20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Sharp and fast card game,
= Durability: = Fun: = Educational:
This review is from: 7 Wonders Board Game (Toy)
Antoine Bauza made one of the best games of recent years with Ghost Stories and has followed up with another classic. The premise is simple; 3 to 7 players choose an ancient wonder at random and then over the course of 3 ages in which they play a total of 6 cards each, they try to amass as many points as possible by building structures. At times this is a little bit like multi-player solitaire, but with a couple of crucial differences that I'll explain later.
Components-wise, this is a beauty. There's no main board - instead each player has a small one each that denotes their wonder (such as the Colossus of Rhodes or Pyramids of Giza) and they then play their cards alongside or put them under it to show everyone what buildings they've created so far. The cards, which are the meat of the game, have some wonderfully evocative artwork. I would however recommend getting some sleeve protectors because they'll get a fair bit of wear and tear in this game given the amount of dealing and shuffling. There are also some tokens to denote military victories and money.
The crux of the game is simple - you build your civilisation by laying cards from your hand as structures such as a mine, watch tower, market or baths according to what is in your hand. However, to do so, you need resources. There are seven in total - natural ones like minerals, clay, wood and stone, which are plentiful, and three manmade ones - papyrus, glass and cloth - which aren't so. These are vital to obtain later in the game. Each wonder starts off with one resource and you can also buy resources that your immediate neighbours produce (without their consent) as well. So it's not necessary to have all resources if you have access to them, but make sure then that you have enough money to do so. Fortunately you can also make things easier for yourself by creating commercial buildings, which can obtain money for you, provide resources themselves or make buying resources off your neighbours cheaply.
In total there are seven types of structure (7 is a recurring theme!). Military structures will determine how many points you score off your immediate neighbours, but beware being sucked into an unnecessary arms race! Civilian structures award just victory points, but require plenty of materials. Technology/Science structures can provide a multitude of points depending on how many you build and also allow you to build other types of buildings free of charge. Within 7 Wonders is a technology tree, which if you're lucky, can allow you to build a whole raft of structures free without obtaining the necessary resources. Beware taking the science path though, because more often than not your fellow players will see what you're doing and deny you the necessary cards! Finally, in the last age, Guilds allow you to score points depending on what your neighbours have built.
So how do you play the game? You choose your wonder at random and then everyone is dealt a hand of 7 cards. The mechanic is that you choose one card per turn to play at the same time and then pass the rest of your hand face down to your neighbour. As such, you really have to make a tough decision on what to play on each go - do you lay a card you want but then potentially provide your neighbour with what they want?. This means that preset strategies don't really work, making for some interesting play. You can also deny other players cards that they may really want by discarding them (for 3 money) or adding them to your wonder. After six cards have been played, the next age begins and after three ages in total, you calculate points and the one with the most wins.
Each wonder has specific abilities that are gained upon building the various stages which give the game a much more asymmetrical feel and helps replay value enormously. They're well balanced - some give you victory points and money, whereas the more intriguing ones allow you to play an extra card at the end of each age or play a discarded card for free. In the Bauza tradition, each Wonder also has two versions you can play, a side A and B.
What makes the game so enjoyable is that it's fast, simple to pick up and has a ton of strategies to work on. What you get in your hand and what wonder you're given will determine what you go for and whilst Ages 1 and 2 are very much laying the foundation for all the big cards of Age 3, it never feels like you're falling behind at any point and indeed, the Guild cards are nicely placed for those whose initial strategies may have failed to pick up points. You'll return to this game time and time again trying to lay the foundation for your ancient civilisation.