I’ve been playing games for quite some time. Many of those games have a card component where you either follow the instructions on the card or you add values together from one or more cards.
Games like War, Hearts, Spades, Cribbage, Poker, Go Fish!, and others have been staples in my gaming pantry for years. It’s pretty easy to pull out a deck of Bicycle cards and play Solitaire, Tri-Peaks, or Old Maid. And games like these tend to be “time passers” rather than for excitement.
In the nineties, Magic: The Gathering changed all of that for me. Cards were no longer about a value or a suit. They were instead creatures, spells, enchantments, and artifacts. Taking my love of fantasy into a new realm and making cards a part of a strategic game more akin to my beloved Stratego.
Since then, I’ve discovered other games that use cards in ways different than the traditional value comparison, set collection, or point accumulation games. I’ve seen games where cards represent units in an army (Summoner Wars), creatures (Talisman, Magic), or abstract ideas (Dixit).
My favorite, thus far, has been from Innovation. Cards represent technologies during certain ages of human history. But that’s not the mechanic. Splaying (or fanning cards in a particular direction) is where this game is unique.
We’ve seen splaying when people hold their cards or when a prestidigitator fans cards out on the table for someone to choose. But innovation does this in an interesting way.
Each card has four icons on it. One hexagonal and three square icons. Each icon represents something, an abstract something, about human culture, society, religion, or other ideal. The splaying mechanic is what makes these icons, or rather the placement of the icons, unique and interesting.
If the pile of cards you are splaying (a single-card pile cannot splay) is splayed left, the pile shifts to the left until the right-most icon on each card is displayed. If the cards are splayed right, the two icons on the left of the card are displayed. And finally, if the cards are splayed up, then there are three icons at the bottom of the card that are displayed.
Each time you splay your piles (Innovation has from one to five piles per player) your civilization becomes stronger. The more icons of a particular type that are visible, the more adept your civilization is at performing card actions associated with that icon. This means that your attacks will work more often, or that you will share your actions far less. But this also means that you get to partake in other player’s shared actions, which gives you board and/or card advantage in many situations.
I enjoyed the splaying mechanic so much, I designed a game called GalaXism off of that mechanic. In this game, you are piloting a starship. Each part of your ship is a stack of cards (starting at one card per stack) with one stack in the starboard, port, aft, fore, and command sections of the ship. Each card has icons which represent weapons, shields, armor plating, thrusters (a fast ship), maneuverability (an agile ship), and initiative (a trained crew). You ready weapons by choosing a stack and splaying that stack to a level equal to the number of weapon icons on the top card. So, if you have one icon, you splay to “Shift Level One” which equates to splaying left. If you have four weapon icons, you splay to “Shift Level Four” which shows all icons on all lower cards. This is slightly expanded from Innovation.
Overall, the mechanic is pretty awesome and I believe very usable for different genres of games. GalaXism suffers from an unbalanced set of icons (one player can turtle so effectively, nobody can hit him) and a cumbersome tableau. Shifting all those piles of cards around then back again makes it somewhat sloppy to play. I consider this game to be a success at re-purposing a mechanic, changing the theme if you will, but a failure as a fast, fun game.
The game has gone back to the drawing board to be redesigned for more components and to allow for some balance to be added. Until those rules are ironed out, I’m going to enjoy playing Innovation, well when my gaming crew is in the mood for it that is.