7 Wonders Duel is one of the highest rated two-player games in existence, taking the popular theme and mechanics of 7 Wonders and turning it into a strategic, competitive two-player game. It's only expansion, Pantheon (designed by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala), promises to add intriguing content to revitalise the well-loved game.
We've already published a review for the base game, so this review focuses on the expansion only. I won't go over the bulk of the original gameplay, focusing instead on how the expansion shakes things up. I'm also going to assume that if you're interested in the expansion, you probably like 7 Wonders Duel, so I'll unashamedly be reviewing it from the perspective of someone who already knows and loves the base game.
Enter the gods of the Mediterranean
Like it's name suggests, Pantheon introduces the gods of five ancient Mediterranean cultures to the game. The favour of these gods can be bought to aid in the construction of your city, as you use their powers to complete powerful actions. The gods of each culture also have a specific in-game focus that will lead you in different strategic directions. The gods in question are:
- Greek pantheon: Zeus; Hades; Aphrodite. The Greek deities are linked to civilian (blue) cards.
- Roman pantheon: Mars; Minerva; Neptune. The Roman deities are linked to military.
- Egyptian pantheon: Ra; Isis; Anubis. The Egyptian deities are linked to the wonders.
- Mesopotamian pantheon: Enki; Ishtar; Nisabi. The Mesopotamian deities are linked to science (green) cards.
- Phoenician pantheon: Baal; Astarte; Tanit. The Phoenician deities are linked to commercial (yellow) cards.
Each god is represented by a card with a colour scheme that denotes its pantheon (Greek = blue; Roman = red; Egyptian = grey; Mesopotamian = green; Phoenician = yellow). In age one, players draw these gods close to their cities by obtaining mythology tokens, which represent the five colours of the pantheons and are achieved by unlocking certain face-down cards. In ages two and three, players can acquire and activate the deities that have been drawn close by paying money. Offering tokens are also available in age two, that make it cheaper to invoke a deity.
Depending on where the deity is placed on the board, the cost will differ for each player. The abilities tend to be powerful, one time effects, similar in power level to the effects of the wonders. Activating a deity is the fourth action available to players on their turn, alongside acquiring a card, building a wonder or discarding a card. Unlike the other actions, it doesn't require you to remove a card from the tabletop structure, so it adds an interesting strategic dimension to the game.
Other new content
Pantheon also has a few more additions that shake up the base game. These don't change the gameplay to the extent that the gods do, but they help to tie the base game and the new mechanics together and smooth out the overall experience.
The Gate card
The Gate card actually functions similarly to the gods. It's acquired in the same way, but it's more expensive and it gives you access to a wider range of divine powers. It makes for some interesting twists to the course of the game, and has the power to really shake things up if it's used well.
New science tokens
Pantheon also introduces three new science tokens that get mixed in with the originals at the start of the game and are used in the same way:
- Mysticism: Turns the new tokens into points.
- Poliorcetics: Makes your opponent lose coins for military losses.
- Engineering: Offers a cheap way to construct cards that have alternate build conditions.
Of these tokens, only one refers to the new mechanics. The other two simply add more content that don't require the rest of the expansion to work. I like this aspect of them, as they add more nuance to the game and show that the designers weren't purely focused on the shiny new mechanics.
The two new wonder cards, the Sanctuary and the Divine Theatre, both tie into the new mechanics. Their effects make it easier to acquire and use god cards. From the games I've played so far I would say that they feel balanced, and certainly feed into a new, god-focused strategy.
New Age Three cards
The only new structure cards that Pantheon introduces are the five Grand Temple cards, which replace Guilds in Age Three. Like Guilds, three Grand Temples from the five are chosen at random and are shuffled into the third deck. These cards give you more victory points the more of them you have, and can be built for free with a mythology token of a particular colour, rewarding players who collected a lot of them in Age One and giving the tokens more relevance later in the game.
Is Pantheon worth a go?
I unreservedly recommend Pantheon for fans of 7 Wonders Duel. The expansion preserves and builds upon everything that was so good about the base game. It's not the kind of expansion that completely changes the way the game plays. Instead it adds in new strategic opportunities that experienced players will love, new ways for your actions to affect the other player, and some excellent thematic content delivered through outstanding art and mechanics that fans of ancient civilisations can't help but love.
It must be said that the expansion kicks the complexity up a notch. If you've only just got the base game you should definitely get to grips with it first, before adding Pantheon in. To be able to play well with Pantheon's additions you need a good grasp of the core game and how to play it. In the same vein, I wouldn't recommend teaching the expansion to another player that's new to the whole game.
Once you have a knowledge of how the base game plays, however, Pantheon is very easy to pick up. Sure, there are a few symbols that aren't particularly clear at first, but after one game with the rule book open on the table I felt like I grasped everything I needed to know.
The rule book itself is concise and helpful - more so than the base game's - and a quick read-through was all I needed before I grasped enough of the game to teach it to my wife and start playing. We had to clarify a couple of things as we went on, but it never felt onerous to do so. Additionally, the new content doesn't dramatically increase the play time. It adds maybe five or 10 minutes, especially as you're learning it, but the game feels as well-paced as it did before.
The bottom line is that Pantheon gives you a lot of well-designed, thematic content for a very low price. It'll breathe new life into Duel for players who have played the base game one too many times, and it will make the whole package more attractive for players who enjoy strategic head-to-head games. If you love 7 Wonders Duel and haven't played Pantheon, get your hands on it as soon as possible.