7 Wonders (Game Review)

7 Wonders BoxIn some ways, a game that works for more than five people is the Holy Grail of the industry. In my opinion, even going past four people causes long delays between turns, and introduces too many factors that feel outside of a single player’s direct control. But when a group of friends gets together, it’s easy to end up with too many people to comfortably play one game, but not enough to split into two groups.

7 Wonders’ claim to fame is that it works for up to seven players at once. More importantly, though, it keeps everyone consistently engaged through its breezy twenty- to thirty-minute playing time. Its mechanics make this so simple that after one game, it seems amazing that no one has tried this approach before. Basically, there is no downtime because every player is making their choice simultaneously every turn. Choose one card to play, and pass the rest of your hand to the player next to you. Sure, other games have used this card drafting technique before, but 7 Wonders also addresses the other source of slowdowns in games with too many players: All your interactions are with the people to your immediate left and right, so you don’t need to get bogged down keeping track of more than two other players.

The game itself is a fairly straightforward entry in the “civilization light” genre. Each card gives you resource production, points, or abilities. There are too many resources to personally cover all of them, but you can buy the ones you need from your neighbors. Just keep track of what they are producing so you don’t duplicate their efforts, and so that you can build the ones that they’ll want to buy from you! Also watch their military strength, because at the end of each of the three rounds, your comparative power will gain or lose you points.

7 Wonders Play7 Wonders offers a decent amount of choices. You can earn points through cards, advancing your personal “great wonder” track, matching symbols, getting money, or having a stronger military than your neighbors. The “Guild” cards that appear at the end of the game even let you score points for how advanced your neighbors are in various categories! It’s impossible to excel in every area, but they are well-balanced enough that you can ignore any of those and still win the game.

It feels surprisingly meaty for a twenty-minute game, but there is a lot of chance hidden behind the mechanics. Drawing the right cards, especially when those big Guilds are dealt out at the end, makes a big difference. And while it may be fun to ignore the player on the other side of the table, it can be frustrating to learn you’ve lost to someone you weren’t even able to interact with. For that reason, I suspect that these mechanics wouldn’t work in a much longer game, as much as I wish they could. It’s not too frustrating to lose a filler game by chance, but it would be a deal-breaker if two hours of planning fall apart through no fault of your own.

The game also becomes a little repetitive before long. Despite the many paths to victory points, and the different “Wonder” boards that each player is dealt, the various strategies don’t really feel that different after several plays. They’re all based on getting resources, playing cards, and watching to make sure you bury any card that your neighbor desperately needs. There are already expansions on the horizon that promise to add more variety, but I’m not sure how well they’ll succeed. 7 Wonders feels like it has as many elements as its short playtime can support. Anything different enough to actually increase the replayability would probably be too overwhelming. On the other hand, designer Antoine Bauza has already made one near-impossible task look simple. If 7 Wonders could keep me interested through a seven-player game, then I suppose that the expansions could hold more surprises of their own.

Even after the initial rush of newness wears off, I don’t expect this game to stop being fun. And because it fills a niche that nothing else in my collection does, I’m sure it will remain in use for a long time. Looking for a filler to play as your friends are arriving, or when you’re winding down for the night? This works no matter how many people are there with you, and it feels heavier than just about anything else that plays so quickly. 7 Wonders not only has an original design, but is going to keep hitting my table long-term.

Grade: A-

 

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  1. I know that table. 🙂

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