- Designers: Antoine Bauza, Bruno Cathala
- Publisher: Repos Production
- Players: 2 – 2
- Ages: 10 and Up
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 7
I’m always on the lookout for quality two-player games, and 2015 was a good year for such titles. My favorite ended up being 7 Wonders Duel, which I also ranked as my fourth favorite game overall in our Year in Review. And apparently I’m not alone: 7 Wonders Duel currently ranks #21 on BGG, the third-highest ranking of any two-player title. It is one step ahead of 7 Wonders, which ranks #22.
At its core, 7 Wonders Duel is the two-player descendent of 7 Wonders. For an excellent overview of that game, I highly recommend Larry Levy’s writeup, Review of 7 Wonders: Believe the Hype.
In writing this review, I’ve kept those who haven’t played 7 Wonders in mind. That said, I also try to compare and contrast the two, so players familiar with 7 Wonders will benefit from this review as well.
7 Wonders Duel: New Ways to Win (And Lose)
Like in 7 Wonders, each player is leading a civilization and will construct buildings and wonders, which together form a “city.” The building is conducted over three “ages,” with each age offering progressively more advanced buildings.
In 7 Wonders Duel, there are three ways to claim victory:
- Military victory. This can happen at any point in the game if the conflict pawn enters the opponent’s capital.
- Scientific victory. This can happen at any point in the game if a player gathers six different scientific symbols.
- Civilian victory. This is the most common form of victory, and it is achieved by having the most points at the end of the the Third Age.
These different victory conditions are arguably the biggest change from 7 Wonders, which always awarded victory to the player with the highest points at the end of the Third Age.
In my experience, most games end with a civilian victory, although I’ve seen a couple military victories as well. I have yet to see a scientific victory.
Wonder Drafting, Plus a New Style of Card Drafting
Now that we’ve discussed the goals of the game, let’s walk through how it is played.
To set up, put the game board out and put the conflict pawn in the middle of the military track. Put the four military tokens face up: as the conflict pawn reaches their zones, the opponent will lose this many coins. Five random “Progress Tokens” (i.e. science rewards) are placed on the gameboard. Each player takes seven coins from the bank.
Now it is time to draft wonders. The game comes with 12 Wonder tiles. Four of these are randomly selected and put face up between the two players. The first player chooses one of them, then the other player chooses two. The first player takes the remaining wonder. The process is then completed again with four more winders, but this time, the process is started with the second player. Each player thus has eight total wonders.
Now it is time to set up for the First Age. Each age has its own set of building cards, and in each age, the cards will be out out in a set “structure” (see image below). The first row of each structure has all cards face up, and each alternating row has the cards face down. These cards are flipped face up as the cards covering them are drafted. Players can only draft cards that are completely uncovered.
This new drafting mechanic makes for interesting choices. Sometimes you’ll hold off on buying a particular building — even if you badly need it — because it opens up a card that your opponent wants. In my experience, this happens frequently with military cards, especially in the Third Age.
On your turn…
Players have three choices on their turn:
- Build a building (i.e. buy one of the cards).
- Build a wonder.
- Discard a card for money.
Many buildings have a cost on the left side of the card. To build them, a player needs to have buildings that produce the corresponding resources, or he can trade for the resources from the bank. Unlike in 7 Wonders, this cost for resources is paid to the bank, with the cost being two plus the number of symbols of the same resources produced by the brown/grey cards of the opposing city.
Some buildings have a white “chain” symbol. If a player has the building from the previous age containing the matching symbol, this card can be built for free. (This was also the case in 7 Wonders, but the use of symbols rather than words is a nice touch.)
To build a Wonder, the cost of the wonder is paid (similar to constructing a building) and a card is discarded under the wonder to show it has been built.
When discarding cards, a player gets two coins plus one coin for each yellow card in their city.
Each age ends when all 20 cards have been played or discarded. The player with the weakest military begins the next age, but if there is a tie, the last active player goes again.
Science and Military
Science and military work quite differently in 7 Wonders Duel. Each military symbol moves the Conflict pawn one step closer to the opposing player’s capital. If it reaches the capital, a military victory is achieved. Along the way, players can be forced to discard money if the conflict pawn reaches certain “zones” along the track.
There are seven science symbols in the game. Each time a player gathers a pair of identical science symbols, he may immediately choose one of the “Progress tokens” on the game board. These award various advantages, such as taking additional gold, receiving additional victory points, etc. Building six of the seven science symbols results in a science victory.
A civilian victory is a victory by points at the end of the third age. The points from all buildings, wonders, and Progress Tokens are added up, and the highest score is the winner.
My thoughts on the game…
I rank 7 Wonders as one of my all-time-favorites, so it is no surprise that I like 7 Wonders Duel. The big surprise is that I’m actually beginning to like 7 Wonders Duel better.
7 Wonders Duel is far more tense than its predecessor. The Second and Third Ages in 7 Wonders sometimes became predictable, as often you’d need to specialize to win, making your card choices obvious. That isn’t the case here. You need to have military, and science, plus other sources of points, so the decision space is more difficult. Ignoring any one of the three victory conditions will almost certainly result in defeat. The result is a challenging game that, in a nod to the game’s title, feels like a duel. You need to watch your opponent’s every move, and monitoring how the “structure” of cards unfolds is key.
A few other changes to the game resulted in this increased tension. In 7 Wonders you could sometimes get away with not having many resources. That won’t work in 7 Wonders Duel. Your opponent can effectively monopolize resources, since the more he gets of a particular type, the more it costs you to buy it. The only way out of that situation is to “chain” build, which is tricky (and not as powerful) in this game, since cards only offer free cards of the same color.
This game seems far more balanced than 7 Wonders. I’ve played 7 Wonders dozens — if not hundreds — of times, and I always felt that there were a few types of cards that were undervalued (namely yellow commercial cards and red military cards). I haven’t found that to be the case here. Sure, I have yet to see a science victory, so science is arguably undervalued, but given how nice the progress tokens can be, I don’t see the lack of science victories as a problem.
Gameplay is fast. The box advertises 30 minutes, but I have yet to have a game go that long. I’d say we average in the 20-25 minute range. Like its predecessor, the game is a bear to teach — those symbols can be difficult to pick up — but it is no worse here than in 7 Wonders. I’d plan on 10 minutes or so for a rules (and symbol) walkthrough for a new player, 5 minutes for someone experienced in 7 Wonders. A nice player aid is needed and, thankfully, provided. The rulebook is exceptionally well laid out.
My only complaint with the game is the components. I understand that Repos made the cards small to minimize table space, but I would preferred they be a little bigger: not necessarily the size of poker cards, but somewhere in between. Given that the game only comes with 12 Wonder cards, 8 of which will be in any given game, I was worried about replayability. But that isn’t the case so far: you probably won’t have the chance to build all of your wonders, and having the cards in different combinations adds more variety than I initially expected.
In the end, 7 Wonders Duel lives up to the stellar reputation of its predecessor game. This is a tense, fast-paced, well-balanced two player game, one that is deserving of the praise it has received. Will this convert you if you’re not a fan of 7 Wonders? I doubt it, but it just might. I know a couple members of my game group that dislike 7 Wonders but that still liked 7 Wonders Duel. And like I said, I’m starting to like it better.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: Probably one of the greatest 2-player games ever. It has the feeling (and some core rules) of 7 Wonders, a game that I love, but with special tricks really well designed for 2-players. I really like how the possibility to unveil cards can, sometimes, make you take a less-than-optimal actions or how the war is included. Everything compacted in an intense and fun 30 minutes experience. Great!
Mitchell Thomashow: 7 Wonders Duel is an exceptional two player game. It’s amazing how different tableaus require various tactical and strategic approaches. The tension provided by the threat of military or scientific victories is a brilliant brinkmanship mechanic. I’ve played it almost 50 times and I find it constantly poses interesting challenges. A wonderful example of how a simple game with a few original ideas can go such a long way.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris W., Andrea “Liga” Ligabue, Mitchell Thomashow
- I like it.
- Not for me…