7 Wonders Review: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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7 Wonders is one of the most beloved board games of all time, and with good reason. While it may not have rocked the world the way that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes did back in their day, it certainly made a strong impression on the board gaming community when it was first released back in 2010. Over a decade and numerous prestigious awards later, it’s considered a board game classic. Check out my 7 Wonders review below to learn why.

Rating:8.5
Playing time:30 minutes
Number of players:3 to 7
Age:10+
Complexity:Medium-Light
Genre:Family, strategy
Release date:2010 (2020 for the 2nd edition reviewed here)
Publisher:Repos Production

Pros

  • Engaging gameplay
  • Scales incredibly well from two to seven players
  • Beautiful art

Cons

  • Lots of card symbols to learn, so the first game may take a while
  • Fairly limited interaction with the other players

7 Wonders: Game Overview

Featuring a unique mix of card drafting and engine-building mechanics, 7 Wonders is an easy game to pick up but a challenging one to master. You certainly don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy it, but if you’ve ever spent sleepless nights with Sid Meier’s Civilization or annoyed your friends with “fun historical trivia,” this one will be right up your alley.

7 Wonders Board Game Box

7 Wonders gameplay primarily relies on a card drafting game played by up to seven players over the course of three rounds. Before starting, each player picks an ancient city, with the main differences between them being the starting resources they automatically produce each round and the unique wonder the players will be trying to build by the end of the game. 

Interestingly enough, the ultimate goal is not necessarily to finish your wonder but simply to obtain more victory points than the other players. You do that by building various types of buildings or through alternative methods such as earning science or warfare points (more on that later). That said, you’ll certainly want to work on your wonder,  as each of the construction stages will give you substantial bonuses unique to each city.

Game Experience

The beautiful thing about 7 Wonders is that it’s a deceptively simple strategy game, but one with excellent replay value and numerous more complex mechanics you can choose to engage with or not. Certain cities favor aggressive approaches focusing on the red military cards, while others push you more towards the game’s unique science mechanics, but you’ll never feel locked into a specific type of playstyle.

Statue of Zeus wonder card

This is further expanded on with each city having two different wonder boards you can choose from and the fact that some cards only become part of the game with a certain number of players. This means that you’re not likely to see everything the game has to offer until you’ve played it a bunch of times, and small three-player games will feel very different from playing against six other people.

There’s also the element of constantly looking at what your neighbors are doing. Not only will you be passing potentially fantastic cards to them, which may help them get ahead, but you also have to consider whether it’s worth getting into the end-of-the-round conflicts with them and plan if and how you’ll use their resource production for your own ends during the late game.

Another plus here that every 7 Wonders game review will tell you is the game’s snappy pace. Yes, it slows down in the final phase when the points have to be calculated, and yes, there’s a learning curve, so new players may take a while to get used to all of the mechanics. Once you’re past all that, though, a typical match will be over in around half an hour, regardless of the number of players at the table. Speaking of playing the game, let’s see how it all works in practice and what the main game mechanics are.

How To Play 7 Wonders

The game starts with each player picking an ancient wonder that they will be building up as the game progresses. Each comes with a unique two-sided wonder that you can build up in two, three, or four stages, with each stage giving rewards, such as resources, victory points, or unique perks. 

The default mode is the “day side” of the board, but there is also a more advanced “night side” with different bonuses and requirements. You’re free to pick which one you’d like to work toward in your game, though the day side is typically recommended for newer players. Speaking of players, each one starts with three gold coins, which will be the currency later used for purchasing various in-game resources and determining the player’s total points at the end of the game.

As mentioned, the entire game is played across three rounds, each with its own set of cards, starting with the weakest bronze ones and going all the way up to the strongest gold cards. 

Every one of those cards represents various color-coded buildings you can choose to build, with some giving you resource generation, others military might, while some play into the unique science mechanic in the game or simply give you points at the end of the game.

7 Wonders game

It’s a system very similar to PC strategy games like Age of Empires or Civilization, with each age representing a technological evolution for your city and giving you access to stronger building cards, provided you can afford them.

When playing 7 Wonders, the game starts in the “Bronze Age,” (ages are simply marked I to III, but the first one has a bronze card backside, so bear with me here). Each player (anywhere from three to seven ideally) is handed seven cards, picking one, and passing the rest along until every player has used five cards. At this point, everyone will have to choose one of the remaining two cards in their hand and discard the other one, which will end up unused in that round. 

At this point, the age will finish with a war minigame, in which each player will check the amount of red or military cards with their immediate neighbors. Whoever has the most will win one victory point for each neighbor they are better than in the first round, three in the second, and a massive five in the final gold card round. 

Conversely, you’ll lose a point for every loss to your neighbors, though luckily, this amount doesn’t increase between rounds. Even so, if you’re looking for a complete pacifist run in your game, play hoping that no other player will achieve absolute military supremacy, or that’s a lot of points you’ve handed them freely.

Each new age will bring better and more expensive buildings, providing multiple strategy opportunities while raising the stakes regarding winning and losing the armed conflicts at the end of each round. Once the final battle in the gold card stage has been played out, the score for each player will be tallied, and the one with the most victory points will take the win. If there’s a tie, it can be broken with spare gold coins, so these serve a purpose even if they’re left unspent.

7 Wonders - The Pyramids wonder card

After the card drafting and warfare stages are complete across all three ages, it’s time to determine the final score. The tallying at the end of the match is the slowest part of the game, as numerous factors will contribute to your overall score. These include straight points you get from civilian buildings, a complex calculation from the scientific, commercial, and guild cards, and, of course, the number of victories and losses from warfare + the state of your city’s wonder.

As with the best card drafting games on the market, 7 Wonders board game rules offer a lot more flexibility to players when it comes to how you play the cards than it may appear at first. As mentioned, each card in the game is a building you can potentially add to your city, but actually adding it to your fledgling ancient world metropolis is only one of three options you get every time the cards are passed around during a round. 

The other two options are equally valid – if the cards have nothing you can afford or want, you can either sell one for three gold coins and pass the remaining ones to the other players. Alternatively, you can place it face-down in one of the slots under our wonder board, thus completing a stage in the building process of the wonder. 

The latter option is particularly devious, as anything you build or sell will have to be shown to the other players, but cards used to fuel the production of your wonder are placed face-down, so no one but you knows what the card was. This is great in those scenarios when you run into some excellent cards you cannot afford but don’t want to give other players, either.

It’s worth mentioning that you don’t actually spend the resources to build the buildings – you simply have to have enough of the required resources in production that round, which is why a sound strategy involves buying resource-creating buildings during the starting age. 

7 Wonders game board

If you can’t afford a building, there’s another option: you can give two gold coins for each required resource to the players on your left or right, providing their cities make them. Note that this doesn’t affect their production capacity (i.e., if they make two stones a round, they still will, even after outsourcing some to you), and they cannot choose to refuse your offer. That said, the gold certainly helps their economy, so you don’t want to do it too often if you can help it.

Luckily, 7 Wonders is a board game that loves giving players options. As such, certain buildings have what you could consider building chains, allowing you to build later buildings in the same chain for free, provided the base building already exists in your city. This is clearly denoted with a symbol on the relevant cards.

In addition to the military cards and those that simply earn victory points at the end of the game, there are numerous other card types and mechanics, so let’s briefly go over them in a separate section.

Card Types & Mechanics

As mentioned earlier in this 7 Wonders board game review, the cards represent the various types of buildings you can build in your city. There are seven main types, not to be confused with the bronze, silver, and gold reverse sides, denoting which age the card belongs to.

Each card has its resource cost marked along the left side. If there’s a symbol to the right of the cost, that means an earlier building of the same type will allow you to build it for free, which is an excellent strategy for saving resources on the very costly buildings in the later rounds. Finally, the card’s top portion clearly tells you what the card offers when in your possession. This can be anything from a specific type of scientific resource to the number of victory points in the case of the blue civilian buildings. Speaking of buildings, let’s look at each type briefly.

7 Wonders cards

Brown Cards

These cards feature your basic raw-material-generating buildings and are the cornerstone of your resource economy. They produce essential resources such as stone and wood and should be some of the first structures you build, regardless of your chosen city.

Grey Cards

Almost as important as the brown cards, at least if you want to build the more powerful buildings later in the game. Use the grey cards to produce luxury manufactured goods such as silk.

Blue Cards

These  “civilian” dwellings are some of the simplest yet most rewarding cards you can play. They each give you victory points at the end of the game, and although later versions cost a bundle, they are well worth it, as they bring a ton of victory points.

Red Cards

As mentioned earlier, these cards only play into the game through the warfare mechanic at the end of each round. Still, you ignore them at your own peril, as not only will the weakest player miss out on victory points in the warfare rounds, but they also get negative points when their neighbors defeat them by having more red cards in the given round. Note that if there’s a tie, players won’t receive positive or negative points during that round.

Green Cards

7 Wonders has game rules specifically for this type of building, and they are undoubtedly the most complex building type in the game. In short, dedicating yourself to the pursuit of knowledge likely means that you’ll mostly ignore the other cards, as these card types benefit you most by focusing on them heavily.

There are three main types, denoted by a compass, a cog, and an engraved tablet, with each age featuring better buildings but also more of a specific building type. You are rewarded seven points for each set of icons you have (compass, cog, and engraved tablet), but you also get squared points for each card of the same type you possess. For example, two tablets will give you four points, but four will provide a massive sixteen victory points, which is nothing to scoff at. 

Yellow Cards

Another complex building type, yellow cards will feature commerce buildings that can do anything from earning coins and producing resources to changing how commerce works or even earning victory points.

7 Wonders yellow and brown cards

Purple Cards

As some of the most powerful cards in the game, these “guild” cards only start showing up later in the game and score points according to very specific criteria.

7 Wonders Expansions and Spinoffs

As expected from a popular and fun game like 7 Wonders, there are several expansions you can get to enhance your gaming experience and two fully-fledged spinoffs that are standalone games. I’ll go over each of them briefly, with thoughts on whether or not they’re worth adding to the base game.

7 Wonders Armada

As the name implies, this expansion adds ships to the mix. These can be used to explore new islands for resources or help you get coins or victory points in other ways, such as by boosting your military strength. There are color-coded explorer, merchant, civilian, and military vessels, each of which somewhat mirrors the base game’s building types in function. While not an essential expansion, it’s definitely a very fun one, and I feel like it builds on the main game’s mechanics and strengths in all the right ways.

7 Wonders Leaders

To be honest, this one sounds like it should have been in the base game. It adds 49 new Leader cards divided into two decks (Standard and Expert). Four are given to each player at the start of the game and then passed along to others in the same way as they’ll later pass on unwanted building cards at each age.

These cards can be used to help build your wonder or traded for three gold pieces each, though your main objective should be to set up the most effective combo for late-game plays. The Leaders expansion also adds a new wonder board, the Roman Coliseum, and four additional guild cards.

7 Wonders Cities

As almost any review of 7 Wonders will tell you, the game has pretty good replayability value. If that’s enough for you, though, the Cities expansion adds nine new city cards, which add new ways to mess with other players or earn points without ruining your neighbor’s day. There are also two more wonders, new team play rules, three more guild cards, and six more leader cards. All in all, this is a great expansion and one that will undoubtedly keep the base game fresh for much longer.

7 Wonders Architects

While the game certainly received its share of interesting expansions, there are also two completely new spinoffs, which play very differently from the original game. Architects is essentially a more fast-paced and lightweight take on 7 Wonders. It replaces the complex card drafting process with a more streamlined one in which players start each turn by picking the top card from one of three decks: the one on your left (related to your wonder), the one to your right (the right side opponent’s wonder), or the one located in the center of the table (associated with no one).

7 Wonders Duel

7 Wonders Duel is an entirely different game from the original and a far more cut-throat one at that. As it’s played between two players only, much of the strategy revolves around foiling your opponent’s plans. You can even finish the game early if you play your cards right due to slightly different victory conditions.

Final Words

Whether you’re a board game veteran or someone new to the hobby, a dedicated history buff, or someone who couldn’t name more than two wonders of the ancient world, this is one game you’re almost certain to enjoy. Fans of engine builders and those of card drafting games alike agree on one thing: 7 Wonders is a great game and a timeless classic. 

Yes, there are some rough edges here and there, and yes, 7 Wonders perhaps has fewer player interactions than similar games in the genre, but it’s still a game that spawned numerous copycats, expansions, and spinoffs for a simple reason: it’s a damn good game with solid and well-balanced mechanics. 

Even over a decade after its initial release, 7 Wonders is still a strong candidate for my favorite board game of all time, and that should tell you all you need to know, really.

FAQ

  1. Is 7 Wonders a good game?

    7 Wonders is a great game by almost anyone’s standards, as its popularity over the years has consistently shown. It’s a card game in which you collect and produce resources, build fantastic structures, trade, and go to war with other players, all while trying to build the world’s most pimped-out ancient super-building. What’s not to like, really?

  2. Is 7 Wonders easy to learn?

    Yes, but not necessarily by reading its rulebook for the first time. After learning all of the important symbols and mechanics from playing a game or two, though, it becomes a quick game that even casual board game players can enjoy while playing at a fairly competitive level.

  3. Is 7 Wonders a 2-player game?

    No. As I mentioned in the 7 Wonders review above, the game’s ideal player count is three to seven players. The first edition of the game eventually got a special two-player mode, but this was canned with the 2nd edition. If you’re after a one-on-one duel, you can check out the game’s spinoff, 7 Wonders Duel, instead.