Two player situations are notorious. Designers can hate the dynamic, or they can embrace it. When a game is intended for multiple players, often the two player experience is a diluted or Frankenstein version of the original. When Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala set their eyes on 7 Wonders and a two player scenario, the goal was to craft an experience that truly represents the original while also delivering a wholly new game.
7 Wonders: Duel is a card drafting and set collection game for 2 players that takes about 30 minutes to play.
A civilization game need not be a long, drawn-out affair. 7 Wonders: Duel, like its older brother, is a civilization building game where players draft cards that represent economic, cultural, scientific, and military achievements. As players collect cards, they increase in power through three Ages. The game can end in a scientific or military victory, but if this doesn’t happen, each player’s civilization is compared through victory points.
Smaller games can sometimes suffer in quality as a publisher tries to hit a particular price point. 7 Wonders: Duel appears to have tended that direction. The mini sized building cards are not very good quality. They have a tendency to warp at opposing corners causing the cards to be curved. This also happens with the military track which is a folding, thick cardboard mat. However, the cardboard coins, science cardboard tokens, and plastic sculpted military pawn are adequate.
Despite the quality, the art on the cards depicts smaller renderings of the larger game. The images are the same style, and the iconography is almost exactly the same. It would have been nice if the cards were larger (like the cards representing the Wonders) to see the imagery, but it doesn’t detract too much from the theme.
How to Play:
7 Wonders: Duel begins with a round robin selection of Wonder cards. This part of the game may seem perfunctory, but this is a very strategic selection. It can tell players what goal(s) their opponent is going to have during the game.
Then the layout for each Age begins (there are three). Cards are laid on the table in a pyramid, inverted pyramid, or hourglass structure depending on the age. The overlap of cards means that only completely revealed cards can be selected by the players on their turn.
On each turn, players will select a card from the formation. Depending on what kind of card it is and what a player does with it, different things will occur.
A player who puts the card in their personal display gains the benefit of the card. Production and Economic cards make resources available to the player on later turns to build Wonders or Buildings. Scientific cards don’t do much until a second matching science icon is selected. Then the player gets the benefit of one of the special science tokens. Military cards advance a pawn on the military track towards the opponent which could cause them to lose money. Blue cultural cards are often worth the most victory points.
A card can also be discarded for money. A player will receive two coins plus one for each gold Economic card they have. This can start to generate a lot of money for players that accumulate gold cards.
Instead of discarding the card, a player with enough resources or money can place the selected card under a Wonder to build it. Building a Wonder usually earns points or an immediate special action. Once seven Wonders have been built in the game (each player has 4), no more Wonders can be built. This may cause problems for the player who has only built three.
A couple of events can cause the game to end. If a player manages to get six different science symbols, they instantly win. A player can also win immediately if the military pawn advances all the way across the track to their opponent. Otherwise, at the end of the Third Age, players count up victory points from a variety of sources depending on their building cards and Wonders.
7 Wonders: Duel is a success in concept. It approaches the game with just the right design scope and mechanisms for the two player experience. However, like any new release, there are emergent issues that may not have bothered the designers during playtesting, but definitely detract from the overall experience.
The strategic and tactical options in 7 Wonders: Duel are excellent. As players build up their civilization, specialization in certain types of cards can often seem to be the key. However, players who spread their building choices out can build up a defensive strategy against a military or scientific victory. The constant key, like in any good two player game, is to counter and advance your position without too much disruption from the opponent. On this level, the game succeeds mightily.
What’s not apparent from the first couple of plays is how knowing the cards and in what Age they will emerge also helps make strategic decisions. Because cards from a particular Age will deliver certain resources or opportunities, it requires players to think ahead about what cards could emerge and what options might open up for the opponent. This exactly mirrors the choices in 7 Wonders, and it’s great to have that level of tension.
Another engaging calculation comes with players making choices based on how many cards they wish to reveal to their opponent. Because cards are staggered and overlap each other, selecting one card may open up some hidden options that might give an opponent more information on their turn. This level of alternating information is also enjoyable to experience and deepens the seemingly static choice from the card layout.
However, it is this same revelation that also leads to a negative experience. If a player sets up their selection tactfully, they can force their opponent to select a card thereby falling behind or even losing the game. With playtesting, this can seem like an engaging choice, but players can also see this as being backed into a corner with more skillful (or even lucky) play charting a course for them that they can’t mitigate.
The other main negative is that even after five or six plays, the game can seem stale. There’s little variety in the cards available (only three cards sit out of the game with each Age). As such, it’s better to play fewer games and less often to keep it fresh. This would cause some players to see it as a filler instead of a considerable main course in its own right. An expansion with more cards could alleviate this.
Drafting games often create a weird experience when played with just two players. The secret nature of the cards becomes slightly unnecessary. 7 Wonders: Duel presents a play style that needs to be replicated with other two player games. The card selection mechanism with a layout offers a highly engaging play style.
However, what could have been a home run is fouled by issues with the components and play choices that can feel forced. 7 Wonders: Duel is still fun civ-building for couples and the two-player crowd though.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of 7 Wonders: Duel, you can get it for about $30.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A fantastic game that gets easily marred by component issues and a play style that can force players to make certain decisions or otherwise lose the game.
• Really needs an expansion
• Component issues
• Some turns feel forced