Project Alphaboard: 7 Wonders Duel

A few years ago, I decided to read through my entire collection of books in alphabetical order (by author, taking series order into account). Partly I wanted to revisit some old friends, and partly I wanted to see if there were any physical books I’d want to cull from my collection. Recently, I had the idea of doing the same thing with my board game collection. I fully expect this project to take even longer, but I also expect it to be a lot of fun.

7 Wonders Duel from Repos Productions is the first game alphabetically in my collection. Since it is a two player game, Happy Monster Joy and I played it at home. In concept, it is an abstract civilization building game that takes place over three ages. Each age has its own set of cards representing structures that you can build in your city (really just a tableau of cards in front of you). Each player also starts with four Wonder cards, powerful structures that require both a ton of resources and sacrificing a structure card to construct. There’s a bit of a race with the Wonders; there can only be seven, so once one player builds four, the other player cannot build their fourth wonder.

Initial setup and the first Age

Each turn, a player draws a card from the available structure cards. These are laid out in a pattern; sometimes you know what you are drawing, and sometimes you are not. With card in hand, you have three options – build the structure if you have the resources to do so, cash the structure in for two gold, or use it to build a Wonder (again assuming you have the resources). Each structure has a cost, which can be zero, and a benefit. Some structures provide victory points; some provide military power; others provide resources. Some structures also have special icons – these include technologies and “chaining” icons. Having two of the same technology icons built allows you to draw a special token that provides an extra power, such as reducing construction costs. The cost of a structure may be in resources, gold, or both; but the “chaining” icons allow you to build a new structure for free if you have the corresponding icon. All this results in some serious “gotcha” potential as players can try to draw cards they know or think their opponent needs.

Victory in 7 Wonders Duel comes in one of three ways. If you accumulate one of each technology icon, you score an immediate science victory. If your military strength completely imbalances your opponent, you score an immediate military victory. Otherwise, once all the cards are picked up in the third age, you tally victory points and the highest total wins.

Joy and I played this twice and she won both times. There’s something about the engine building element in the game that fits with her systematic mind. In the first game, she stomped me militarily; I was on guard for that in the second game, but she still outbuilt and outscored me. 7 Wonders Duel is definitely a game that rewards replay – knowing what cards are out there and how critical it is for you to get a specific card is crucial to success. We both enjoyed the game very much.

Crushing military defeat for Happy Monster Scott

From a components and theme perspective, the game is fairly abstract. As noted, your city is just your collection of cards, and military strength is shown by moving a marker left and right on a track. It definitely does not have the feel of a classic computer civilization game, or even a city builder, as the tableau just doesn’t give the feel of a living, breathing city. The card art is very good, however, and the iconography is reasonably solid, requiring only occasional references to the rulebook.

In pandemic times, solo and two-player games have become much more popular. If you’re looking for a quick, two-player civ game that is easy to learn, you could do a lot worse than 7 Wonders Duel, as long as you’re good with the abstraction of the civilization itself.

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