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7 Wonders

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Repos Production/Asmodee, 3-7 players, ages 10 and up, about 30 minutes; $49.99)

 

7wondersFor many years now, creating a satisfying civilization building game for multiple players with a reasonable playing time has been one of the Holy Grails of gaming. Many have tried and, it seems, none have quite crossed that elusive threshold of success. Until now. 7 Wonders, designed by Antoine Bauza, takes on this challenge and emerges victorious.

In 7 Wonders, each player is in control of one of the seven great cities of the ancient world. That city and its civilization are represented by a board displaying one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world ranging from The Colossus of Rhodes to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Lighthouse at Alexandria and more. Players randomly choose one of these boards (playing either the simpler A or more challenging B side) and are given three coins as a starting supply.

All boards display a resource on the upper left. This is a resource that, right from the start, this city will always produce. At the bottom of the board, there are (two to four) stages of a “wonder”. These stages may be “built” provided that the player has the necessary resources to build them. Resources are also used to build other structures (and earn Victory Points).

7 Wonders is played in three rounds known as Ages. A different deck of cards is used for each Age but the procedure for implementing the cards remains the same and that is card drafting.

Each round, all cards (the precise number determined by the number of players in the game) are dealt giving each player a hand of 7 cards. After examining these cards, all players choose ONE and pass the remaining cards to the next player. (In Ages I and III, cards are passed to the left; in Age II, cards pass to the right.) Cards chosen are revealed and played simultaneously.

There are seven types of cards: Raw Materials (brown), Manufactured Goods (gray), Civilian Structures (blue), Scientific Structures (green), Commercial Structures (yellow), Military Structures (red) and Guilds (purple). Regardless of the card chosen, a player may use a card in three different ways: build the structure, build a stage of their wonder or discard the card to get 3 coins.

Building a structure means placing it in your own display. Some cards may be built for free (and some can be built for free if a previous card in the “set” has already been built) but many cards have a building cost (in money or resources) found on its upper left hand corner. Resources a player has in his own holdings may be used for free. A needed resource not among a player’s holdings may be bought for 2 coins from either his left or right hand neighbor provided, of course, that either of them has it. Such a purchase may NOT be refused by an opponent and money received is not picked up until that particular turn is played. Brown and gray cards (and some yellow) generate resources. Brown and gray cards are placed, in a staggered fashion, underneath the original resource of a player’s board so that everyone can see what is being produced; yellow cards form their own array above the board. Other cards, when played, form their own arrangement above a player’s board as well. One important restriction, however. A player may NOT build TWO identical structures.

Cards may be used to build a stage of a wonder by simply placing the card (ANY card) face down and half hidden under the appropriate slot of that player’s board after meeting the resource requirements for that build. (Stages MUST be built in order and may not be skipped.) Each stage may only be built once and, once built, players immediately benefit from the resources or abilities that stage bestows. Finally, if a player finds a card unusable for his purposes or, more likely, too useful for his opponents, he may simply discard the card in exchange for 3 coins.

7wonders2When the final pair of cards is received, each player is only allowed to play one card; the final card is simply discarded. This ends the Age and military scoring occurs.

At the end of each Age, players compare the military values of their neighbors and themselves. If the values are equal, nothing happens. If unequal, the player with the lesser amount receives a -1 VP chit for each neighbor with a higher amount. The players with higher amounts will earn positive VPs, +1 chits during the first Age, +3 chits during the second Age and +5 chits in the third and final Age.

Play continues through the second and third Ages in the same manner until, finally, with the last card played at the end of the third Age, Victory Points are calculated.

First, the total amount of chits earned or lost for military prowess is calculated. To that number is added 1 VP for every 3 coins in their reserve. Wonders built award VPs too and this is added now. Civilian (blue) card VP values are added and then Scientific (green) cards values are calculated.

Scientific (green) cards display one of three different scientific symbols. A set of cards with 3 different symbols is worth 7 VPs. Cards with the same symbols score that number squared so that 1 card is worth 1, 2 cards with the same symbol are worth 4, 3 cards are worth 9 and 4 are worth 16.

Some Commercial (yellow) cards award VPs for various holdings while Guilds (purple) award VPs based on a player’s specific holdings AND the holdings of specific cards types in neighboring cities.

The player with the highest combined total of Victory Points wins!

Making game decisions so difficult is that every type of card offers something of value, even if it is not, precisely, loads of Victory Points at the end. Brown and gray cards provide the necessary resources to allow for building of valuable improvements. Yellow cards generally cut the cost of buying resources from your neighbors, provide a welcome infusion of money to your coffers or reward you with modest amounts of money or VPs for your (and neighboring) resources. Blue cards “just” offer Victory Points so a large helping of them can provide lots of VPs in final scoring. The same can be said for the purple Guild cards too. Military power can generate as much as 18 VPs but the green science/technology cards seem to have the largest potential for massive scoring as sets of green cards can total 20 VPs or more when final totals are figured. (In the original prototype, military victories were more crushing for the losing side. In the published version, military losses in each age are only -1 per defeat. While a military strategy remains a powerful one, this adjustment in scoring makes for other viable winning strategies which is a marked improvement.)

That 7 Wonders performs so well with such a wide number of player configurations is a testament to its strength of design but the dynamics of play change as more players are introduced. With three, player interaction is at its most fierce as every player interacts with each other. In addition, you are assured of seeing some cards more than once which gives you a second chance at choosing a card you need or want. With six or seven, interaction centers on the players to your right and left; you only have a minimal effect on those further away (and, of course, they only have a minimal effect on you). More players, however, is more in keeping with the theme as in ancient times, civilizations further away from each other had limited contact and impact on the other. More importantly, in terms of game play, you only see your cards once which makes choosing a card even more difficult since cards passed upon will not be available to you again. No second chances. (Of course, there are duplicates of some cards and you may be fortunate in seeing a “twin” later in the round.) It should also be mentioned that “expert” rules for 2 players are also provided.

Card drafting is a game mechanism we’ve seen before (Fairy Tale, for example, reviewed in the Spring 2005 issue of Gamers Alliance Report). But 7 Wonders has elevated drafting into the driving force of game play adding new life and luster to it. Aided by exceptionally good artwork (by Miguel Coimbra) that aids in delivering the theme, the game provides a constant flow of challenging choices for both small and large groups of players while going from start to finish in a relatively short period of time. It is a tribute to the brilliance of the design that so much can be packed into what is essentially a card game without being weighed down with extensive and obtuse rules. This game has already soared to the top of our “must play” list and has shown solid replay value. This is game design elegance at its best making 7 Wonders simply superb.

 


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