25 Nov 2013

First Time Playing: 7 Wonders

So, I have briefly heard of 7 Wonders, seen it pop up in various gaming videos, and noticed it on the shelf at my gaming group, it just never came up as a suggestion until now. I didn't feel it was all that well explained to me. And I have mostly avoided looking up further information on this game. Because not every game you are introduced to will be thoroughly explained, and since this column is all about that first time experience, and not specifically a review of the game itself, I think it's just as important to capture and express that confusion as it is to explain the actual game.

Each player are given a player board featuring one of the seven wonders, which has a default production unit for a specific type of goods. The board also has three spaces with requirement for goods that needs to be paid to lay down a card to score bonus points at the end (it didn't occur to me until later that those three spaces represented actually constructing said masterpiece - actually most of the game I ended up ignoring this bit, because I didn't really get their purpose). There are, of course, many other ways to score points as well.

The game is played through three ages, which is represented through decks of cards, representing buildings you may build. At the start of a new age, that specific deck is split into several smaller decks (one for each player). The players then choose one of the cards in their deck that they want to play, puts it face down on in front of them, and then pass their deck to the next player (the direction indicated by the arrow symbol on top of the deck). Once all players have chosen a card from their deck, and passed it to the next player, they reveal the card they have played. This continues until all players have two cards left to choose from, the card they don't choose of those two is then discarded.

Cards may require monetary payment, they may require certain types of goods. If the player produce these goods themselves, they may lay the card down at no added cost. If the player doesn't produce one or more of the goods required, they have to purchase the goods they lack from neighbouring players. Most buildings, however, will allow you to get another type of building for free, so there will be times where a player may ignore the product requirement of the card they are playing (so it pays off to keep a close eye on the cards you have already played).

In the first era the cards are either free to build, or they are cheap to build. Free cards are usually ones that produce certain types of goods, and will help a player later in the game, when they want to purchase other cards. In the next two eras cards become increasingly more expensive to purchase (but offer greater value at the same time), and in the third era there are no cards with production value.

There are cards that offer discounts when purchasing from another player, cards that score points according to how many you collect (both of the same type and how many different types), cards that earn you a specific amount of points, cards that score you point and/or money according to how many of a specific colour cards either you have or one or both of your neighbours. And finally there are cards that give you military strength.

At the end of each age, players will compare military strength with their neighbours. If your military strength is the same, nothing happens. If your military strength is greater than a neighbours you get a point token (1 for the first age, 3 for the second age and 5 for the third age). If your military strength is lesser than a neighbours you take a -1 point penalty token (regardless of which age you are in). After all three ages are played, points are scored and the player with the most points in total wins the game.

So, how newcomer friendly do I think this game is? Well, the game mechanics themselves are easy to understand. Choose a card, pass the deck, play the card you chose, rinse and repeat. So participating is one thing, developing a strategy for the game is a whole other thing (for most of the game I felt like I had absolutely no idea what I was doing). There are several things to pay attention to; what goods are you lacking, what goods do your neighbours lack? Should you go for the neighbour discount or try to be more self sufficient? Is it better to take point cards right away, or should you prioritize military strength, collections and so forth? When to build, and when to fill up a slot instead (which as previously mentioned, I ignored completely)? And I can almost guarantee you that you'll discover later on that you paid for a building that you could have gotten for free. This is another one of those games where I recommend learning through playing a practice round. I think even just playing the first age as a practice round to give new players the feel of the game, and then reshuffling the cards to start over would make a big difference in how new players experience the game.

Did I personally enjoy it? Well, to a degree. It was mostly fun (even with me not having a clue what I was doing most of the time), but I took some issue to how skewed the player boards bonuses were. While one player could earn 15 bonus points by filling up their three slots, another player could merely earn 10 (I'm still not sure what that middle slot on my board actually did). I will play this game again, but I doubt it'll ever make it into my collection.

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