During my initial pandemic board game obsession, I ordered two games from Amazon. One was Fox in the Forest. The other was an even more popular two-player game: 7 Wonders Duel, based on the renowned 7 Wonders, a game of rotating hands of cards, constructing buildings, money management and the establishing of powerful wonders.
Being stuck in a home of two people led me to want games that don’t simply accomodate two players but were designed for two players. I wanted a face-off experience, a battle of wits, an intimate contest of cunning analysis and economic prowess. The “duel” in 7 Wonders Duel is what caught my attention over and over again as I saw the game across the inter-webs, and the impressive Board Game Geek rank (currently #17), the glowing reviews and engaging playthroughs only validated my fascination.
Drafting Your Civilization
Over the span of three eras you and your opponent draft cards that represent buildings and structures from the center of the play area. The layout of these cards is definitely the most intriguing part of reading the rules. Some cards are face-down and most of the cards are partially covered by another card, meaning that your available options for building your empire are limited and variable. Plus, drafting a card that leaves a face-down card uncovered causes that card to be flipped face-up just in time for your opponent’s turn, so you don’t necessarily know what choice you are handing over to your enemy. Having the cards laid out like this turns the thought process from, “what card do I need right now?” to “what am I giving to my opponent if I take the card I want?”
There are several types of cards including raw resources, refined resources, science buildings, and military structures. Each card has a price on it that you must pay before taking it. Sometimes it just costs coins, but most of the time it costs resources. Luckily, your civilization may already be producing the resources you need! If a building costs two wood and one brick, but you already have cards that produce one wood and one brick, then all you have to pay for is the second wood. How much does that cost? Just two little coins . . . not that much . . . right?
In the likely event that you have to pay for a resource that your empire doesn’t produce, the price increases if your opponent produces that resource. If I want a building that costs one glass, but I don’t have glass and my opponent has three glass-producing buildings, then it will cost five coins rather than just two, which is paid to your opponent because you’re essentially buying the resource from their city. This is another notable feature. There is something different about spending extra money that just goes to the supply than giving it to your opponent. This allows the opportunity for one player to monoplize a particular resource and get paid a lot of money whenever his opponent doesn’t produce enough needed to build the card he wants.
Points, Science, and Shields
So you’re drafting cards, paying costs, accumulating resources and wealth, how do you win? There are three ways, but there’s actually only one way (more on that later). According to the rules, you can win by having the most points at the end of the third era, by collecting enough scientific symbols or by simply burning your opponent’s city to the ground with your incredible army.
A way in which this game really succeeds is that there are several ways to score points. You can draft cards that are worth victory points, especially the blue civic cards. Some gold economy and green science cards have points on them as well. At the end of the game, you convert money into points and get points for having a larger army.
Always 7, there are. No more. No less.
Wonders are a thing too (hence the title). During any turn, you can draft a card, ignore its costs and instead use it to construct one of your four wonders, paying the cost shown on the wonder. Wonders generate points and have powerful effects, like taking an extra turn, building a card from the discard pile or producing several different resources. While each player has four wonders to build, the game is called 7 Wonders Duel, which means that there is a subtle race to construct four wonders before your opponent, thus denying them their fourth wonder.
The wonders seem a little easy to construct, making the race slightly anticlimactic. They are often built during the first and second eras and are great when you initially activate them, but then they just sit there till the end of the game.
The most useful bonuses are the science tokens that you earn for having a pair of matching symbols on the green cards in your civilization. These can grant coins, points, building discounts and wonder discounts. While these can be really helpful, the method of earning them is counter to the scientific path to victory, which requires several different symbols.
Fake Science and Broken Shields
Inevitably, one player notices the other collecting several scientific symbols, so he starts drafting those cards so the other player can’t get them. Or one player gains significant ground on the military track, so the other player drafts a few red military cards to balance it out. This common sense response leads nearly every game to end after the third era with a contest of victory points. It almost makes science and military seem distracting and inconsequential.
And if a game does happen to end by science or military it is very abrupt and unsatisfiying. Say I’m doing really well and my civilization has a lot more points in it than my opponent’s. But I happen to draft a card that uncovers and flips over the one green or red card that my opponent needs to beat me. It is easy to boil it down to “luck of the draw” is that kind of situation.
5 out of 7
While this game is very popular and well-known as a staple two player battle, I have some issues with it. Besides the distracting victory conditions and the underwhelming wonders, there is one concept that makes or breaks it for me. You have to be mentally invested and committed. If you just sit down and casually play this game, drafting cards, building wonders and counting points, it seems menial and unchallenging.
But if you and your partner treat it as a cut-throat duel of competing empires, studying each other’s cards, monopolizing on a particular resource so your opponent has to pay you extra for it, racing to build all your wonders, denying your opponent cards he needs, then it’s actually a duel worth playing. From the outside, the game appears to be a simple engine building, card drafting experience. But without the committment of two people that actually want to win this fight, counting up points at the end and declaring a winner will feel unexciting, unearned, inconsequential and easily forgettable.
Watch a playthrough of the game!
Learn more about 7 Wonders Duel and how to purchase it at Board Game Geek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/173346/7-wonders-duel
Check out the original 7 Wonders for 2-7 players: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/68448/7-wonders