One of the things that has always appealed to me about designer board games is their ability to simulate very complex activities, such as farming in the 1600’s, putting out a house fire, or traveling through space with little more than cardboard and wooden pieces. Taking ideas that are complicated and converting them into a fun and engaging experience in a box is nothing short of an artform. 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza does something quite amazing. It takes civilization building and condenses it into a half-hour card game.
7 Wonders is a game for 3-7 players. It also has 2-player variant that changes the rules slightly. The game has players create and maintain a civilization across 3 Ages. During setup you are assigned one of the seven wonders of the ancient world to build your civilization around, which is represented by a player board. Each wonder grants you access to a special ability later on, which can shape your strategy through the Ages. There is also an icon for one resource your civilization will automatically produce.
Each player is dealt a hand of 7 cards from the Age I deck, that represent the first advancements in your civilization. During each turn, all players will select a card from their hand that they wish to play. Once all cards have been selected, they will simultaneously be revealed. Any costs will be paid for and the card will be added to the player area, and any remaining cards will then rotate around the table and turn action will repeat. This is known as “drafting”. People familiar with Magic: The Gathering will be very comfortable with the idea of card drafting. Unlike Magic, where drafting comes before the actual gameplay, drafting is the gameplay in 7 Wonders. Once all cards are depleted, the Age II and Age III decks are dealt out and played through the same way with the game ending after the third age. Finally, victory points are totaled up and the player with the highest total wins the game.
Each player’s hand consists of brown or grey resource cards. These cards will add another resource a given civilization will produce. Resources are not consumed, and players will continue to have those available to them turn after turn. There are blue (civilian structure) cards representing things such as statues, forums, and theaters that grant a civilization immediate victory points. Green (scientific structures) cards such as libraries, laboratories, and workshops will advance a civilization in different scientific fields that can result in a windfall of points at the end of the game. Yellow (commercial structures) cards can earn a player more money, or give discounts when trading with neighboring civilizations. Red (military) cards build up an army. Lastly, in the third age, purple cards show up. Purple cards are guilds that can score victory points for specific criteria out on the board of neighboring civilizations.
Cards are heavily varied and each holds a good chunk of information on them that is summarized with the game’s own iconography. Here lies the biggest hurdle of the game. Everything is simplified down to unique icons that new players have to learn to succeed. At first glance, these icons can give the impression of a steep learning curve. Reference sheets are included but won’t be needed after a game or two. 7 Wonders is an easy game to teach despite it’s intimidating look and subject matter. It is a visual game, so once the cards are in front of you, everything comes together.
There are many avenues towards victory in 7 Wonders. This gives players deep strategy options by weighing available cards, remaining victory points, and exploitable resources. In some games, the winner will be the player who builds a civilization that was balanced in each category of structures. In others game the victor will be the player that has specialized in one card type that others have ignored. One thing is clear, you’ll never win if you aren’t aware of your opponents actions. The old poker cliché of “playing the player, not the cards” could very easily be applied to this game.
I have a game group at work that meets during lunch, and this game is in constant rotation because of it’s half-hour play time. It’s easy to pick up and keeps everyone thinking. This also makes for a great family game that could be easily learned by the most casual of board gamers while still enjoyed by a seasoned vet.
7 Wonders has 2 expansions currently out on the market. One adds leaders, while the other adds cities. I have enjoyed the out-of-box gameplay so much that I haven’t been compelled to purchase any of the expansions just yet. The deep strategy adds so much replayability and variety for gameplay, it will be awhile before I will need the expansions, but it’s nice to know they are there when I need to inject something fresh into the game. 7 Wonders is highly enjoyable and if any of it sounds interesting to you, please check it out.