Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's Really a Wonder!

I recently was introduced to an innovative game called "7 Wonders." Apparently, the U.S. incarnation of this game is published by "Asmodee." I found this quick game to be fun and pleasureable, though not necessarly addictive. In fact, our gaming group enjoys a few rounds of it, but it isn't one of those games folks can play all night long. The really cool thing is that every game is different.

Here's how it works. Every Game begins with the selection of a Wonder. This can be done by choice or randomized. Our group has been doing it randomly. Each wonder has its own board indicating the beggining resources that position generates and the costs and rewards for building each of the wonder, whether it is the Colossus of Rhodes or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Then each player is given three gold and seven cards. Now the fun begins.

The player will select a card from his hand and then pass his hand to the left. (During the second round the hands are passed to the right, and then back to the left again for the third round). All players will use their chosen card at the same time and then repeat, until six cards have been chosen and played. (The 7th card is discarded) There are a number of types of cards. First, there are cards that produce resources such as wood, brick, stone, ore, or cloth. A player needs to be able to generate resources in order to pay the costs for other cards. Most resource cards can be put into play for free, but some of the better ones cost a gold token. There are grey resources (used more for later game purposes) and brown resources (that are more basic).

Then there are yellow "trade" cards which allow players to use resources generated by players to the left or the right (or sometimes both) at a discount. A player can always "trade" for a resource a neighboring player (immediate left or right) generates by paying that neighbor 2 gold, but the trade cards allow such a purchase to be made cheaper.

Then there are green cards representing technological advancement. These cards can combine in the end game to multiply victory points.

The red military cards provide military strength. At the end of each age, military victory points are awarded in increasing numbers, based on a player's military strength compared to his immediate neighbors. For example, Steve is sitting between Scott and Marty. At the end of the age Steve has 1 military point while Scott and Marty both have 2. Steve will receive two -2 military victory points from each of his neighbors who are beating him. Scott and Marty receive victory points for beating his military strength. In the first age, such points are 1's, in the second age, such points are worth 3, and in the final age, they are worth 5 victory points each. While Scott may be beating Steve with 2, Arash is sitting on the other side of Scott with level three military. Scott reeceives a -1 token because Arash was beating him.

The blue cards represent straight victory points provided by the artistic achievements of a culture. Cards that represent things like temples and theaters with victory points are put into play.

The purple cards come in later, offering guilds that provide victory points based on a number of things. They may offer a bonus based on the number of blue cards a player has in play. One of them offers a bonus based on the number of military cards a player's immediate neighbor has in play. Another offers bonus points based on the number of trade cards. In other words, depending on the symbols on the card the player will receive a bonus based on either his own tableu or that of his immediate neighbors.

Now that you have a basic summary of the cards, let me tell you how they are used. A player may put a card into play by generating or trading for resources, if there is a cost. (Remember, some resources come into play for free). So if a card costs one ore and one brick to put into play and I manufacture only ore, I could purchase brick from an immediate neighbor who generates brick by paying that neighbor 2 gold. Some cards are free if you have another companion card. These cards are clearly marked. A player can "burn" a card by simply discarding it and by doing so earn three gold tokens. Finally, a player can "burn" a card by using it to build a stage of his wonder, placing it face down on his board and paying the required resources either by generating them or buying them.

In the above image, you can see the player's setup of the Pyramids of Giza. At the bottom of the board you can see by the face down card tucked, he has completed the first stage of the pyramids which cost him a card play and two stone. In the upper left corner of his board his setup BEGAN the game making stone and later on he added a resource card which generated the other stone he needed in order to complete his wonder. He is also generating wood and brick. He has one military strength (indicated by the red military card) and recieved a -1 token from both left and right players, meaning that each of them had at least 2 military strenght. He has no green cards in play and one blue card, which will be worth 3 victory points at the end of the game.

Why is this fun? Because as a player looks through his hand he has to look at what cards benefit the player he is going to pass the hand to as well as what he can afford to put into play. So there are times a player passes a card (for example a military card) that helps his opponent. There are also times when a player will burn a card to collect 3 gold (which=1 victory point if they still have it at the end of the game) just to prevent the next player from getting it into play.

The game is easily played in thirty minutes and because of the mix of where a player sits, the cards, the randomized choice of wonders (which have an A or B side that also are different and can be played by randomization or choice, depending on the group) there is lots of variety in the game. Players get to choose over and over what they are going to do to maximize points in all areas. No player can win simply based on scoring well in one area, but must be able to play a balanced game.

This isn't a game I would spend money to add to my collection. However, we have to have some games that are quick and easy in our collections. This is one I would definitely sit down and play once or twice as a filler and feel like I enjoyed it.

So how could this game be better?

We have been tempted to randomize the passing of the cards every time by rolling a die. Even we pass to the right, odd, we pass to the left. This offers extra randomization and we have not tried this yet and it may lead to chaos when we do.

Perhaps an extra reward for military strength could be offered at the end of the game, allowing the player with the most military victory points the opportunity to destroy one card from the first age that belongs to a neighborn. Such a reward would exclude the big bonus victory guild cards from the third Age, but also cut a point or two off of another player's score. It would also increase the importance of military might in the game, which may be repulsive to some players.

Both of these suggestions are untried variants thus far, I guess if we ever get around to trying them I'll tell you how they work. In the meantime, I'm waiting for a promo based on King Kong-- after all, I remember from the film that he was the 8th Wonder of the World. :-)