One of my favourite two-player games is 7 Wonder Duel. It manages take the 7 Wonders idea and make it in to a very tight, very fun two-player game. I was very excited when they announced an expansion for this wonderful game and rushed to the Repos booth when the game was released at Spiel.
The expansion is called Pantheon and it adds a whole set of deities to the game. There are five sets of three deity cards, all belonging to another ancient culture, and every single god gives you a special ability or a one-time benefit, however you want to call it.
If you don’t know what 7 Wonders Duel is you can check my review here. I will not explain every concept of that game again. This is going to be a much shorter overview and review.
The changes are simple. During the first age you will place five random deity tokens on five face-down cards of the pyramid. If you cause those cards to be turned over, you take that deity token. The colour of the token correspond with one of the five cultures or mythologies. You take two cards from the stack of three cards of that culture type, choose one and place it in one of the available slots in the pantheon. If you place a card in a slot closer to you, it is cheaper for you to acquire later on, and more expensive for your opponent.
Starting in age two you, as an action on your turn, can acquire a card from the pantheon and execute its action. You don’t have to remove a card from the pyramid. On some cards during this age you will find tokens that give you a deity discount. You get those tokens when you remove a card that causes the card underneath it to be revealed. This way you can buy card from the pantheon cheaper.
The different mythologies have different ability themes. The Roman mythology focusses on war, the Egyptians on wonders, Mesopotamian mythology on technology, Phoenician mythology on economy and, lastly, the Greeks focus on points or adding or removing cards. The pantheon has six slots and there are only five mythology tokens placed on the cards in age one, so the last slot of the pantheon is occupied by The Gate. This card is twice as expensive as the value of its location in the pantheon. However, when you do buy it you can take one card from every culture and can choose to activate one of them.
More is not always better
I must say that I’m not very enthusiastic about this expansion. With it the game goes into a direction that I do not like it to go. 7 Wonder Duel was a very tight game. Every card you chose from the pyramid mattered and you had to assess carefully if you wanted or needed a particular card, which new cards it would open up and how this would impact the possibility of getting other cards further down, or up the pyramid. The Pantheon changes this part of the game.
When you choose to buy and activate a deity from the Pantheon you don’t have to remove a card from the pyramid. This adds a way for you to force your opponent to pick a certain card, so you can take another the next turn, plus you get the bonus of the deity itself. This opens the game up a bit. The deities give you more options to get ahead, catch up, or mess with your opponent or the other way around.
A sprinkle of randomness
The way you get the tokens in age one and two also adds a bit of randomness to the game. They are face-down, so, for one thing, you don’t know what you are getting until you get it. They do differ in strength, sometimes you get a token of a mythology that matches the strategy you were pursuing. Sometimes you cannot even bother which of the two deities you have drawn are placed in the Pantheon. The value of the discount/ offering tokens, also face-down on the table, can also differ from minus two to four. That’s a big difference in a game where money is tight sometimes.
The mythology tokens also have another function as they can be used for buying grand temple cards. Three grand temple cards are shuffled at random into the third age deck. They replace the guild cards from the base game and you can acquire them by having goods in your display, but also by having a mythology token of a certain colour. You get more points if you collected more of these grand temple cards. The thing is, you don’t know which grand temple cards are in the deck. They are randomly drawn, so you don’t know if the mythology tokens that are face-down on the board are of any value in respect to these temples. You just have to be lucky if the right combination of token and card is present in the game.
Nice to have you
Don’t worry, I do not completely dislike this expansion. It isn’t a bad design, or anything like that. It is enjoyable. However, it can become a more swingy, more open game and I really liked Duel for being a tense and tight game.
I do have the feeling that, because some gods also focus on military and science, the alternative victory conditions, meaning military and scientific, will be more worthwhile to pursue, instead of points being the way to go in eight out of ten games in the base game.
Pantheon does add some more variety, so, although for me the base game alone is a better game experience, maybe in the long-term the expansion can serve as a breath of fresh air that blows through your 7 Wonders Duel game once in a while. A must-have, no. A nice-to-have, sure.