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



Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala


No. of Players:

G@mebox Star



Have you ever tried playing 7 Wonders with just 2 players? Well, the rules state that the official 2-player variant is kind of a specialist game, and indeed the gameplay is unusual in so far as the setup for 3 players is used, with the third city (Wonder) being under control of a dummy player which is played by both players in alternating order. In effect, the dummy city of often used to remove cards from the game which would be useful for the other player, and while this variant certainly works (my wife and I have played it several dozen times) Nicole and I were more than just curious when we heard about the official 2-player game 7 Wonders Duel being under development.

In reference to the game's mechanics, many major features of 7 Wonders can be found in 7 Wonders Duel as well. The game is played over three ages, players need to collect different resources which enable them to build new buildings and Wonders, and even free construction is possible, linking new buildings to their older counterparts. However, the differences between both games quickly become visible during setup, since the traditional drafting process for the Building cards now has been replaced by a partly open, partly face-down display from which the players can chose their cards. A new display of Building cards is prepared at the beginning of each age, and during his turn a player is allowed to chose one of the available cards from the display. Since some cards are covered by others, the former only can be chosen if the latter already have been taken, and in addition the face-down cards also will be revealed only if the card(s) covering them have been taken.

Already this simple but effective replacement of the standard 7 Wonders drafting process has been brilliantly implemented. Due to the Building cards being arranged as a display on the table, the players feel a much deeper strategic impact since they now have constant information on many of the still available cards. Now the players actually can try to plan for getting the one or other card important for their overall strategy, and this approach is much more coherent than letting cards disappear in a dummy city. At first I was afraid that the removal of the drafting process would change the spirit of the game, but playtesting quickly revealed that this new mechanism feels almost natural and fits the 2-player game perfectly.

But let's now continue with the name-giving Wonders, since their handling also has changed quite dramatically. Instead of each player building just one Wonder, the players now draft a total of 4 Wonders each at the beginning of the game. Each of the four Wonders available to a player is a one-stage wonder, and it is up to the players to decide in which order they want to build their Wonders. Apart from some Victory Points, the Wonders provide a broad choice of in-game effects, and so the players gain access to special powers and benefits in a fashion similar to the recruiting of a Leader as known from the 7 Wonders Leaders expansion. However, there is one limit: once a player has finished building his 4th and last Wonder, the other player only is allowed to finish 3 Wonders. After all, it's 7 Wonders!

Trading for resources and discarding Building cards also has seen a major redesign. A player now can buy any resource he desires from the bank, but instead of paying a fixed amount the sum he has to pay is calculated on the basis of 2 Gold plus the total of the desired resource symbols available to the opposing player. So, if a player wants to buy a Stone and his opponent already has 2 Stone producing buildings in his city, the player has to pay 4 Gold to the bank to buy the Stone. This is a quite interesting new approach, preventing a player from being denied access to a specific resource, and at the same time introducing a rather pricey way to simulate a monopoly established by the opposing player.

When it comes to discarding cards to gain money, the role of yellow Commercial buildings has been enhanced quite dramatically. Apart from their standard functions, each yellow building present in a player's city increases the basic gain of 2 Gold for discarding a Building card by another Gold, and so multiple Commercial buildings now can produce huge monetary gains for a player who is in need of funding.

The range of available Science symbols on green Scientific buildings has been increased from 3 to 7, and this increase also is accompanied by a major rules change. Instead of the game end multiplication which always has caused some raised eyebrows when explaning 7 Wonders to a newcomer, the players now strive to collect green buildings featuring a total of 6 different Science symbols. A player who has succeeded in gaining 6 different symbols will have gained Scientific Supremacy and will be declared the instant winner of the game. However, collecting identical Scientific symbols also is beneficial, since a player who has acquired a matching pair of symbols now is allowed to take one of 5 Progress tokens which have been prepared during setup. Just like a finished Wonder, the Progress tokens give the players access to minor special abilities or effects, and in this fashion they are a nice representative of technological advances made by the players.

If the game is not ended by a player gaining Scientific Supremacy, there are two other ways to end. One is the traditional Civil Victory with both players counting their total Victory Points at the end of the third age, but there is also a possibility to win the game earlier by Military Supremacy, thus gaining total military domination of the other player. This victory condition is measured on a central gameboard which displays the balance of power between the cities of the two players. At the beginning of the game a marker for Military Prowess is placed in the middle of the track between the cities, but each time a player acquires a Building card, a Wonder or a Progress token displaying military strength the marker will be adjusted accordingly. The farther the marker is moved towards a player's city, the more Victory Points the other player will earn at the game's end, and in addition the player under siege also may have to face some monetary losses due to plundering. However, if the marker actually reaches a player's city, that player will be instantly defeated and loses the game.

Just like the new display for Building cards, the new rules for dealing with military aspects fit the game stunningly well. While a victory by shifting power levels certainly is not new in two-player games, the inclusion of this mechanism in 7 Wonders Duel fits the game much better than simply assigning Victory Points for military domination at the end of each age. In its simplicity and elegance, the new board which represents the balance of power between the two players is an ingenious innovation which increases the feeling of head-to-head confrontation in 7 Wonders Duel.

Along the course of this review you might have noticed some rather positive expressions which I have used to describe certain game elements. Those of you who have been following my reports and reviews for some years will know that I have no tendency towards exaggeration, but from my perspective 7 Wonders Duel really fulfills all benchmarks of a perfect game. Taking all well-fitting elements of 7 Wonders and enriching them by strategic and functional mechanisms specifically designed for a 2-player setting, Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala have created a game which feels simply right in every aspect. Beginning with the level of strategy and the possibilities for advance planning, 7 Wonders Duelalso comes up with multiple victory conditions, scientific development, perceptible competition and a moderate playing duration. Honestly, I have problems to come up with a single 2-player game which has succeeded in bringing together so many good features in a similar fashion, and so 7 Wonders Duel really is nothing short of a stroke of genius!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany