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Which 7 Wonders Is For You

7 wonders

7 Wonders is generally regarded as one of the greatest games of the modern era, and, with armfuls of awards to show for it, it certainly is a regular on many a list of contemporary classic and geeky gifts. With the arrival this month of the new semi-co-op Edifice expansion, now is a great time to get into the game or revisit it if it’s been sat on a shelf looking a bit lonesome. So here’s an overview of the current edition of the game, along with all its current expansions and spin-off versions.

7 Wonders: 2nd Edition

A brief overview of the game, for the uninitiated: 7 Wonders is a card-drafting gaming for 3-7 players, conducted over 3 Eras of human civilisation, as you attempt to develop your society, developing science and culture, build valuable Wonders for extra bonuses, and fighting wars between ages to attempt to topple your opponents. Because you all draft together, there's relatively little dead time which is a huge bonus (especially at a higher player counts); it's very accessible, at the lighter end of middle-weight, and the game itself can be played in under an hour.

It's important to stress that the strength of this game is - I suppose, like all the greats - its deceptive simplicity. After all, ultimately, you just choose a card and pass the remainder round. It's quick and clear, helped by the fact you can only directly interact with the player either side of you. This not only keeps things speedy but does feel like you are a great power concerned with those neighbouring empires.

One thing I particularly like in the new edition is the Day/Night sides of the cards – much more evocative than just A/B. For for the most part, 2nd Edition is a series of nerfs of slightly overpowered Wonders (*cough*Alexandria*cough*) along with a couple of buffs to ensure game balance - some of which varies with player count - for example the notoriously rubbish Babylon side B (Night), which is fast becoming a personal favourite in 3-player (even though, to be honest, having at least 4 players is optimal). Also, the new card art is great, and the heavy, foiled card stock of the cards is really satisfying: it feels like a properly high-end product; even if you have a first ed copy, I would strongly make the case for a 2nd ed version regardless.


Leaders is hands-down my favourite 7 Wonders expansion and as close to a must-buy as you'll get in my book, so let's talk about it first. I'll say straight out of the gate that having always loved, and studied, classical history and languages, to be able to add great figures to direct your civilisation feels just RIGHT. Want to be Hannibal, directing your military (with or without elephants)? Go for it. Xenobia, powering the rise of Syria as a centre of culture and knowledge in the Middle East? For sure. Vitruvius, building great structures (not from Lego, though)? Absolutely. Midas, with ALL the gold? Naturally. So, yes, legends and history collide, but it doesn't ever feel forced. With a hand of 4 at the start, and able to play one per age (with coin, rather than resources), you can chart the course of your civilisation in a far more proactive fashion than just depending on random card draw. This isn't a slight on the base game of 7 Wonders as such, but Leaders does take the whole game up to another level, without adding time or complexity.


However, Cities is awfully close in the list of essentials, adding a few things that really make the game sing at higher player counts. Firstly, it takes it up to 8 players, which in and of itself isn't a massive selling point to me but, for larger, regular groups absolutely is. More importantly, though, it also allows for Team play and that IS fantastic, particularly at 6 players, where you share a common pool of resources to work together. Equally, whether or not you play as Teams, there is more interactivity in Cities, because of the new black cards. Embassy and Spy cards mess up Military and Science sprints respectively, meaning it's much harder for a player to get an early and near unassailable lead just by luck in the first Age (which, let's face it, can get a bit frustrating), whilst Cemetery cards give you Victory Points at the end at the cost of gold to your OPPONENT - again, a hard counter to any player who decides to go all Croesus and hoard wealth. If I'm being completely honest, Cities is probably a better expansion than Leaders from a game balance perspective, so I leave the choice with you. Or why not both? Makes sense, after all...


If you're wanting change the game up, Armada is a much more substantial affair. First of all, though, I should mention that Armada offers another Team variant for 4 or 6 players, so can scratch that itch, and in 2nd ed incorporates also the Armada: Siracusa (Syracuse) expansion also, so there's plenty of value in the rather chunky box. The expansion introduces Isles to visit and Armadas to travel to them, along with Shipyards to construct your fleet. Isles feel like little mini-wonders, granting you more readily-accessible bonuses, whilst having fleets deals with one of my major niggles with 7 Wonders itself - I want to SEE my Army (or in this case, Navy); Military might can feel very abstract in 7 Wonders, just as a modification to your VPs at the end, but with Armada you can actually send them to attack your neighbours (watch out for pirates though) – prepare to repel boarders!

Also, it comes with tiny boats! I love them – perhaps a bit too much, but there we are. Each player now has a separate Shipyard board, with 4 tracks for your different fleets, colour matched to the regular Wonders cards – so you can lean into a trade fleet (yellow), navy (red), exploration (green) or cultural expansion (blue). The more you develop a given fleet, the greater the benefits (or disadvantages to your opponents); the only difference between the shipyard boards themselves is that on each Wonders are tied to a different track, so that in turn influences your gameplay.

Given how Mediterranean-centric the game is, it's only right to have Naval expeditions, in all their forms, integral to the experience. If you're an experienced player of the base game, then Armada is where to go next, as it makes the game more strategically complex (and as such, time-consuming), more interactive across the table as a whole, and indeed more satisfying overall. All of the expansions are mutually compatible, incidentally, and for a heavier-weight gaming experience without adding significantly more time – although admittedly more table space – you can still play a high player-count with all of the expansions in about an hour - this is a great option.

7 Wonders Duel

Here’s a question: can a game this cheap really be as good as everyone says? It’s a resounding yes. 7 Wonders Duel distils the drafting and building mechanics of the original into a devilish 2-player confrontation. It’s recognisably the same game of construction, warfare and cultural progress but more tangible and actually more ruthless.

Where Architects (see below) is a fun, light take on the game for the whole family, Duel is fiendish: you pick from the cards face up, at the risk of opening up better cards to your opponent. Everything you build gives you further advantages, whether it’s clay pits for bricks, libraries to advance knowledge or stables to improve your ability to fight – and always trying to be the first to complete 4 of your Wonders of the Ancient world (as only 7 can be built in total, naturally). You progress through the 3 ages of civilisation, with the gameplay gradually accelerating - there's usually a sudden jump in the middle of the 2nd age which genuinely feels like Enlightenment - until one of you wins by military might, scientific advancement or, ultimately, having the greatest civilisation at the end of the 3rd age (in other words, the most Victory Points). I really love Duel, because you get scientific progress tokens (boink) and can march your armies right up to the opponent's gate. Also, cards can unlock chains of free plays (neatly indicated by icons) across ages, so you find yourself often making your choices based on what is the least advantageous to your opponent rather than most useful to yourself. I also like the way the table layout is a pyramid of cards: it's evocative and engaging without being too whimsical.

7 wonders agora and patheon

Duel: Pantheon

Pantheon adds in a layer of (perhaps) unnecessary complexity with the addition of competing for the favour (and indeed, favours) of the gods, but does tilt the game into the heavier end of weighting which for some will be a definite bonus. In Pantheon, during the first age you compete for to build your own Pantheon the gods of various western cultures (Egyptian, Phoenician, Roman etc) and then in the 2nd gain their favour for various benefits (so Egyptian gods tend to be about the Wonders, whilst Phoenician are more about commerce and Roman about Military). It adds a little more tough decision making to the 1st Age, whilst making the 2nd generally move faster, so on balance the game takes the same length, just with a fresh, fun twist.

Duel: Agora

Agora, on the other hand, is beyond ruthless: it adds utterly cutthroat political scheming, as you manipulate politicians to gain additional benefits as the game progresses, corrupting and gaining benefits, balancing the risk of loss of victory points for short or long term gains. It's Brutal and very good if you want to take Duel up a notch in terms of competitiveness: no more complex but simply adds more options with your devious scheming and backstabbing. Now TECHNICALLY you aren't supposed to combine them... But we like to live dangerously 😉 and hey, they look REALLY good together.

7 Wonders: Architects

In this all-ages, standalone version of the game for 2-7 players, you race to build just one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, whilst developing science, military might and of course, Cats.

The game is asymmetric, so everyone has a slightly different style of play and challenge: the Pyramid of Giza, for example is worth the most points as you build, but gives you no extra bonuses as you do so, whereas the Colossus of Rhodes adds to your military defence, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon develop science, and so on.

It’s an absorbing game, but fun and light (and quick) enough to play with the kids or the grandparents and everyone in between. It does away with the sometimes tedious, frustrating and random elements of 7 Wonders gameplay for a fast, streamlined experience. With Cats. Yes, Cats are a real power card in Architects, as they are not only worth bonus points but can let you peek at other card decks, allowing you to manage your choices and plan accordingly. Plus, there tends to me a lot of miaouing, which adds to the fun of the thing.

The first time we played, we managed 5 games in two hours, which included unboxing and learning to play. We've successfully played with reluctant grandparents and even my game-phobic wife, and that's a rare thing indeed. My smallest one is about to turn 7, and she can play just as easily as the rest of us. So, a strong recommendation for the whole family.

So when it comes to 7 Wonders, there really is something for everyone!