The rules for 7 seemed relatively straight forwards when read, but when you see the game laid out it can be quite daunting as there are a lot of different decks of cards, different tokens, even several boards. (Not that daunting is necessarily a bad thing.)
In 7, the players are heroes in a fantasy setting working together to stop the Unnamed returning to the world. The players win if they can close all 6 portals, or if they can collect the 7 pieces of armour with at least one hero having a Might score of 30+. If all 14 cataclysms take place, the players lose. However, whilst the game is co-operative, there can be only one winner (so long as all the players don’t lose) and that will be the player with the most might.
In turn order, players take a single action or pass, and a round is over when all players pass consecutively. The game’s "currencies" are Fame, Might, Gold and Gifts. The Gifts come in 6 different colours (7 of each colour) and these are used to close portals or complete quests. Fame is used to buy characters (companions for the hero who also come in 6 different colours) who help you gain gifts and potentially income each round. Gold is used to buy elixirs (used in place of gifts or to gain gifts) and buildings (which may produce an income each round plus have a special ability). Might is like victory points but can be used to activate buildings’ abilities.
Each turn, a player can choose one of 12 different actions which are: to buy characters, buildings or elixirs; use the abilities of the player’s hero, characters, buildings or artifacts; seal a portal; complete part of a quest; gain a treasure; use a sin card; or pass.
Sealing the coloured portals is one way to win the game and, if this is done, the player who closed the most portals is the winner. Sealing a portal requires a player to discard the 7 gifts of a single colour and, once closed, it will not open again. Getting all 7 Gifts of a single colour at the same time can be quite difficult as other players wants gifts for themselves because they can also be used to complete quests which earn Fame and Gold.
To complete a quest, players must discard Gifts, Fame or Gold to complete each part as described on the quest card, i.e. pay 3 blue gifts, pay 3 fame, etc. When a player completes a part of a quest, they place one of their markers on it. When all the parts of the two quests on the lowest of the quest board are fully complete, the quests are resolved. As a result, the player with the most markers on a quest receives some Might and every player gets a treasure card (Gold, Fame, Artefact) for each of their markers on the quest. Whilst a quest is incomplete, a player can remove a marker they have placed on a quest (replacing it with a neutral marker) in order to instantly gain a treasure card.
Players have 3 sin cards each round too which allow them to gain resources, swap buildings, etc. and even negatively affect other players. As you’d hope, indulging in too much tempting sin results in a cataclysm for as soon as the Sin card discard pile has 7 cards in it a cataclysm takes place. As the name suggests, these are bad – very, very bad. A card from the cataclysm deck can destroy buildings, kill characters, reduce fame or gold, and more (and usually multiple effects each time). Cataclysms also happen whenever quests are resolved too.
When a round ends, players gain some income from their buildings and/or characters. If a player owns characters of specific colours then they may earn extra income. Also, players earn Might for having the most elixirs, most fame, etc.
Overall, 7 is a game with a lot of factors and choices. The choice of 12 different actions seems a lot to take in to start with but, individually, they’re relatively straight forwards and manageable. However, working out which order to execute them in to produce the maximum resources is the key. As a single example, you might remove a marker from a quest to get fame so you can then hire a character who will give you gifts which you can use to close a portal. As you can only perform one action each turn, you not only need to work out the order of your actions, but also assess which opportunities may be taken by other players. With resources being tight too, this delivers some very interesting decision-making gameplay.
The cataclysms can be brutal - our first two decimated our characters and buildings - one player was severely savaged. As it takes a lot of effort to earn resources (which makes it a challenge), fear of the next cataclysm is really quite nerve-wracking too as you know they’ll be coming and they’ll be merciless. So, you really need to squeeze out as many resources as you can before the next cataclysm. Also, the Sin cards are a nice mechanic because they’re tempting but have literally cataclysmic consequences, which works well in both gameplay and themeing too.
Whilst being co-operative, the fact that one player can win, created an unusual air of begrudging friendliness. We helped each other but not too much - no-one sacrificed themselves for good of the group like you might see in a fully co-op game, even with a traitor involved. However, when only one portal was left to be shut the game did start to slow down as players tried to play for the win and the main goal of defeating the Unnamed One was set aside.
There are a couple of advanced rules for corruption (players may become evil and play to make the others lose) and also allowing one player to play the Unnamed one. These sounded like interesting additions and I suspect they will make it even harder.
Having played it once, I would use my resources better next time now I know the system - I believe all the players felt that way. The game can be quite harsh though and an unfortunate player can be crippled by a single cataclysm which is especially hard early on. Interestingly, there’s no scaling of the game based on the number of players, apart for a change for two-players, so I’d be interested to see how much harder it is with fewer players, or easier with more players.
The uneasy alliance between the players feels quite fresh and unusual. In theory, a single player can win Arkham Horror on points but no-one really cares about that amongst the people I play AH with but, in 7, it was much more pervasive. I felt it was a shame the game slowed down towards the end as players jostled for position.
On reflection, I’m not quite sure how to feel about 7. I did enjoy playing it as there were interesting decisions to be made and lots to discover. It is quite an epic game (hence the epic report) but it was quite long to play too. The mechanics are relatively straight forwards but there are a lot of them which makes the game relatively complex. The game contains some new combinations of mechanics but I couldn’t really name one specific item as outstandingly unique. So, I have mixed feelings.
On balance though, 7 is a good game, enjoyable and I think people who like games with lots of thinking and lots of systems/parts will like it too. For me, I would willingly play 7 again but it’s not one I will buy because I wouldn’t play it often enough.
One last word on the artwork though which I wanted to point out is very nice indeed.
[Played with 4 players]
This review and other reviews of Essen Spiel 09 games on my blog at http://thegameofgaming.wordpress.com
Thank you for this review, gave me all the info I needed