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Review: 7 Wonders is fast, fun and addictive



When I imported a copy of Fairy Tale from Japan in 2004, I found it to be a great little game with an interesting card distribution system.  Instead of having cards dealt to each player, cards were instead distributed using a simple, quick draft.  This gave each player more control over their own cards and limited knowlege of the other players cards.  Otherwise, Fairy tale was a pretty simple set collection game (albeit one with a few "take that" elements built in and a really cool theme).  Immediately, I started thinking of other game designs that could use the drafting mechanism.  Apparently, Antoine Bauza had a similar experience.  His 7 Wonders uses the draft as its core mechanism.  It is also somewhat of a set collection game.  Still, it does not feel like a "rip off" of Fairy Tale.  Instead, it reveals itself to be a solid game that will likely become a staple filler game with hardcore gamers and casual gamers alike.

In 7 Wonders, players play the role of one of seven ancient civilizations that were responsible for building the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  One of the players' goals during the game will be to complete their wonder.  Additionally, players will be building structures that either add abilities, score victory points, or develop resources for their kingdom (some buildings bring multiple rewards).  

7 Wonders is nearly entirely card-based.  The game is played in three rounds.  Each round starts with a draft.  Players are dealt seven cards each.  They pick one card from those dealt to them and either play it immediately, sell it for cash, or use it (face down) to mark the building of a level of their Wonder.  The players then pass the remaining six cards to their neighbor (left-hand or right-hand depending on the turn), choose another card, and repeat the process.  This continues for a total of six turns of drafting and actions;  the remaining cards are discarded.

Cards represent seven different types of structures:  raw materials, manafactured goods, civilian, scientific, military, commercial, and guilds. 

Raw and Manufactured Goods structures give the player resources to build other building.  These resources aren't spent.  Once a player's nation can produce a resource, that resource will be available each turn.

Civilian structures are simply worth victory points at the end of the game.

Scientific structures have three different symbols on them.  Players earn victory points for complete sets and multiples of the same symbol.  

Military structures raise the nations military strength.  Players compare military might with their neighbors at the end of each turn and lose or gain victory points according to whether they are weaker or stronger than their nieghbor.

Commercial structures pirmarily bring in money or lower the cost of using other players' resources.

Guilds come in during the third age and are immediately worth a certain amount of cash based on the types of cards the player and his or her nieghbor have in play.  Additionally, guilds earn the nation victory points at the end of the game based on the same criteria.

Are these card types balanced?  I think so.  In early plays, we felt that the game was a bit unbalanced because some players were scoring a boat load of points using the Science structures.  After we learned to control that (mostly by not passing a green card unless we had to), it looked like Military dominance was the way to go.  Now, after a dozen or so plays, it seems that each structure type has its place.  We've had players win big with nothing but Civilian structures and the building of their wonder.


About the wonders:  players each are given a player board with the stages (mostly three) of their wonder on them.  Each stage has a cost to build and a reward for the player.  The costs and rewards vary greatly, and I really haven't got a handle on whether the wonders are balanced or not.  Certainly, no one in our group has put forth the idea that one of them is broken.


For example, the first phase of the Pyramid of Giza costs two stone and rewards the player with three VP

The entire game is encompassed by the drafting of eighteen cards and the taking of eighteen actions.  This scarcity of actions makes making the right choice very important.  If the card you play isn't at least maintaining victory point parity with the rest of the players, it is usually a bad play.  In the end, a player is unlikely to win unless they average at least three VPs per action.  Our lowest winning total to date is 47 points--and that was in an early game before we really figured out how to play.  

My Take:  So, is the game any good.  Yes.  Yes, it is.  We have played the game at nearly every one of our weekly game nights since I got it at Christmas.  It isn't a deep game, certainly, and it is 100 % tactical.  You might have the urge to choose a strategy at the beginning of the game, but the game will consistently send the wrong cards your way.  It is all about making the best of what you are able to draft, and I like that.  Thirty minute tactical games are fine.  If it were twice as long, I could understand some of the complaints about the lack of strategic options.  The game has worked well with every one we have introduced it to, from the hardened gamer to the gaming newbie.  It plays super-fast and has a real "just one more game" feel to it.  The game is due to be back on shelves soon.  I highly recommend picking it up if you don't have a copy in your game group to play.





Quite Quotable

"Ignorance and apathy, entwined inseperably around each other, form a wall that is nearly insurmountable."

Peter David, The Long Night of Centauri Prime


What'd You Know? Somebody Else Liked Branagh's Frankenstein Too!

I saw Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein on the big screen back in 1994.  I liked it.  I felt bad, however, when Roger Ebert gave it a bad review because we generally agreed on most movies.   (No, I’ve never actually met the guy, but he was always the one I cheered for in the heated debates on Siskel and Ebert!)  I thought that Branagh brought a whole new Shakespeareanesque-tragi-brooding thing to the good (?) Doctor.  And De Niro definitely brought the Monster to life.  (If I remember correctly, De Niro’s performance was the one thing Ebert liked about the movie.)  Seriously, I felt this version delved more into the moral ambiguities that make Shelley’s novel what it is.  It was never a monster story; it was a story about what makes one a monster.  For that reason alone, I prefer Branagh’s vision to all the others I’ve seen. 

FINALLY, someone agrees with me!  What makes me happier still is that I found this article on Roger Ebert’s website.  You can read it here.      

Who knows?  Maybe Ebert will even change his mind about it.                       


Strat-O-Matic Turns 50

Strat-O-Matic turns 50 this year.  The quintessential baseball board game, Strat-O-Matic sucked up a lot of my time over the years, though, because of a lack of face-to-face opponents, I played most of my games solo with both the physical board game and, later, the computer version.  The game is a great time-killer for a baseball fan, but it really shines head-to-head.  Some of my favorite moments from gaming come from the two years I played in a Strat-O-Matic league.  The ability to play an entire series in less than an hour (much less really) and an entire season in a few months of weekly game nights just makes the game a marvelous collection of stories.  I have little hope that I'll be able to get my daughter to play the game, but I can't wait until my son gets old enough to understand the game.  I forsee number of games in my future.

Anyway, enough about me.  Here is a great New York Times article on the 50th anniversary celebration.


The Spiel des Jahres committee announces a third award.


According to the Spiel Des Jahres website, they will be giving out a new Game of the Year award.  This one is for the best game for experienced gamers, one that challenges the novice players in different ways than they are used to.  The new award has been added due to the change in climate in the gaming market where there is now an increasing demand for more challenging games.  The main award will remain just that, the Game of the Year for "all".

This change comes after a few years of special recognition for "gamer's" games that made a splash during the year but didn't have the accessability to be a SDJ winner.  Gamers have been increasingly frustrated with the award which is designed to grow the hobby in Germany by getting the winner into as many homes as possible.  Will this change be enough to restore the awards to their former luster?  Time will tell, but I, for one, am glad to see a more formal recognition of the kinds of games I play.