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Subject: [Top of the Table] 7 Wonders Duel is a Beautiful Renovation, But... rss

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Drew Hauge
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Playing and reviewing the BGG Top 100
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The following is an excerpt from www.thetopofthetable.com, where I'm writing about my quest to play every game in the BGG Top 100.

It’s hard to follow up a hit with an even better sequel. Just ask any author, director, or Jar Jar Binks. There’s a fundamental conflict involved in the creative process. One one hand, you must pay respect to the beloved aspects of the original that left your audience wanting more. At the same time, you’ve got to break free of the mold you’ve created, avoiding a regurgitation of the same song and dance.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of borrowing a game that faced that exact challenge and succeeded with flying colors. With 7 Wonders Duel, designers Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala have performed a complete renovation of the 2010 classic 7 Wonders, tearing it down to the studs and rebuilding a brilliant two-player game. The theme will feel familiar to any 7 Wonders fans, yet it would be inaccurate to call it an expansion or a remake. Duel is an entirely different game from its predecessor — and many would argue that it’s a better game as well.



How to Play


If you’re familiar with the original 7 Wonders, you’ll recognize many similar elements in Duel. The game is still divided into three Ages, in which players take turns picking cards to carefully curate the highest-scoring assortment of structures and wonders. There are still the same seven types of cards, which players spend the required resources or gold to add to their tableau. Instead of adding the card face-up as a structure, players still have the option to discard it for gold or use it to build a wonder (paying the cost of the wonder, not the structure).
That’s pretty much where the similarities end. Let’s take a look at the five biggest differences:

1) Card Drafting: Instead of the “pick one and pass” mechanic for drafting cards, Duel takes a clever approach that may have been inspired by Mahjong. In each Age, 20 cards are laid out in a pyramid format on the table, with some cards face up and others face down. Players take turns selecting a card that is not covered by any other cards. In this way, there is an added strategic component of considering which cards you may make available to your opponent by uncovering them.



2) Wonders: Rather than each player getting a random wonder with 2-4 segments to build, Duel allows players to each draft four wonders at the start of the game. These wonders each have a single build slot, with each wonder offering a unique set of perks. One perk of particular interest that is offered by many of the wonders is the immediate bonus turn. This is a crucial benefit if wielded properly, because it allows you to uncover a card, build the wonder, and then immediately take the next card before your opponent has a chance at it.

It’s also worth noting that once seven wonders have been built, the eighth must be discarded. It’s one of many examples of how Duel encourages considering your opponent’s position, not simply focusing on your own board as is the case in some Euros.



3) Science: Scoring for science cards in Duel is far different from the original. The number of scientific advancements has been increased from three to seven (they like that number), with two cards for each advancement (except Law- I’ll get to that one). If you get two of a kind, you immediately get to draw a Knowledge token. These tokens offer a variety of benefits, such as reducing building costs or granting additional gold or victory points.

One of the Knowledge tokens is actually the Law advancement, which is not found on any of the cards. Why is this one helpful? Well, if a player ever acquires six of the seven advancements, they immediately win. This can make for some incredibly tense endings, when your opponent has racked up five advancements and you must do everything in your power to block them from getting a sixth!



4) Military: As with science, the mechanics behind military cards have been significantly altered in Duel. Instead of scoring victory points at the end of each Age based on comparing your total military to your neighbor, the military scoring in Duel feels much more like a tug of war. With each military structure built, a player moves the Conflict token towards their opponent’s capital. As you pass certain checkpoints along the way you can cause your opponent to lose gold, causing momentum to build. If you ultimately reach your opponent’s capital, it’s an immediate victory. Otherwise, you’ll score a nominal sum of victory points at the end if you ended up ahead in the tug of war.



5) Commerce: The basic idea of commerce in Duel is the same as in the original– structures can provide you with resources that can be used each turn, and if a structure or wonder requires resources you don’t have, you can pay for them. If you need more money, then instead of building a card you can discard it for gold. While those features remain, the pricing rules have been altered significantly. First, when buying an extra resource, you pay the bank rather than your opponent. The cost you pay increases based on how many of that resource your opponents owns. Similarly, when discarding for gold from the bank, you get a bonus for each commerce structure you already own.

Through these changes, the designers have taken what was a great 3-7 player game and made it into an even better 2 player game. Particularly, I think that every card type is now well balanced as a potential primary strategy, whereas that was not the case in the original game (see: Military). It’s easy to learn, quick to play, and has loads of replayability. It’s no surprise to me that this game has shot all the way up to #7 on the BGG Top 100 list.

Conclusion

Based on the above review, you’d probably guess that I’d be rushing to purchase a copy for myself, right? Well actually… no. Here’s the thing: two-player games fill a particular niche in my collection. If I’m gonna buy a two-player game, it has to be one that I’m gonna enjoy playing with my wife. And while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing Duel, my wife KC absolutely has not.

Her critique of Duel is that when you get behind early, there can be little hope of clawing your way back. I’d venture to guess that’s not always the case, especially with the science and military tracks offering the chance for a surprise victory. However, in the small sample size of games we’ve played, it’s true that it’s generally been possible to predict who will win by the end of the first Age. Perhaps we just haven’t quite played it enough– but with so many good games out there, I don’t think Duel will get another chance.

Personally, I don’t mind playing out a game that I know I’m going to lose — especially in the case of a game like Duel where it’s a pretty quick game with so many different strategies to try out. However, that’s not the case for everyone. So while I’d still recommend Duel and would gladly play it again if given the opportunity, I’d also caution you to consider your own tastes and that of your partner / roommate / friend / etc.


Thanks for reading this post! If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow my blog in any of these ways:
BGG: Top of the Table Geeklist
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thetopofthetable
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TopofTable

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David B
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Re: [Top of the Table- Reviewing the Top 100] 7 Wonders Duel is a Beautiful Renovation
Duel is a really good game, but not a great game. I have the game and have enjoyed several plays of it. And yes, there can be an early runaway leader problem. But it's quick and you can easily reset and play another. I do think it is ridiculous that 7WD is in the top 10. I could see it being in the top 500 maybe, but not top 10. There are many, many 2 player games better than 7WD.
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Evan Duly
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Re: [Top of the Table- Reviewing the Top 100] 7 Wonders Duel is a Beautiful Renovation
I've played 7WD a few times now and the more I play it, the less I enjoy it. Instead of the decision space opening up as I become more familiar with the game, the choices just sort of remain the same.

Actually, 7WD has the type of dynamic I enjoy most in games (reacting tactically to what cards are available in the rounds and what your opponent is doing) but for some reason, this game just doesn't blossom like other great interactive games by Knizia or Chudyk.

In those classic games, possibilities seem to almost endlessly branch out creating tense and intriguing moments of play throughout.

I just haven't felt that sort of excitement when playing 7WD and I just don't see it developing that way.

I've played the expansion once, and it does seem to add positively to the game in terms of decisions, but they did over stuff a few too many things into the expansion, so it feels a bit too far for me.
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Rainer Fuchs
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Re: [Top of the Table- Reviewing the Top 100] 7 Wonders Duel is a Beautiful Renovation
Not sure I agree with the notion that you can predict the winner from the position at the end of phase I frequently. In fact, in most of our games -- and we have played this A LOT -- phase III was the deciding phase, mostly because of either the super high values of blue buildings, or because of the ability -- or rather, inability -- to block a scientific or military victory. The main weakness in my eyes is that in phase III luck can play a huge role if one party goes for a science or military victory and the turn of the cards and draw order can make or break it.
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Daniel
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Re: [Top of the Table- Reviewing the Top 100] 7 Wonders Duel is a Beautiful Renovation
Quote:
Based on the above review, you’d probably guess that I’d be rushing to purchase a copy for myself, right? Well actually… no. Here’s the thing: two-player games fill a particular niche in my collection. If I’m gonna buy a two-player game, it has to be one that I’m gonna enjoy playing with my wife.


I am starting to sieve my wishlist similarly. If it doesn't pass the test of "will she want to play?" I chuck it.
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Khwab Sanghvi
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I am also in disagreement with the claim that you could predict the winner after the 1st phase. In many of the games I have played with my boyfriend, the person who seemingly was leading after the 1sy phase, ended up losing or only barely winning. This was due to surprise victories, or good strategic planning.
With 7WD, I feel there is a learning curve to the strategy. Once you have played the game a few times you can long term strategize rather than just strategizing your next move. This is what makes the game great for me, that its not just a strategy gimmick but there is improvement in player skill with more you play and think in the game.
 
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