Sunday, January 23, 2011


I call 7 Wonders “Draft Through the Bronze Ages” in reference to a game called Roll Through the Ages, which in turn references a game called Through the Ages. All three are descended in theme from Civilization, the classic Avalon Hill boardgame which takes forever to play but is very satisfying if you have the time and the right players for it. In these games each player is a civilization (or ‘civ’) and the object is to win by having the “best” civ (however that is defined) by the end of the game.

In Through the Ages this quest takes you right up to modern times. In Roll Through the Ages and 7 Wonders the game ends at some undefined point near the end of the Bronze Age, and therefore these last two are much shorter (and lighter) games. Roll Through the Ages uses dice in a way like Yahtzee; 7 Wonders uses cards and a drafting mechanic which will be very familiar to Magic: The Gathering players.

7 Wonders is currently a very ‘hot’ game. Copies are very hard to come by. Therefore it is still too early to tell if the game will become a classic or not. I think it will—for reasons you will read below. But first, I want to talk about The Cult of The New.

The Cult of the New is about whichever game is the ‘hot’ new game of the moment. In the old days we got excited about new games the ‘right’ way—through ads on TV (“You got Trouble, Wait! Don't Run!, This kind of Trouble is lots of fun! Pop-o-Matic Trouble!”) or maybe pictures in the Eaton’s Catalog. Later on, in the military sim world, there were ‘zines as well as The General and Strategy & Tactics, house organs of the major companies, who would hype their upcoming games with colourful ads, teaser articles, and the precursors of today’s designer blogs.

Today, buzz about new games will often start at a convention, in blogs, playtesting groups, postings on BoardGameGeek, or simply people at their Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS).

For me, BGG is how I find out which games are getting buzz because I can see which game forums are getting a lot of posts. I actually turned off the ‘new/Random Images’ feature on my BGG homepage because I would get sucked in by cool-looking photos of games which led to be getting excited about games I had no right to be excited about.

It’s so easy to catch a whiff of whichever game on the horizon is getting a lot of word-of-mouth, and people like me start to hunger for the game even though they already have lots of other games, some of which haven’t even been played, let alone mastered.

Off the top of my head, in no particular order, (your list may be completely at odds with mine) I can name a dozen games in the last while which generated a lot of fan interest before being widely available:

Reasons for excitement may have had to do with theme (Middle Earth Quest, Dungeon Lords, Galactic Emperor, Civ 2010), originality of gameplay (Agricola, Stronghold, Dominion), designer reputation (Le Havre, Civ 2010—again), the re-release of a hard-to-obtain classic (Space Hulk, Titan), or some combination or x-factor.

I will now sort this list into three (again, totally arbitrary) groups:

Games I Didn’t Care Much About Despite the Buzz
  • Titan (never played the original and never hungered to)
  • Le Havre (loved Agricola, and for the record I think Le Havre is the better game, but I didn’t see the need to own something so similar)

Games I Hungered After, Ran Out, Bought, and Have Hardly Played Since (or Traded/Sold)
  • Agricola—love the game, love the theme, I upgraded all my components as soon as I could (this is before the Goodies expansion came out) but somehow I just don’t play it as much as I thought I would
  • Stronghold—excellent game, but the rules are a mess and this plus its originality made it laborious to teach
  • Galactic Emperor—good game but slightly sub-par components (in the first edition, anyway)
  • Middle Earth Quest— I think it is an excellent game but can’t find anyone who wants to play it as it has a reputation of being too long and having endgame problems
  • Dungeon Lords—another excellent game which literally takes two hours two teach and requires constant vigilance because one mistake will cost you the game
  • Duel in the Dark—fantastic idea with wonderful components, but quite a few rules issues and is only two-player
  • Space Hulk—Amazing theme, components, and gameplay, but again usually only for two players, plus I don’t have the time or ability to paint the minis to give the game maximum ‘awesome!’ effect
  • Endeavor—really wanted to like this one, it very elegant and thoughtful design but in the end it’s too abstract for me given the theme is supposed to be 17th/18th century exploration and conquest
  • Tomb—another one I really wanted to like, but oh my goodness the game needed a ton more playtesting to iron out rules and card issues

 This Leaves the Ones That I Actually Do Play Often
  • Dominion—plus expansions. I have played over 1500 games of this, mainly online at BSW. Frankly, however, since Alchemy came out I feel like it’s jumped the shark, plus expansions are coming out too quickly for me to assimilate all the new cards.
  • Race for the Galaxy—plus expansions. This is one game I’d take to a desert island, because you can even play it solitaire. I know some people who dislike it for one reason or another, but for me it does what it sets out to do and does it so well. Plus the art on the cards is generally gorgeous.
  • Civ 2010—Kevin Wilson (the designer of Warcraft: The Board Game and Descent) got so much right in this design, I feel like the ‘holy grail’ of a boardgame version of the computer game playable in one evening has been achieved.
So for me, out of a dozen-odd “must have” games, only three have stood the test of time—and in some cases it hasn’t been that much time!

So where does that leave 7 Wonders?

(Yes, it’s about time I got back there.) 

One great thing about 7 Wonders is that it is fast no matter how many players are playing. You can play with 2 up to 7 players and it will take about half an hour no matter what. This is because of the drafting and simultaneous play of the cards.

The corollary of this is that people looking for a more immersive ‘Civ’ experience should not play 7 Wonders; instead, they should look to Through the Ages, Civ 2010, or for that matter the original Civilization.

The next thing I love about the game is that every turn involves making an Interesting Decision—namely, which card to play on your own civ. The game cleverly forces you to pay attention to what others are doing BUT, to keep complexity down, restricts this (for most purposes) only to the players on your immediate left and right. Obviously with 2 or 3 players that means everyone in the game, but with 4, 5, 6, or 7 it lightens your mental load. That being said, you should also keep an eye out for what other players are doing because, after all, almost every card you pass is going to be used by someone down the line.
Some of the cards from 7 Wonders

Lastly, the card art and design hits the sweet spot between being visually attractive while also making the game easy to play. Like Race For the Galaxy, there is an icon ‘vocabulary’ you must learn, but it is much less extensive than RftG so the learning curve is much less steep.

Finally, although there are no rules for it, it is quite easy to play the game solitaire—or at least, I have devised rules for doing so—and you can find a link for a PDF of version 1.0 of this variant here. I hope to tweak it a bit. 



  1. These games attempt to capture the feel of Sid Meier's computer game Civilization. The original Avalon Hill game has nothing like the same feel.

  2. You're right, Steve; of course, AH's Civilization came out roughly eight years before Civ 1 appeared, so that's really not a surprise. The original Civ boardgame was a about growing your civ, occupying territory, and trading, whereas Civilization the computer game incorporated technology, a slightly more complex combat mechanism, randomly-generated world maps which were unknown until discovered, and most of all the 'buildings' concept which allowed for individually-designed cities.