Given its title, 7 Wonders Duel will come at no surprise to you being a two-player game. This is not an expansion or variant of its popular parent game 7 Wonders (also published by Repos Production), but instead a separate card game all on its own, specifically designed for just you and one other opponent to battle it out to construct man-made wonders of the world.
7 Wonders Duel does not rely on all players drafting a card and then passing their hand over to their neighbour. Instead, Antoine Bauza has teamed up with fellow French designer Bruno Cathala to create a different way of gaining cards for set collection that’s equally – if not more so – enthralling.
Again, 7 Wonders Duel is played over three rounds. Cards are pre-arranged into a communal pyramid-like display, partially covering each other. The majority of them are face-down, while the lowest level ones are face-up. The categories will be familiar to those that have played 7 Wonders (green science cards, brown/grey resources, red military, and so on). Players may take any card they like from the pyramid to add to their own tableau – but only if it is completely uncovered.
As cards are removed, more cards’ identities are revealed (and uncovered). Therefore it becomes a case of timing your moves to perfection, trying to force your opponent into removing cards that then allow you to grab the exact card you want!
Unlike regular 7 Wonders, in Duel players can win before the third round has ended. A player could earn a military victory by getting the military pawn to the end of the conflict track (kind of similar to the swing in power that you find in games like Twilight Struggle). Alternatively, they could earn a science victory by collecting each of the six different science symbols. Therefore you’ll have to keep a close eye on what your opponent is taking – you can’t afford to let them get too far ahead! If neither of these victory conditions are met by the end of the third round, then sets are scored to determine a winner.
For some board gamers, player counts can really make or break a game. If you love 7 Wonders but you’re in a position where you play a lot of games with just you and a partner, then 7 Wonders Duel is going to become a popular choice for you. With rounds lasting approximately 10 minutes each, games can last about 30 minutes in total. And, considering its high replay-ability factor, it fits beautifully into that category of ‘go on then, one more game…’
Player Count: 2 players
Time: 10 minutes
Age Rating: 10+
7 Wonders Duel takes you back 3000 odd years or so, to once again rule over an empire in this tricky, thought provoking, and ultimately brilliant riff on its big brother; 7 Wonders. If you have never played 7 Wonders don’t panic, as these games are very different, yet are clearly related.
If you’ve played 7 Wonders, and love it or hate it, this game is worth investigating. A relatively small footprint, and gameplay under an hour it is great for couples, lunch breaks or just as a cracking head-to-head game that wraps up in under an hour.
7 Wonders Duel - The Game
After each selecting four of the available wonders each – yes that does mean there will be eight of them in total, but only seven can be built – and your starting coins, in turn, you will select one the available cards from the pyramid style display and add it to you civilisation, paying any costs associated and thus gain its benefits/resource.
There are three ages to the game, where each subsequent Age the range of resources changes and evolves, advancing your civilisation forward. The game will come to a natural close at the end of the Third Age, where all points are calculated and a winner is declared.
Alternatively, victory can be achieved through a ‘Scientific’ channel – collecting six of the seven possible scientific icons, or via the ‘Military’ route, whereby you crush your opponent beneath sandal shod foot. These latter two are much harder to achieve – but believe me, it feels really, really good when you do.
A central feature of 7 Wonders Duel, and one that makes the game look very different from many, is the table layout of the cards for each of the Ages.
Not only does it look cool, and it is also pretty thematic, but it provides a great assimilation of the drafting mechanic used in 7 Wonders, but for two players. Which is far, far better than the two player mode that exists in that game.
From this very simple set-up, each player is beset by an array of choices and consequences, in a greater fashion that you would normally experience in a draft. With about 50% open information, since roughly half of the cards are placed face down, the questions of what to take, what to leave behind, what to open, or leave for your opponent to open form your basic, yet difficult choices that must be made each turn.
When playing 7 Wonders Duel there is a definite sense of flow, with the game’s pace charging ahead as the Ages fall, as your civilisation becomes more coherent and more structured, choices become more clear, but never simpler. Ways and means of blocking your opponent become more recognisable, but ultimately more costly if they don’t also benefit you.
If you fall into the category of a “Classic Gamer,” one who likes strategically planning ahead, second guessing your opponent and basically planning your victory from four or five moves away, 7 Wonders Duel will be right up your street, with a nice flourish – in that every now and then, a revealed card scuppers even your best laid plan. On the flip side of this though, if you are prone to Analysis Paralysis this game can, for those same reasons, feel a little daunting at times.
Players already familiar with 7 Wonders will feel right at home playing this game, coming armed to the table with an understanding of how the tableau and resource building works. There is a significant change in the way Commerce, Science and Military are handled, but not so much so to create a barrier.
New players to this cannon will quickly be able to make sense of the rule book, which provides plenty of example plays for the more ‘complex’ rules. The rule book isn’t the most concise, and looking for rule clarity and reminders isn’t always as straightforward as one would like – I always forget how many coins you start with during set up, and I also forget I have to go to page six to find out.
Of particular note is the iconography, particularly on some of the Science tokens, Guides and Wonders – once you know what they mean the symbols do “make sense,” but that meaning doesn’t spring forth, so early games can become slowed while you look them up.
With an almost perfect and useful box insert, quality components including the nifty military tracker, Repos Productions have done exactly what you would expect of a major game distributor. Unfortunately, they have even managed to make the card sizes irritating again! In 7 Wonders they are unnecessarily big, whilst in Duel they're too small – yes it helps keeps the footprint down, but if a standard poker card size had been used very little would have been lost.
There are no ‘Take That’ actions you can make in this game, no way you can directly stop or hamper your opponent, other than removing or limiting their options (a couple of the Wonders do allow you to destroy one of your opponents resources). Military actions do provide a little back and forth, but never enough that you ever feel like you are focusing solely on that aspect of the game, and certainly not enough to spoil anyone's enjoyment.
All the player interaction happens above the table; one player out-smarting, out-manoeuvring and out-playing the other. The tit-for-tat of selecting the card you know you opponent needs soon becomes too costly, and so as the game progresses so too must a player’s ability to plan and strategise.
After a game of 7 Wonders Duel, I feel compelled to play it again, and again. Throughout each game there is a palpable competition and conflict, far more so than one would expect from such a small, compact box. Some iconography feels obtuse, and the cards are a little too small for me to be able to comfortably shuffle, but really, these are the only bad points about the game...in fact, I wish I could play a multiplayer version of Duel, that wasn’t 7 Wonders.
7 Wonders Duel plays in under an hour, and is a great two-player game with enough depth, strategy and variation to ensure each game will feel and play differently. It also looks both interesting and beautiful on the table.
7 Wonders Duel really does feel like it pits you head-to-head, in an all-out rivalry against your opponent in a way that many larger games just don’t seem to capture. I strongly believe everybody needs a solid two-player game in their collection, and you can’t go far wrong with this game at all.