7 Wonders was a smash hit by Antoine Bauza when it was released in 2010, and it remains just as popular today. It’s a fantastic card-drafting game with a strong set collection vibe, with each set scoring in different manners after three rounds.
One of the extremely appealable selling points about this is the number of people that can play – you can’t call a game 7 Wonders and not have it accommodate up to seven players!
Players each start with an asymmetrical ancient city board, and across three ‘Ages’ they will look to acquire technology, materials for trading, as well as building up their military to attack (or defend against) their neighbours. Everyone also starts with a hand of seven cards from the First Age deck. Simultaneously, players pick one card to keep, and they pass their remaining hand to the player on their left. Then everyone reveals their card, before looking at their new hand of cards, picking one, and passing their hand on again. Once all of the First Age cards have been claimed, the Second Age deck (with more powerful cards) is shuffled and dealt out, and the same process occurs, and then the Third Age (again, more powerful) deck.
However, 7 Wonders has more meat to it than merely selecting the best card in your hand. Each card has a cost of various materials that you have to have access to, in order to add it to your tableau. Some cards have material-generating traits to them, so you can use these to then acquire a card from your hand. Or, you can use the materials in either of your immediate neighbour’s tableau – but you have to pay them coins for this. Some cards can be upgraded for free, which are hugely attractive.
You’ll also be keeping an eye on your neighbour's army – at the end of each Age you will square off in battle, with the victor earning points and the loser gaining negative points. With everyone’s cards being shown face-up, you can absolutely see what potential plans they might have in store, meaning you will spend the game second-guessing their moves and which cards are more valuable to them than others!
We’d call 7 Wonders something like Sushi Go’s older sibling. The mechanics are similar, but there’s a lot more to chew on, here. The cards costing resources are such a great touch – it forces you to be highly interactive with the players on both your left and right throughout the game.
Games tend to last about 30 minutes, and there are some fantastic expansions out there that add lots more drama and variety to gameplay – 7 Wonders: Cities and 7 Wonders Babel are both very popular, and in 2018 Antoine Bauza released another add-on: 7 Wonders: Armada. And, of course, there is the separate, standalone, two-player variant – 7 Wonders Duel.
Player count: 3-7 players
Time: 30 minutes
Age Rating: 10+
Govern, manage and rule one of the ancient civilisations of the world, and raise up your monuments and your wonders to show that yours truly is the greatest. 7 Wonders is a tableau building, drafting and set collection game where each player will take responsibility for and guide one of these old world cultures through three ages of early civilisation, building up their scientific knowledge, their armies, and their resources in the hope that they will build their Wonder and be crowned the greatest kingdom.
7 Wonders has managed to rack up pretty much every board gaming award out there, as you’ll see from the award emblazoned box, and this is with very, very good reason. Each player is given a Wonder to build, represented by their tableau which will be placed in front of them, this will act as a guide to a player’s strategy – although it is by no means compulsory to build your Wonder, doing so does bring with it some decent bonuses and victory points when calculating the end game score.
Playing 7 Wonders
This game was my first experience with the drafting mechanic, which I have grown to love, but at the beginning it felt very, very alien to me and some of my friends just flat out don’t like drafting games. You’ll start each of the three Ages with seven cards, from this hand you’ll select the one card you want to play – this could add some resources to your culture like; stone, brick wood, cloth etc. or it might be more troops/training for your army, or even expanding the minds of your civilians with scientific structures and so on.
This card will be placed face down until each player is ready. Simultaneously the cards will be flipped and you’ll gain that ability/resource from here on out. You then pass the remained of the hand to the player on your left (in the Second Age it’s your right, and then back to your left for the Third and final Age). The wonderful (pun intended) thing about this mechanic is that you’ll really have to plan ahead to do well, you’ll have to carefully consider and weigh your hand each and every turn. Do you take the card you want/need, or do you take the card your neighbour (or even your neighbour’s neighbour) wants/needs?
At the end of each Age combat is resolved (more on that in a minute) and a new Age begins, bringing with it a brand new hand of cards, which are slightly more advanced or “better” than the previous Age. At the end of the Third Age all the final scores are calculated and the winner decided. Now, despite the pretty quick actual play time of the game, the end game scoring is a little…complicated, which; on the one hand is very good because trying to work out who is winning throughout the game is difficult, but on the other…it is just a pain to do.
There are in fact apps around that will help with this, but it is a major (and not uncommonly noted) drawback to an otherwise great game.
The Good & The Bad
This game seats up to seven people, and with numbers that high you might worry that there will be too much player interaction, or too much going on, but what 7 Wonders does so well is that it only has you directly competing and trading with your immediate neighbours at the table. This gives every player a slightly different experience, and opens slightly different opportunities and styles of play, especially in larger groups. This dynamic means that you really only need to play close attention to the person on your left and your right, you still need to be mindful of the other player’s but you can’t directly interfere with them anyway. Because all players act simultaneously the pace of this game is very, very quick – certainly if everyone knows how to play – so keeping track of who is doing and collecting what is easy and at no point is it ever overwhelming.
The box states that this game can be played with two people, and as far as facts go, that is true. It really isn’t very good with two, and it’s only an OK game with three, but it quickly gets better, more fun and more dynamic with more players; the best games of this I’ve had are with seven, and I probably wouldn’t want to play with less than five these days.
The component quality is of a great standard, with decent, thick cardboard tableau's and slightly larger than standard playing cards (this does mean you’ll need different, larger card sleeves though) with beautiful artwork from the incredibly talented Miguel Coimbra, all of this combines to make a rich and vibrantly tactile playing experience – is it any wonder (again, pun intended) that all the cards are played face up when they look this good?
This game has, what I would argue, two levels of player interaction: ‘Table Led’ and ‘Player Led’. On the table there is a subtle semi-indirect player interaction. What I mean by this is that one civilisation can’t overtly attack or hamper another. Combat works in a simple and fluid fashion; at the end of the Age players will compare their military score to the player on your left and right, the highest score wins and receives victory points for that win (and negative points for the loss).
This simple system allows players to see from very early on how they will fare in the forthcoming “battle”. Trade is handle in a likewise manner: a player can buy good from a neighbour for a small cost, this purchase doesn’t detract from a players ‘stockpile’, but does increase their treasury.
From a Player Led viewpoint, the interaction is more explicit but is secretive. As a player, you can assess and guess as to what your opponents are trying to amass and accomplish, and you can try and scupper those plans by taking the card you think they need.
With two levels of player interactions, on top of wonderful components and artwork, 7 Wonders a brilliant and varied game, with many nuances that continually change as the players become more experienced and change. Although this game does sit two players, it really, really shines when you have all seven civilisations on the go. This is a game I have had in my collection for years, and it isn’t going anywhere; it works as a splendid introduction into the drafting mechanic, and since most cards are played face-up, it is a game that can be taught easily too.
7 Wonders is a “one of those” classic games that everyone should at least try, just warn your wallet, because you will want to buy this.