A duel usually takes place in some dramatic locale with attendants and foppish dandies ready to pronounce judgements of honor. Blow this up by a few centuries, thousands of lives paid through conflict and magnanimous construction projects, and the turbulent advance of technology and culture. Now you have a game worthy of the 7 Wonders brand.
A game of 7 Wonders: Duel begins with players choosing from a flop of cards representing wonders to build. Each player selects in turn wonders that provide abilities or victory points. After this selection, the first of three civilization card displays are laid out representing the first of three “Ages” for the game. Each Age has a specific layout of cards with some face-up and some face-down.
On a player’s turn, they will take one of the civilization cards that is completely revealed (cards will overlap and only those which have no other cards on them are available). This card can be added to a player’s personal tableau representing the player’s civilization. Other options for the card include discarding it for money (improved based on the player’s economic cards). A player can also discard the card to build one of the initially selected wonders assuming the player has collected the necessary civilization cards that provide resources or can purchase the resources by spending money.
The implications of the cards selected are at the heart of the game. Resource civilization cards provide materials to complete buildings. Science civilization cards have symbols on them which when matched with another selected card with the same symbol allows a player to take a special ability in the form of a science token. Military cards allow the players to advance a special military pawn towards their opponent along a track. Depending on the cards selected or discarded, players focus their civilization towards a certain victory condition.
The game can end in one of a few ways. A player could win by advancing the pawn all the way to their opponent’s side of the Military track. Another strategy is to collect six science tokens. Finally, if neither of these ends the game, once the last card is drawn from the Third Age display, players tally their victory points to determine a winner.
- The card art is epic and grand but only the wonder cards can truly evoke the theme. The smaller scale cards collected from the display look great, but the size diminishes the feel of the theme.
- Component quality is adequate. Sleeving cards will prevent them from fitting in the box, but the cards hold up well enough to repeat plays.
- Rules are comprehensive and clear, with great examples.
- Teaching the game is easy except for a few items that need focus to be explained.
- Play overall flows exceptionally well with little downtime except for difficult decisions on an opponent’s turn.
- The strategic choices are very much open at the beginning but will need to be honed by a player through the course of the opening turns. From that moment, tactics is key and adjusting a strategy based on what is revealed can be necessary.
- The use of cards for multiple purposes works very well and games are often battles of card denial through discard.
- Multiple winning conditions add a lot of depth.
- Tension is not too heavy, but present with each flipped card.
- Wonders sometimes feel too easy to purchase.
- Choices during setup and at each phase are very interesting, especially as you realize how an Age’s options will be revealed. There’s no analyzing outcomes from the very beginning. The necessary adaptation is very engaging.
- The theme does fade to the background. The abilities for each card barely tie in to the represented wonder’s place in history.
- Lends itself to many repeat plays, but because the game is quick, desire for an expansion or more options arrives after about 8-10 plays.
7 Wonders: Duel could easily kick quite a few two-player games out of a collection. It sits alongside 7 Wonders as the preferred version for just two. It deserves its place as one of the top two-player experiences.