A Wonder of the Two-Player World
If you’ve ever played the original 7 Wonders, you may agree that it’s a blast with three or more players; but you may also know that it falls short at the two player count.
And yet, perhaps the dark secret of my gaming life is that I don’t really have a gaming group. I have gaming friends that live scattered throughout the country, if I’m being completely honest. And this usually means that when I do get to play a game with someone, it usually is not a three to eight player party, but rather a quiet round of something across the table with a friend or my spouse (who mercifully does not live across the country from me).
Sometimes, I even dip lower in the number of players, and play cooperative games by myself–which is infinitely more fun than when I would play competitive games as a child and dub the players “Dave 1” and “Dave 2.” The only joy of that was playing my best on both sides and seeing which “Dave” came out on top.
In any case, I got some early Christmas cash in a card, and I went out and grabbed Seven Wonders Duel, eager to show my wife and constant gaming companion what I had been ranting about with the original.
In Seven Wonders Duel, you and your opponent take turns drafting not one, but four (!) Wonders to grace your city through the ages. Then you follow the directions for removing cards from the Age decks and adding in the Guild cards to the Third Age.
You also set up the First Age grid of cards that players remove cards from on each turn for various purposes. (The Second and Third Age cards are set in reserve until needed; more on this later.) Finally, there is a military might tracker and progress token board in the middle of the table.
Each player is given seven coins in starting money, and then the first player begins by selecting an accessible card from the grid for the First Age. Players can accumulate a variety of cards: cards that grant military might, money, discounted resources, victory points, scientific advances, civic achievements, and more.
For all this, there are three main paths to victory: Military, Scientific, or Civilian. In a military victory, your army’s strength is enough to move the military pawn all the way to your opponent’s capitol city, thus stopping their cultural development cold. in a scientific victory, you have managed to construct enough scientific buildings to have six different scientific symbols and gain technological superiority over your opponent. Otherwise, in a civilian victory, the player who accumulated the most points over three Ages wins. When an Age deck is depleted, you set up the next Age and keep drafting, until the Third Age deck is depleted or another victory condition is met.
Now that you know the game play, let’s dig deeper and see if this is a good fit for your gaming situation.
Who’s the Audience for this Game?
For the majority of the game-playing world, I would recommend buying the original Seven Wonders and its expansions, if interested in this type of game. There’s a lot of game to be had in those sets if you have a group larger than two on a regular basis.
However, if you find yourself in my position, where you usually only have one other player–or if you own the original Seven Wonders but occasionally find yourself wishing you could play even without gathering a small crowd together–then this might be for you.
Still undecided? Well, I’ve got a couple final thoughts.
The game play is impeccable. It takes a good game and brings it down to the two player scale.
My one fear was that the feeling of trading with your neighbor would be eliminated from the game. And it wasn’t entirely. In its place, you pay the bank for resources, but the cost of those resources is dependent on the number of the resource in your opponent’s play area (not counting Wonders) plus one. So, I did have to be mindful of what my opponent had as far as trading cash (with the bank) for resources was concerned. And in our second game, my wife actually got a token that forced me to pay her instead.
I found the game to have slightly less of a “multiplayer solitaire” feel than other two-player offerings. Paying attention to the mechanations of one other person is doable in this game. And sometimes, necessary. Otherwise, there could be some surprises in store.
For example, in my first game, my wife pulled off a military victory before I could muster enough forces to stop her. But, I managed to build my four wonders before her in one game, meaning that she could not build all of hers. You are limited to Seven Wonders constructed between the two players. See what they did there!?
The fact that cards taken from the Age grid had three different uses provided us with some intriguing decisions, as well. A card could be trashed for money, used to build a Wonder (without gaining access to its other effects), or put into your city (tableau) after paying the associated cost, if any. Some cards even had construction chains that allowed the player who had built the previous building in the chain to acquire the next building for free instead of paying its cost. On top of these decisions, we had to decide whether or not to try to eliminate cards that might help the other player or to pursue our own goals.
If you’re waiting for the proverbial fly in the ointment: it was that setting up some of the Age grids was a bit fiddly. Not so bad that I didn’t want to do it, but age three looks a little Rococo in its design.
My only other complaint is that I could see a point at which I would want more Wonders in the game available to draft. But when my major complaint about a game is that I want more of it, I think that game is golden.
In short: Seven Wonders Duel–go get it.