#47 – 7 Wonders: Duel

7 Wonders Duel Box.jpg

Base price: $30.
2 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

I’ve been meaning to get to this one for some time.

7 Wonders Duel is a two-player-only variant on the classic 7 Wonders, released in 2015. In it, as in 7 Wonders, you compete to build the greatest civilization of all time by collecting resources, researching scientific advancements, building both social and commercial structures, and, of course, crushing your opponents with the sheer might of your military. Unlike the original 7 Wonders, instead of just being a two-player variant, 7 Wonders Duel is a full-fledged game with different rules (and some different win conditions!). So will you be able to defeat your rival? Or will your civilization be remembered as promising, but ultimately brief? Read more and find out how to get started.

Contents

Setup

Surprising me somewhat based on my experience with 7 Wonders, this game isn’t all that tricky to set up. You’ll notice when you open the box and dig through it that you’ve got a board, some red tokens with a split coin on them, and a red swords / shield token (the Conflict Pawn). Set them up like this:

7 Wonders Duel Player Board.jpg

Next, you’ll notice you have some green circle tokens. Shuffle them (or swish them around, I don’t really know how you shuffle tiles) and then place five face-up on the game board, like so:

7 Wonders Duel Player Board Setup.jpg

Now, you’ll notice you have five types of cards:

7 Wonders Duel Card Types.jpg

Shuffle all of these (separately; please don’t shuffle them together) and set the Wonder cards aside for now. Remove three cards from the Age I, II, and III cards (and four from the Guild cards) and set them aside, as they won’t be used in this game. Shuffle the Guilds into the Age III deck, and then you’re almost ready to get started. The last thing you need to do is distribute Wonders:

7 Wonders Duel Wonders.jpg

You could do this randomly (or there’s a suggested setup in the rules – Player 1 gets the Pyramids, the Great Lighthouse, the Temple of Artemis, and the Statue of Zeus; Player 2 gets Circus Maximus, Piraeus, the Appian Way, and the Colossus), or you could draft the wonders. Here’s how that works.

  • Deal four Wonder cards face up between both players.
  • Player 1 chooses one Wonder.
  • Player 2 chooses two Wonders.
  • Player 1 takes the last Wonder.
  • Repeat, but with Players 1 and 2 swapped (so Player 2 takes the last Wonder).

Once you’ve done all that, there’s one last bit of setup. See, 7 Wonders is a bit of a weird animal in that it requires a specific card layout per Age:

You can (and should!) refer to the rules for the layouts, but I’ll also show them here. For Age I:

7 Wonders Duel Age I.jpg

  1. Two cards, face up
  2. Three cards, face down
  3. Four cards, face up
  4. Five cards, face down
  5. Six cards, face up

Age II:

7 Wonders Duel Age II.jpg

  1. Six cards, face up
  2. Five cards, face down
  3. Four cards, face up
  4. Three cards, face down
  5. Two cards, face up

And Age III:

7 Wonders Duel Age III.jpg

  1. Two cards, face up
  2. Three cards, face down
  3. Four cards, face up
  4. Two cards, face down
  5. Four cards, face up
  6. Three cards, face down
  7. Two cards, face up

Once you’ve done that, give both player 7 coins. If your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:

7 Wonders Duel Setup.jpg

Gameplay

Gameplay is actually pretty neat, here. So in a lot of ways it retains a lot of similarities to 7 Wonders, in that you are discarding cards to gain money or playing cards by paying their costs or constructing wonders, but rather than having a hand of cards you can use on your turn you pull an uncovered card from the setup pile. This means that there are no other cards on top of it and it is face-up. If, in the process of taking and using a card, you uncover a face-down card, flip it face-up. It’s meant to add an air of mystery and force players to think a bit more on the fly. So let’s talk about cards:

7 Wonders Duel Card.jpg

You can see that the card has a color, some sort of symbol or action (the top), a cost and potentially a condition (top left of the card’s picture) and a name (the bottom). The name’s not super relevant to like, gameplay, but it’s there, so … now you know. Let’s talk about the other stuff.

Card Colors

7 Wonders Duel Card Colors.jpg

There are 7 different colors of cards in the game, and they each represent a different type of building that you can construct in your civilization. They are as follows:

  • Brown / Gray – Resources! Brown cards are either Clay, Stone, or Wood, and Gray resources are either Papyrus or Glass. These are placed in your civilization and, similar to Splendor‘s cards, you use them to purchase resources but they’re not consumed when you do. Basically a card’s cost is “does your civilization produce all of these resources” and if so, you can take it. I’ll talk more about costs in the next section.
  • Red – Military! When you take these cards, you immediately move the Conflict Pawn one towards your opponent for every shield on the card (unless modified by other effects). If you manage to get the Conflict Pawn into your opponent’s capital, you automatically winSo, you know, keep an eye on that. As you push into zones, you may cause an opponent to lose 2 or 5 money when you first enter that zone. If you do, remove that tile from the play board, exposing the points underneath of it.
  • Blue – Civic! These are always worth straight victory points, but they get pretty expensive. That’s about it.
  • Yellow – Commercial! These generally have to do with getting money and gaining or buying extra resources. Additionally, if you are discarding a card on your turn, you gain an extra money for every yellow card in your play area, so … they’re often good to have.
  • Green – Scientific! These buildings generate a Science symbol whenever you play them. There are six total (and an extra one, but it’s on a Progress Token, not a card). If you ever play a pair of matching Science symbols, you can take a progress token from the play board and add it to your play area, gaining that effect. If you ever manage to get six different symbols (usually one of each, unless there’s that pesky Law token), you automatically winSo, like military, you might want to watch out for someone accruing a ton of science.
  • Purple – Guilds! There are only three of these cards in the game and they’re played only during Age III. When you play one, you can choose whether you want to use your civilization or your opponent’s civilization for the effect, generally. If there’s an immediate effect (such as gaining money), you choose at the time you play it. If there’s a victory point-gaining effect, you choose at the end of the game. If there’s both, well, you get to do both! That’s always nice.

Cool! Now let’s talk about card costs.

Buying Cards

As I mentioned earlier, on your turn you can “buy” a card by checking to make sure that you produce all of the necessary resources to buy it. If you do, you gain that card (if there’s a coin cost, you must pay those coins to the bank as well). If you do not, you can trade for those resources by paying the bank 2 + X money for each resource you’re missing, where X is the number of that resource your opponent produces. Yes, that means if your opponent produces three clay and you want to buy three, it will cost you 15 money, which is a lot. Thankfully, some cards can reduce the cost you have to pay per resource to 1, but you might still be wanting for cash if you’re trading a lot.

There are also cards that have a symbol in the top and cards with a matching symbol in the top-left near that cost. Those are effectively “if you have a card with this symbol (like a sun, for instance), you can build this for free”. We refer to that as chain-building, and it’s pretty awesome. You should try to do that, if you can, because free buildings are pretty sweet.

Other Uses for Cards

If you can’t afford (or don’t want to buy / want to prevent your opponent from buying) a card, you can also elect to discard it from the game and take 2 coins. You also get an additional coin for every yellow building card you have in your play area, which can be really helpful when you’re trying to buy more resources.

You can also build one of your Wonders by paying the Wonder’s cost and taking a playable card and placing it under your Wonder, face-down. You then activate the Wonder, which might give you extra military shields (moving the Conflict Pawn), money, or victory points, or give you a variety of effects, such as forcing your opponent to discard a brown or gray card of your choice, getting to pick a card from the discarded cards and play it for free, or even generating any one resource (of either clay/stone/wood or glass/papyrus) that you want! Generally they’re pretty good. Some even let you take another turn immediately, making them even more useful.

Note that, as the name suggests, there can only be seven Wonders, so if your opponent has already built four of theirs, you can only build three of yours. Turn the fourth one face-down to alleviate confusion, once your third one is built. Or put it back in the box, but I prefer the face-down method.

Gameplay, Continued

Gameplay continues until you’ve taken every card in the structure. Once that happens, that age ends and the next age begins (see Setup for instructions on how to set up each age). The player who has the Conflict Pawn closest to their capital chooses who goes first in the next age (after the cards have been set up), or, if the Conflict Pawn is in the center, the player who took the last card goes first in the next age.

As mentioned earlier, if a player either pushes the Conflict Pawn into the other player’s capital (Military Supremacy) or successfully gains six difference science tokens (Scientific Supremacy), they instantly win and the game is over, no matter when it happens. If they do not, tally the points you get from all your buildings, your Wonders, your Progress Tokens, and your military progress (the location of the Conflict Pawn). Add in 1 point for every 3 coins that you have. The player with the most points wins!

Strategy

  • Pay attention. Usually, your opponent will win by a military or science victory only if you make a pretty egregious mistake (say, letting them get to 4 or 5 unique science symbols). If you see them going military, respond by playing enough military so that you’re not dependent on a lucky flip to decide whether or not you lose the game. If you see them going science, get a pair of science cards for yourself; not only will you get a sweet Progress Token, but you’ll also make it impossible for them to win that way (unless the Law Progress Token is also in play). Just make sure you don’t let the game get away from you. In the same vein, capitalize on your opponent’s lack of attention to edge them out on the military or science, if you can, since that’s an automatic win. If that’s what you want to go for.
  • Be aware of the available cards. I think there’re only a max of two of any given type of card (there are two cards that produce three military shields, I believe, for instance). If that’s the case and you’ve already seen both, you know that there can’t be more. This should inform your decisions if you’re trying to avoid losing via Military Supremacy.
  • Be aware of what your opponent can buy. You should have a pretty good idea of what your opponent wants, and you should make sure that you can deny them cards that they want by either taking them yourself or burning them either to fuel a Wonder or for money. If you reveal cards that your opponent can’t purchase but they need, the best they can do is burn the one that they think you need for money or a Wonder. That’s usually better than other options.
  • Some Wonders and strategies synergize well. Generally speaking, the Wonders that generate either any brown-card resource (a clay/stone/wood) or any gray-card resource (glass/papyrus) are good alone but even better together. Same with the two Wonders that cause your opponents to discard a brown card and / or a gray card. If you had all four, you’d keep your opponent fairly out of the resource race while you’re a bit more flexible with what you can buy. Some Wonders are just pretty good, like the Wonder that gives you 12 coins and another turn. Generally, try to build your Wonders unless they’re specifically running counter to your strategy.
  • Get money. Money makes the world go round, and it makes it harder for your opponents to counter your strategies. If you’ve got 15+ money, you can pretty easily buy resources, especially if you have the Supply cards to reduce the cost to 1. If you get the Economy Progress Token, your opponent pays you rather than the bank, and then you’re rolling in it even more. Generally, in most games, having money is good. If you aren’t producing a ton of resources, money is necessary. It’s somewhat possible to run a resource-light game if you just have a lot of money, which makes it very difficult for your opponent to block you.
  • Be aggressive. That’s pretty much the best strategy I can give you. You need to block your opponent from getting two things: money and resources. If they have no resources they have to buy them from the bank, and if they have no money they can’t buy resources. If you do that, you wreck their engine. Sometimes that’s the best way to win.
  • Generally, I don’t think it’s a great idea to go first in Age III. That’s a personal preference and it heavily depends on what the first two available cards are, but I find it does a bit more harm than good, as you’ll expose a fair number of cards on your first turn (and you have no choice, really), so if you’re tenuously avoiding a Military or Science loss you might get slammed by an unlucky flip.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Fairly simple to learn. I actually think it’s easier to learn than 7 Wonders, and I usually open with it if I’m trying to teach a duel game to a friend, as I generally like it.
  • Decently quick. It only takes 30-45 minutes to play, so you can get in a quick game while waiting for more people to arrive.
  • Cool art. I like the art a lot! It’s just … nice. The cards are well-made as well, which is also nice. Somehow my copy got a bit warped so nothing quite sits flat, but I’ve made my peace with it.
  • Cool spin on drafting for two players. I think building the structure and keeping some of the cards hidden from both players is a really interesting mechanic, and I generally like the effort put into it. I’m not as big on the luck element, but I don’t think it detracts from the game enough for me to not like it.

Mehs

  • It’s pretty aggressive. I find that I’m doing a lot of hate-drafting (taking cards to hurt my opponent rather than help myself), which can be kind of a bummer. I don’t often play this twice in a row, but it’s still pretty fun.
  • I’m not the biggest fan of Supremacy Victories. They seem sort-of-akin to Avalon’s Assassination Phase: a gameplay element devised to punish one person’s sloppy playing. I tend to think of them as more of a threat than an actual way to win or lose unless someone makes a pretty egregious mistake, but that’s just my personal preference. I’m not terribly bothered by them, but I’m willing to give them a “Meh.”
  • Wonder synergies can really wreck novice players. If you get the right combination of Wonders you can often steamroll someone if you manage to get them all active (which I suppose is a strong incentive to the other player to block you), which might be frustrating for new players. I assume that’s why they suggest a starting set of Wonders for each player.

Cons

  • UGH SMALL CARDS. I have reasonably-sized hands, not tiny ones, and I find these tiny cards very frustrating because it’s hard to grab / shuffle them. I know this is like, the least significant of gripes to gripe about, but it’s the same problem I have with Ticket to Ride.
  • Pretty luck-based. I find that you can be caught in a position Age III where you’re relying on certain cards to not come up or you are guaranteed to lose, and even then there’re very few paths to victory if you get far enough behind the 8 ball. It’s a bit of a bummer, as I feel like 7 Wonders is more strategic where as 7 Wonders: Duel is more tactical, as you have to respond to the cards in front of you.

Overall: 8 / 10

7 Wonders Duel In Progress.jpg

Overall, I like this a lot! I find that I’ll go to it when I’m looking for a cool two-player game to play with someone, as even though it’s luck-based and a lot of hate-drafting it’s still a pretty solidly made game with a lot of cool effects. I generally like its schtick of building the card structures and then going through them each Age, and I like the extra Wonders they added in and the streamlining they did to get here from the original 7 Wonders. I generally feel like if you like the original 7 Wonders, you will probably enjoy this, and I’d recommend checking it out! It’s a novel game for the 7 Wonders fans, and a fun game to pick up if you’re looking for another cool two-player-only game to add to your collection. For those of you that really like Duel, I’m also really looking forward to 7 Wonders: Duel – Pantheon!


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