7 Wonders Duel takes you back 3,000 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. Just clearly related.
If you've played 7 Wonders, whether love it or hate it, this game is worth investigating. With a relatively small footprint and gameplay of under an hour, it is great for couples, lunch breaks, or just as a cracking head-to-head game.
7 Wonders Duel - The Game
After 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, you will select one of the available cards from the pyramid style display. Add it to your civilisation, paying any costs associated, and gain its benefits/resources.
There are three ages to the game, wherein 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 great assimilation of the drafting mechanic used in 7 Wonders. This time for two players. It 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. With about 50% open information, since roughly half of the cards are placed face down, the questions of what to take and 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 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 canon 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.
There are no 'Take That' actions you can make in this game, and 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 opponent's 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 your 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 than one would expect from such a small and 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 more multiplayer versions of Duel.
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 wrong with this game at all.
If you like 7 Wonders Duel, there is also the expansion 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon. You can see a separate review of the expansion here.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on August 11th, 2017. Updated on October 7th, 2021 to improve the information available.