Designers: Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala  |   Players: 2   |   Playtime: 30 minutes

Card drafting and set collection are two of my favorite mechanisms but for some reason, 7 Wonders never hit my radar. Which is surprising as it also adds a resource management aspect to it rather than just drafting and playing cards like in Sushi Go! or Fairy Tale. Well, for reasons that will be explained below, this two player spinoff caught my eye more so than the original. I’ll do my best to show you some of the differences in this review and why I think Duel is far superior, in my opinion.

THEME

The theming of this game is designed around the seven wonders of the world, and even though the game comes with twelve of potential wonders only seven of them can be built. So I guess it’s like we get to change the course of history a bit which is pretty cool. Each wonder will also give you a special bonus after building it because…Aliens. Seriously, though, they do make sense in what they do for the most part.

For instance, Piraeus gives you access to Glass or Paper because gives you access to a trading port. Or The Great Library lets you choose a progress token because it has access to so many books.

The accumulation of resources by “drafting” cards with the resources you currently have brings some theme into the game as well. Building a Lumber Yard to store wood gives you future access to make bigger and better buildings. Buying a Press allows you to make paper for your Chamber of Commerce for all your bookkeeping needs. Building a Shelf Quarry lets you mine stone for your Armory.
As you can tell, a lot of thought went into the naming of cards, what they do, and even the resources needed to build them. Sure it’s highly abstract in its simplification but that’s necessary for gameplay. All games have to do this to some degree or they would be unplayable. My point is that all of this adds to the theme, otherwise we might as well be using a regular deck of playing cards.

PRESENTATION

Art
I must say that the art in this game is beautiful. Miguel Coimbra did an amazing job conveying a world of wonders on paper. I feel like he really stepped up a game for the original 7 Wonders card game. I know it’s the same style but to me, it looks even better.

Graphic Design
This new version of 7 Wonders makes the original look outdated. The card design is sleek and modern with a very simplistic approach. I like how the sidebar was removed and the cost and card names are now horizontal and take up less space. It not only shows off more of the artwork but makes each card look less cluttered, thus easier to read.

Another thing that I really appreciate is the way the cards stack. Once purchased, the only thing you need to worry about is the benefit you get from each card and that is all you’ll see as you stack the cards on top of each other. As you add to each color group you get this tiny engine going that is so easy to determine what you have. Before cost and resource production were all in the same area but now only the info you need should be visible.

Components
Let’s start off with the box. Seems durable enough. I really like the size of it, though. Very portable for those 2 player excursions. Easy to stash in a suitcase or backpack. The focus on the two people standing back to back, ready to duel gives a great first impression.

Instead of a personal player board your tableau will be formed out of the cards you draft. The removal of the player board doesn’t bother me, in fact I like it. The boards from the original game shoehorned you into specific roles. Drafting the wonders allows for so much more flexibility.
There is a shared Tug-of-War board that is shared between both players as well as some coins and a few tokens. These are all made of the same chipboard which seems to be of great quality, nice and thick.

Other than that, the majority of this game is cards as was the original. The cards are of decent quality. They may not have a linen finish on them but they aren’t exactly paper thin either. You should be able to handle them through multiple plays without a problem. I’m sure you’ve also noticed by now that the cards are quite a bit smaller than normal playing cards. This is to conserve table space. It doesn’t present a problem either as the icons on the cards are plenty large and you’re not doing any hand management with the cards; everything stays on the table.

There’s also a plastic War miniature which serves its purpose well. Nothing too special about it. I like how it’s a three dimensional representation of the symbol on the cards.

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MECHANISMS

Card Drafting
Drafting has definitely been at the forefront of the 7 Wonders family. However, in this version, the designers decided to approach it differently than the typical draft and pass. [link definition] Instead, they went with a more spatial concept of arranging the cards in patterns which reminds me of the game Freecell–in appearance, at least. Initially, I was concerned that this would take away from the drafting experience but it has several things in common with the draft and pass method.

First, you alternate turns which feels a lot like getting cards passed to minus the one drafted. The tension of which card to take is still there. “Do I take the card I need or the one my opponent needs?” Additionally, having to remember which cards you passed across the table is long gone. Here you get to see all the face-up cards at all times. Sometimes games that require memory can turn players away which makes this more approachable for non-gamers.

Second, I believe the upside down cards are there to represent the opponent’s hand. You don’t know what he has until it comes around. Same thing here, except that both players don’t get to see what is there until the card on top is taken. This is a little random for my taste but it doesn’t take enough away from the game for me to hate on it.

Ultimately, this basically the same drafting style in games such as Ticket to Ride or Smallworld except on a grander scale. I really like the creativeness of it and welcome a fresh take on a fun mechanism.

Set Collection
In this game the majority of Set Collection is basically resource management without managing. I know that sounds a little weird but try and follow my logic. In order to purchase or build cards in 7 Wonders Duel you will need certain combinations of resources. These resources are produced by the very cards obtained by other resources. What I mean by management without managing is that once you have a card that produces one of the six resource in the game you always have that many of that particular resource. No need to “produce” anything for the rest of the game, the card itself is your production

Collections don’t stop there, oh no. You can also collect science for more than just points. You can try to collect six of the seven unique symbols for victory OR you can collect two of the same symbol for a progress token. Progress tokens provide actions similar to the wonders themselves so they can be very beneficial.
You can also collect construction chains. Some cards have these chain symbols on them that allow you to construct buildings in a future Age for free. There are 17 different chain symbols in the game which provides another option to go for the tech tree instead of focusing on resources. Building for free is never a bad thing. It actually allows you some freedom to go after more powerful card choices like War, Science, or Civilian buildings.

Guilds provide an interesting benefit of giving coins/points for the whichever city has the most of a certain set. Only three of these come out in the last Age but can be game breaking so don’t let your opponent grab them all. They’re also really neat in that, even though they’re randomly selected, you can still benefit from them if you didn’t focus collecting whatever the Guild offers bonuses for.

Collecting a lot of Yellow cards earn you more money. Some even give you money based on how many cards you have in a particular colored set.

Even War is a variation on set collecting. As you collect more War symbols the further you move along the War track.

What I like about all the above is that Set Collection in this game provides more than your standard fare. It’s not just about collecting something for points but that you can collect something like science or war for an outright victory. Or how the Guilds let you grab points from your opponent’s collections. Maybe you collected a resource just to make it cost more for your opponent. I just love the Set Collection in 7 Wonders Duel. It does so many things right.

Multi-Purpose Cards/Actions
I included this mechanism for more than just the multiple use of the cards themselves. (see Set Collection) No, this is here to highlight the three actions you can take on your turn having to do with the cards you drafted.

WHAT I LIKED

  • Unique Drafting Implementation
  • Multitude of Set Collection Options
  • Multi-Purpose Use of Cards
  • Easy to Follow Graphic Design
  • The Full Art Cards and the Artwork Itself
  • Card Choice Tension
  • Back and Forth Interaction

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

  • Chaotic Feel of the Upside Down Cards

Each turn you can do one of the following:

  • Purchase a card (if you have the resources to do so)
  • Discard a card for 2 coins + the number of yellow cards you own
  • Build a wonder (again if you have the proper resources)

This is something that I really enjoyed about Deus and that enjoyment is just as prominent here. Anytime that a game allows you to do something like discard a card you can’t use for some kind of advantage is a game that is a step above all the others. There’s nothing worse than losing a turn because of the inability to do something. That’s a double negative and those aren’t good for nobody.

“This new version of 7 Wonders makes the original look outdated.”

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FINAL THOUGHTS

So 7 Wonders Duel is a game that I believe belongs in everyone’s collection. It offers such a unique experience that few two player games can. It’s a game that requires crucial decisions but is easy enough to teach to new players. It provides multiple play styles with multiple paths to victory. There is some game-to-game variety through the wonders and guilds. Interaction between each player is just the right amount of take-that! without being a take-that! Game. The game is just a well-oiled machine.

If you can’t tell, I really love this game and it’s one that I still haven’t even won yet. Which is crazy! That right there is the sign of a good game. Every time I’ve lost it’s not because the game beat me either, I can always track it down to one or two plays. Outside of War or Science victories, games are usually very VERY close. By that, I mean by a few points. Don’t underestimate when to use a wonder’s ability. Hint: extra turns are better near the end of the game…if you can still build a wonder. Knowing when to do this is key. Also, don’t ignore War for too long or you’ll regret it. And don’t underestimate the Guilds. Those are pretty powerful.

Honestly, this is the best two player game that I own. So much so that it is making me think about getting rid of several other two player games. The only reason it loses a half a point is because of the randomness of the upside down cards. I really hate flipping one over that my opponent wants or, even worse, one he needs. It’s not game breaking, though, and I don’t think it contributes to losses by a significant matter but it can be annoying.

If you own the original 7 Wonders game I would still add this to your collection. The new win conditions are excellent and it offers more player interaction than the original, which has more of a solo feel to it…so I gather. The reality is that great thing about the original is that it’s a 30-minute game that can be played with up to seven players. That’s rare. The great thing about Duel is that it’s a 30 minute game with depth that can be played with two players. And it’s not abstract. They both have their opportune times to be brought to the table.

Well, that’s all I got. Get it! You won’t regret it!

RATING:

Try this game if you like:

  • 7 Wonders
  • Blood Rage
  • Sushi Go!
  • Tides of Time