I've played quite a lot of 7 Ages. I've completed four two-player games, and I'm currently most of the way into a five-player game, so I reckon that I've committed at least 100 hours to this beast. While I don't claim to be an expert (I usually lose) I think I've seen enough to start putting forward some general thoughts on strategy.
I only play "Total History," so all of my games begin in age 1 and run through age 7. Some points of strategy will be approached differently based on how you play the game, but most of what I propose here should apply to games of any length.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
The Opening Bid
The opening bid establishes two things: who goes first and the order you select your color sets. If you aren't playing Total History, the player going first decides the starting age of the game, but real players only play Total History, so we can disregard this.
In a Total History game, the choice of color set isn't terribly important. The game is far too long, and you'll have just as many periods where your choice is a disadvantage as it is an advantage, so pick whichever you like. I have an irrational love for the gray set, so that's usually what I go for. Making a strong opening bid for color choice is not wise, in my opinion. Bidding to go first, or sometimes anything but first, is far more interesting.
The strength of your bid is largely influenced by which, if any, age 1 empires you received from the initial deal. If you hold an empire that can start unconditionally in age 1, going first can be an advantage in that you'll have an open board. The other advantage is that as the holder of the turn marker, you will often score most, if not all of the first turn points due to your tie-breaker status. This plan can be ruined if another player gets the Amazons and Zena out in the first turn, since her philosopher talent will override you.
So when do you not want to go first? If you don't hold an empire you can play, you almost certainly don't want to go first. A much better option is to bid low and hope you go late in the first turn. What you do in the first turn depends on what you have in your hand. There are two possibilities: you hold an empire with a conditional age 1 start, or you hold no age 1 empires at all. In both cases, I believe the correct move is to play the wild card on turn 1.
If you have a conditional empire, going late gives other players the opportunity to start the empire that you need to fulfill your condition. If this happens, play your wild card as Start Empire and go. You'll miss out on the advancement at the end of the turn, but at least you'll be on the table and you might score some points. You'll also be able to play two actions the next turn.
If your condition doesn't get fulfilled, or you simply don't have any empires you can start, you'll most likely want to convert the wild card to Destiny and get a new hand. The exception to this is when you have an event that's simply too good to pass up. When this happens, you play Civilize instead and bust out your events. I once fell victim to this after starting the Amazons on turn 1 only to have them destroyed by a volcano before the end of the turn.
The differences in color set compositions and strengths are worth considering, but generally not critical. The most important things to know are the generalities. Light sets are larger than dark sets, dark sets are stronger than light sets, the black set is the strongest.
When starting a new empire, the first consideration when choosing a color set is simply light vs. dark. You need to decide, based on the board position and your goals for the empire, whether quantity or quality of units is most important. Then you get into the details.
Some color sets have properties that are worth keeping in mind. For me, the big one is that light blue has the most ships. If I'm starting an empire that scores for largest navy, light blue is extremly desirable, since if I'm able to build out all the ships, no one can challenge me for those points without attacking my navy, which is the largest in the world!
It's well worth understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your permanent colors. The importance of this goes up with the number of players in the game. With more players, you get fewer empires to control which means that your permanent colors represent a greater proportion of your forces. Know what they can and can't do. In my current game, I'm playing red/pink, which gives me both the smallest and largest sets. This will impact my play at some point, so I always keep it in mind.
The black set provides some interesting options. Black has the most powerful units, but they really aren't overwhelmingly powerful. If you aren't actively attacking other players, you may as well use a larger set. It could be argued that the black set is worth taking simply to keep it away from anyone else. There is some merit to this, as long as the limited size of the set doesn't hamper the empire you give it to. The ideal users of the black set are "wrecker" empires like the Mongols, Huns, and Pirates, empires that are designed to show up and inflict damage. Getting the black units for one of these empires is entertaining, to say the least.
Which empires do you start and when do you start them? There are several considerations to make when deciding this.
Obviously, you're limited to the empires you have in hand. The first issue is to decide is if it's even worth starting an empire at all. If a new empire will not fill your allotment, you probably want to start it simply to enable another action. Most empires can garner at least a point or two, so you may as well get it out there.
When you're down to your last slot, the decision is much more difficult. A new empire won't gain you another action, and now you need to waste an action on Discard Empire to clear room if something better comes your way. There are small handful of empires that are probably worth starting in any scenario. Typically these are the ones on the 7 value cards, such as the Romans. If you don't have one of these, the first and most obvious thing to look at is the empire's scoring potential. You need to judge what's on the board now, especially the glory requirements of your existing empires. You rarely want to control two empires that are competing for the same points.
Another factor to consider is the empire's ability to deny points to your opponents. In a two-player game, points that your opponent doesn't score are effectively the same as points for you. With more than two players, this analysis becomes much more complex. An empire that can score little for you, but prevent six points among three other players would be a tempting play.
A much lesser aspect is that starting an empire takes its associated event out of play for as long as that empire exists. This should not be a major driving factor in your decision, but may still warrant some thought. If I see good potential for the Russians and have no immediate use for the Empire Collapses event, I can sleep better at night knowing that nobody can hit me with it.
Many empires also tend to have a "golden age" during which they're the most effective, generally due to a particular named leader. An excellent example are the Arabs in age 3, who due to the scientist Alhazen are essentially immune to the dark ages that will trip up the rest of the world. Age 3 Arabs are an automatic play for me, especially if I have an Islam card, but after age 3 they become much less attractive.
Finally, there are the "Ha ha, screw you!" empires, best personified by the Free State. This sort of empire is great for stealing someone's army and turning it against them (make sure you point and laugh when you do this). The Free State in particular can develop into a successful and long-lived empire if it's situated near some wheat, but generally you should just use it to screw someone over if the chance arises.
Leaders, particularly the named ones, are a very important driver of strategy. Many named leaders encourage a certain style of play for the ages that they are available.
Unnamed leaders are quite a different story. You never know what you will get, or if you'll even get one at all. Sometimes it's worth patiently trying for a specific leader type, other times you're best off just taking what you get and building your strategy around that.
Here are some thoughts on the different leader types:
Administrators should almost always be set up in your capital to get you the -1 cost on infantry. The exception to this is when you need to exercise their ability to raise unlimited units in their space. Administrators are very powerful and well worth grabbing whenever possible.
Artists can generate massive amounts of glory if utilized properly. Their placement is generally unimportant, except in the case where you can position them such that another empire is entirely within their range, since this will net you a point for every artifact they construct. Their ability to stack artifacts in a single space can be a huge boon to smaller empires.
For empires that occupy non-fertile areas or score for city value, builders are essential. Having a builder traveling with an army to capture cities intact is also great if you can arrange it. A builder, strategist, and explorer traveling together is an extremely powerful combination.
Explorers are probably the least useful leaders in general, but they can do some very interesting things. The range extension they provide can be wonderful for heavy trading empires in particular. Combining an explorer with a strategist can allow an army to move with terrifying swiftness and a minimum of loss due to troops left to occupy territories.
Great if you get them, but since their ability is passive you can just stick them somewhere and forget about them. Typically more useful in the early part of the game since empires tend to be smaller and there are a lot more ties.
Well worth using for the income boost, especially after the Industrial Revolution. Their ability to remove disorder can be useful if you get hit with one or two spaces, but against catastrophic disorder they just don't move fast enough.
Their ability to handle negative religious artifacts is not terribly useful and rarely comes up. Being able to draw from the discard pile is occasionally priceless, but quite often worthless, as it depends on what's there. Don't discount their ability to discard to the bottom of the pile, as this allows you to "hide" things from other religious leaders and Vizier events.
Primarily useful for their ability to pass dark ages. Scientists are highly sought after, especially in age 3. Their advantages in trade are also great, but are really a side benefit.
You should always try to have a strategist when embarking on a major campaign, if for no other reason than getting more bang out of your precious movement actions.
Generally worth having in battle whenever possible. The ability to redraw your combat card is great, but also valuable is being able to retreat when your own army is disordered. This allows some wondeerful hit-and-run tactics that can wear down enemy armies at little risk to yourself.
Glory points are the goal of the game, but there are some interesting things that should be understood about them.
One very important thing to keep in mind is the relative value of glory points. In a two-player game, each player can control seven empires. This leads to much higher scoring, which diminishes the relative value of each point. As you add players you reduce the scoring potential of each player, so points become much more valuable.
This manifests itself when dealing with small glory bonuses and penalties. The one point you receive for an artifact (or lose when receiving a red one) is much more important with many players. For penalties, this is especially relevant. In a seven-player game, adopting Islam so the Ottomans pay a one glory penalty for attacking you is a substantial deterrent. When you only have one opponent, that point is trivial and the tactic is much less likely to carry weight.
Scoring too much glory is also a concern. Many players seem to think that they should score as many points as possible all the time, but this is foolish. The winner is the player with the most glory at the end of the game, not in the middle. An excessive score will make you a target and violently decrease your chances of winning. A high mid-game lead is simply bad strategy. Try to keep yourself under control so other players won't do it more painfully. In a two-player game, none of this applies since you're already the recipient of all of the competition's ill will, so score away!
Non-trivial combat is actually relatively rare in 7 Ages. Most battles pretty much have an obvious result, barring some interfering combat events.
Still, sometimes some truly epic battles unfold and there are some points that need to be kept in mind.
The first is that the relative effects of combat modifiers and card draws decline as units become more advanced. An ancient army camped out in the mountains behind a river is a formidable obstacle, since their +4 terrain modifier is worth two or three age 1 units. By the time tanks start showing up, the mountains and the river are mild inconveniences. The net result of this is that the defender's advantages decline as the game goes on.
The most severe luck swing from combat cards is seven points. This is enough to turn an ancient battle into an unlikely victory, but usually not enough to give a modern army fits. Expect more lucky wins in the early game.
Army composition is probably the most important factor in battles, and is the one that you have the most control over. The key is finding the right balance between front line and support units. I think the sweet spot is somewhere around 60% front line and 40% support. Of course, some units can play both roles well, so there's plenty of room for creativity. Having some expendable infantry is important to burn off bad combat draws and to try to fool your opponent into disordering units.
So when do you pull the plug on a failing empire?
The first warning sign for me is when an empire is making less than three points a turn. There are exceptions, of course. A two point empire that's preventing my opponents from scoring two points is probably going to stick around. An empire that is actually losing points is almost certainly going to get dropped.
It is important to note the difference between a low-scoring empire and one that simply hasn't hit its potential yet. Empires like the Modern Chinese and United States can go several turns without scoring much of anything before blossoming into high-scoring empires. The key is being able to discern between decline and immaturity. Of course, sometimes you simply can't wait around for a potentially great empire to mature!
Disorder is the great empire killer. Mass disorder is generally more difficult to deal with anything else. Late game empires are more resilient due to their ability to generate large amounts of money. Most problems, including disorder, can be solved by throwing enough money at them, but you need to be solving the right problems. Sometimes it just isn't worth it.
The other factor to consider is what empires you hold in your hand. If you have nothing to replace that one point empire, it may be worth keeping it until you have something.
Learning when to fold an empire is one of the more difficult skills in the game, I think. It's very possible to do it too often or too rarely.
Detailed strategy for 7 Ages is difficult because of the huge variety of situations that can emerge. After all the time I've logged with it, there are still three or four empires, at least a dozen leaders, and one artifact (Crusade) that I've never seen in play. So many aspects of the game are so situational that you never expect to see them, but this just makes them even more awesome when they actually happen!
Hopefully some of these points can improve your game, or at least generate some discussion on this fascinating game. I think it may have finally unseated Acquire as my favorite game, which is no small feat!
Come on people, play more 7 Ages!
Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
Hey, get your stinking cursor off my face! I got nukes, you know.
Ryan Witmer wrote:
Learning when to fold an empire is one of the more difficult skills in the game, I think. It's very possible to do it too often or too rarely.
Maybe THE most important thing to do. I've seen people try to prop up a decaying empire and waste actions and effort on it when the right thing to do is fold and try something new. You can't get too attached!
Now I want to play 7 Ages.
Just started a 5 player game of 7 ages two weeks ago. Haven't played this in a couple of years. I like the game but it is a little too long. I always feel that the most fiddly bits of the game could be dropped without losing all the wonderful atmosphere of the game. I love to watch the rise and fall of nations.
1. If playing the full 7 ages then what happens at the beginning of the game is not too important. Just enjoy the ride. I am not too concerned with color sets. Light blue, pink and light green have more ships, black has stronger units (but less units). But overall I am OK with any color.
2. The main point of the game is to focus on the victory points. It is really tempting to want to grow all your nations into huge empires. But that is not what the game is about. Some nations need to get ships and sea areas, some nations need to get lots of money in their treasury, some need progress, some need artifacts. Don't waste your time making a huge empire unless that is what the nation gets victory points for.
In general early nations have less potential for earning victory points than later ones. So that great empire from age 1 should eventually be abandoned to make room for nations from later ages. The problem when discarding empires is that the new one wont be earning decent victory points for several turns.
3. Don't be pissed off when some player destroys your cherished empire with a disaster or a war. I know you invested hours growing that empire, but the rise and fall of the empires is what makes this game a joy to watch. Other games like civilization (board game or even the computer game) allow you to run only one nation which sticks around for thousands of years. 7 ages allows the empires to die like real nations! We tend to think that our own country (Canada for me) will be around forever but so did the Romans.
We tend to think that our own country (Canada for me) will be around forever but so did the Romans.
Agree 100%. The Romans never expected the fall of Canada.
Interesting thoughts - thanks for sharing