Review: 7 Wonders Duel

I have spoken at length about how much I enjoy 7 Wonders. It’s easy to teach, has very high replayability, plays relatively quickly, and has really enjoyable gameplay. About the only knock I’ve ever had with the game is that the two-player experience was a bit lacking. Some like it, but it never grabbed me. So when I heard that Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala were working on a two-player game based off of 7 Wonders, I was very interested.

Now, 7 Wonders: Duel (or, for the sake of this reviewer’s sanity, just Duel) is a standalone game which shares quite a few traits with 7 Wonders, and those similarities make learning this game a snap. But there are also some significant differences which make this a completely different beast – in some very interesting ways. Things are a lot more out in the open here. Is this a game for you? Well, read on!

To start the game, deal four of the Wonder cards face up in the middle of the table. The start player picks one, the second player takes two, and the start player takes the remaining wonder. Repeat this a second time, switching the order so the second player picks first. These are the Wonders which you will have in your civilization.

IMG_4051Each player takes seven coins and places their Wonders to one side of their play area. Place the board off to one side between the players, and set the aptly named conflict pawn in the middle space of the board. Shuffle the Progress tokens and place five of them out on the board.

Now it’s time to lay out the cards. Much like the game it is based off, Duel features three different decks of cards, each representing a different age. Of these cards, you will remove three from each age deck, returning it to the box. There are also Guild cards from which you will randomly select three and shuffle them into the deck for the third age.

On your turn you select an available card, and do one of three things with it:

  • Build the building using resources.
  • Use it to construct one of your Wonders.
  • Discard it for coins.

Once the current age ends (all cards have been taken), deal out the next age in the shape shown. A note here about card availability – much like some solitaire variants, cards only become available for purchase when they are fully uncovered. In the case of a face down card, flip it face up and place it back where it came from to make it available. The cards are laid out a little differently in each age, as can be seen here:

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If the last card of the third age is taken and played, the game comes to an end and scores are counted. Wait, surely that’s a typo, right? IF the last card is taken? Don’t you mean “when”?? No, no. IF. Because there are two other ways that the game can end: through military supremacy or scientific supremacy. And these can happen long before the last card is played.

So let’s chat about the new endings and some of the other changes you’ll see in Duel.

As in 7 Wonders, you are allowed to trade to get the resources you need to complete a building. But instead of purchasing resources from your opponent, you give your money to the bank. Simple enough, but there is a catch. When buying a resource, the price is now 2 coins plus 1 coin per resource of that type produced by the other player. So if I produce one wood and you need to purchase a wood, you’ll have to spend 3 coins to do so.

IMG_3990Discarding a card for coins has changed a bit as well. Instead of taking a set amount of coins, you now take 2 coins plus one coin per yellow building that you’ve built in your civilization. So if you’ve built four yellow buildings, you can discard a card as an action to gain 6 coins.

Wonders are a bit different as well, having only one stage to construct. And as each person starts with four, there’s a lot to keep your eyes on. Of course, the name of the game is 7 Wonders, and that means that only 7 of the total Wonders can be built between the two players. Once the seventh has been built? The eighth must be discarded.

Along the top of the board are Progress tokens. These tokens can be claimed once you’ve played a pair of science symbols in your civilization. These tokens will give you various benefits such as discounts on future buildings and end game victory points. There is even one which gives you a science symbol.

Now we come to the two new ways to end the game through supremacy. To obtain scientific supremacy, you need to have 6 different science symbols in your civilization. Simple as that. Once that sixth one has been played? Game over.

Military supremacy is achieved through moving the conflict pawn all the way to your opponent’s side of the board. As military cards are played into your civilization, move the pawn towards your opponent by one space per shield present on the card. As the pawn moves along the board, there are sections it will enter which will cause the player it is moving towards to lose coins – first 2 and then 5. And that can really suck.

These new end game conditions, more so than any other change, bring Duel to a level apart from its big brother. In 7 Wonders, you can choose to completely ignore your opponents and just focus on your own civilization. Sure, you’re probably not going to do well, and you will most likely pass to your neighbors cards they will need, but you can do it. You don’t have that ability in Duel.

Keeping on eye on the supremacy conditions will cause you to be both reactive and proactive with your card selection. Once that conflict pawn starts to move your priorities will shift and you’ll try to push it back away from you to cause as little damage as possible. And if you can’t? You better damn well bury the cards your opponent needs.

The same holds true for science. Trying to keep the person across the table from getting six symbols should be fairly straightforward. But you can’t forget about the Progress tokens – the benefits from those can swing a game in a heartbeat. So you’ll have to bite the bullet and buy a card you don’t want to keep her from getting it.

I really enjoy the way each age has a different card layout, mixing face up and face down cards together. The unknown component of face down cards can really make some interesting decisions, especially when coupled with the fact that taking one card from the display might open up two for your opponent to purchase. More than once I’ve seen interesting shapes develop as both players try to deny the other fresh cards to choose from.

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The conflict in 7 Wonders is very…well, I would almost call it covert. You’re passing a hand of cards to someone and they might never know what you’ve buried or traded in for coins. And even if you build something to keep someone else from getting it? Chances are good it will look like a logically play. Sure, there’s military. And you’re trying to keep from getting totally trounced. But even then it’s still rather veiled.

But in Duel?

From the moment this game starts you are in a constant battle with your opponent. Studying the cards and the other civilization, trying to keep cards away from your opponent while working on your own strategy. Your moves are so overt and obvious that it’s clear you are trying to hose the other player. You rush to build that seventh Wonder just to get their last one to go away. Frankly? It’s war.

 

7 Wonders is like scheming and undermining behind the scenes to increase tensions and strain relations.

 

7 Wonders: Duel is like a fist fight at high noon while wearing brass knuckles.

 

This game is amazing. The interweaving of the cards, the pressure to keep your opponent in check, the frustration of not getting those cards you want…all of it combines to make a game that you’ll play multiple times in one sitting. I don’t think it’s too soon to call this one an instant classic.

So is 7 Wonders: Duel a game for you? Well, do you like confrontation? Are you okay with someone crushing your strategy by taking the one card you need? Are you fine looking across the table at someone, looking them dead in the eyes and then pushing that conflict pawn two more steps towards their demise? If you said yes to any of those, then go get this game TODAY. You will not be disappointed.

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