7 Wonders, by Repos Games, has developed almost a cult-like status in gaming circles. Over the 11 years since its release  it has won numerous awards. Whilst it is not particularly difficult or complicated, there are numerous strategies that can help gameplay. This feature sheds light on some of these tricks and welcomes newcomers to this classic. Like Indiana Jones opening an old sarcophagus to find an ancient artefact, let’s lift the lid on our 7 Wonders box and find treasures of our own.
Planning For An Adventure
7 Wonders is a card-drafting, set-collection game. The original version played for two to seven players. The second edition has lost the automaton player so will play for three or more. The optimal player count is perhaps five, but the game scales well for all counts. Some well-known games start with a huge board, filling the table. Not so with 7 Wonders. Each player will be randomly assigned one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. During the game these are developed, and cities built around them. Players start with a small card depicting their wonder but over time, cards are laid and played on, around and under this card. A seven-player game will become quite table hungry. This game will need a sizeable gaming space at the start.
The game plays out over three ages. At the start of each age players will receive a random selection of seven cards. One card is chosen, kept faced down initially and the remaining cards passed on. During the first and third age, cards are passed to the left and a new hand [with one card less] is received from the player to the right. In the second age the undrafted cards are handed to the player on the right. The cards for each age are identified by their colour and age number on their reverse. Once all players have drafted the card of their choice, players reveal their chosen card, pay any costs and act on it.
The cards come in a variety of colours and types. Resource cards [brown] will give players the chance to use stone, clay, wood or iron ore. Manufactured goods [grey cards] offer linen, papyrus and glass. The civilian structures [blue] will give victory points during the end game scoring. The green scientific structures will allow a player to score victory points depending on progress within three scientific fields. These are shown on the green cards by cogs, a compass and a cuneiform tablet. Commercial ventures [yellow cards] will allow players to trade, produce more resources, earn money and sometimes victory points. A player might want to develop their military strength [red]. Conflict resolution and victory points [and demerits] are awarded after the battles at the end of each of the three ages. The third age sees the addition of guilds [purple cards]. Collecting the guilds may allow extra victory points subject to specific criteria.
The Cost Of Progress
Most cards require a cost to play them. These costs are shown by the icons in the top left corner of each card. Many resources and manufactured goods will be free. Others might cost a few coins, or others specific resources. In this situation a player will need to have the raw materials already in play in their city, or perhaps buy these resources from the player to the left or the right. Players may only trade with adjacent gamers as their immediate neighbours.
Players on the other side of the table are too far away and trade is impossible. The cost to trade is usually two coins, paid directly to that player. If neither that player or the neighbouring player has the raw materials to hand then that structure may not be built. That card might be considered obsolete but could perhaps be used for income generation or to build stages of the wonder.
During the second and third age some structures can be built either paying the resource costs or for free if a specific structure has been constructed during a previous age. The required structure name is listed in the top left of the card along with the alternate resource is. The second edition game cards have simplified icons indicating the costs rather than printed text. The later structures that might be built for free are listed in the bottom right of the card. These are cards to be aware of in the second and third age. These linked structures can generate many victory points during end game scoring. Some cards allow for two or more different cards to be built for free. However only a single link may be made and players need to decide which structure they would prefer to build.
Players start with three coins, a wonder card and a set of seven cards for the first age. For novices the A side of the wonder boards are slightly simpler and should be used for the first few games. 7 Wonders falls into the category of a gaming mechanic called all-play or simultaneous play. All players at the same time will play, and then pass remaining cards to their neighbour.
During the action phase a player will often use the card to develop their wonder [players may not select and build two identical structures]. Typically resource cards and manufactured goods [brown and grey cards] will be placed and extended to the top and left of the wonder board. Or other cards are played into the space above the wonder. This corresponds to the player developing their city. Stacking the cards by colour will save space but show the name and attribute of that card.
Most wonders will need three stages for completion. These must be built in turn and the cost for each stage is indicated. To build that stage a player will use one card from their hand as a construction marker. Once the costs are paid [if necessary] the card is placed face down under the wonder board. It remains out of play for the remainder of the game. This action can be useful to prevent a neighbour from gaining specifically helpful cards. The stages of the wonders can be built during any of the ages, providing the player has sufficient resource is.
A player might choose an action to discard a card to take three extra coins from the bank. This action could be useful to gain money and prevent neighbours from claiming some useful cards. Each age has six turns. On the final turn a player will select one cloud but the final seventh card is discarded.
In 7 Wonders the end of each age is marked by conflict. Players add the sum-total of their military might [indicated by shields on the cards played]. This value is compared with the player to the immediate left or right. The player with the higher military strength gets bonus points [one point in Age I, three points in Age II and five points in the final age]. The losing player takes a minus one demerit for each battle lost. No points are awarded during a tie. Battles will occur both to the left and the right so a player may win on one side but still draw or lose on the opposite side. These military point tokens are used during end game scoring.
Some wonder cards can assist in military campaigns. Players who complete later stages of the colossus of Rhodes will gain extra military strength. Players may get caught up in an “arms race” with other players. This might occur at the expense of developing their wonder. Players need to consider whether they might be better to develop scientific prowess or civic buildings to gain points instead of building military might.
During the third age the deck will contain a number of purple Guild cards [the total number of these cards is the player count plus two]. Becoming a member of a Guild, and playing the card, can allow significant endgame bonuses that are dependent on buildings built by neighbouring players. There are ten Guild cards in the base game. The strategists Guild will allow bonus points depending on weather neighbouring cities have been defeated. The scientific Guild will reward with extra scientific symbols. Most other guilds require significant buildings to be constructed.
To The Victor, The Spoils
After the third and final age, most players should have played 18 cards. Some cards will have been placed under the wonder cards. The final military conflict will be resolved and conflict tokens distributed. Victory points are counted in order. For military conflicts the sum total of winning bonuses and losses are summed. Remaining coins in a player’s treasury will give victory points, one point for every three coins. Completing stages of the wonder will award points [usually three for stage one and seven for stage three]. The civilian structures [blue] score a number of points indicated on each card.
The scientific cards have three different symbols. These are scored by two methods and both are then added. Firstly these green cards are grouped by their symbols. A victory point is awarded for the square of the number of identical symbols. For example if a player has a single compass then one point is awarded. For three cuneiform tablets, nine points are given. All three symbols are scored. Secondly, the green cards should be grouped in three card sets with different symbols in each. For each group of three different symbols an extra seven points are awarded. Scientific points are the sum of both scoring methods.
Some commercial cards [yellow] will give victory points depending on the presence of other development or manufacturing cards played in the city. Guild cards will give points depending on the neighbouring cities cards and configuration.
Top Tips For A successful 7 Wonders Adventure
At the start of the game look to see what raw materials your to neighbours have initially [indicated by the top left corner of their wonder board]. This may reduce your need to collect that specific resource if you are prepared to buy it from them.
Look at your neighbour’s pyramid stages, and the costs associated. Consider collecting these manufactured goods and resources to ensure that others will need to pay you for these items. Try to get a monopoly on some goods.
Block your neighbour’s play by using or discarding any cards that might give them an advantage. This might be to generate income or build your wonder stage.
There are many routes to victory. Pursuing a single collection type [for example military might] will probably be too narrow to gain victory. Instead, consider focusing on just two or perhaps three card collecting strategies.
Scientific progress can be a very powerful way to develop. Collecting different groups of symbols is an effective way of gaining high scores. This is especially true if the scientific Guild and Babylon Wonder is available [to provide extra scientific symbols].
Base your strategy according to the strength of your wonder. Players with the Colossus of Rhodes will have additional military might. Players in Babylon may have an extra scientific symbol to hand if they develop their wonder. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus will allow a discarded card to be retrieved and the structure built for free.
Travelling Further Afield
There are numerous expansions that are excellent for experienced 7 Wonders players. Leaders offers a new type of card which brings an extra strategic dimension to the games. Cities offers cards with mercenaries, thieves spies and diplomats. There is a team variant game with up to eight players. Armada allows exploration to other islands and naval military battles across the table. Babel [only available as a First Edition expansion] allows for rule changes and can affect the games structure. How to play these is beyond the scope of this blog due to their complexity but will soon be featured in other Zatu blogs.
For an excellent, thoughtful family game, 7 Wonders is an excellent choice.