Off the Table

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Review: 7 Wonders: The official game of the number

Ben Stroud
United Kingdom
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7 Wonders

By popular opinion, 7 wonders is a great game. It's been recognised as both a game for beginners and a favourite for the veterans.

Swonder's lack of dice rolling, smooth component management and gorgeous iconography makes it one of the most mechanically intriguing games that's not a deck builder or straight-up euro-game.

In fact, 7 wonders is such a good purchase it's hard to find a game better suited for 3-7 players that's playable in under an hour.

How do you play?

The game ends after three 'ages' of increasing potential where players will draft from revolving hands of cards to build their civilisation. At the end of the game the player with the most points is the winner.

Every turn you'll take a hand of cards from the player previous to you and pick one - before handing it on the the next player. Everyone else is doing this at the same time and will continue until you've seen seven hands of dwindling size and taken one from each.

After you choose each card you will either build it into your tableau or throw it away for a little gold - and then eagerly look around the table to see what everyone else has chosen.

Damn! You probably wanted that card...

Player's decision-making

Adding a card to your tableau is what you'll be doing most of the time - as long as you're prepared.

Almost every card has a resource cost - higher in the later ages. This doesn't mean everyone spends the first few rounds choosing cards which offer them resources - no. The role of gold in the base game is almost purely there to spend on -renting- resources from your neighbours. Instantly it has you keeping an eye on how the civilisations to your left and right are developing.

Likewise, building military buildings has you face-off with your neighbours at the end of each age in a battle for points. But it's still so simple; only the player with the higher amount of military might gains points - so the savvy player will try to stay just one step ahead. It keeps the element of war in this game of ancient civilisations in check and allows the other elements of the game to shine... science. The study of science in the ancient world was vastly important and you can win by taking these cards over anything else. The point-scoring of science buildings is the most complicated part of the game - but it's essentially a combination of science buildings scores points exponentially, with peaks and troughs along the way.

There are other simple ways to score points; like government buildings that score you a defined number of points, for example. These are things like shrines, museums and the coveted palace (for those who can acquire one of every-type of resource, of which there are seven).

Resources aren't everything

This is another great element of the game you might not expect. Some cards, along with providing their benefit, open up a tech-tree from which you can build cards in future ages for free! Sometimes, if you're a risky player, you'll decide to build one of these cards just to plant the roots for future growth.

But what about the wonders?

Well, instead of playing a card or throwing it away you can look at your unique civilisation and build a stage of it's wonder. Each wonder is different depending on what civilisation you have randomly chosen so building stage I, II or III of your wonder will determine the way you play. Some just give you points, other give you special powers no-one else can perform. The balance of these wonders, in my opinion, is debatable - there will be clear favourites at your table.

Production & Themes

The game's iconography and complete lack of text on cards makes the whole experience feel really intuitive and encourages you to play again.

Rather than bogging down the more complicated cards with hefty blocks of tiny text it just offers a simple picture or icon which shares properties and syntax with other cards, ingraining the language of the game into your brain.

The player interaction isn't so intense making it feel a bit euro.

But the drafting mechanic - where every hand of cards after the first in each age has already been bastardised by your fellow players - adds some really complicated decision-making. Do you take the card that she might want or do you just take what might be best for you?

Something that might divide the crowd a bit on swonders is how; when you make a decision, it can quickly become very clear you made the wrong one - and you're stuck with it. This sense of instant gratification (or punishment) might have some newbies hating the game. It's certainly true that veterans of the game will have a better idea of how to control their civilisation throughout the ages.

Teaching the game

When teaching this game there are a few concepts which can difficult to grasp but should be made very clear for new players;
- Cards get better and more expensive as ages go on
- Resources are never 'spent' but each icon can be used once per player per round (for example, a single 'wood' can be used once by the owning player -and- their two neighbours in a round - potentially earning the owner doller doller).
- You can never build more than one of each named card. I mean, what civilisation ever had more than one 'Watchtower', huh?

Expanding your mind

The expansions to swonders are just as innovative and add new interesting elements to the game. Since 7 wonders encourages you to play differently each game having more oppertunity and option just enhances the whole experience.

If you're not convinced watch this review and hear how the dice tower and lord king Vasel thinks it deserves every award it received and has three convincing expansions;

Core Game -

Leader Expansion -
Cities Expansion -
Babel Expansion -

For more of the same: (off-site link)
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