7 Wonders is a very poplar card drafting game, and often a good introductory game to the mechanic. It is also well-known as a game that supports high player counts quite well, with the ability to play easily with 7 players (or 8 with the Cities expansion) as easily as you might play with 4 or 5. One thing it does not do well, however, is play with 2 players. There is a 2-player variant included, but it is honestly not that good.
7 Wonders: Duel, by contrast, seeks to make up for its older sibling’s shortcoming. It is solely a two-player game that aims to capture the tableau-building civilization style of 7 Wonders while introducing a new type of drafting mechanic which is especially well suited for two players. Combine that with three different ways to win, and you have a solid medium-weight 2-player game in 7 Wonders: Duel.
Like the original game, 7 Wonders: Duel is played over three rounds, or “Ages”, in which players collect cards to add to their civilization. These cards may be brown or grey resource cards which add things like wood, stone, or glass that can be used to build other buildings or wonders. There are also yellow commercial buildings which help players gain money, and blue civilian buildings which provide victory points. Finally, there are green science cards and red military cards, which can each be used on its own particular path to victory, which will be explained in detail later.
To begin the game, shuffle all three Ages’ cards separately, and remove 3 cards from each deck, then randomly add three Guild cards to the Age III deck and shuffle. This setup guarantees that you won’t know exactly which cards are present in each 20-card Age deck since not all cards are used in every game. Next, set out the game board containing the military track, with the conflict pawn in the center. As players collect military cards, they move the conflict pawn one space towards their opponent for each shield on the card, and if they can move the pawn all the way to their opponent’s capital, they will win! Also on the game board, randomly select 5 Progress tokens and place them face up. Players can collect these tokens if they ever construct two science buildings with matching symbols. Finally, the players must draft their Wonders. This is done by shuffling the deck of Wonder cards and dealing four out face-up. The first player selects one of these, the second player selects two from the remaining three, and the first player gets the last one. Then this process is repeated with the other player picking first. Then, each player takes 7 coins and the game is ready to begin!
In each Age, the cards are arranged into a shape that players may draft cards from. In the first Age, it is a pyramid, while in the second Age it’s an upside down pyramid, and in the third Age it’s more of a circle or diamond shape. In addition, the cards are laid over each other so that you can only draft those that are completely uncovered, starting with the bottom row, and every other row is face-down so you do not know what cards are there until they are revealed (once the card does not have any other cards covering it). On their turn, a player may select one of the available cards from the display and place it in his or her tableau after paying the associated costs.
Most cards have a cost associated with them, either in coins, resources, or a combination thereof. Obviously, any coin cost is payed from the player’s supply — if they can’t afford the cost, they cannot draft the card. If there is a resource cost on the card, the player has some options. If they have the cards in that tableau providing that resource, they can certainly draft the card. However, if they don’t have the correct resources, or do not have enough of a given resource type (e.g. if a card requires 2 wood and the player only has one wood card), they must make up the difference by “purchasing” the needed resources. They do this by paying 2 coins plus an additional coin for each of that resource their opponent has. Continuing from the previous example, if the player needs to purchase 1 wood and their opponent has 2 wood cards in their tableau, that wood will cost 4 coins. There are some yellow cards that make purchased resources cost only one coin regardless of the number of that resource the players’ opponent has, and grabbing these cards when you have the opportunity to do so can be a very strategic move. There is one other way to obtain cards even without the needed resources. Some Age I and II cards contain a white symbol on top of the card. There are cards which come up in Age II and III which have these white symbols on the left side along with the other purchase criteria (coins and/or resources). If you have any of the symbols already in your tableau, you may draft the card with the matching symbol for free (i.e. without having to pay any of the other costs).
Aside from placing drafted cards into your tableau, you may also discard them for money if needed, gaining 2 coins plus an additional coin for each yellow building in your tableau. This is a good move if you’re low on cash or if you want to prevent your opponent from taking a certain card. The other thing you can do with cards is to build one of your wonders (remember that each player drafted four Wonder cards at the start of the game). To do this, you still must take an available card from the structure and place it face down under the wonder you wish to construct. Then, you must pay the resource cost of that wonder, similar to how the costs for building a card are paid. Note that wonders typically require a lot of resources, so it is unlikely that either player will be building them right at the start of the game. After building a wonder, players will get the benefits listed on its card. These can include coins, victory points (for the end of the game), destroying one of the opponent’s buildings, and immediately taking another turn. It’s worthwhile to note that while each player has 4 wonders, since the game is called 7 Wonders after the seventh wonder is built, the last wonder may not be built.
In 7 Wonders: Duel, there are multiple possible paths to victory. The first is by simply playing the game until all cards are drafted, then counting up each players’ score based on the victory points provided by their buildings and wonders. The second possible way to win, as alluded to earlier, is by military victory. Whenever a player drafts a red military card, they move the conflict pawn on the military track one space towards their opponent for each Shield icon present on the card. If you can manage to move the pawn all the way to the capital on your opponent’s side of the board, the game ends immediately and you win! Thus, to counter this possibility, it is wise to always draft some military cards to prevent your opponent from having a monopoly on them. The last possible way to win is via a science victory. There are 7 different science symbols, 6 on the green technology cards, and one on a Progress token that may be present in the game (remember that Progress tokens are collected if a player constructs two technology buildings with matching symbols). If a player is able to collect 6 of the 7 different science symbols, they will win the game immediately. Again, it is wise to draft some technology cards defensively to prevent a science victory. No matter which method of victory was achieved, however, there can always be only one winner in 7 Wonders: Duel!
We have discovered that with some of the games we own that just because they can play two players, doesn’t mean they’re meant for two players. Because we often play just the two of us, it’s important that the two player variants are solid or the game just might not get to the table as much. 7 Wonders Duel has helped fill this spot for us, and is a nice two player game to add to our collection.
One thing that I really like and appreciate is that there are multiple ways to win the game. What this does, however, is really force you to pay attention to what your opponent is doing and track how they’re progressing in the three different areas, as well as your own. Some people don’t mind doing this, but it’s something I personally have trouble with when playing because I have a tendency to concentrate overly on my own actions, which caused me to lose the first time we played.
Overall, this game is definitely a keeper and if you are looking for two player games and like the mechanics of 7 Wonders, I think you’ll like this game as well.
- Solid 2 player variant of a popular game
- Different paths to victory
- Short-Medium Playing time
- Need to pay close attention to opponent’s turns
I really like 7 Wonders: Duel as a 2-player only game. Like the original 7 Wonders, it has the light civilization-building aspect of collecting resource cards and constructing science, military, and other aspects of your city in a scaled-down format. However, in this game even more so than the original you must pay attention to what your opponent is drafting and in some cases must take a card you don’t really need yourself (or sell it, or use it to construct one of your wonders) just to prevent your opponent from having it. The ever-possible threat of a science or military victory incentivizes you do be balanced with your card choices. In addition, the buying mechanic that makes resources more expensive depending on how many of that resource your opponent can produce makes you want to gather all the resources you;ll need as well instead on relying on being able to buy them.
In the three games we’ve played of 7 Wonders: Duel so far, we’ve experienced all of the ending conditions — a science victory, military victory, and civilian (points) victory. While the first two are a bit harder to achieve now that we know how to properly mitigate their threat, all three possible conclusions feel like a satisfying end to the game. If you are beaten by military or science, you learn to more carefully watch your opponent’s selections and be a bit more judicious and defensive with your own next time. The component quality in this game is excellent, though the cards are a bit small for my liking. The only other minor issues I have are that setup for each age does take a minute or two as you build the pyramid for each round, and that the symbols on some of the cards and tokens necessitate referring back to the rules until you’ve played enough times to remember what everything is. Altogether though, 7WD is a great, tight game for 2 players that I’m sure will be in our collection for quite a while!
- Designed for only 2 players and plays really well as a couples’ game
- No direct player interaction, but requires strategizing and paying attention to your opponent
- Multiple possible ways to win make for a tense and exciting game throughout
- Setting up the card structure for each age can add a bit of downtime
- A lot of symbology to remember or refer back to the rules for