Can a game based on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World stand the test of time? Let’s hope it lasts longer than six of them.
Players: 2 – 7 Best with: 4 – 7
Age: 10+ GN Age: Pre-teen
Game Type: Board Time: 30 minutes
Publisher/Year: Repos Production / 2011
Game Play: Card Drafting, Resource Management, Engine Building
Available from: All Retailers
Score: out of 12
The theme of this game is something very dear to my heart. Ever since I was a lad, I’ve been fascinated by the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. I was astounded by their beauty. I was mesmerized by their magnificence. And I was inspired by their ingenuity. I knew all the facts, figures, and trivial details. And I knew all 7 by name. The Colossus of Rhode Island, The Hanging Gardens of Baba O’Riley, The Tomb of Some Dead Guy, Some Big Temple but not the one in Greece, A Lighthouse (or was it a Library?), Maybe Another Statue, and those Triangle Things in the Desert. Yes sir, I was a veritable Encyclopedia Brittanica of the 7 Wonders.
Sadly six of the 7 Wonders have gone the way of the dodo, but Repos Productions has crafted a game to recreate the grandeur and splendor of that Golden Age. A game where you take command of your own ancient civilization; harvesting resources, creating trade routes, gathering troops, constructing your city, and if you get around to it, building an everlasting monument as a testament to the pinnacle of human achievement. No pressure.
For those of you who are mechanically inclined, 7 Wonders is a card drafting and engine building game. It is also a resource management and point salad game, but we’ll get to that in a minute. “Hey, that’s great Game Night Blog, but what does all this mean for those who don’t speak “Spiel” (German for game)?”
A Card Drafting Game means that your hand of cards, from which you choose the action you will take, changes every turn. There are 3 rounds in the game, called an Age, as in Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc. At the start of each Age you begin with a set of 7 cards. You choose one card to do as your action, and pass the remaining cards to the player next to you. (The direction changes from Age to Age). Then you choose your next action from this new hand of cards. Your new cards are “drafting” behind the player before, as in auto racing. Sometimes these new cards play perfectly into your strategy, but if the cards are not in your favor, you may have to change tactics entirely. This constant cycle of change, adaptation, and evolution is a perfect metaphor to the progress of civilization.
Speaking of progress, that is the Engine Building aspect of the game. When the game begins, your engine (in this case, the city you are building) starts off small, but as you add more and more abilities and resources to it, your engine grows bigger and more powerful, allowing you to build better and more valuable structures. As the game evolves from Age to Age, new structures and more advanced elements are introduced, such as guilds and universities. Hopefully, you’ll have the resources to pay for them.
Resource Management is another key element of the game. There are 7 resources in the game. Are you detecting a certain theme here? Some are natural materials such as wood or stone, others are manufactured goods like glass or paper. Most every structure you can build requires a construction cost of one or more of these resources. For instance, to build the Palace in Age III you will need all 7. There’s that number again, what can it mean?
Most of Age I will be spent collecting cards to generate these resources. For those building materials you cannot obtain, if you get the right cards, you can build Trading Posts which allow you to purchase resources from your neighbor for half price. This ability to buy resources is always an option, even without the trading posts, but you pay twice the cost. Or you can focus on building defensive structures to increase your military might allowing you to crush your neighbors in the inevitable conflict that occurs at the end of every Age, and more importantly earns you victory points at the end of the game.
And that bring us to the final element of 7 Wonders, the Point Salad. To win the game, you need to collect victory points. And there are a number of ways to collect points. Can you guess how many? That’s right, there are 7. This variety means that there is always more than one path to winning the game, and no one gets out to an early lead. This uncertainty is one of the best aspects of the game; everyone stays engaged and has a fair chance of winning.
Another feature we love is that the game plays slightly different depending on the number of players you have. Each new player adds new cards to the decks which you might not be familiar with, and more players add new complexities to how you manage your resources, trading posts, and armies. When we played with 7 people, the game felt completely unique, compared to playing with our usual four. The card drafting element was different, trading became far more important, and it was impossible to tell who was winning, which is a good thing.
Needless to say, we love 7 Wonders, but there are a few minor negatives to the game. First, it has a strange learning curve. The rules make the game seem more complicated than it really is. Once the game is going, it all makes sense, but when you are reading the rules, it seems very confusing. Secondly, while each player has a great deal of interaction with the players to the immediate left and right, they have no interactions with those across the table. This is especially noticeable the more players you have. I wish that the game allowed engagement with all the players, not just the closest two.
Lastly and most sadly, the game doesn’t really integrate the Seven Ancient Wonders theme into the game. 7 Wonders is a terrific ancient civilization simulation game, and your personal game board has a lovely painting of your particular Wonder, but it doesn’t really matter which one you have. There are no significant differences between them, they are all constructed in the same abstract way, they serve no real function, and you could just as easily be building a capitol building or a palace. The Wonder doesn’t matter.
Just writing that sentence breaks my heart. These Wonders have served as an inspiration to me my entire life. The desire to create something artistic and beautiful that will endure long after the artist is gone is a powerful desire, and the Seven Wonders are the apex of that ideal. To see them diminished in any way is painful. And to use them as just another way to score points in a game, even one as good as this one, feels less than wonderful.
But forget all that. We still love 7 Wonders. It is fun, fast-paced, and well balanced for playing with the entire family. It is one of the very few games that all four family members agree is a great game and we all love to play it. And just to get the two boys to agree on anything is a minor miracle in itself. Whenever we have a Game Night, at least one person chooses 7 Wonders, which says a lot, given how many games we own. 7 Wonders is a wonderful game and would be a welcome addition to any Game Night. When it came time to grade 7 Wonders, I was going to give it a 10 (no, not a 7). But my oldest son insisted that I score it an 11. As my son said, “Even though I can’t win at the game, I still love playing it.” That is high praise indeed.
As always, to the ancient Greeks, the number 7 represents perfection and plenty and is the number of the (then) known planets plus the sun and the moon, and Game On!
I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’ – Antipater of Sidon, 2nd century BC