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Subject: 7W and 7WD: Same Games with Opposite Design Philosophies rss

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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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As a designer, I’ve noticed two ways game designs use mechanisms: using mechanisms to create problems, and using mechanisms to drive a script.

Take the mechanism of card drafting for example. Card drafting as a mechanism inherently creates particular problems: hate drafting, anticipating what other player/s drew to predict what will be available when the hand comes back again (thereby preemptively drafting other cards accordingly), etc. The first way to design uses the cards to highlight these problems. Namely, the card abilities/stats are designed to complement the drafting mechanism, enabling players to game the elements inherent to said drafting mechanism. The second way to design creates card abilities/functions first, with a priority on making the “flowchart” interesting in and of itself, and then uses card drafting merely as a means for putting these cards into players’ hands.

I am not saying all games fall into either one or the other category absolutely, just that relatively speaking, some games focus more on the problems inherent to its core mechanism, and other games focus more directly on a flowchart/story it wants to express.

Using origami as an analogy, some origami artists emphasize the beauty inherent in the paper, while other artists first decide on a story to tell, and then use the paper to tell that story.

For example, the following works highlight the inherent characteristics of paper.



On the other hand, the following works use papers as vehicles for telling “stories.”



7 Wonders belongs to the first type of design (specifically the three player game). The cards are designed to highlight the interesting situations inherent to drafting, but the flowchart of the cards is kind of plain. Everything is a variation on scoring. Green technology cards are scored in sets. Blue civic cards each have fixed victory points. Red military cards are scored by comparing military strength with one’s neighbors. This flowchart involves dull calculations such as “should I build this blue card for 5 points, or this red card which will basically turn out to be six points?” However, in the context of drafting, it creates interesting problems such as “there is a green card in this hand for player A, so I can leave these two very good blue cards, hate draft this red card such that player B won’t compete with me for military superiority, and I will still have one of the two blue cards available for me on the next time I see this hand because player A will draft the green and player B will draft one of the two blues.”

For 7W, it’s all in the hands and the drafting.

The wonders too are generally bland, statistically speaking. Furthermore, a close look at the wonder slots reveals that they are worse purchases cost-wise than many of the better cards. For example, the fourth slot of the Pyramid costs one paper and four stones, and the card Temple costs two bricks, one ore, one paper, one textile and one glass. They both provide the same effect: 7 victory points at the end of the game. Not only is the distinction between the slot and the card bland, the pyramid’s fourth slot is actually more expensive because four stones does not “overlap” well with the cost of other cards (whereas the cost of Temple is similar to those of other cards).

However, the real advantage of a wonder slot is not in its stats (cost versus benefit), but in its predictability and flexibility. In other words, the best thing about a wonder slot over a card is the fact that you always have it in your "Hand." You can count on having it, and you can use it whenever you want. For example, in a three player game, you will always see a hand twice. On the first time, I’ll take note of my likely options next time I see that hand, and decide for which hand/s to use my limited number of wonder slots. In other words, wonder slots “bail me out” of situations wherein I have nothing good to play, and I predict the turns on which this will happen as I draft the cards from each hand the first time around. Moreover, besides “bailing out” a player from having no good cards to play on a turn, the wonder slots are also opportunities to do something useful when a player hate drafts. Sometimes, a hand might have a decent enough card to not justify a bail out by itself, but a fantastic card for another player in that same hand might make a combination of a bail out plus a hate draft worthwhile. The wonder slots add a huge layer of depth to the game. Knowing the right time to build them is not mere matter of statistics, but also a matter of knowing how to game the drafting mechanism.

In 7 Wonders, the wonder slots and the cards are specifically tailored to complement the intricacies and nuances of card drafting, and are compelling almost exclusively in that context.

7 Wonders Duel belongs to the second type of design. Even though the challenges inherent to its drafting mechanism are also well complemented by its card flowchart, said flowchart is way more compelling in and of itself. Specifically:

The Yellow cards are way more interesting, and powerful. Now there are three legitimate ways to pay for cards (resources, chains, and money).

The Green cards actually grant special powers, and provide an avenue for an instant win. Building two copies of a technology earns the player one development (i.e. special power). Building six different technologies gives the player an instant win. This makes the Green cards meaningfully different, and not just another form of scoring.

The Red cards also provide an avenue for an instant win. Likewise, it actually feels like one is doing something different, and not just picking another option for scoring.

The cards are meaningfully different in 7WD.

The fact that science grants special powers, that commerce is actually useful, and that military marches one toward the opponent’s capital makes for a much more compelling story. Moreover, the cards “interact” in a more direct manner. Playing the game, I feel that I am actually picking cards based on what they do, as opposed to manipulating timing of drafting so as to have something good to play every turn. I have more control over when to discard cards for money (to be prepared to purchase the cards I want when these are uncovered), instead of discarding at a time forced by the drafting.

The card overlay in 7WD.

To clarify, 7 Wonders Duel is not only about its card flowchart. It also has an interesting card overlay mechanism, wherein the uncovering of cards presents an interesting problem to the players. The game knows this, and some wonder slots are specifically designed to manipulate this, by allowing players to take an extra turn (this changes the odd/even turn order between the players and forces one player to uncover a card for another). The different shapes of the card overlay in each age also present different challenges for the players. However as mentioned, the cards themselves also take on a prominent role.

In 7 Wonders Duel, the cards strike a good balance between complementing the overlay mechanism, and telling a compelling story in and of themselves.

Even though 7 Wonders and 7 Wonders Duel nominally use the same cards, they are used very differently design-wise, and play very differently. In 7 Wonders, I tailor my card selection to achieve a smooth drafting process. In 7 Wonders Duel the "opposite" is true: I work the overlay mechanism to get the cards I aim for. As a 7 Wonder purist, I appreciate how the cards are designed to exist almost purely in the context of drafting. My girlfriend, on the other hand, greatly prefers 7 Wonders Duel for the compelling story that the cards themselves express, and the greater "freedom" for drafting these. Both are very good games. I’d say 7 Wonders Duel is the more exciting game, and 7 Wonders is a purer exercise for gaming a core mechanism.

Follow me on twitter @drunkenkoalaBGG.

For a complete explanation on how to manipulate drafting in 7 Wonders, read my strategy guide.
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Nick Shaw
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Great overview and comparison of the two games. Fascinating to read!

Only one tiny bit I'd qibble with:

Quote:
Now there are three legitimate ways to pay for cards (resources, chains, and money).


You can pay for cards those three ways in 7 Wonders too, the only caveat being that to purchase with money in 7W, one of your neighbours needs to produce sufficient resources of the type you need (you obviously need the money too, but that's true of 7WD too). What makes it more interesting in 7WD (in my opinion) is that the cost goes UP the more of a resource your neighbour has, so it's actually beneficial in 7WD for your neighbour to have as few resources as possible (or more preferably none!) so you don't have to pay as much. The reverse is effectively true in 7W: If your neighbours produce none of a resource, you have no ability to buy it, but if they do, it's a flat cost for each resource required. All excluding yellow-card discounts, of course.
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Henry Rodriguez
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Bravo sir on a wonderfully nuanced dissection of these two games!
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