Finding board games that are great for two players is more difficult that you’d think. Two player games tend to have very simple gameplay, as trading, cooperating and complex card tactics are difficult to build into a game for just two. This is especially pronounced in games that are two players or more. They either don’t have special rules for two player gameplay, and then you’re sure for a duller game than a four player game, or they create complex “dummy” players or partial decks that end up never really simulating a multiplayer game. The game ends up not being as fun.
“7 Wonders“, a wonderful strategy board game, has a two player ruleset that makes use of dummy players. It doesn’t work great. The trading element is huge in this game and just doesn’t work with two players, and the game becomes much less complex when you only have another player’s strategy to worry about. You end up spending most of your time thwarting the other player, or just trying to barrel your way into as many easy points as possible. Red and green cards take the biggest hit out of this kind of gameplay. That’s a shame, because the game is gorgeous, very clever, and very fun and interesting to play, especially if you enjoy strategy games.
So I was very happy to find out that Asmodee came out with “7 Wonders Duel“, a “7 Wonders” game rewritten for two players.
The basic “7 Wonders” rules are the same. Each play tries to rack up as many victory points as possible. Blue culture cards give you straight victory points. Yellow commerce cards give you gold, resources, or more favourable trading rates. Brown and Grey cards are resource cards, and are much rarer than in the original “7 Wonders”. You are going to find yourself really squabbling for resources, or spending a lot of gold on them. However, it’s in the Green science cards and Red military cards that the game truly differs.
Green and Red cards can bring in an early victory condition, but unless the other player is really inexperienced, I doubt that it’ll happen. They are more interesting precisely because you don’t need to rack up a large amount of them to make the other player sit up and take notice. Two Green science cards with the same symbol on them allow you to pick a bonus chip from the top of the board, each one giving you a significant advantage.
Red military cards make the red marker advance towards the edge of your opponent’s board. At first you gain victory point on them, then they start to lose gold, and finally they can lose the game outright. You’ll tend to spend the game near the middle of the board, but the Red and Green cards are what make you more engaged with the other player’s strategy. If they’re racking them up, you need to start playing defensively, or you’re going to lose pretty quickly.
The game still goes on in three ages, and you still benefit from building wonders – especially those that give you an extra turn or more resources. You can still chain buildings – gaining free builds if you’ve built an earlier building with the required symbol. Especially with Red and Blue cards, you’ll want to keep on eye on what you’re opponent has, because in this super resource constrained version of “7 Wonders” a free build is a big help. Trade is with the bank only, which means that you can always trade – but trade gets more expensive if your opponent has the resource you need. Guilds are as powerful as they are in the original game, and wonders are even more important – and if your opponent builds his four first, you can only build three of your four (there are only 7 wonders after all…).
“7 Wonders Duel” is about 30-40 minutes play time, with another 10 minutes to setup and pack it all up. The box is super well organized, and while not compact, can totally slip into a backpack quite comfortably – unlike the huge “7 Wonders” box. It’s a game with engrossing tactics, very beautifully made and fun to play. Each turn is quick, so there’s very little downtime, and you can’t just focus on one aspect of the game (Wonders, Greens, Blues, Reds or Yellows), or you’ll very quickly lose. Even though there’s no trading with the other player, you are constantly looking at each other’s builds, trying to figure out and thwart their strategy, and changing your in response, so there’s no isolated play possible – a huge plus over the two player version of the original “7 Wonders” game. This gets a big thumbs up from me.