Doug's Dungeon - 7 Wonders: Duel
Welcome back, friends! Carrying on from last week, we’re looking at games that play best with two players. There are, indeed, some fantastic titles out there that can boast a good time with 3 or more people at the table. 7 Wonders is one of them. It’s a game about advancing through the ages of antiquity, building up supplies of resources to eventually build wondrous icons of culture. It’s a drafting game where you pick a ‘building’ from a pile of cards and have it take effect on your empire. And while I’d love to talk your collective ears off about the nuances of such a game, there’s one little problem.
The 2-player rules suck.
Since 7 Wonders is a drafting game, it suffers when there are only two players. All drafting games have this flaw. The smaller card pool makes for a far more shallow game. 7 Wonders tries to counteract this by adding a third ‘dummy’ player to mix it up. The rules are not very elegant, and frankly the creators (Repos) would have been better off making an entirely new game to fit two players.
I dunno, Doug. That seems like overki-
AND SO THEY DID.
Pyrus and Bahati’s divorce divided the kingdom into entirely different cultures. They are still fighting over the kids, though
7 Wonders duel is a game made exclusively for two players. Everything about the game has been carefully designed with the one-on-one in mind. The game plays over three rounds, centered about formations of cards laid out before you. Players take turns picking away at these formations, gathering raw resource cards and using them to make it easier to purchase more powerful ones. Each round has its own distinct card formation and card pool, and at the end of the game, victory points are tallied, and a winner declared. Unless you win… some other way heh heh heh foreshadowing heh heh heh.
I’d love to go into detail about all of the mechanics in play in duel, but my 3-page-in-word limit simply won’t do them justice. I will, however, try do my best to skim over them, starting with the Wonders. Each player starts the game with four large Wonder cards, which represent the great works of your empire. What they WILL be at least. During the game you will need to commit time and resources to actually building the wonders you have chosen, and each grants you a unique boon for doing so. A good number of them can provide you with an extra turn after playing them, but I’ll get to why that is balls-to-the-walls insane in a bit. As a stroke of pure comedy gold though (and as a strategy consideration), only seven wonders between both players may be constructed each game. If that doesn’t set off your guffaw box, you don’t have one.
Next up we have the age cards. These cards give you resources, be sold, advance your scientific research, push your military might, or be consumed to build wonders. Each round (or age) you play has you lay out all of the cards of that age into a formation on the table. Players may only choose face-up cards that are not covered up by other cards, and each face-down card becomes revealed when it is no longer covered. The metagame behind this ‘2 player drafting’ mechanic is fantastic. Every card you take is not only a boon to you, but also a card your opponent may never have. When you are taking cards, you need to consider what your opponent’s available choices will be next turn. Being able to see some of these cards allows you to plan ahead, and even cause an upset by building wonders that give extra turns, ruining the pick order your opponent had set up in their head. The face-down cards are a game of probabilities and risk management (not to mention a healthy dose of randomness to keep the game from going stale). How badly do you need that double stone, given you are going to flip two face-downs off of it? Hold on, I left a reference to ‘being between a rock and a hard place’ around here somewhere… nah, can’t find it. Oh well.
The three Age formations of Duel. Age 3, being the millennial, had to be all hipster about shape.
Cards you acquire that give you resources do not get spent. Rather, they simply sit in your play area, nullifying resource costs of building other cards. Not to mention, When opponents go to spend gold for resources they don’t have (to build something of their own), YOUR resource card makes the resource they want more expensive!
These cards can affect how you do on the cardboard war/science track that also exists in the central play area. The war track has a red shield that sits between the players. Every red card you take pushes this token toward your enemy, and each one THEY take pushes it back. The war track is a tense game of tug-of-war that can result in destroying enemy resources and gives out victory points at the end of the game. If the token goes all the way to one side, however, the player who pushed it all that way is immediately declared the winner by military conquest! The only way to stop an army is with an army of your own, so don’t lose track of where the track is at… Jack. The later the game goes, the more powerful the red cards are and thus the larger the shifts in the war track. Taking red cards is a great way to pressure your opponent into taking them as well, hurting their ability to gain tempo with their strategy. Strategies like SCIENCE!
As Rick Sanchez once said, “Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science!”. That’s exactly what you aim to do when you start hoarding the green science cards. While they do not provide many victory points on their own, the science cards have symbols upon them; depictions of ancient tools of discovery and technological advancement. Whenever you claim a green card that matches its symbol with another green card you own, you get to claim one of the five progress tokens next to the war track. These tokens provide you with immediate and ongoing effects that are well worth the investment. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Hold onto your bunsen burners, kids. Because once you collect 6 out of the 7 science symbols, you are declared the winner by SCIENTIFIC SUPERIORITY! Each symbol adheres to a specific age, and the 7th symbol (Law) is only available in the form of a progress token. If you see that token on the board at the start of the game, you know the bronze-age space race is on.
If neither of these conditions come to fruition by the time the last card is taken, the game ends and players tally up. You earn victory points for nearly everything. Your gold stores, points granted by buildings and wonders, progress tokens, the position of the war track, and even the round three guilds. Guilds being the purple cards that give big bonuses to very specific strategies. Whoever has the bigger number, is the winner. The box comes with a cool little notepad with pre-made tables you can tally up with, which is neat. No 7 Wonders-themed writing tool, though, so buyer beware: bring your own pen.
Duel is such a rewarding experience. You and your opponent lock horns and scan the table as if it were a chess board. You are trying to plan your win NOW, rather than LATER. Though the science and war strategies are fantastic, they are but the surface of much deeper games. My favourite strategy is to buy up all of the yellow cards that boost the income from selling cards, and let you nearly ignore resource costs. Once you have all the money, you become far more flexible. Or, you could manage to sweep up all of the resource cards in the early game, and bleed your opponent dry every time they try to build something. Those are the REAL strategies in Duel.
After quite a number of plays, I still enjoy coming back to this game. I most often play it with my brother, who gets scarily competitive at it (Not one to stop when he loses, that one). The design of Duel, both mechanically and graphically, is gorgeous. If you need to get a 2 player board game, but you don’t have the 600 bajillion dollars for a competitive Magic:the Gathering deck, I highly recommend 7 Wonders Duel. There’s even a ‘Pantheon’ expansion that adds the power of ancient gods to the game, adding a further element to the game in an elegant fashion.
Of course, now that I’ve seen how a drafting game can be adapted to make a 2 player match not only bearable, but FUN, let me just say this:
BLOOD RAGE: DUEL.
Do it. I have money.
I'm an avid lover of all things table top. I also have a growing collection of board games which inspire me to create my own. I put my loud and expressive personality to good use as a dungeon master for my friends, having run many campaigns through 4th and 5th edition D&D.
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