7 Wonders Duel
Card Drafting and the Original 7 Wonders
I'm a big fan of a particular board game mechanic called "card drafting." In its simplest definition, card drafting means choosing what card you want from an available selection. Many games use this mechanic in some capacity or another, such as Ticket to Ride. However, the way the mechanic is applied changes from game to game, and my favorite style is one that is used when playing "Draft" in Magic: The Gathering.
It works something like this: each player has a set of cards. They choose one card to keep, then pass the rest to the player next to them. In turn, they receive cards from another player who has passed them their cards. Everyone continues to pick one card and pass the rest around until all are depleted. In Magic drafts, these cards become your deck. In games like Sushi Go!, these cards are then tallied to score points. There are many board and card games that make use of this mechanic, including Fairy Tale and the 2015 hit, Blood Rage.
No game exemplifies this drafting concept like Antoine Bauza's 7 Wonders, a game released in 2010 and often spoken of in conjunction with other modern classics like Ticket to Ride and Catan (it's currently ranked as number 1 on BoardGameGeek's "Family Game" list). In 7 Wonders, you draft cards to build your own civilization, hoping to amass enough power and wealth to crush your opponents. Despite its popularity, I've only played it once myself.
The problem with these kind of drafting games is that they don't always work that well with two players. Passing a hand of cards back and forth loses something when you're just trading off with your opponent. Many games introduce a third "dummy player" into a 2-player variant, but this is often an inelegant and inefficient solution.
Enter 7 Wonders Duel, which is not so much a 2-player version of 7 Wonders as it is its own special game. Instead of having a hand of cards to draft from, all the cards are now laid out in a special design, with different cards overlapping each other. On their turn, a player can take any card that is face up and completely uncovered, meaning that you can't access cards further back until most of them have been cleared away. Just like in the original 7 Wonders, the game is split into three rounds, or "Ages," and each of the three Ages has its own unique card layout. 7 Wonders Duel has solved the issue of card drafting in a two-player game, and their solution has created a tense, elegant, and enjoyable experience.
7 Wonders Duel revolves around the cards that are drafted between players from the set-up between the players. The cards are all buildings that your civilization is creating to gather resources, encourage commerce, or prepare for conquest. These are broken down into various colors that represent different facets of civilization: brown "resource" buildings that create lumber, stone, and brick; grey "manufactured goods" buildings that make paper and glass; green "scientific" buildings give victory points and one of seven scientific progress symbols; blue "civilian" buildings that only give victory points; yellow "commerce" buildings give you money or allow you to trade goods for better prices; purple "guild" buildings that give you bonuses at the end of the game; and red "military" buildings that move you closer to victory through battle. All of these cards are shuffled together and laid out in a pattern within easy access of each player.
Each turn, a player make take one of these cards and do one of three things: 1) "Construct" the building card by paying its cost and placing it in their playing area. If there is no cost then it's free, but most buildings will cost some form of resource or currency. The player can also 2) sell the card to get more coins. Money can be hard to come by at times, and selling a card you don't want is a great way to use it while depriving your opponent the chance to snatch it. And finally, you can use the card to 3) create one of your Wonders (one of four special cards that each player has that grants special abilities and bonus points).
One of Duel's strengths is its multiple paths to victory. Players can win through three different methods: 1) a "Military" victory If a player pushes the red "conflict" pawn all the way to the other end of the board, 2) a "Scientific" victory if a player has 6 different scientific progress symbols, and 3) a "Civilian" victory, which is the highest points at the end of the game.
Now this is only a quick rundown of rules, but I'm not here to show you how to play. If you're interested in that, I highly recommend watching Rodney Smith's "Watch it Played" series on YouTube. They have an excellent tutorial on how to set up and play this great game, as well as a series of rounds actively being played.
Board game message boards always seem to to be filled with people asking the question "What's a good 2 player game?" There are a lot of couples or small groups out there looking for games that play well when scaled down to one-vs-one. While there are a plethora of options, 7 Wonders Duel takes it a step further than most by translating the experience of a game that plays up to seven(!) to a small box and two players. The three paths to victory means you are constantly engaged in what your opponent is doing, and that you always have different options available to you. Taking or leaving one card can lead to a quick victory or a long, drawn out slug fest as each player tries to outdo the other on three separate fronts. It's nice to have a game where you are given so many choices, and each one matters.
7 Wonders Duel sprawls on your playing space, demanding room to lay out the cards in their unique "Age" setups, while also needing space for a small board and your own card area. Don't let the small box fool you: this isn't an easy game two-player game to travel with like Jaipur or Hive Pocket. There are a lot of little cards and pieces that require significant table space.
The game is incredibly well balanced, and at no point should a player feel as if they are being grossly outmatched due to the game itself. If a player feels like they're behind, chances are they are not being flexible with their strategy, or they underestimate how well they're actually doing. Does your opponent have a lot more resources than you? Start focusing on science and military. Is your opponent beating you at military? Grab them or sell them before they can use more.
I also want to point out how thankful I am that the box is actually designed to hold all of the pieces, as opposed to just having an open space to dumb everything in like some unorganized mess.
This is one of those games that I enjoy more and more each time I play it. But don't take my word for it: it was listed on two lists for top board games played in 2016 (and one honorable mention list) here at Geekundspiel. If you're looking for a great two-player experience with a little bit of weight, or if you like drafting games in general, then I highly recommend giving 7 Wonders Duel a try.