A couple of weeks ago I ended my Essen preview with telling you why I’m excited about 7 Wonders: Duel and I’m going to say it again: ‘Antoine Bauza. Bruno Cathala. 7 Wonders. Two-player board game. Enough said.’ Well, I’ve bought the game, played it and now you can read my review.
How do you play the game?
7 Wonder: Duel is a two-player game where the players build buildings and the Wonders of the World. It plays over three ages and turn after turn the players will pick a card and perform actions. By doing so, they gain victory points and at the end of the game the player with the most points is the winner. However, when a player, at any point during the game, gains enough military power to conquer the opponent’s city or gains scientific supremacy, the game ends immediately and he or she wins the game.
Are you familiar with 7 Wonders? Yes? No? Well, this is like 7 Wonders, but not entirely.
Let me explain the game. Every player starts with some money and four Wonder cards. On the left side of a Wonder card you find the resources you need to build it and on the right its special ability. The board, situated between the players, has a military track with a conflict pawn situated in the middle and a player’s city on the opposite sides of the track. It also has an area where five of the ten progress tokens are randomly placed at the beginning of the game.
The game is played over three ages. Every age has its own stack of cards and its own card structure. For instance, at the start of the first age, the cards are placed in a pyramid shape with alternating rows of face-up and face-down cards.
There are seven types of cards. There brown cards that give you raw materials, like stone and wood. There are grey cards that give you manufactured goods, like glass. Blue cards give you victory points, green cards have one of the seven scientific symbols on them. Yellow, commercial, cards are a bit of everything. They might change your trade rules or give you money. The red cards give you military power and the purple, guild, cards are only used in the last age and give you end-game scoring conditions.
On the top of every card you find the type of resources or bonus it gives you and some cards have a small icon to the right of the large icon that shows that you can build another building for free if it has that icon. At the left side you find the resources you need to build the card and/ or the ‘build for free’ icon.
During your turn you can do one of three things. You can take a face-up card from the card structure that is not partly covered by other cards and build it, place in front of you, if you have the resources it requires. You don’t pay the resources, you only need to have them. If you don’t have one or more asked resources in your tableau, you can still buy the card, but now you have to pay two coins per resource you don’t have to bank, plus a coin for every same resource produced by the other player.
Instead of building a building, you can construct a wonder from your hand. You take an available card and place it underneath your wonder and now that wonder is activated. You still have to have or buy the resources it requires. There are eight wonders in every game and there can only be seven on the table, so one player is left with a wonder in his hand.
It’s also possible to take an available card and discard it for money. You then get two coins, plus one coin per yellow building you have built yourself.
An age ends when all cards are taken and then you set-up the new structure with the cards of the next age.
During the game, you can collect military cards. Every time you acquire a card with a military icon the conflict pawn advances one step towards your opponent’s city. Along the way you pass certain boundaries that make your opponent lose money and make you gain points. If the pawn ever reaches the city of your opponent, you win immediately.
You can also build green buildings with scientific symbols on them. There seven different symbols, appearing on two cards each. When you get two cards with the same symbol, you may take a Progress token that gives you a special ability, and when you’ve obtained six different symbols, you immediately win the game.
When nobody wins the game through military or science, the game ends after the third age and you add up all the points from your buildings, guilds, wonders, progress tokens, military victory points and your leftover coins. That’s it, the player with the most points wins the game.
The big questions are: How does it compare to 7 Wonders? Is it just as good or maybe even better? And is it like 7 Wonders?
I like 7 Wonders. I think it’s one the best games out there. I also like to play games with two players and I’m always interested in games that are especially made for two players. So, the combination of the two, plus the fact that Antoine Bauza and Bruna Cathala are the designers made 7 Wonder: Duel into an instabuy for me.
High expectation are not always beneficial for a game, however. Let’s see if the game holds up.
If you know and played 7 Wonders, you’ll find a lot of familiar stuff in this box. The resource symbols on the cards look familiar and the fact that you build buildings and use the symbols on your cards to build other building must sound familiar. In Duel you are also basically drafting from one single hand of cards, the ‘pyramid’ card structure. You still score points by collecting blue cards, building your wonder and acquiring guilds, but that’s where the similarities end, really.
You now have three different ways to win the game. The military and scientific way are more difficult, or at least require more dedication, but it is possible to end the game prematurely.
This also means that when you choose the card you want from the pyramid, you need to pay a lot of attention to which cards you leave for your opponent to take. You can’t exactly know which cards your opponent can and wants to have, because not all cards are face-up yet, but if you are not careful enough, you can open up a new area and your opponent might surprise you with an early winning move.
The three different shapes of the card structures, might seem unimportant, but they do change the way you can play. During the first age there are a lot of options from the start and you know that towards the end of the age both players must go for the same cards, because the rows or getting shorter. In the second age, there’s much competition from the beginning and during the last age there’s a bottleneck in the middle of the structure. The differences are small, but they do change the way you will play.
At the beginning of the game you also draft the wonders, giving you the possibility to create a set of wonders that work well together, which is pretty interesting.
The pen or the sword?
The military track is a tricky one, it’s a tug of war. Very difficult to win, but even if you don’t end up in the opponent’s city, you still get a lot of points and your opponent loses coins at the same time, so it might be worth while to, at least, have a small army at your disposal.
Science also brings a couple of tough choices. To win through scientific supremacy, you need six different symbols, but to gain progress tokens, which can be quite handy, you need one or more sets of the same symbols. What do you want more? Or can you do both?
Like I already said, these two other ways of winning the game are more difficult and the regular ‘who has the most points’ way will probably happen more often, but the fact that they can occur makes that you have to pay attention to these red and green cards.
And it comes down to…
The conclusion is that this game still captures the flavour of 7 Wonders, but it is a different game. Is it better? I don’t know. It’s hard to compare. I think I still think 7 Wonders is slightly more fun, because you can play it with more than two players, it offers more variety and it’s a bit easier to teach, so more people might enjoy it. However, as a two-player game, Duel easily gets my vote.
I own both and will keep them both, because both Duel and 7 Wonders itself are just very fun.