The latest board game at our house is Seven Wonders. It is good. I may need more players to keep the game interesting over time.
In Seven Wonders, you control an ancient city. The basic play is: play a card (signifying building a building) and pass your hand to the next player. This happens 18 times and you’re done. That sounds kind of dull when you put it that way, why is this fun?
Seven Wonders is big on the number seven, so there are several paths you can pursue at a time. There are seven resources. There are seven building types. You can only play a building if your resources let you afford it (or you buy resources from your neighbors). There are seven ways to score points. Each of the seven ancient cities has its own wonder, with different bonuses. The game is divided into three “Ages,” and in each age you start with seven cards.
Those are the hands you are passing around. I play a card from my hand and pass the rest. Like most Eurogames, there is little direct conflict with the other players, but Seven Wonders has a lot of strategic interaction between players: you want your neighbors to have some things, and you might actively prevent them from getting others. You usually take what is best for you, but you might pick a card to prevent someone else from having it, or you might make a suboptimal decision now in anticipation that an opponent’s decision will play into it.
Seven Wonders is more strictly regimented than most games. Every game will have exactly 18 turns. Your military score matters at exactly 3 points in time. You know exactly how close the endgame is. There are no games that drag on. There are no surprise rushes to end the game early. And you know you are committing to about 30 minutes of play.
Compared to most games I like, Seven Wonders delivers more randomization but less variation. That is, unlike Dominion, you do not vary the cards by game. You only vary who starts with which cards. There are seven wonders to play with, but the difference between them is small (on side A; we have not played much with the B sides). The fixed structure of the game means that you know roughly what will happen in each turn, and the major question is which random draws from a known pool will reach you. Other players’ strategies will affect yours, whether you compete for your favorite things or alter your plan to take advantage of what your opponents are passing over.
Seven Wonders is a game you can enjoy as a gamer or a non-gamer. Your first game will take roughly twice as long; teaching everyone the rules is easy, but learning what the cards do takes a small while. The best way I found to teach the game is to zip through the rules quickly, start a first game, and open each Age by going through all the cards and explaining what the cards do. Because most of the cards are variations on a theme, and the more complex cards come in the later Ages, this also goes quickly. Explain all the cards in groups, shuffle them up, and deal.
The cognitive load at any given time is limited. You need to know the cards in front of you. You have seven at most to know, and the cognitive load stays about the same because the number of cards in play is rising as the number of options to play diminishes. Only your neighboring players can affect you, so you need not watch the rest of the table that closely. That is good for new players. For experienced players, who already know their cards and strategy, they can watch other players more closely. You pay more attention to what your neighbors have in play and how it might affect you. You watch further around the table for hints as to what is coming your way and what your neighbors will be reacting to. It does not affect you directly if someone across the table is a warmonger, but it will affect you indirectly as neighbors react (compete militarily? give up those points and take a peace dividend?).
Lacking a consistent local gaming group, two-player play is critically important to me. Seven Wonders works pretty well there, but the low level of variation means it is likely to pall over time. For two- and three-player games, you always use exactly the same set of cards (except for guilds in the last Age). At some point, I will have those 21 cards memorized. There will be no Theory of Fun learning left. Adding more players (up to 7) adds more cards to the mix, and it increases the variation in which you will see, and it increases the variation in strategies to which you must adapt. That’s good, and it would take a long time for the game to pall.
The strategy of basic play also differs greatly with more players. In a two-player game, when you pass a hand of cards, you know you will be seeing most of those cards again in two turns. You strategize both this turn and future turns based on that. In a seven-player game, you will never see that hand of cards again. Again for advanced players, you can remember the cards you have already seen, look at what is in play, and thereby try to predict what is coming your way.
Seven Wonders is easy to learn, particularly if players know similar mechanics from other games. (“The blue buildings are like victory points in Dominion.”) Play is quick with a fixed commitment, and it seems both fixed enough for strategic players like me while random enough for players that like more chaos in their games. I am concerned about the limited variation, but the base game has a fair amount (and more with more players), and I see that the developers would love to sell me expansion boxes with more.
The tokens are nothing special, so I have been using my own rather than punching out the ones in the box. You can use a handful of change for game currency, with special tokens being useful for showing combat results. If you have ever Kickstarted game coins or something similar, that should work great if there are 1s, 3s, and 5s (you only need 7 of each for a full game).