Review – 7 Wonders

                7 Wonders is a card drafting and (sort of) tableau building card game suitable for up to seven players. Designed by Antoine Bauza, 7 Wonders retails for about $50. 7 Wonders was one of the most-lauded games to come out in of 2010 (including the 2011 Spiel des Jahres Kennerspiel Winner) – does it live up to the praise?

The Quick Take: A light and fast game that is fun and is one of those rare games that don’t get any slower as you add more players. It is also straightforward enough to teach to non-gamers. This flexibility makes 7 Wonders a great selection if your tastes extend beyond 4 players and include light games. If you like light games, but don’t need to seat more than four players, then 7 Wonder is a good game, but loses that wow factor.

The Basics

The basic mechanic of 7 Wonders is drafting. There are three ages (each age has its own deck), and each player starts each age with a hand of seven cards. Players simultaneously choose one card each, play them, and then pass what’s left (left/right/left through the three ages). The seventh card in each age is just discarded, so this means that every game of 7 Wonders takes exactly 18 turns.

A specified set of cards is used for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 players – you do not randomly do a portion of the deck, which would risk certain resources or other basic cards just never getting drawn.

The three actions are to play the card, use the card with your Wonder board, or sell the card for some coins.

In order to do take many actions, you need resources. There are four “raw materials” – timber, stone, ore, and clay – and three “manufactured goods” – papyrus, textiles, and glass. Actions can also cost gold coins. If you do not have a particular resource, you can pay 2 coins to be able to access a resource that the player to your right or left has.

As an alternative to having resources, many more advanced cards can be “paid for” by having a corresponding earlier structure out. For example, no resources are required to build the Temple (in Age II) if you already have the Alter (from Age I).

Seven categories of points are tallied after the end of the third age – Conflict points, cash on hand, the Wonder, Civilian Structures, Commercial Structures, Science Structures, and Guilds. Most Victory Points (VP) wins.

The Wonder Board

Each player also has a Wonder board (randomly distributed at the start of the game) that represents that player’s Wonder – the seven Wonders correspond to the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Wonder board does two things. First, it gives you one resource. Second, it tells you what you need and what you get for building your Wonder.  You can also play your card face-down under your Wonder board to represent building the next stage of your Wonder. Each stage of the Wonder has a cost in resources and some benefit.

Each Wonder has an A-side and a B-side. The B-sides are more varied and slightly more complex (for example, they don’t all have three stages).

The Cards

There are seven flavors of card in 7 Wonders (noticing a pattern here?). Each card can be played face-up in front of you, which is referred to as building a structure. Each kind of structure has its own, distinctive color.

The two resource card types (brown and grey cards) are the most straightforward to play – you put them down, and now you have access to one of that resource every action for the rest of the game. They’re mostly free, but a few cost a coin.

The most basic of the rest of the structures are civilian structures (blue cards). Civilian structures each have a VP number and they’re worth that many at the end of the game. Other than making later civilian structures free, that’s it.

Commercial structures (yellow cards) produce cash, reduce the cost of ‘renting’ resources from neighboring players, or directly produce a resource (that cannot be rented). The commercial structures from Age III are also generally worth VP. Instead of a fixed amount, however, each will vary based on some circumstance in the game – how many cards you have a particular type or how many stages of your Wonder have been completed.

Science structures (green cards) are (in addition to the usual qualifying for later free structures) all about VP, but they produce them in a more complex way. There are three categories of science structure – let’s call them clockwork, tablets, and sextants. You are incentivized both to have all three kinds, and to pile into one kind. Each set of three different kinds you have is worth 7 points. Then, in addition to that, for each of the kinds you count up how many cards of that kind, square it, and score that many points. It should come as no surprise that science is the category of card that a new player is probably most likely to mess up on – especially if that wily veteran can corner the market on them.

Military structures (red cards) each generate some number of shields. At the end of each age, each player compares how many shields his military cards are producing with the number produced by the player on his right. If he has more, he gets a victory token (worth 1, 3, or 5VP, depending on the age). If he loses, he gets a defeat token (always -1VP). Then he repeats the process with the player on his left. So, barring ties, each player will get two of these Conflict tokens at the end of each Age.

Finally, there are guilds (purple cards). Guilds only appear in the Age III deck, and there are more guild cards than slots for guild cards in the Age III deck, so they’re the one part of the deck that’s variable from game to game. Guilds are almost all VP generators (there’s one guild that generates a science symbol of your choice to add in with your science structures), and mostly give points for what the players to your left and right have accumulated.

Components

               The components are all nice – the cards, the Wonder boards, the various tokens. The Wonder boards, in particular, are gorgeous, with great full-bleed art on each side. The art on the cards themselves is decent, and the graphic design is good.

The rules are intelligible, and there’s also a quick rule sheet, and the back of both the rulebook and the quick rule sheet have a handy guide to all the symbols. The insert is great, and easily holds everything in the box and keeps it separate. The box itself is nice and sturdy.

Opinions

The Wonder boards are pretty, but there really isn’t any thematic feel to the game.

The drafting is very fun and relatively distinctive in the board game world – there are lots of games that have some sort of drafting mechanic, but here the drafting basically is the game. You can play it as filler, or just play a lot of games of 7 Wonders in a row – it’s not something we think you’ll easily burn out on due to repetition.

It’s also nice that 7 Wonders feels like a complete game. There are some card games, including ones that I really like, that lean heavily on switching up the cards available from game to game, and so make you want to buy expansion after expansion. They’re fun, but that can get more expensive. 7 Wonders, on the other hand, is complete in the box – the replayability is not dependent on seeing all new cards every game. The different combinations of what you get passed, together with the semi-factional feel of the Wonder boards, is more than enough.

There is light strategy in the game – particularly how much you go into science and military. Science can be tons of points if one player is permitted to accumulate too many of them. Military is distinct in that it doesn’t matter how many shields you generate as such, only what you have in comparison to the players next to you. This means that sometimes just a little military can go a long way (if the players next to you ignore it), and sometimes it will go nowhere at all (if the players next to you are heavy in it). You may also want to “burn” a card for a Wonder or cash not just because there isn’t anything great for you in the hand, but also to cut off the player you’re passing to. You can try and force a particular strategy, but you’ll still have to be pretty reactive to the opportunities presented to you during the game.

The big draw for 7 Wonders is that it doesn’t get bogged down when you add lots of players – you only every directly interact with the players to your right and left, and all actions are simultaneous. It’s about the only gamer-game you can play with that many people, and certainly without bogging everything down (it’s relatively difficult to get analysis paralysis). 7 Wonders will reliably play in less than 30 minutes, no matter how many players you have.

There are two things that I would identify as imperfections about 7 Wonders. First, the math for scoring is probably the biggest downside in the game for many players. It’s not that the math is particularly complicated, but it’s all at once and the rest of the game is so light. It would be great if you could just flop down that last card, look at the board, and everyone could immediately announce and compare scores to determine the winner. Second, there are actual symbols on the cards – all of the resources, victory points, various commercial structure signals – so there’s a little bit of a learning curve for non-gamers (this won’t be, I think, a problem for gamers, but since one of the draws of the game is the ability to play it with non-gaming friends and family, I think it’s pertinent).

If you are interested in the sort of game that 7 Wonders is, then we think it’s a great purchase. It lets you play a light game quickly or repeatedly if you want. It lets you pack a lot of players into one game. It’s only “downtime” is when you’re figuring out your score.

Of course, if you aren’t interested in the kind of game 7 Wonders is, then you shouldn’t get it. This may seem obvious, but I think this is what most criticism of 7 Wonders boils down to – it doesn’t have heavy (or even medium) strategy, it doesn’t have a lot of take that interaction (the limited interaction is what lets it not bog down even with seven players), it isn’t vibrantly thematic. If you want those things in a game, 7 Wonders isn’t for you (you might have a little fun playing it a few times, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend buying it).

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