First Impression – 7 Wonders: Cities

7 Wonders: Cities
Designer:  Antoine Bauza
Publisher:  Repos Production
Time:  30 minutes (45-60 minutes for the team game)
Ages:  10 and up
# of players:  2-8
Times Played: 3 with a pre-production copy
first impression by Mark Jackson

The real trick for any expansion is to, well, expand the scope of the game in some way that doesn’t mess up the goodness of the original creation. In the case of 7 Wonders, that means you have to add more choices to the game without adding extraneous fiddly rules and/or mechanics – the streamlined nature of the base game is a key part of its popularity.

I’m happy to say that the Cities expansion does exactly that – possibly better than the already published Leaders expansion (which I enjoy as well). 7 Wonders: Cities adds new cards to each age deck to expand the initial hand to 8 cards. These black-faced cards are the dark underbelly of civilization expansion: spies, gambling dens, mercenary forces, cemeteries, black markets & the like. Rather than adding particular cards based on the number of players (as in the base game), these cards are added randomly – shuffle each set of Cities cards and add as many cards are there are players in the game. Most of the new cards cost money – so, for example, you can ramp up your military at a faster pace if you’re willing to risk running short of cash.

Living on the edge financially may or may not be a good idea, though, thanks to one of the new concepts in the game: debt. There are now cards (and wonder steps) which cause the other players in the game to lose money – and if they go into the negative, they are forced to take on debt tokens (similar to military defeat tokens).

The other new game concept is diplomacy. Certain cards (and wonder steps) enable players to receive an embassy – which forces them to bow out of the next combat resolution. Their two neighboring players now attack each other!

Of course, there are two new Wonders in the Cities expansion: Petra (which is money-hungry) and Bzyantium (which is peace-loving). There are also new Leader cards that work with the Cities cards as well as three new Guilds.

Finally, the expansion includes rules for team play. Similar to Ticket to Ride: Asia, partners sit next to each other – but in this version, they share hand information and can plot which cards to send on to their partner. There are some slight changes to combat resolution (affected by the new diplomacy rules) but otherwise the gameplay is not substantially different than the original game.

I played one “normal” four player game with the expansion – and we never saw a diplomacy card. I found the uncertainty added spice to my decisions – until the hands had passed completely around, I wasn’t sure how or if my plans were going to work.

I also played two “team” games – one with 4 players & one with 6 players. The team rules make the game a bit longer (45 minutes to an hour) but there still isn’t a great deal of downtime. The added minutes are spent consulting with your partner and speculating about how best to maximize what you’ve been given.

As I said at the beginning of this “first impression”, I think that this is the best expansion (so far!) for 7 Wonders. Even if you’re not a fan of the 7 Wonders: Leaders expansion, I think there’s a lot to like here.

Opinions on 7 Wonders: Cities from other Opinionated Gamers:

Brian Leet: I’ve only played the Cities expansion one time, but it was with the full complement of seven players. My general sense was that the expansion ramped up the challenge of the game a bit more. While the base game allows you to tool along making progress, and then compare scores, with the cities expansion you sometimes are pushed backward a step. I think I like this, but would definitely recommend it for gamers experienced with the base game first. My rating could move up with more plays.

W. Eric Martin (six plays with a pre-production copy): In general, everything about 7 Wonders: Cities adds more of what you like in the game – more to consider each draft, increasing tension from age to age as you ponder whether you’ll be able to craft your way to long-term success in the history books – while also adding more interaction possibilities thanks to the diplomacy and punishment cards. Boom! You just lost that financial reserve that you were holding onto in order to buy glass from a neighbor for that science card swinging around the table. Zing! You’re now fighting Johnny Catapult on the other side of a peace-loving neighbor who you had hoped to pick on for his lunch money.

Where Cities goes wrong is that it adds more of what you don’t like as well: tons of different cards that you need to go over in detail before play starts, even though many of the cards won’t even be available during play. I’ve played 7 Wonders fifty times now, but the game explanation still seems to take forever because you have to cover so many avenues of growth, each of which differ in small and not-so-small ways. Cities just adds more to this. I taught both the base game and Cities to a new player in one session, and that seemed to last as long as the game itself. Ideally everyone will learn the expansion from the rules or someone else, so you can focus solely on playing the game.

The team rules, while practically doubling the length of the game due to the incredible amount of kibitzing in which some teams will engage (no names here), are wonderful, making the game feel richer while adding almost nothing in the way of rules complexity. You and your teammate will ponder and scheme about which way to go with this hand and that, with what to leave behind for opponents in your wake, and with what awaits you in the next age. Repos Production has been looking for non-traditional team games, and this expansion provides a great taste of team play while still having you do your own thing.

Ratings of 7 Wonders: Cities from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it!… Mark Jackson, W. Eric Martin
I like it… Brian Leet
Neutral… Jonathan Franklin
Not for me…

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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