Strategy games that span millennia and have you building up civilizations from nothing—like, say, Civilization—often can be multi-hour affairs. Sometimes they can last days if you want to play an epic multiplayer game. So one can imagine that board games that emulate this genre take an equally long amount of time with just as much concentration and strategy. And, well, you’d be right! Games like Clash of Cultures and Civilization (the board game) can be very long and intensive. However, what if I told you that there was a board game where you could build a civilization in half an hour? Even if you had the maximum of seven players? It’s true! 7 Wonders aims to provide difficult choices and requires flexible planning, all in a sleek, 30-minute package. The question is: does it deliver?
…the answer is yes. This game rocks. Sorry, I’m bad at suspense.
The game itself is fairly simple on the surface. 7 Wonders is a drafting game. If you’re familiar with drafting in Magic the Gathering (or, to a similar extent, Arena mode in Hearthstone) then you’re already familiar with the basics. For everyone else, let me explain a bit. The game is separated into three different ages. At the beginning of an age, each player gets a hand of seven cards. Each round consists of everyone secretly choosing one of those cards and passing the rest to their neighbor. Then, everyone reveals their chosen card. Then you can use that card to build a building, or build part of your unique wonder, or discard it for three gold. Then, you pick up the next hand that was passed to you and repeat. Once you’re down to choosing between two cards, you choose one and discard the other. Then, warfare happens and you move on to the next age. After the third is over, the game ends and you score how well you did.
Unlike similar titles such as Civilization, at the end of the game you’re not graded on how well you conquered other cultures (though beating up your neighbors is one way to get points), but rather on how well you developed your particular society. Points are awarded in many different ways, including pursuing science, building culture buildings, constructing your civilization’s wonder, and competing in combat with your neighbors.
Now, on the surface, this seems simple, and it is. It’s a very easy game to grasp. However, in my experience, teaching the game can sometimes take as long as playing it! This is because the game has a lot of nuances. For instance, there are seven different kinds of cards representing the different buildings that you can construct (brown for basic resources, gray for advanced resources, yellow for economic, red for military, green for science, blue for culture, and purple for guilds). There are seven resources that you need to have access to in different amounts to build these buildings (noticing a pattern?).
And the strategies. Oh, the strategies! Do you build up your military to crush your foes? Do you focus on science for the potential to get tons of points? Do you forego resources, concentrating on your economy so that you can simply buy the resources you need from your neighbors? Also, keep in mind that you build your civilization by drafting. That is, just because you want to build science means you’ll get science. And if someone else catches on to what you’re trying to do, there’s a good chance they’ll try to deny you the cards you want!
Even worse, some of the purple guilds that show up only in the third age give you points based on what your opponents have been doing, so now your neighbor is suddenly benefiting from all your hard work! It all becomes a real brain-burner as you try to analyze what you’re doing, what your neighbors are doing, and what everyone else is doing too. This is fantastic, since the main means of interaction (trading and warfare) only happen with the people directly to your left and right, having a reason to care about everyone else is very important. The best thing is that it all works!
Mostly, anyway. There are some hiccups along the way. For instance, none of the cards describe what they do in words. Instead, they use symbols. A clay pit, for example, will have a symbol of clay to inform you that if you build that building, it will provide you with one clay resource. Sounds simple, right? It is, until you get into the more complicated ideas. Imagine trying to tell someone that they can play one of the cards that have been discarded for free with symbols only. It’s not easy, and the symbol they chose probably is as close as they get, but you’ll still have someone looking it up every game. Luckily, the game comes with a very nice reference card.
Another weird thing is how complex some interactions are compared to other, much simpler interactions. Combat is very simple, for instance. Red cards give you combat symbols, and each time warfare happens, you just compare the number of symbols you have with your neighbors. If you have more, you win points, and they lose points. That’s it! The only other thing is that the winner will win more points as the ages go on, while the loser will only ever lose one point. Compare this to scoring science at the end of the game. Science is represented by three symbols: a gear, a compass, and a tablet. Science cards give you one of these three symbols. At the end of the game, you look at how many of each symbol you got. For each set of three different symbols, you get seven (of course) points. For each amount of the same symbol, you square the number you have. It’s not too bad, but any time you mention squaring a number to someone in preparation of playing a board game, you can see them mentally convulse a little. Scoring the game at the end is its own pain. The game actually comes with a pad of paper so that you can right down everyone’s individual categories of score and add them all up.
At the end of the day, though, these are pretty minor complaints. Overall, I think the game is very strategic and gives you many interesting decisions, while still being very quick with a brief setup time. I would definitely recommend 7 Wonders, whether you’re playing with three people or the maximum of seven.
Bonus expansion mini-review: Leaders!
7 Wonders currently has two expansions: Leaders and Cities. Leaders gives you a grip of, well, leaders that you draft at the beginning of the game. The leaders give you a variety of bonuses, and many of them act as “secret objectives” of sorts, giving you points for pursuing alternate strategies. It’s a very simple addition, but it really adds a lot to the game and expands the strategic depth even more. I would suggest playing the base game a couple of times to get a feel for it, but after I bought Leaders I never played without it. Even teaching people for the first time, the addition of the leaders is minor enough that they’re able to grasp the idea on top of the base ideas of the game. The only downside is that the leaders also use symbols to convey ideas, and some of them can be very esoteric. Unlike the base game, there is only the manual to look up symbols, so the first bit of the game will be lots of people looking stuff up. Other than that, however, definitely a must-buy!
Second bonus! App mini-review: 7 Wonders Companion App!
7 Wonders also has its own official companion app for iOS! The companion app has a lot that makes things even easier than they were before. You can use it as a reference for symbols, to look at the distribution of specific cards in each age, to tally players’ scores at the end of the game (it even comes with a hall of fame to keep track of who won with which wonder), it can even stand in as a wonder during the game! The app itself is all of $2, a drop in the bucket for how helpful it is. So, if you have an iOS device I would absolutely recommend the app as well! Okay, that’s all the bonus reviews for now. Go! Go have fun!