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7 Wonders lasts three ages. In each age, players receive seven cards from a particular deck, choose one of those cards, then pass the remainder to an adjacent player, as in Fairy Tale or a Magic: the Gathering booster draft. Players reveal their cards simultaneously, paying resources if needed or collecting resources or interacting with other players in various ways. (Players have individual boards with special powers on which to organize their cards, and the boards are double-sided as in Bauza's Ghost Stories.) Each player then chooses another card from the deck they were passed, and the process repeats until players have six cards in play from that age. After three ages, the game ends.
In essence 7 Wonders is a card development game along the lines of Race for the Galaxy or Dominion. Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases. Some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points. Unlike Magic or Fairy Tale, however, each card is played immediately after being drafted, so you'll know which cards your neighbor is receiving and how his choices might affect what you've already built up. Cards are passed left-right-left over the three ages, so you need to keep an eye on the neighbors in both directions.
7 Wonders was easily the most popular new game at Prezcon in 2011. High praise for a game most people did not own nor could get a copy of (currently on backorder as of this writing). I taught the game on no less than five separate occasions over the course of four days. Those that learned and played 7 Wonders universally enjoyed it and usually played multiple games.
For those considering a purchase, here is where 7 Wonders shines. First, the game packs a tremendous bang for the buck. Since a game consists of playing a mere 18 cards per player in about 45 minutes (30 minutes for experienced players), every decision is important and you are always faced with a decision. Second, the game scales amazingly well. It is just as fun with seven players as it is with three. And it does this without adding significant time to the game itself. This is because the game moves at the speed of the slowest player. Each of the 18 turns is taken simultaneously by all players, so a seven player game will realistically only take a few more minutes to play than a three player game. Third, the game is very easy to teach to both gamers and non-gamers. I've taught a lot of games before and this one was among the most straightforward. Ten minutes is all that is needed to get a player started.
The downside? I wish there were more varieties of wonders and cards. The seven available wonders (all having two configurations to choose from) are all fun to play but I find myself craving more. Many of the cards in the seven player version of the game are repeats of the cards used in the four player version (and you cannot build two of the same building card per the rules).
Having said that, the upside dwarfs the downside of the game. Not only is 7 Wonders a heck of a lot of fun to play, it also fills a niche many other games don't. There are very few strategy games that easily accommodate such a wide range of players and can be played in less than an hour. 7 Wonders makes a satisfying filler game, lunch game, or evening of multiple games regardless of the number of people playing. This is a must buy for someone rounding out a gaming collection. It will quickly crowd out a few other games on my shelf.
On rare occasions, a game is published that causes such a stir that it is akin to a virtual earthquake within the gaming world. The normal buzz surrounding the release of a new game is replaced with a deafening roar, and there is a frantic clamor to acquire and play the game. Such a phenomenon has happened a few times in the past, and it is happening again. The sensation this time is 7 Wonders by designer Antoine Bauza.
Published by the fun-loving, sombrero-wearing folks at Repos Productions, 7 Wonders places each player in charge of one of the seven great cities of the ancient world. Players will select cards that will help them produce resources, construct buildings, earn money and victory points, and perhaps even construct one of the great wonders of the world. Up to seven players can participate in this sweeping epic, which can be played in an amazingly swift 30 – 45 minutes.
What is truly amazing is that the game is actually a fairly simple card game. Players will cycle through three decks of cards over the course of three turns, known as "Ages" in game parlance. Turns are lightning fast, yet there are important decisions to be made and strategies to implement and pursue. I haven't played a game in a long, long time that has packed such a punch in such a short time frame.
Players each receive a placard representing one of seven great cities of the ancient world. Each placard depicts a starting resource that the city produces, as well as the wonder that they may construct and the benefits it will convey. Players receive three coins as starting capital, and a hand of seven cards from the "Age 1" deck.
The three decks contain a variety of cards. Some cards can be constructed without a cost, but most require the depicted resources and/or gold. These cards include:
Raw Materials and Manufactured Goods: These produce resources, which are needed to construct the various structures and advancements included in the decks. There are numerous different resources, and the more a player can produce, the more flexibility he will have in future constructions.
Civilian Structures: These earn victory points. They depict the resources required for construction.
Scientific Structures: These, too, earn victory points, the amount dependent upon the types and quantity constructed.
Commercial Structures: These diverse buildings can earn coins or victory points, produce resources, and change some of the game's commerce rules.
Military Structures. These increase the military strength of your city, and can be used to dominate your neighbors, thereby earning victory points.
Guilds. More victory points are earned by the Guilds, but the specified criteria must be met.
Game play couldn't be simpler. From the hand of seven cards a player is dealt, he selects one and passes the remaining cards to the player on his left. The direction in which cards are passed changes each age. The card selected is then constructed, or exchanged for three coins. This process continues six times, with players selecting a card from those passed to them, and passing on the remainder. The final card is discarded, ending the age. This card selection and passing method is similar to that used in Fairy Tale, a game released many years ago.
In order to construct a card, the player must produce the resources depicted on it. If a player does not produce one or more of the depicted resources, he may purchase those resources for two coins from his neighbors; i.e. the players to his immediate left and right. Of course, those players must produce the required resources. If not, the player cannot construct the card in question. Some cards can be constructed for free, while others are free IF the player has previously constructed the structure listed on the card.
Once constructed, the card is placed in front of the player, segregated by type. Some cards provide immediate benefits (coins, resources, etc.), while others provide end game victory points. Instead of constructing a card, a player may construct one of the stages of the wonder depicted on his city placard. He must produce or purchase from his neighbors the resources depicted for that stage, and the card is placed face-down by that level on his player placard. The player receives the benefits depicted for that stage. Alternatively, a player may simply discard the card and receive three coins. This is a useful method for acquiring more funds and denies a potentially valuable card to your neighbor.
When players are passed the final two cards, they select one, construct it, and discard the remaining card. The age ends, and military conflicts are resolved. Each player calculates their military strength, which is based on the value of the military structures they have constructed. If a player has more strength than a neighbor, he receives a victory token (1, 3 or 5 victory points, depending upon the current Age) and the neighbor receives a defeat token (-1 victory point). This comparison is done with both neighbors, and is conducted at the end of each Age. This provides quite an incentive for building a strong military.
All three Ages are played in the same manner, with a new deck being used for each Age. The card mix changes with each Age, with more valuable cards surfacing in later Ages. The Age 3 deck contains no raw materials or manufacturing goods, so players should make sure to establish a broad collection of these in the first two rounds.
At the end of the final age, the most complicated aspect of the game occurs: the final scoring. It is not that the phase is difficult; it just takes time. Some of it can be a little tricky, as points can be earned for cards in possession of your neighbors. Players tally points for their military conflicts (which can be positive and/or negative), wonders, civilian and commercial structures, guilds, coins (1 victory point for every 3 coins) and scientific structures. This last category is the most involved, as points are earned in two manners:
Sets of identical symbols. Each scientific structure has a symbol. The more cards depicting the same symbol a player constructs, the more points he earns. The number of points earned is equal to the number of symbols squared. For example, if a player constructs three scientific structures depicting the same symbol, he scores nine points (3 x 3 = 9).
Sets of 3 different symbols. Each group of three different symbols scores seven points.
Thus, players have two goals when constructing scientific structures: build sets of identical and different symbols. Of course, if your neighbor is attempting to accomplish this, it would be wise, if at all possible, to not pass him the cards he seeks.
After tallying all categories, the player with the greatest total of victory points is victorious and rules the ancient world. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most money.
The game's simplicity belies the strategies and decisions that are present. Players must make decisions as to which cards they seek to construct, realizing that by concentrating on a few categories they will likely be forced to neglect other categories, most likely to their detriment. Further, this decision is influenced by the strategies being pursued by one's neighbors. It is also wise to keep an eye on what resources your neighbors are producing – and what they are not producing – so you can plan accordingly.
Choosing which card to keep can be tough, as there are usually multiple cards that are beneficial and fit your strategy. Plus, the knowledge that you will be passing a desirable card or two to your neighbor is troubling. Sometimes a card would be so valuable to your neighbor that you opt to keep it instead of a different card that you coveted more. While these decisions are angst-inducing, their resolution is generally quick, so the game moves along at a brisk pace.
For me, the only knock against the game is that you can only significantly influence and be influenced by the players to your immediate right and left. You have little real influence on the remaining players and, indeed, may not even be able to see what they are collecting. Since you are not concerned with these other players, however, it does have the benefit of keeping the game moving along as there is little need to assess their holdings.
This drawback, however, pales in comparison to the excitement and brilliance of the game. There is a persistent tension of trying to collect the cards you desire. Yes, much of this is dependent upon the cards you are passed, but everyone is forced to pass along valuable cards. So, the odds are good you will be receiving cards that are beneficial. It is fun and challenging to construct a set of cards that enable you to construct more valuable and beneficial cards as the game progresses. It is not exactly an "engine building" game, but it has some of the elements.
7 Wonders is an amazing design. There aren't many games that can pack this much tension, decisions and strategy options in a 30 – 45 minute time frame, while accommodating up to seven players. The game seems to have all the elements to give in great longevity in a hobby where most games fade to obscurity after just a few years. It also has all of the elements that should make it a front-runner to capture industry awards such as the Spiel des Jahre and International Gamers Award. Although this is a year wherein there have been numerous promising games published, 7 Wonders seems destined to rise to the top.