The Contests of Culture

7 Wonders Duel
by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala
published by Repos Production

"7 Wonders Duel" is a card-based, 2-player optimized version of the very popular "7 Wonders". In it, you are competing to build a more robust civilization than your opponent over the course of three “ages”. Each age is represented by a set of 20-23 “building” cards that each player takes turns selecting to gain coins, develop sciences, form guilds or attack militarily. You prevail over your opposing society by either scientific or military dominance which can occur at any point during the 3 ages, or via a civilian victory which occurs by having collected the most victory points at the end of the 3rd age. Pick a path to ascendancy, ride it to victory and dance on the smoldering ashes of the rival city vanquished by your hand!
How we came to play this game:
Mike: As we have discussed in previous reviews, our attempt to keep up with the torrent of board games that are of interest is essentially an exercise in futility. We have willingly mounted a treadmill with a dangling carrot attached, just out of reach, in a foolhardy bid to obtain the carrot. This mindset applies the pressure on when you enter a game store or website and see ANOTHER tent-pole title that all the other gamers have and you do not! For a couple of years now I have felt this exact pressure because "7 Wonders" is not a part of our library. We’ve had it in online carts, we have fondled it in brick and mortar shops and even had it stacked at check-out time and for whatever reason it STILL is not in our collection! If I'm perfectly honest here, I think it has always been because of a lack of enthusiasm on Susan’s part. Not like she seemed to hate the idea of the game, but she never seemed to exhibit the requisite excitement when it came time to pay. Finally having seen 7 Wonders Duel in a list of lauded 2 player games, (we are ALWAYS looking for 2 player games, because most of our friends are too intimidated to play with us. They are getting better about that, though. AND we're adding better, more game-minded friends to the mix!) I found a window to get the 7 Wonders off the shelf and into the library and during another binge picked it up with some others!

Susan: Sorry I didn't express my "requisite excitement" well enough Mike. Next time I'll do this:
Yeah see, THIS I can work with! 
This reminds us of:
Mike: I’m aware that there are many similarities to the original 7 Wonders. As I have not played it yet, I can’t say that it REMINDS me of it, but if you have maybe you can. Acquisition and manipulation of resources to build brings to mind Catan in its various forms, but not overly so. I can’t say that the game feels “unique” but it also cannot be derided as derivative.
Susan: Because the game was designed by Bruno Cathala, it reminds me a bit of “Five Tribes” in that there are so many different ways to rack up your civilian points.

Game art:
Mike: Majestic! The art on the “Wonders” cards specifically, is worthy of the wonders they represent! Sweeping images depicting considerable scope adorn each card. The same goes for the “building” cards that make up each age, but those cards are too small to get the full effect of the refinement. Still it’s great to see a title where such care has been taken to illustrate the story! Big points from me here!

Susan: It’s a really pretty game.  The designers definitely chose the small card side and thus minimized game footprint here, but it still works. And as Mike can tell you, every time we put it away, I rave about how it’s the best-designed game box ever.

Best part:
Mike: Many times in games where resource management is key, a player can get hung up waiting for an opportunity to attain that resource. 7 Wonders Duel has a cleverly designed market mechanic where all resources are available at any time, but the cost is affected by how much access your opponent has to the resource you want. It makes for some really interesting strategy nuances. I relish that. Any chance I get to block Susan’s desire to purchase or diminish her selling prowess is aces with me! I’m a regular Unkar Plutt!

Susan: I tend to like games where there’s a good balance of strategy and luck and with different sets of cards picked for each game play’s ages, plus a proportion of hidden cards in each age, this game does that for me. And you can win by doing so much SCIENCE!
1/2 ration! 
Worst part:
Mike: Every so often the buildings cards in the first age come out in a way that can all but prohibit one side from advancing the rest of the game. The first age is really where you acquire resources, and a clever opponent may be able to get in the way of your ability to get them. It means you have to adjust your strategy, but it can feel frustratingly defeatist in the moment.
Susan: Yes, for the reasons that Mike says, this game can quickly get out of balance and then it becomes fairly hopeless for one player. I’m about the best loser and uncompetitive person out there, but this is one game that has brought me to the point of “flipping the table.”

Artist's depiction. Not an actual case.

Mistakes we made:
Mike: Not many though I have exhibited a stubborn unwillingness to call the resources by the correct name! I call the stone resource “steel” and the glass resource “water” consistently. This is some sort of brain tic that I cannot shake much to Susan’s chagrin!

Susan: Oh my god, it drives me nuts.  It’s stone and glass. Stone and glass.  Repeat it after me, Mike.  Anyway, it’s a pretty easy title to dive into, but the symbols on some of the cards definitely take many references back to the rule book.
Nah fam, steel and water!

Play again?
Mike: I LOVE this game. It’s easy to travel with; it’s a more than satisfyingly rich experience to play, and it’s head to head for maximum shit-talking! All things bright and beautiful! YES!

Susan: Yeah, I’m usually down for a round of this.

It's on!
Building up nations
And drawing the lines between

Times played: 6 or 7? Game record: Either we need to get better at keeping these records or we gotta rethink this bit of the reviews! Full disclosure: Susan lobbied against this bit from the jump! I'm gonna say we're even 3 and 1/2 to 3 and 1/2!
Click play on the video below to learn how to play then for heaven's sake GO BUY IT!!