Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Antoine Bauza


No. of Players:
3 - 7

G@mebox Star



As the former IGA-winner Through the Ages has shown to us, the "boardgamization" of all these endless ages of human civilization has led us to hard challenges of resource management, building wonders and other modern comforts and, of course, investing lots of playing time. However, as it seems the Belgians with Sombreros (a.k.a. Cédrick and Thomas from REPOS) have become fed up with these never ending gaming evenings, and so they have decided to publish Antoine Bauza's newest game 7 Wonders which brings us three ages of civilization in a nutshell. I must confess that I was rather intrigued by the idea of a fast playing civilization game, and I was getting even more curious by the fact that 7 Wonders can be played with up to seven players! I couldn't imagine that any sustainable build-and-development concept could be played with so many people within a reasonable timeframe, and so I was looking forwards to the publishing of the game at the SPIEL 2010.

As indicated, 7 Wonders runs for a total duration of three ages (rounds), and each player starts with a randomly drawn plan for one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a start capital of three coins and a hand of seven building cards corresponding to the current age. The central playing mechanism for all three ages is a system forcing the players to chose one of their handcards for an action, and then pass on the rest of their hand to their neighbour (1st and 3rd age clockwise, 2nd age anti-clockwise). This playing and passing continues with each player once again choosing a card and passing the rest of their hand on until the players are down to just one card each. At this point an age will end, the remaining cards are discarded and the players each draw a brand new hand of seven cards from the deck of the upcoming age.

Well, this rotation of the players' hands certainly leads to a jolly revelry, but what can the players actually do with their chosen cards? Foremost and most important, a player can opt to build the building shown on the card, placing the card in front of him and paying the costs indicated on the card. Especially some of the cards from the first age can be played for free, and there also exist some cards which can be built just for a bit of money. However, all the advanced cards require more than money, since here the player must possess the resources required for the erection of this building.

Many of the buildings of the first age and some second age building have a capacity to produce resources, but instead of representing a player's resources by tokens it is sufficient to possess buildings with a total production which satisfies the building requirements of the new building. This rather simple mechanism goes without the use of resource markers and works because each player can only build one new building per turn (remember: the players are allowed to keep only one card before passing their hand on). However, this mechanism also results in a possible waste of overproduction if resources go unused: no resources may be kept for the following turn(s)!

Still, there are some options for a player who wants to build a specific building but is missing the needed resources. One possibility here is trade with the players sitting either to the left or right. If one of these two players possesses a building which produces the required kind of resources, the player who needs the resource is allowed to pay two coins to the building's owner and then use the production capabilities of this building for building his card. There is no possibility for the owner to refuse his trade, but on the other hand this temporary use does not hamper the building activities of the owner, since he can use the building's production capabilities to build his own card as well. Another possibility for a cheap building is by following the development rule. Thus, many of the buildings from ages one and two list one or more buildings from the following age in a special development column. If a player who has built such a building stumbles upon one of these developed buildings during a later age, he may build the developed building free of charge!

Players who cannot or do not want to build the building shown on their chosen card have two additional options what they could do with their card. On the one hand they may simply discard the card, gaining them an income of three coins for making this sacrifice. On the other hand a player may decide to build one stage of his Wonder. Once again the players need the matching kinds of resources to build their Wonders, but when a player possesses the needed resources he may declare that he builds the current stage of his Wonder and then places his building card face-down under the Wonder in order to represent that a stage of the wonder has been built. Here the stages of all Seven Wonders of the World trigger different effects for their owner, and so the building of a Wonder-stage may increase the player's income in terms of resources or money, bring additional victory points or even allow some kind of special action.

The special actions which become available through the Wonders and some of the buildings may be used by the players for a range of purposes. As an example, some of the buildings are good for trade, and they may allow a player to buy resources from his left or right neighbour at a reduced rate of one coin. Other buildings may bring a one-time income for each building of a specified category which can be found either in the player's own display or with one of his neighbours, and the Wonders offer even other actions like allowing the Wonder's owner to play an additional building or to take cards from the stack of discarded cards.

Talking about building categories, there are seven different types of buildings which can be found in the game. These categories can be distinguished through a card's coloured outer edge, since each category has its own colour. The buildings producing resources fall into two categories, and an additional category exists for the cards which are beneficial for trade. Another category exists for civil buildings which will bring victory points at the game's end, and yet another category is reserved for military buildings. These military buildings increase a player's military strength, and at the end of each age the players are bound to initiate military conflicts with their neighbours by comparing their military strength with those of their left and right neighbour. In this comparison the player with less strength is always assigned a defeat marker which will cost him one victory point at the game's end, whereas the winner of such a comparison receives an award of one, three or five victory points (depending on the current age).

Research buildings form yet another building category, and each research building will bring the player one of three different research symbols. At the game's end a player multiplies the amount of each research symbol with itself to see how many victory points he has gained from research, and since four buildings can be found for each research symbol a player with all four buildings of one kind can score sixteen victory points (4 times 4). However, consistent research also is awarded, and so an additional seven victory points can be scored with each set of research buildings showing all three different kinds of research symbols.

Finally, and rather important for the final evaluation, the seventh and last category of buildings is reserved for the guilds. Depending on the number of participating players, a certain amount of guild cards is secretly drawn and shuffled into the deck for the third age. The guilds can be built like any other building, but their purpose is to create victory points depending on the final setting of the game. Thus, some guilds give additional victory points for each building of a certain category which can be found with one of the two neighbouring players, whereas other guilds may bring additional points for completed Wonder stages, buildings in the player's own display or defeat markers found with the neighbouring players. As indicated, the guilds are found in the third and final age, and here a matching guild card may bring a nice victory points bonus for a lucky player.

Indeed, luck plays a higher element in 7 Wonders than in games like Through the Ages where players prefer to have their destiny fully under control and want to calculate each and every risk. Here the players have to live with the option of best choice for each game turn, and they cannot count on the fact that a specific building card really will be passed on to them. For this reason I first was a bit afraid of the guild cards and their victory points bonus, but since they become available rather late, stand in competition with other powerful buildings and strongly depend on the activities of the neighbouring players their impact is still moderate. Even a good guild bonus may be counterbalanced by victory points scored in other categories, and here the players can follow different ways to pursue their aims. They can invest in Wonders or research, they can try to further their aims through military buildings or simply go for expensive civil buildings. Trade also is an option, and so quite a few ways to victory can be chosen. This partly counterbalances the highhanded card distribution mechanism, but it cannot gild the fact that the players face a speculative, turn by turn optimization task.

However, these words might sound more harsh than intended, since 7 Wonders is not intended as a strategic heavyweight. Quite the opposite, the game works astonishingly well even with a manning of six players, and here the fleet-footed card rotation and building mechanism is needed to keep the entertainment value high. A clever move especially for a larger group of participants is the fact that the players can focus on the activities of their immediate neighbours, since the rules for trade, military conflicts and guilds do not apply to any player sitting further away. Thus, the players do not need to analyze the situation all around the table for every step they want to take, and this really speeds the game up.

Even more interesting, the specific setting allows a bit of speculation and nice conflicts of card choice. When a player receives a new hand of cards he will be looking for a card to add to his own display, but at the same time he needs to keep an eye on the display of the player to whom the cards will be handed next. Thus, there are times when a hand of cards contains a card perfectly matching the player's intention, but at the same time another card will be even more prefect for the neighbour to whom the cards should be handed. And here we go - should this card be passed on or held back (possibly for a meagre reward of 3 coins if it must be discarded unused).

Overall, these elements anchor 7 Wonders in the vicinity of the HANS IM GLÜCK classic Ohne Furcht und Adel, since both games offer building and development capacities at a high pace. The old classic just features a higher degree of direct player interaction, but otherwise 7 Wonders really is a worthy competitor which will bring fresh air to the well-trodden routes of build-and-development games.

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany