Review: 7 Wonders—Civilization Building In 40 Minutes or Less
7 Wonders received tons of good press when it first came out and I approached it cautiously. I didn’t want to get burned as I have in times past. But, after giving it many, many plays, I can safely say that this game is an extremely entertaining jaunt that doesn’t outstay its welcome. If anything, it may be slightly too short.
I also wanted to give 7 Wonders a proper review because it was the top vote getter at the annual Meeple’s Choice awards. I think 7 Wonders is a perfect candidate for that honor. Fun to play, easy to learn, but with high replay value and a satisfying experience nearly every time.
Follow me past the cut for the full review.
The Basics. 7 Wonders is a mix between civilization building, card drafting, and simultaneous play. The players randomly select one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world to be their player board. During the game, they can try to build that wonder.
Each board has a starting resource at the top—something the civilization automatically produces each round. These resources can also be purchased from the players to your immediate left and right and are used to play the cards representing the pursuits of your culture.
The game takes place over three ages and in each age the players are dealt seven cards. Then, the players select one of those seven and play it down into their board. They might play new resources, which allow them to build better items later on, pursue the sciences, build up a marketplace, create infrastructure, or forge a fearsome military.
But, once that card is played, the remaining six cards are passed to the next player. In this way, you’re never sure exactly what will be coming your way and what you may not have access to. Also, it means you’ll have to consider what you’re passing down the line to your opponents.
Because each card is played simultaneously, and the most important considerations are the cards played by the players on your immediate left and right, the game speeds along. Even with a brand new group with rules explanation, I’ve never had a game last longer than 45 minutes.
The Feel. The feel of 7 Wonders is perhaps where it shines the most. Though the game is relatively brief, you get the distinct sense that you are playing a full-fledged civilization game. You have to balance your resource gathering versus your cultural achievements. Sometimes military might is an extremely viable way to get points—sometimes it is abandoned in favor of other pursuits.
And the game moves along very quickly. So quickly that even my parents were able to play this game in 40 minutes. In fact, after the final age, I usually feel a little let down. Not because the game’s conclusion is anticlimactic, but because I’m disappointed its over already. Like when my wife is giving me a backrub and then stops. Always too soon.
Some have criticized 7 Wonders for a lack of interaction. There are no cards that let you directly attack another player, steal from them, or otherwise bring them to ruin. In between ages, you attack—but only the player to your immediate left and right. And, while you can buy goods from players, you again can buy them only from the opponents to your immediate left and right. With so little interaction, how can 7 Wonders still be great?
7 Wonders has tremendous metagame and behind-the-scenes considerations. While it lacks in your face gameplay, every time I get my new set of cards passed to me, I try to decide what is going to help the player I’m passing to—and then I decide whether or not I want to take that from him or her.
In some games, I’ll also position myself to be the resource baron. Once, I sat next to a player that needed stone to build his wonder. Lots of stone. And his wonder didn’t produce any. With that in mind, my first card down was a resource card that gave me two stone. I purchased it with the idea that the player to my right would purchase his stone from me and that I would be awash in coin.
Similarly, I will sometimes forgo a resource I need if one of my opponents produces it. Paying the coin from time to time may be a good trade for getting a better card down. And these effects, if all players take them into consideration, dramatically ripple down throughout the game.
Components: 4 of 5. 7 Wonders has quality pieces. The cards are on good stock and have a nice gloss. And, thankfully, are oversized. This helps the nearby players to easily view your civilization and keep the game rolling. The rulebook is also laid out well and conveys the information clearly.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. As a card game, there will always be some luck. But, because your opponents essentially determine what cards you will receive, you have to make the best with what you get. And, similarly, your own ability to deny the player to your side the cards he or she needs is essential.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. Upon hearing initial reports about 7 Wonders, my biggest area of skepticism was that it went up to 7 players, but still played in 45 minutes. But it does. It really does. 7 Wonders brilliantly makes use of card drafting and simultaneous action—as well as limiting direct confrontations—to create a fantastic experience for even large (for board games) groups. This has become one of my go-to games for larger groups.
Replayability: 4 of 5. Every play has been different. Sometimes I try to corner the science market, sometimes I go big military. And there are seven wonders to choose from. Even when playing the same wonder, my plays can take very different paths. Sometimes I start producing cloth and I decide I’m going to try a strong science route. But then, after Age I, I find that I didn’t do nearly as well as I was hoping and it was time to switch horses mid stream. 7 Wonders gives you that ability and, at times, requires it.
Spite: 1.5 of 5. 7 Wonders has what I will call “hidden” spite. I’ve discarded or placed cards under my wonder just to ensure that my opponent won’t get them. I’ve played a big military card in the last round (or passed one) to make sure I get the biggest military and get the points. But it is all done without rubbing it in someone’s face. There’s no public beating where I steal their cards. So, while there are spiteful considerations, they aren’t readily apparent. Even players with low spite tolerance should be able to enjoy 7 Wonders, while those that like the spitey-ness can get their kicks.
Overall: 5 of 5. 7 Wonders is FUN. Logistically, it caters to small and large groups but doesn’t have a long play time. It’s simple to learn, but immensely replayable. And, you get that feeling of accomplishment that attends any good civilization game. It works well in crowds and with families. I’ve enjoyed every play of 7 Wonders and it is very deserving of the Meeple’s Choice Award.