Board Game Review: 7 Wonders Duel – the Superior Two Player Experience

One of the charms of 7 Wonders is that it creates a civilization experience for up to seven players in a short amount of time. 7 Wonders: Duel, however, takes the 7 Wonders idea and distills it down for two players. But, how does that work with card drafting being the central element of the original? Actually, it works amazingly well.

The Basics. Duel begins with a draft of the wonders. There are twelve total and eight will be used in any given game with each player taking a total of four. But they can’t all be built. The name of the game is 7 Wonders, not eight. So when the seventh wonder is built, the eighth is discarded from the game.

Rather than drafting a hand back and forth, each age has a card structure. Age I, for example, is dealt out in a pyramid shape with alternating rows face up or down. On their turn, a player can take any card that is fully exposed. As they take new cards, they will expose additional cards which they or their opponents can take.

The 12 Wonders of 7 Wonders

As in the original, a card can be used in one of three ways. You can either build it for the appropriate cost, discard it for coins, or use it to build a wonder. Discarding for coins is interesting in that you get two coins plus one for every yellow building you construct. So those commercial buildings now provide an ongoing economic enhancement to the game.

If you don’t have the right resources, you can always buy more from the bank. But the cost is variable. It’s two coins plus one for every symbol of that type that your opponent produces. So if your opponent is sitting on two bricks, it’ll cost you four coins per brick.

At the end of three ages, the most points wins – unless the game ends early. The game can end in an immediate victory if a player achieves military or scientific dominance. For military, there is a side board with a tug-of-war track. Each military symbol I acquire pushes the marker toward my opponent. Each symbol he acquires pushes it back. If it gets all the way to the capital city of one player, that player immediately loses. For science, there are six science symbols represented on the green cards. Get all six and you immediately win.

Science victory! I’m so much smarter than you!

The Feel. Simply delightful. I was amazed at how solidly the ideas of 7 Wonders transferred to this two player title. And that’s especially true given that the original already had a variant for playing with two. And that variant was not great. But Duel takes some of the same ideas and builds an awesome two player experience from the ground up.

One of the best aspects of Duel is how it broadens the denial strategy present in the original. In 7 Wonders, you would sometimes take a card just to deny it from an opponent – especially when building a wonder or discarding for coins. In the zero-sum two player game, that element is greatly enhanced.

Push the marker far enough, and you can disrupt your opponent’s economy

It is quite common to take cards that would be helpful for your opponent. After all, if you can deprive your opponent of points, perhaps forcing them to get 2 instead of 5, then that’s better than getting two points for yourself. Plus, the way the cards are laid out, you can start to plan how to take your cards. You want to grab them in such a way that your opponent reveals the cards you want to take.

And that’s a key part of the experience. The draft is brilliantly executed in Duel. Instead of passing the same hand of cards back and forth, or relying on a dummy player, the game lays them all out in an array for players to tactically draft from. And the draft is exciting because it consistently delivers difficult player choices.

Some wonders let you take two turns in a row

The immediate victories also keep players on their toes. They tend to be infrequent because experienced players know how to manage them. But if you are too focused elsewhere, an opponent might be able to maneuver you into a corner. Even if he can’t force you to reveal the card that makes him win, he can force you to take it, even though it isn’t the optimal move for you, and give him first dibs on the other good cards.

With two players, Duel is superior to its predecessor in every way. The resource cards are interactive since they increase the price for the opponent. Even the yellow cards now have use beyond simply their ability. It requires you to constantly reassess both your and your opponent’s standing. And think a few turns ahead to avoid giving your opponent an advantageous draft. It’s a great mix of tactical and strategic play.

The benefits of researching science

Components: 3.5 of 5. The cards are well done and the artwork is in the same serviceable style as 7 Wonders. Maybe I’m a euro snob, but I would have appreciated a wooden token for the military marker rather than the cheapy plastic one included. Also, the small cards save table space, but larger cards would have been nice. Maybe not as big as the original, but standard size. Still, nothing feels flimsy and I’m sure the game will last many plays.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. The only real luck elements are the draft of wonders at the start of the game and the card locations in each age. But far from being game determinant, they provide the canvas on which players can paint their individual strategy. Because of the way the drafting works, careful play might force your opponent to take certain cards, or reveal others.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. I love everything about Duel’s ruleset. It’s fantastic that resources not only make things easier for you to build, but increase the cost for opponents. Yellow cards now have a reason to exist beyond one-time bonuses. Even the science cards are great. If you happen to double up on a symbol – which brings you no closer to a scientific victory – you get a progress token which provides an ongoing benefit or end-game points. The result is an engaging tug-of-war on every front.

Replayability: 4.5 of 5. Duel has tremendous replay value. The randomized nature of the card pyramids, and the random removal of three cards each age, ensures that different opportunities will be available each turn. Individual games rarely feel samey. In fact, the variety of experiences within the system keeps me coming back for more.

Spite: NA of 5. As a two player game, spite isn’t really applicable. Still, direct attacks are possible, but relatively muted. It’s more about the indirect tactics of maneuvering your opponent to reveal key cards.

Guilds give points based on the bigger civilization, so they always are contested

Overall: 5 of 5. Duel is utterly fabulous. For two players, it’s an improvement over its predecessor in every way. It accomplishes the same feeling of drafting cards while being more strategic and more interesting along the way. Plus, the whole game is playable in about thirty minutes or so. Duel is an excellent title for gamers and couples and its hard to recommend more highly.

There are 2 comments.

  1. Jack said on April 22, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. The timing aspect of taking/revealing cards in the pyramid is a subtle but crucial part of the game that catapults this title from great to phenomenal. Several of the wonders you can take have the option for a double turn, meaning that as soon as the wonder gets built you can take another turn immediately. This play can be instrumental in either digging your way down to a card you need or limiting an opponent’s choice of cards to undercut their progress. This tops my list of two-player games and will most likely remain there for some time.

  2. Mihnea said on April 26, 2016 at 1:41 am

    It`s also great for gamer couples too! I agree with you in all respects, I`m also a bit dissapointed about the small cards but this is a brilliant, brilliant game. One of the best games I`ve played and definitely the best two-player game after Android: Netrunner but you can`t compare them really…
    Oh and I was not a big fan of the original 7 Wonders, I just find it okay and would play it if people want that. But this feels much more strategic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *