Love Thy Neighbour! - 7 Wonders: Duel Review

First this month, there was Raptor and now here's the other new 2 player game that I was talking about. Once upon a time, there was a terrific drafting game called 7 Wonders. Highly popular, full of iconography and able to cater for a large group of players in a relatively short space of time, at least when you didn't throw in every expansion that is as awesome as they all were. It's in my Top 20 of all time and remains a treasured game in my collection, though I wish more people were willing to try all the expansions as I'm getting bored with just playing the base game all the time! Seriously people play a game with Leaders, Cities and Babel all included, it is a joy to play even if the learning curve does get a little steeper.

Rarely was it ever played with less than 4 players though and I NEVER wanted to play it with only two people as given in this weird variant where a dummy city player was used. I admit I never tried it, but it just looked so odd and detracted from the experience of playing with multiple players. And I know next to no-one who ever liked it anyway. So Antoine and Bruno have teamed up to give us a new 7 Wonders game made solely for 2 players pretty much emphasising that the old variant should be discarded from existence. At first glance it looks solid and who can knock these two as designers when they're currently on fire these days with their releases? But half the fun of 7 Wonders was having to take into account what your neighbours and even the players further afield were up to. Can that be recreated in a 2 player game or will this give me a new twist so that I'll leave that aside and enjoy the new experience?


Designer: Bruno Cathala & Antoine Bauza (2015)
Publisher: Asmodee
Age: 10+
Players: 2
Time: 30 Minutes
Rank / Rating:


Re-Writing 7 Wonders History


Much like the original 7 Wonders you will be competing for the most points and to do so you will draft cards to add to your tableau that are based various aspects of building a civilization including military, science, culture and commerce. There are 3 Ages in the game and in each age a selection of these cards will be laid out in a specified format, some face up, some face down. Players will then take it in turns to draft these cards, utilising any resources they have and paying any costs. If they are lacking the pre-requisites then they can buy from the bank, however the cost of this increases depending on whether their opponent owns any themselves. Some buildings will chain into others in later Ages meaning that you can draft them for free if you've already built the previous one. If money is running low, which it will do on a regular basis, then cards drafted can be discarded for money depending on how many Commerce (yellow) cards a player has.

Prior to the game starting, players will also choose 4 separate Wonders that they can build by discarding an unwanted card, with the only restriction being that of course, only 7 can be built in total. As well as the final calculation of victory points there are also two additional victory conditions that can be met during the course of the game by gaining an overwhelming lead on military strength or scientific advances. The former is maintained on a track where a counter is moved back and forth depending on the Military (red) cards taken by each player. If one reaches the very end, they win automatically regardless of points. The latter involves the collection of 6 out of 7 Science (green) symbols printed on the cards, of which achieving this will result in an automatic victory as well.

Play continues over 3 Ages until either all cards have been drafted and the winner is the player with the most points assuming that one of them has not already won by means of one of the two automatic victory conditions mentioned.


Very Pretty, If Very Small Bricks


Being a 2 player game only, the box attempts to maintain as small a footprint on your shelf as possible, but it's no stocking stuffer. Inside the insert holds everything fine, though I wonder if everything could have been squeezed together a bit more. That being said, the majority of reports show that sleeved cards will fit in the box and I highly recommend you do so as you'll be doing a lot of card flipping, shuffling and handling in each game. However the reason they can keep the box as small as they can is because the building cards are very small, basically Mini-Euro sized to put it into perspective. Thankfully you don't have any text to read on them, only the classic 7 Wonders style of iconography, artwork and colours so even though they can be fiddly to handle, they're not tricky to read and still pretty durable as well.

Speaking of the artwork, well it's 7 Wonders, did you expect it to be bad? It's still as crisp and clean as before, perhaps maybe not as detailed, but they've got to fit the image on a much smaller card than before so let's be fair and despite that limitation it's still gorgeous especially on the Wonder cards. The Military track board is standard though it utilises a fairly cheap looking plastic miniature to record your progress. I was fortunate enough to grab this at Essen so I got the metal version which is 10 times better.


Choose Your Victory


Once you've gotten through the tedious part of setting up the cards in their prescribed layout, you need to switch on your brain. This isn't a brain burner by any means, but you need to pay attention to your opponent's plans. Firstly you've got the two automatic winning conditions. If you ignore one entirely, then there's a good chance that your opponent will attempt to use this to his advantage and possibly steal the win from under you.

And secondly there's the way that the cards are laid out in each age. Taking a card frees up the cards above it and on every turn you have to consider not only how much it helps you, but how much the other cards will help your opponent. A fine balance has to be struck between gaining points and denying points and yet the decision isn't so tough that you'll hit analysis paralysis levels.

It's definitely worth noting that you will finish the game and tally up points much more often than you will finish by way of an automatic victory condition. But it's simply the threat of those conditions that make you want to invest in some military and science buildings. After all, no civilization ever did well without diving into both of those two aspects to some degree. But they're not just blank slates, taking the military buildings can drain your opponent of money on the track and pairing up the science symbols can gain you useful bonuses that are randomised each game. So they have more uses than simply just stopping (or achieving) another victory condition.


Which One First?


This is a lot simpler to teach someone than the original 7 Wonders in my opinion. You don't have to explain the multi-layered scoring mechanism of Science, you don't have the extra Military phase of attacking each other, the trading rule is simplified and you only have to concentrate on one opponent at a time. Therefore for me it's no contest that this is the best way to get someone into 7 Wonders and how it works. Yes, both games are different, but if you know how to play one, it makes adapting to the other a lot easier. Learning this game for myself was a breeze and I've yet to have someone stare at horror at the cards unsure of what to do.

As you will no doubt have guessed therefore, this isn't a replacement for 7 Wonders. The original is a whole different beast especially with all of the cool expansions that it has right up to the awesome Babel. This is almost like a variant, allowing two players to enjoy the feel of 7 Wonders in a unique way and can happily sit on top of the 7 Wonders box on your shelf. However I don't think if you disliked the original that this is going to convert you over.


Verdict


Now that we have 7 Wonders Duel, we can safely remove all knowledge of the old variant from our minds. It uses enough of the old mechanics to make the game familiar to 7 Wonder players, but introduces new twists to make it fresh and different from it's father. Most of that is achieved through the multiple victory conditions. Granted most games will end by counting up points, but you cannot ignore the Military and Science cards entirely because your opponent will take advantage of this. Couple this with the revised draft system of choosing the cards and the result is an experience that has you engaged on every turn, but also making important decisions throughout and adapting as you play.

In no way should this be treated as a replacement of the original 7 Wonders however as it feels different enough in its mechanics, though I'd probably argue that if you didn't like the orignal 7 Wonders, this won't sway you back. Faults with the game that I can think of are nitpicks at best. The setup of each age is a little fiddly and time consuming and it would be cool to see the alternate victory conditions come into play more often. The replay value might also depend heavily on whether this will get the same expansion love as the original as it will need a boost in variety for the cards at some point. But for the time being, this an excellent means of bringing 7 Wonders down to two players. If you like the original, this a no-brainer and in my opinion the best 2 player game to come out this year.



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoyed 7 Wonders, but want a smaller version - it condenses the orignal game down and adds some new tweaks.


You want an engaging two player game - this is not a time where you can just sit back and let things play out for you.


You like the idea of multiple victory conditions.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You weren't a fan of 7 Wonders to begin with - it's not different enough from the original to change your mind.


You enjoy 7 Wonders because of the multiplayer aspect of watching your neighbours actions.


You hate having to wield tiny cards.




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