This one is one of the classics. I’m excited. So, 7 Wonders is a civilization-building game where you are tasked with creating a great ancient civilization centered around one of the famous 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. While you have some collaborators, only one civilization can rise above the rest. It’s a good game with a lot of neat mechanics, but the setup / gameplay can be a bit complicated. Let’s talk more about it.
Alright, this is gonna be a bit of a doozy, so bear with me. You’ll notice a bunch of things inside of the box, and I’ll briefly explain each. You should start with a bunch of Wonder boards that look like this:
These are the titular 7 Wonders. There are also cards that come with them so that you can shuffle the cards and deal one to each player, rather than shuffling the Wonder boards (which is hard). Do that. Now, each player has a Wonder board. For the game, each Wonder board has two sides. Side A:
They’re slightly different and Wonder-dependent, but you should all pick the same side for the game. In either case, if it’s your first game you should start with Side A. It’s a bit less complex. We’ll briefly ignore the symbols and touch back on them later.
You might notice that some people’s copies of 7 Wonders have alternate Wonder boards, such as:
Yes, that’s a Catan Wonder. These are all from a variety of different expansions, so they will get covered in later blog posts. If you see these, don’t necessarily use them in your first game. They can be weird.
Next, handle the tokens. There should be three types of tokens in your game box. First, these tokens:
This is just money. Everyone starts with three coins (unless otherwise stated), so pass those out.
Finally, move on to the cards.
There are three sets of cards in three different colors (brown, blue, and purple), and these are the cards that comprise the three different ages of the game. Each of the cards has a number (such as 3+, 4+, 5+, or 6+) on the bottom indicating how many players that card supports. If you’re playing with 4 players, for instance, you remove all the 5+, 6+, and 7+ cards from the game, since those are for larger groups. Additionally, you may notice purple-front cards in Age III, like so:
These, as you might note from the names, are all different types of guilds. There are only a specific number of guilds allowed per game, so shuffle them, take (number of players + 2) guilds, and add them to the Age III pile.
Now that that’s settled, shuffle each of the three piles and deal 7 cards from Age I to each player (note that this should exhaust the Age I pile. If not, you messed up). You can set Ages II and III aside, but typically we just deal out 7 cards of each age to each player and they keep Ages II and III with them, so we don’t have to shuffle and deal again. DO NOT LOOK AT THE CARDS, YET. You’ll start with Age I, but you won’t look at Age II or III until Age I is over.
Once your table looks something like this, you’re ready to move on to Gameplay:
At its core, 7 Wonders should be a simple game. Every age, players play one of the cards in their hand. Thing is, this is an example of a drafting game. At its core, drafting means every player takes and plays a card simultaneously, then passes their hand onto the next player until they’re out of cards. If you’re looking for a good introduction to drafting, please check out Tides of Time or Between Two Cities. There are four 7 Wonders-specific caveats to this:
- When you only have two cards remaining, you must discard the other card face-down into a shared pile.
- You cannot, under any circumstances, play two cards with the same name, even if they’re from different ages.
- Cards are passed clockwise in Ages I and III and counter-/anticlockwise in Age II.
- And, finally, you must be able to afford the card that you’re playing.
What does that mean? Well, let’s look at some card. For instance:
Take these two cards. One, the Palace, costs one of every resource that can be produced, and the other costs three bricks and a glass. If you already produce all of those resources, you can play the card. Otherwise, if your neighbor on the right or left side produces the resources you need, you can pay them two coins per resource to use that resource. (They cannot refuse your money.) If you’ve satisfied the conditions, you can play the card. Note that some cards allow you to bypass the cost of the card if you’ve built a previous card in the chain, like so:
See how Apothecary has “Dispensary” in the bottom-right corner and how Dispensary has “Apothecary” right next to the cost in the top-left corner? These are part of a chain, and such the subsequent card in a chain can be built for free if you’ve already built the previous one. That’s a great way to bypass having to produce a bunch of resources as you approach the later ages of the game.
But what does it mean to produce resources? Let’s take a look at some cards and find out.
Meet the Cards: Raw Materials
Raw material cards (brown cards) are pretty much the most basic cards in the game. They either cost nothing or cost one coin (as you can see in the top-left corner), and they produce resources pictured on the card. There are three types:
- Single resource: Produces one of the pictured resource. This can be stone, wood, …ore?, or brick.
- Hybrid resource: Produces one of the pictured resources, but not the other. In the above picture, for instance, you could use a stone but not a wood on one turn, and then a wood but not a stone on the other. How convenient! These cost a coin to build, however.
- Dual resource: Produces the two pictured resources (they’re the same resource). These are only available in Age II, and cost one coin.
Meet the Cards: Manufactured Goods
For all your later-game needs, you might find that you want some manufactured goods. These are pretty much necessary, so you might find yourself wanting to produce at least one. There are three types: glass (pictured), looms, and papyrus, even though that’s not really what we call them when we play. Luckily, they don’t cost any money to play. Handy!
Meet the Cards: Civilian Structures
Civilian structures are pretty nice, as they’re worth just pure, straight, victory points when played (for reference, that’s what the victory point symbol looks like in 7 Wonders — this Altar, for instance, is worth 2 victory points). These also have high chaining potential and can be worth a lot of points if played smartly on your turn, as even if you don’t get the chain you can still just buy them for resources that you already produce, if you have them.
Meet the Cards: Scientific Structures
Science is weird. These structures can be particularly difficult to use, just because of how they’re scored. There are three different kinds of science that scientific structures produce, as pictured, and they can usually be part of either scientific, military, or civilian chains, if you’re lucky.
At the end of the game, they’re scored as follows:
- Each card of each type is worth X points, where X is the number of cards you have of that type. In other words, square the number of cards you have of that type and they’re worth that many points. For instance, if you have three different compasses (the leftmost card), you’d score 9 points total. If you had five, you’d score 25 points.
- For each complete set of three you have, score 7 points.
Note that this stacks, so if you have five compasses, two tablets, and three gears, you’d score 52 (25 + 4 + 9 + (7 * 2)) points.
Meet the Cards: Commercial Structures
These cards can be a bit weird. Some, like this one, decrease the cost of buying resources from a neighboring civilization (these are not cumulative), others produce resources on their own; some give you money, and others give you victory points. These usually have chains starting in early ages and leading into really useful cards in later ages, and they’re a great way to make money.
Meet the Cards: Military Structures
Ah, military. So, these cards provide a certain level of military strength (we call them shields). In Age I, they’re all worth 1 shield. Age II, they’re worth 2, and surprisingly, in Age III, they’re worth 3 shields. Now, what are these good for?
At the end of each age, there’s a brief military conflict, as you might have surmised from the Military Victory and Defeat tokens noted earlier in Setup. Each player fights against the civilizations on his or her left and right. Should they have fewer shields than their opponent, they take a Military Defeat token, worth -1 points. If they have the same number as their opponent, nothing happens. If they have more shields than their opponent, however, they take a Military Victory token, depending on the Age:
- Age I victories are worth 1 point.
- Age II victories are worth 3 points.
- Age III victories are worth 5 points.
Meet the Cards: Guilds
Guilds are all over the place, and I’d highly recommend just reading the cards to figure out what they do. Usually they do one of a few things:
- Give you points based off of cards your opponents have played (any of the six colors)
- Give you points based off of wonder stages you and your opponents have built
- Give you points based off of certain cards you’ve played
- Give you points based off of Military Defeats your opponents have sustained
- Give you an extra scientific symbol of your choice. That’s pretty good.
So, a turn proceeds as follows:
- Choose a card from your hand. Make sure you can pay for it.
- Play the card from your hand, paying your opponents as necessary to use their resources. You can play a card in several ways:
- Play the card normally in front of you.
- Discard the card and take 3 coins from the bank.
- Play the card underneath of your Wonder board to construct a Wonder stage.
- Pass your hand.
As a last bit, when you play a card on your Wonder board, you slide it into one of the spots available:
You immediately get the bonus on the tile, but only once. You have to build Wonder stages in order, as well. Some benefit from being built early, others benefit from being built late. You’ll have to check the symbols to be sure.
Speaking of which, the cards and tiles have a lot of symbols. Don’t necessarily stress about it, but you’re better off looking at the rulebook than trying to have me explain every symbol here. Trust me, there are a lot:
So play turns normally until each Age ends, and then proceed into the next Age until the game ends. At that point, the person with the most victory points wins!
The suggested way to tally the points is as shown:
It’s usually helpful if one person just roll calls the colors and each person’s name, as that’s a bit faster than everyone trying to pass around the scoreboard. Incidentally, coins are worth 1 victory point for every three coins you have (rounding down) at the end of the game (and yes, Giza managed to have 37 coins [12 points], which is ridiculous).
In order to get there, let’s talk a bit of strategy.
So, as a brief opener, it is a completely valid strategy to go deep and try to only really build cards of a certain type (and you’ll see this happen a lot with blue cards and science). You can try that, but it’s also blockable. Let’s get a bit more in-depth.
- Never run out of money. This is the worst thing that can happen. Not only will you be unable to buy resources from your neighbors, but you may not be able to afford certain resources if you run out of money too early. This is widely considered to be a bummer.
- Make sure you have access to resources. If you can’t produce or buy certain resources, you may have a LOT of trouble in later ages when you’re trying to build guilds or late-game science cards.
- Denying your neighbors cards is as important as getting cards you need. There are a few ways to do this. You can play the card yourself, sure, but if you can’t afford it you might just play it to construct a Wonder stage or discard it and gain three coins, instead.
- Military can be either really useful or pointless, depending on your neighbors. Just keep an eye on what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it’s worth building military not so that you can score points, but so your neighbors don’t score points at your expense.
- Science can be a bit weird. Take, this example:Babylon has 3 compasses, 1 slab, and 1 gear. Now, some games encourages you to think breadth over depth, which would give you 31 (9 + 4 + 4 + (7 * 2)) points. However, since you can assign Babylon’s Wonder ability and the Scientist’s Guild to be any science, placing it all into compasses would actually give you 25 + 1 + 1 + 7 = 34 points, which is a slight increase. In fact, some games are decided by smaller spreads than that. It’s odd.
- Don’t let one player get all the science. If you see someone start hoarding science, it might be worth discarding a science card they need or using it to construct a Wonder stage. That can be the difference between someone getting 16 points and 25 points off of a science group, which is a pretty significant spread.
- Having tons of money is awesome. You can buy basically anything, which is just, great. I’d highly recommend it both in 7 Wonders and in life.
- I don’t think the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is that good. I just don’t see players discard enough cards to justify its Wonder ability (take any card from the discarded cards and play it for free). That might be my group, though, and I suppose if money’s tight you might be able to find some good cards that other people discarded, or you could use it to discard an expensive card one turn that you can’t afford and then get it for free…
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Almost disgustingly well-balanced. I feel like any configuration of play might still be winnable, and the play feels pretty solid. While it’s not necessarily always good to go full-throttle on only one type of card, players can still be fairly successful with almost any approach.
- When everyone knows how to play, play is amazing. We’ve played some pretty seamless games when we’re playing with experienced players. It’s fast, it’s fun, and everyone comes out of it feeling like they were close to winning, for the most part.
- The variety of strategies means there’s something for everyone. Want to not be bothered? Just focus on blue cards and get straight points. Want to be complicated? Build only science cards. Want to fight other players? Go all-military. None of them are particularly bad strategies, but they also allow you to experiment.
- Different Wonders also encourage different playstyles. This means that you can try something new every game, just by changing your Wonder. Ephesus encourages money, Rhodes encourages military, and Babylon encourages science. Even Halicarnassus might let you be sneaky and discard a card you can’t afford, only to reclaim it from the discard pile on a later turn if it’s still useful. These are nice because they don’t demand a certain playstyle, but they still encourage it.
- Tons of great expansions. I will cover them later, but Leaders, Cities, The Wonder Pack, and Babel are all pretty fun and pretty interesting. I’d highly recommend checking them out!
- Plays well at any player count. I’ve heard good things about two-player 7 Wonders, and I’ve played at every other level before and really enjoyed it. It’s nice that the game scales to any of 2-7 players without having issues.
- The game’s theme doesn’t like, really dazzle me. This could really be any sort of construction game and it would probably play the same way, in my opinion. It’s cool that it’s about Wonders of the World, but, like, it doesn’t really speak to me. Just a personal preference.
- Takes up a lot of space. It’s hard to play this if you have a tiny table. It just won’t fit. It’s probably the largest card game I own in that regard, though it looks amazing once a full game has been played. I wish it were more portable, because it’s such a fun game that I would take it most places if I had the opportunity.
- Very difficult for new players to learn. This is a game with a tech tree. Like, a Civilization 5 tech tree.This is not the best game for new players. They end up taking much longer on their turns and interrupting the flow of the game, usually, which stresses them out because it’s not that difficult to figure out where the bottleneck in a simultaneous play game is. This leads to mistakes, occasionally. I’ve played games where new players have accidentally played two of the same card causing the game to become unbalanced or forgotten to build any resources during Age I because they didn’t realize they’d need them in later ages, etc. It’s just tough! As a result, I tend to avoid playing it with new players, but hopefully Between Two Cities will be a good starter game to get into this (same drafting mechanic).
- Really complicated symbols doesn’t help make the game easier to understand. As I mentioned previously, there’s an entire page of the (massive) rulebook devoted to explaining what the various symbols mean. This should not be surprising to people who have played Tokaido (same designer), but the meaning of each symbol is not immediately discernible from just reading it.
So, as with Carcassonne, I’ll give this game two ratings because it has so many expansions.
Without expansions: 9 / 10
With expansions: 9.5 / 10
It’s hard to make a perfect game, but 7 Wonders comes damn close. It’s unique, interesting, and brings a lot to the table provided you’re prepared to teach it to people who might not have played it before. It’s got a preposterous amount of replay value with the various wonders. Not only do they play differently with different people, but also depending on who you sit next to, you can have a completely different experience with the same wonder between games. The expansions add a lot and make it a better game, but vanilla 7 Wonders is by no means a bad game.
It’s just barely not a perfect game.
And you know what? That’s okay.