone wrong at the outset.

  • Banditos Review by Ken B.

    Remember folks, keep your friends close, and your pesos closer.

  • Barker's Row Review

    Come see the magnificent, unfathomable, spine tingling, sensational...

  • Barnes Best 2021

    My annual Game of the Year Celebration is here!

  • Barnes on Games - Empires in America in Review

    Victory Point Games' venerable States of Siege line has come a long way. The original games in the solitaire series – titles like Soviet Dawn and Arab-Israeli Independence were pretty simplistic, whack-a-mole affairs where you tried to beat back five counters moving along different tracks whether they represented armies, ideologies or whatever. They were card-driven, with historical events driving the action. Typically, various tracks and meters would influence die rolls and other results so you got a decent sense of a historical narrative in a compact package. But those early versions of the system were pretty simplistic and they often felt somewhat repetitive or lacking in giving players enough agency to counteract bad rolls and inopportune card draws.

  • Barnes on Games - Osprey's Latest Tabletop Rulebooks (Frostgrave, Ragnarok, Men of Bronze, Rebels and Patriots)

    Four great new rulebooks from Osprey.

  • Barnes on Games #8 - Lincoln, Dungeon Mayhem, Yugioh Duel Links

    A Martin Wallace wargame, a D&D card game and...YAMI YUGI???
  • Barnes on Games Special Edition - Warhammer 40k: Battle for Vedros in Review (in three parts!)

    A Return to 40k, in Three Parts

  • Barnes on Games Special Edition- WH40k Battle for Vedros Part 2- 40k "Lite"?

    Now with 99.99% less rules lawyering!

  • Barnes on Games- Barnes' Best GOTY 2016

    Spoiler- It's Star Trek: Ascendancy

  • Barnes on Games- Healthy Heart Hospital in Review

    St. Elsewhere: The Game

  • Barnes on Games- Letter Press, Plunder: A Pirate’s Life, Escape from the Evil Garden Reviews

    A word game, a pirate game, and a terrible game.

  • Barnes on Games- Zimby Mojo in Review

    Jim Felli is Back.

  • Barnes on Games: Cartographers, Old West Empresario, Sorcerer Reviewed

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    Another batch of capsule reviews...

  • Barnes on Games: WH40k: Battle for Vedros Editorial Part 3

    Our very own Jeff White reminded me the other day that I hadn't published this yet...

  • Barnestorming #+1 Fire Damage - Sentinels of the Multiverse Retroview, Warhammer Quest, Hanoi Rocks

     My god, this artwork...