Sunday, 8 May 2011

7 Wonders

Plays: 6Px1.

7 Wonders is one of the big hits of 2010, selling out its first printing quickly and rising to the top 20 at like a rocket. The game is so popular that there isn't much about it that hasn't already been written somewhere else. So, I shall try to be brief.

The Game

7 Wonders is a card game with a civilisation theme. It is divided into 3 ages, and in each age everyone draws 7 cards, picks 1, and passes the rest to a neighbour. You pick 1 card from what you receive from your neighbour, and repeat the process until you have claimed 6 cards this age.

Cards can be buildings that you build, or they can be used to build 1 of the 3 stages of your wonder, or they can be discarded to earn money. Buildings give various benefits, e.g. producing resources, giving military strength, contributing to science, allowing you to build other buildings for free (some buildings require resources to be built). The many different buildings help you build your civilisation. They are your civilisation. Ultimately, they help you score points, some directly, some not.

The cards are beautifully illustrated. Mostly icons are used and not text.

In essence it's a game of choosing cards. You manage the direction of your civilisation as you make these choices. You manage money and resources.

One design objective of the game is to allow 7 people to play within a short time. This is achieved by having everyone pick cards simultaneously. Also you only directly interact with your neighbours, e.g. comparing military superiority, trading.

The Play

I played a 6-player game with mostly newbies at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras. It took 45 minutes including rules explanation. The game indeed moved very fast. Pick a card and pass the rest. How long can that take?

Military is a funny aspect. It's a game of neighbour-envy. Once someone starts developing military, his neighbours will feel the pressure to do the same. Once they too do that, their next neighbours will feel the pressure too. Domino effect. Jimmy sat between Jeff and I, and once Jeff started developing military, an arms race began.

Watching what others are doing is important. You should deny your opponents good cards, not just the immediate neighbours but also opponents further away.

My wonder was the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Each stage of the wonder required different resources to build and provided some benefits. When we played, everyone who had picked his card put it on his wonder board, and once everyone had done so, we turned over our selected cards simultaneously and built / used it.

Henry and Allen.

The game does take up quite a bit of space, but I think it is the right decision to make the cards big, because it will be easier to see what neighbours further away are doing.

Henry made an indecent amount of money, partly helped by Allen who bought a lot of stuff from him. Henry depleted the gold ($3) coins from the supply, and his stack of coins was as impressive as the Tower of Babel. He eventually won the game. I was happy to come second. I produced many resources which let me build some high-scoring buildings. Military also scored me some points.

I need to thank Kareem for bringing and teaching the game. I have been wanting to try 7 Wonders for a long time.

My civilisation at game end. I had completed my wonder (see those three Age I, II and II cards underneath). The red and grey numbered tokens on my board are military tokens. You earn 1, 3, 5pts for being stronger than your neighbours in Ages I to III, and lose -1pts for being weaker. I was stronger than one neighbour and tied with the other in Age I; stronger than both in Age II; and stronger than one but weaker than the other in Age III.

The Thoughts

I like it enough to pre-order it. I don't often have big groups, but the game is supposed to be best with 3 or 4 (and I often have 3-player sessions) and also I'm hoping the 2-player variant will work well with my wife and I.

7 Wonders has a constant flow of decisions. There is luck in how the cards come up, e.g. bad luck if two cards you want badly are in the same group because you can only pick one. However you have interesting decisions to make most of the time. You need to decide between picking a card good for yourself or picking a card for the sake of denying an opponent. You need to decide which strategy to pursue when two (or more!) are presented to you.

Despite the simplicity, I feel the game has strong theme - managing resources, the military arms race, the unique wonders, the tech tree aspect of some cards making other cards free. There are many different aspects to growing a civilisation, and many of them are represented in this game, despite some being in a fairly abstract way.

This is an adjustable-depth game. You can decide to play it with minimal thinking, just focusing on what cards you want to collect. You can do in-depth analysis, trying to guess each player's intentions, checking everyone's cards to count what are still in circulation. Also, this game satisfies the card combo itch. You try to collect cards that work well with your wonder and with your chosen strategy, or you switch strategy to make your cards work. It's all about collecting a set of coherent cards.


docaaoca said...

I'd say 7 Wonders works even better with 3 or 4 players, at least then you get the chance to receive the same set of cards twice. With six or seven, you are constantly rebuilding your strategy because you can hardly guess what will come into your hands next. Don't say it's bad but the game changes.

My only complain is the price (around 60 €), but that's what happens with "famous" games. Great for newbies though, as you say you can play with an strategy as light as you wish.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Have you tried 7 Wonders with 2? Opinions seem to differ on whether that's good. I'd like to hear more about what people think.

Paul D. Owen said...

My wife and I tried 7W as a two-player game, and we didn't feel that it worked well. The two-player variant requires making decisions for a third-player dummy, and the extra decisions and actions required really seemed to take away from the elegance of the game. We haven't tried it again since.

We very much enjoy 7W with any number of players otherwise, but I tend to agree that three or four players is best, or even five. In a three-player game, everybody immediately affects everybody else, in obvious terms of both trade and military. In the four- and five-player game, the players not immediately adjacent to you still interact with your immediate neighbors, and so indirectly can affect you in a meaningful way.

At six or seven players, though, the people across the table from you are practically not playing the same game. Nevertheless, it's still fun, and as you say, quick to play no matter how many people are at the table. It is also true, though, that you need a pretty good-sized table for a six- or seven-player game; as you observe in the photos, each player can take up a lot of space after playing 18 cards.

The lingering question for me as I learn this game is, to what extent is it a game of skill vs. luck? The card-passing procedure would seem to neutralize card luck, and yet, I keep thinking that strategy only goes so far; there's still a dependency on what cards your opponent passes to you. I'd be curious to know your impressions on that.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I've only played one game, but I do think that luck does play a significant role. However, to me it is not a problem because when playing the game I _felt_ I had a lot of control. I could analyse other players' cards as much as I wanted to. I could count cards if I felt like it. I _felt_ I had applied a lot of skill to the game. In the end luck can still kill whatever perfect strategy you have, but I think that is fine, because I feel like I have made meaningful decisions.

If I compare 7 Wonders to Race for the Galaxy, a skilled RFTG player will most likely beat newbies but I think a skilled 7 Wonders player has just above average chances of doing so. In that game of 7 Wonders that I played, 1st and 2nd place were complete newbies (but veteran gamers). The most experienced player knew what he was doing and had a plan in mind, but things just didn't quite work out. He even considered free builds of downstream players and tried to deny them such cards.

Jason said...

I agree with Paul, the 2 player feels a lot like you are dragging a ball and chain around with you... That in no way is a pun about playing games with my wife :)

The 3+ player is amazing. Yes the stragety is picked up quickly by new players. After a game or two people will spend more time focusing on capping cards that will benefit you rather than building their own empire. Use that to their disadvantage and don't focus too heavily on one build type!

Glad to see you did a review always a pleasure to read your articles!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

yikes, the 2P variant sounds dreadful... some say that it is more strategic because you can use the dummy player to deny your opponent cards that he/she may want. however most seem to agree it is best to learn the game with a normal number of players, and only play the 2P variant after knowing the game.