‘He spoke, the son of Cronos, and nodded his head with the dark brows,
and the immortally anointed hair of the great god
swept from his divine head, and all Olympos was shaken’
-Iliad, I, 528-530
7 Wonders has won 30 awards. After playing it, this really isn’t surprising. 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza is a card drafting game themed around the seven great wonders of the ancient world and the civilizations that built them during three eras of time. Through the use of decks representing each era, players create great scientific, economic, and militaristic societies while also trying to create their respect great wonders. Through clever mechanics and multiple paths for victory points, the game is easy and quick to play while still maintaining a need for critical thinking and situational awareness.
Like any recent game, 7 Wonders takes advantage of a victory point system and eliminating the knockout mechanic associated with the classics. But unlike other quality games such as Smallworld, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride which all have limited ways of collecting victory points, 7 Wonders gives players seven ways to score points. By having so many ways to accumulate points, what the game does is forces the players to think about what path to points is best. While a balance approach is probably best, the game mechanics often don’t allow a player to score significant points in a single category when trying to play balance style.
Before diving into playing strategies, it is best to explain the basic gameplay which will often determine how you play. 7 Wonders is broken into three eras represented by decks of cards. Each era has six rounds. So no matter the number of players, the game will only last 18 rounds, which is actually super nice. This prevents the game from lasting forever, which to be honest isn’t for everyone. Also at the beginning of each era, the players are dealt 7 cards from the appropriate era deck. From the dealt hand, players then select a card to play. There are three potential options for playing a card. The card can be built if the player meets the required costs. It can be used to build a stage of the players wonder if, once again, the player meets the requirements for building that stage, or the player can discard the card for 3 gold which can then be used for trading and or hording for potential victory points at the end.
The selection of the card is done simultaneously among all players, and the associated actions take place, and then here is the catch of 7 wonders. You pass the hand you just had either to the left or right depending on the era. This effectively screws any long term planning and now forces the player to develop a completely new strategy that is completely depending on the current cards in the player’s hand. This little trick effectively destroys the idea of monopolizing on any one set of victory points. While you can certain try to capitalize on a string of cards that work well together, you can’t plan around cards that could potentially not even be in the hands coming your way. Expert players will also take into account neighboring civilizations when deciding what to play especially when it comes to guild cards (more on that later) or in just trying to prevent the opposing player from getting easy victory points. This process continues until the hand received has only 2 cards. The player selects one to play and discards the other, and the era is now completed.
You do that for every era, and that is the general play of the game. Once you complete the third era, victory points are calculated in, wait for it… 7 different categories. (If you haven’t noticed, 7 is constant them in this game.) The person with the most points after summing these categories wins.
The first item for victory points is the total value of conflict tokens. Wait! What are conflict tokens?!? Yeah, there is a bunch of little things like this that make the game a little cumbersome at times. Nevertheless, conflict tokens represent victories your civilizations have against your neighbors. Conflicts in this game are as straight forward as they are in Smallworld. Do I have more military symbols in my civilization than you do? If the answer is yes, I get a conflict token for the value of 1, 3, or 5 for the first, second, and third eras, respectively. If the answer is No, I have less than the neighbor, then you get a conflict token with a value of -1. If you are the same, then you receive no tokens. That’s it for conflicts. The victory points possibility ranges from -6 (you lose ever conflict to both neighbors for all three eras) to +18 (winning every conflict). The only way to achieve points this way is to build military cards. Because the value of the conflict tokens increase as the game progress, makes developing an army more important later.
The second method of victory points is all about that straight cash, hommie. For every three gold you have, you will get one victory point. You can gain gold from discarding cards, building certain cards, neighbors trading for your precious resources, and maybe from your wonder depending on the civilization. Some of the cards in the late game can swing decent amount of gold in your direction and give you a nice little treasury for scoring.
The next three ways of score is basically the same thing just from different sources. You count all the victory points from your wonder, civic buildings (blue cards), and economic buildings (yellow cards). The number of points is stated on the card or wonder board provided.
The sixth way of amassing points comes from the tricky guild cards (purple cards) which first rear their heads in the third era. Guild cards are all about collecting points based on what you and your neighbors have done at the end of the game. So if someone plays the ‘spies’ guild’ then the player will get a victory point for every red card his or hers neighbors have built. If you play it right, the guild cards could easily make or break a game.
The last track for victory points is all about education and technology buildings. The game has three different technologies which I would call writing, math, and engineering. The beauty of these is how quickly your point totals can increase. For every set of three unique technology, 7 points are awarded (told you 7 is a thing in this game). And, the key word there is and, for every building you have for one technology, you square it. It’s really hard to explain math using words. So let’s bring out the chalkboard and an example. You finish the game with 1 writing building, 2 math buildings, and 3 engineering buildings. You get 7 points for having one of each kind. You get 12 for the 1 writing building, 22 for 2 math buildings, and 32 for 3 engineering buildings for a grand total of 21 points. If you can’t do basic math involving exponents, you should probably find a different hobby than board games.
Enough details about the game and rules. There is a rule book for a reason. This game is simply a lot of fun. Creating a deck game requires a delicate balance. Munchin, Dominion (depending on the cards selected for gameplay), and Bohnanza are quality card based games that have a nice balance of card power, gameplay, and fairness. Boss Monster, while quite enjoyable, can on occasionally be overwhelming unbalanced. For 7 Wonders, the cards in the decks are extremely balanced. I actually can’t believe how well balanced the game is. Over several plays, the scores were all within 10. Some victories were decided by a single point. No matter the strategy deployed, you always have a chance to win.
Some of the most fascinating aspects of this game are the fact you can have so many solid ways to attack the game. Now this isn’t an abstract strategy game such as Chess, but you don’t feel limited in how you can win. I can focus a little on technology, and civil buildings, and then later grab some good economic buildings that bring in a surplus of gold that allow me to build other things or I can go full on aggression by building an army and hording all the resources I can.
7 Wonders also plays very quickly because of the reducing hand size limiting your choices. When you have two cards left, you have only 4 choices to make, and some of them can’t even be made because of a lack of resources. A game can easily be played within 30 to 45 minutes. This is a huge plus. There is always something refreshing about being able to get a few games played. I guess it satisfies that desire for that one more chance.
While the gameplay is great, the strategy fascinating, and having a small time investment, 7 Wonders has two flaws. The first is the lack of interaction. I always believe that the best games involve talking and dealing with other players in a meaningful capacity. 7 Wonders doesn’t make this happen. Yes, you trade with your neighbors, not every one, just the neighbors, but it isn’t much interaction. “Hey, here are two gold coins so I can use your loom resource.” That isn’t meaning interaction, especially since you can’t negotiate. You have to let them use it.
My second problem with 7 wonders is that the cards have symbols that dictate what they do. While this is fine, and provides some cool aesthetics, this makes players rely on the rule book to decipher what the card does. Most card based games put explicit text on the cards describing what the card does. This removes the need to memorize rules. Now if you play 7 Wonders on a consistent basis, you will eventually know what every card does because nothing is over complicated.
These flaws do not deter from my enjoyment of the game. It is a very well balanced card drafting game that is easy to pick up, quick to play, and has enough strategy and planning to provide critical thinking and problem solving that any quality game requires to be fun. 7 Wonders is a great game for any level of board gamer. For beginners, it is not too overwhelming, and has intuitive mechanics to make the game progress forward. For more hard-core board gamers such as me, 7 Wonders provides enough of a mental challenge in optimizing your hand to provide the largest return of investment of victory points. (Yes that is how we, serious board gamers think. ROI is a critical concept for most resource, economic driven games. Just wait till I write about Caverna.) At the end of the day, 7 Wonders is a mandatory addition to any board game collection.