7 Wonders Duel Review
Close your eyes. I’m going to tell you something that’s going to blow your mind. It’s a groundbreaking idea; are you sure you’re ready for it? Alright, here goes.
Imagine 7 Wonders…AS A TWO-PLAYER GAME.
What? You say that 7 Wonders is already a two-player game?! I say that you’re full of baloney.
…Okay, well, you’re not wrong. 7 Wonders can be played with two players…but not really. Its two player mode is a variant that requires a third “dummy player” to join in, and the overall consensus is that it just doesn’t work that well–at least, that’s what the folks at Repos Productions must have thought, as they decided to go and give us a special, two-player only version of 7 Wonders.
Now, don’t be fooled. This is not an expansion, an add-on, or downloadable content. This is a separate, standalone game that preserves the spirit of 7 Wonders, while also assuming an identity of its own. The entire design premise of the game was to make the experience of 7 Wonders compatible with two players, which ultimately required an overhaul of the game, now packaged in a cute little miniaturized box.
7 Wonders Duel is smaller, cheaper, and a tad less intimidating, but it’s a great game in its own right. Designed by none other than Antoine Bauza, the creator of the original, and released just a month or so ago, 7 Wonders Duel has a lot to live up to. For fans of the original game, there must be some burning questions. Does it feel like 7 Wonders? Is it that much better than the dummy player variant? How does it compare to the originals? We’ll explore these questions in the more in this 7 Wonders Duel review.
How do you play the game? Is it a fun experience? How much interaction is there between the players? Is there very much luck involved? Will it take forever to to learn and teach?
The gameplay is, well, 7-Wondersish. Not enough for you? Okay.
7 Wonders Duel, for all intents and purposes, plays very similarly to its predecessor, and in many ways, feels like 7 Wonders Lite. All of the core mechanics are still here–you take turns playing cards that cost coins or resources, and these cards represent victory points, military power, scientific achievement, or trading ability. The way you play these cards determines your final score in the end. You have “wonders” that can be built which give you your own specific bonuses unique to your setup. At the end, you throw all your points into a figurative salad bowl, add ’em all up, and whoever has the most wins.
There are, of course, palpable differences from the original game, some more immediately noticeable than others. First off, the drafting system has been reworked. Instead of passing hands to each other like in the original game, now all of the cards are laid out in front of you. Only, you can’t see all of them. Half of the cards are face down, while the others are face up, showing their identity to both players. They’re also arranged in a special formation that prevents a card from being taken unless the two cards on top have been snatched. Now, players simply switch off choosing from this card pyramid. If face-down cards become eligible for choosing, they will flip over and reveal their contents. This means that the card abailability is mutual knowledge, but so too is the mystery of the face down cards. The designers assumed (correctly) that passing two decks around would be pretty redundant, and this is a nice workaround that preserves the spirit of the game, while moving in a more logical direction to accomodate two players.
The second, and other most obvious design change is in the science/military progress board. “Wait, wha? That didn’t even exist before!” Yes, I know. This is new; in fact, science and military have both been completely retooled this time around.
You’re probably anxious to know about science, so I’ll start with that one. Science has been redesigned in such a way to where it no longer grants points as its primary bonus, but special passive benefits. When you play a pair of science cards with matching symbols, you immediately get to choose one of the fancy science chits on the progress board, which will give you some kind of prize. One of them gives you a bunch of points, while another discounts your Wonder costs, and another the same, but for blue cards. They have a myriad of effects, and you’ll bring five of them into any given game.
Ah, but if only it were that simple. There’s more to science than that–the science “symbols” are back, and you can benefit from collecting as many of them as possible. Only, this time, there are seven symbols instead of three, and they don’t mean anything in the way of points. Instead, you can pull a straight up science victory by collecting six out of seven symbols. Personally, I’m all for this change. It preserves the spirit of “lots of science = instant win” from the last game, but in a way that’s less obnoxious. I was never a fan of the mandatory science battles in the previous game; in Duel, it’s pretty hard to win with science unless your opponent is a complete ignoramus. The power is still there, but to a lesser extent, and on the other hand, grabbing science even without intending to win from it is still beneficial, because of its passive boosts; grabbing even just one bonus token (two science cards) can be a huge boon to your game.
The other big overhaul is in military, which is arguably the mechanic that’s the most different from the original 7 Wonders. In Duel, the Military is somewhat of a tug-of-war affair, and it all happens in real-time. Instead of armies being compared at age’s end, every military card that’s played immediately advances the “military token” into your opponent’s track. If it passes a certain threshold, it will demand a coin payment from your enemy, as well as victory points for yourself; these affects are more profound the farther down it gets. Should the token advance all the way to the end, the game ends, just like with science. Should your opponent fight back, they will move the military token towards your side, so it becomes a game of push and pull. Military has gone from being a measly 18 point boost (at best) to an essential gamechanger, and it’s a welcome modification to the familiar folds of 7 Wonders.
Yellow cards have also undergone some slight change, as well as the trading system as a whole. First off, the trading–it’s a 2:1 conversion rate, just like before, for unowned resources. However, in Duel, you have to pay an extra coin for every copy of the resource that your opponent has in your hand. Say, for example, that you need wood. You have no wood. Your opponent has three wood. You have to pay five coin (2+1+1+1) to get one wood. This can be frustrating, but it’s also an interesting mechanic that incentivizes players to prevent resource monopolies. As far as yellow cards go, they’ve been slightly buffed; in Duel, you’ll get an extra coin per yellow card in your hand whenever you choose to discard. Nice!
Resources and commodities have barely changed, but there is now one less of each of them. Cloth and ore have been axed, so now you’re dealing with three resources and two commodities, instead of four and three. This is one small thing that makes the game feel like “7 Wonders Lite.”
Finally, Wonders have received a creative, albeit thematically destructive overhaul. Instead of one board with three (give or take) wonders, you draw four different cards, each one representing its own singular wonder. Altogether, they make four wonders, which ultimately isn’t much different than your typical wonder board. There are differences though, and they’re important.
You no longer have to build them in order, so that’s one thing. Gone is the feeling of progression from the original game; that sinking feeling of burning a card on a near-useless wonder so that you can get to the good one later. Nope, you simply pick and choose here. Also, some of the wonders have a nifty “redo” icon, which immediately grants you another turn once played. This is an excellent little mechanic that would only work in Duel, as the drafting mechanism in the original wouldn’t allow for it.
Finally, the Wonders are now totally inconsistent with each other. I don’t know how the Circus Maximus and the Sphinx are in the same city, but that is neither here nor there, and it’s not like 7 Wonders is a game you play for the strong thematic implementation.
After all of the cards have been played, players tally up point in the ol’ math-problem fashion that we know and love from 7 Wonders, and the player with the highest amount of points wins the game, unless, of course, they already won through science or military. Good times.
So, here’s the thing about 7 Wonders. 7 Wonders is literally the reason why this site exists. 7 Wonders is what turned me into a tabletop gamer. I always enjoyed a board game prior to that point; our family played Catan before anybody knew what it was, and I had weekly Risk nights all throughout high school. Even at that point, tabletop gaming was never a hobby of mine. One night, I was at my cousin’s with my now fiancee, and we were bored. I noticed his roommate had this game called “7 Wonders” in his cabinet, and I had heard good things about it, so I popped it open, learned the rules, and taught it to them.
WE PLAYED 7 WONDERS ALL NIGHT. WE DIDN’T EVEN SLEEP.
Something about 7 Wonders just hooked me, and it was that revelatory moment where I realized that gaming could be a great bonding activity between me and Jessica, and eventually, it turned into me staying up into late hours of the night, writing articles for a board game website I created. While 7 Wonders isn’t even my favorite game these days, I can’t deny that there was something that was just so addicting about it. I don’t know what it was, and I’m still trying to figure it out, but for some reason, we played all night, slept the next day, and then played all night again the next night.
So far, 7 Wonders Duel just hasn’t been able to capture that same fire for me. Now, don’t get me in the wrong, I want to repeat that Duel IS fun, and that it’s worth your time. For anybody who’s looking for a fun two player game, I’d honestly recommend it to anybody (especially given that price). Regardless, I’m trying to pin down why it doesn’t have that addicting secret ingredient that the original has. I played Duel with both my cousin and Jessica, the two with whom I shared my original experience, and in both occasions, we played two games, and conceded, “that was fun!” and then decided to do something else.
Despite that, there are elements in Duel that completely trump the original. Duel feels like a game that’s actively trying to improve on the original vision of its predecessor. In fact, I see no reason why Duel couldn’t have been a simple expansion pack; it feels as if the designers had taken inventory of some of the flaws of the original game, and used Duel as an excuse to amend those errors, to give us a more pure and perfect package with more refined mechanics–something that’s not possible to do with the base game unless you opt to rewrite the rulebook.
The drafting mechanic really makes Duel feel like a game of its own, and that’s why I have to recommend it. The new drafting system is interesting indeed; you can see what cards are ahead that might help you out, but they’re blockaded by layers of mystery cards. Duel can become a race to the best card, or a delicate game of chicken, as players wait until the very last possible moment in the hopes that their opponent will be the one that has to play that one useless card that will “unlock” two new ones. This system doesn’t necessarily “feel” like 7 Wonders, but it has its own yummy flavor that’s good enough to stand on its own.
I also think that military and science have changed entirely for the better here. I never had a problem with military in the original, but it never seemed as important as the other suites. Meanwhile, I hated playing the “science game” every time in the original. A good group can easily negate scientific dominance, but if only one person is willing to challenge the “science guy,” it can be a pain in the butt to have to resort to that every game. I LOVE the push/pull of the military, and it really demands for both players to pay attention. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to prevent your opponent from getting a science win, but you’re still at a huge disadvantage if you let them pick up all of the tokens. Because of how useful they are, it incentivizes the players to go for science the first chance they get, but it actually helps them, instead of just acting as a counter-measure to the other bonehead who wants to play science every game. It’s never fun picking up science to prevent a runaway leader, but not picking up enough for it to actually be beneficial to you. Duel preserves the spirit of science, but reimplements it in a way that is far more elegant.
All these things being said, Duel feels like a different game than 7 Wonders, and it should be treated as such. Fans of 7 Wonders will likely eat it up without question, and if you hate 7 Wonders, it might not be the game for you, but these camps aren’t mutually exclusive. I’ve met fans of the original who don’t take to this one, and I’ve seen people who hate the original, but end up loving Duel. All I’m saying is to not treat it like a carbon copy of 7 Wonders, because despite its structural similarity, the small nuances are what give board games their own character, and this game is packed with ’em.
One thing that I feel needs to be said about 7 Wonders Duel is that it’s meant to be played competitively. As such, the game is much, much more fun when you’re being aggressive. This is mostly due to the reworked military/science mechanics. The game forces you to stay on top of your opponent’s game, and you’ll have to buy military and science to keep up. Furthermore, the trading mechanic creates an interesting incentive for players to monopolize on certain resources. This is very much a game where, instead of just focusing on yourself, you have to make sure you’re preventing your opponent from making optimal choices.
Unlike, say, Castles of Burgundy which can easily be enjoyed without any type of aggression, adopting a “laissez faire” attitude with Duel will give an easy win to one of the players, and worst of all, it will just make it boring. This is one main difference between Duel and the original game; you have more power to influence your opponent’s game, which ultimately makes “Duel” a very appropriate title for this entry.
Like 7 Wonders, Duel has a set amount of turns; the game ends when every card has been played, and that’s that. As such, you can expect each game to last roughly the same amount of time. An average game in our group lasted twenty to thirty minutes. As with most games that share this length, the game invites multiple playthroughs every session. Of course it’s not required, but it just plays so quickly and easily that it’s hard not to go at it again when you’ve finished a round. Due to its two-player design, Duel is actually a great “best two out of three” game.
Analysis Paralysis can take its toll here, but not much more so than any other game. Overall, Duel’s length is something to be praised.
While the iconography is still present in Duel, it is my opinion that the game is easier to learn and teach than the original 7 Wonders. There are a few contributing factors to this.
First of all, once again, the retooled military/science is much easier to grasp for new players. Science in particular stands out here–I can’t tell you how many games of 7 Wonders I’ve played where one of the new players just could not understand how science scores. I learned that this is not something that everybody picks up easily, and I’ve explained the science scoring about four thousand times since as a result of it. Science is easier here; “play two matching science cards, pick up science token. Get seven different science symbols and you win.” That’s it; no weird exponential scoring, no vertical and horizontal counting, no square multiplication.
Military is also easy to grasp, if not just from how it’s visually represented. Military is a tug-of-war game, and that’s that. It’s tangibly represented on a board, and when you can point at it and say, “your military moves the token this way, mine moves it that way. Get to the end and you win.” So easy! So simple! This is also nice, because military and science were arguably the most complex scoring mechanisms in the original game. With both of them being retooled, the rest of the cards are relatively easy to explain. Blue cards are self-explanatory, and the rest of the cards are easily understandable so long as you understand the iconography, which will be the biggest hurdle for new players to jump, in terms of comprehension.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to teach Duel to somebody who hasn’t played the original game, so I can’t remark about how easy or difficult it is to teach from scratch. Overall though, it’s really not bad. Duel is a fairly simple game, and it’s easier to teach than 7 Wonders, for whatever that’s worth. I would estimate that you can teach the game in ten to twenty minutes.
In 7 Wonders, you can influence other players by choosing cards that would be valuable to them. However, your scope of influence is mostly restricted to your immediate neighbors, and short of trashing a card that someone across the board would want, there’s not much you can do to affect the game of the people across from you.
In 7 Wonders Duel, the game is designed for two players, and as such, the options you have in affecting your opponent are expanded from the original, which makes player interaction a more essential part of this game.
I touched on this in Fun Factor, but essentially, you must play an active role in sabotaging your opponent’s game if you want to be successful, and in this sense, it really does feel like more of a duel as opposed to, say, multiplayer solitaire. The word duel implies conflict between two people; just like a good old-fashioned sword duel, players will poke and jab at each other in 7 Wonders Duel, while also covering their own figurative hides in the form of building up their player area. Offense and “defense” are important here, and the game demands a balance between aggressive and self-serving play.
The drafting system is designed so that players will uncover cards one by one, but if you’re the one that plays the card that uncovers the ones behind it, your opponent will get first dibs to whatever is revealed. Therefore, you must make calculated decisions on which cards to draw and when. If your opponent, for example, is one card away from a science or military victory, you might not want to be the one that uncovers the next two cards. If one of them is a card that your opponent needs, you’ve just given them the game.
Similarly, as I’ve mentioned already, an aggressive take on military/science is required, meaning you might have to play those cards even if it’s not according to your “plan.” Should you fail to do so, it’s easy to hand your opponent their victory on a silver platter. Player interaction is undeniably higher in this game, and it helps the game to feel like it’s a unique experience, and not just a re-tread of 7 Wonders.
How much strategy is involved? Is there a sense of variety and balance? Does the game play well no matter how many players there are? How long does it take to play?
As I mentioned in Player Interaction/Fun Factor, you have a much more active role in determining which cards you opponent can or cannot play, and you’ll have to play a guessing game when it comes to unveiling new cards. Doing this unwisely can give your opponent the win, but if you’re intelligent about it, you can manipulate the card availability to work in your favor.
Cards are arranged in a pyramid style (which changes slightly from age to age), with face-down cards waiting underneath face-up ones. In order for a card to be playable, the two cards sitting on top of it must be played, at which point, it’s turned over, its contents are revealed, and it’s up for grabs. The catch is that it takes a turn to play a card, which in turn means that, if you end up revealing a new card, your turn is over for that round and your opponent has first dibs. It’s possible to reveal two cards at a time, which ends up being a tactical decision. Do you grab another weaker, less useful card in the hopes that your opponent reveals the two cards in waiting, or do you choose to reveal the cards? Doing so might result in you playing a useful card for yourself, but it might open up the perfect card for your opponent. In games where players are one card away from a military or science victory, this is especially tense. You can’t reveal cards, because you might give your opponent the game then and there.
This also adds a layer of strategy. If you’re smart enough to prevent your opponent from being one turn away from a military/science win, then you won’t have to deal with the consequences of playing drafting-chicken with your opponent. This, then, requires you to take a more active role in playing military/science. It’s not enough to simply stop your opponent from reaching victory with military/science; you’ll have to actively prevent them from even getting close if you want the strategic freedom of being able to draw whichever card you want.
The game also throws upsets into the drafting strategy with a new “go again” action that’s present on certain wonders. Should you have a wonder with this action, building it will immediately grant you another turn. This can turn the tide in games where uncovering new cards is a weighty decision. It ensures that you can uncover new cards, and if one of said cards is particularly threatening, you can immediately take another action to dispose of it before your opponent gets their grubby hands on it.
Guild cards have also been changed in an interesting way. There were plenty of cards in the original game that gave you point bonuses based on cards that your neighbor played. If, for instance, there’s a card that gives a VP for every blue card in your neighbors’ areas, it’s not really a viable choice if there are no blue cards played by them. In 7 Wonders Duel, this is changed to where you’ll get points based on whoever has the most of whatever card it relates to. So, taking the blue card bonus example, if your opponent has 10 blue cards, you’ll get ten points. On the other hand, if you end up with 11 blue cards, you will have the most and you will therefore get 11 points.
I was a little confused by this, as it now means that there’s really no reason to not play guild cards, because you’ll always be getting the best of both players. I liked the tactical choice of playing guilds in the original that were conditional on your neighbors’ decisions. There was a possibility of not getting the bang for your buck, so the decision felt like it had more weight.
Overall, the strategy in Duel feels much…different than the original. My line of thought in playing the original game is basically “how can I get the most VPs this turn at the lowest opportunity cost?” In Duel, it’s more like, “how can I get the most VPs this turn without giving my opponent an advantage?” The game is a bit more aggressive, and that’s why I reiterate that it’s more fun when played as such. As a result, the game is kind of a bore if it’s treated just like 7 Wonders. If you treat the game like it’s 7 Wonders Duel, and you embrace it for what it is, you’ll have a great time with it, and you might even appreciate its strategic variability more than its parent game.
Despite the luck of the draw in the drafting, I can’t bring myself to criticize it. The unpredictable nature of the cards lying in wait forces players to strategically make decisions around it. If you reveal two cards that allow your opponent to win the game, it’s more likely a result of you being negligent enough to allow it in the first place. If there was a real threat of the draw winning the game, then you need to either prevent your opponent from being the first to access the new cards, or work to change the conditions so that they won’t win next turn, such as playing some military to push them farther away from a win. The game acknowledges that there is a sense of randomness, but demands that you base your strategy around winning despite it. This, in my opinion, strengthens the game more than it weakens it.
Look and Feel
Is the game aesthetically pleasing? Are the components made out of quality material, or do they feel cheap? Is the rulebook well-designed and easy to read? How well is theme integrated into the game?
One difference in Duel that’s immediately apparent is that everything is smaller. This actually came as a surprise to me; being so used to normal sized cards, I never expected anything less even when looking at pictures of Duel. The cards are, in fact, much smaller in this version. They’re the size of miniature playing cards, while the wonders are printed on normal sized cards. This turns 7 Wonders Duel into the adorable little puppy dog version of 7 Wonders.
Aside from that, the new military track marker is a distinct style from 7 Wonders’ established style, using a plastic, 3D token. That being said, it looks nice, so I can’t find anything to complain about. In terms of aesthetics, 7 Wonders Duel is a-okay.
As I noted in aesthetics, the cards are tinier in this version, so that’s the first major component change you’ll find in Duel. Other than that, the game holds to the same standard of component quality as 7 Wonders, which is overall perfectly pleasant. The cards are nice enough to not feel cheap, and the cardboard chits and sturdy and durable. The military/science board folds in half to fit in the box, but there is nothing to indicate that I should be worried about any kind of diminishing quality. Overall, the components are just fine and dandy here, and I can’t think of anything to worry about.
But, yeah, in terms of the theme affecting the gameplay or making it “feel” like a certain experience, it doesn’t do much here. It’s arguably less thematically strong than 7 Wonders, which at least gives you a singular coherent wonder. In this game, you can ostensibly have the statue of Rhodes, the Sphinx, and Babylon’s Hanging Gardens as part of your empire, which doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Is it a game you can play over and over? Are there expansions available for the game, and if so, are they necessary? Does the amount of the content in the box justify the price?
Every age, then, will use a slightly different set of cards. Unless you’re really serious about this game, it’s more than likely that you’ll have no idea which cards aren’t included, but the game will still be slightly different as a result of it. The way the cards are laid out in front of the players will also change the flow of the game, and will never be the same in any two games. This doesn’t change much in the first age, as just about everything is free or close to it, but in the second and third ages, you very well may not be able to play several cards because they haven’t been arranged in a way that allows you to have enough resources to afford them. In this case, you must either play around these cards and pull what you can around them, or trash them for coins or wonder construction.
Despite the game’s changing nature every game, I have a slight worry that it will eventually get old without supplementary material. When I discovered 7 Wonders, we played for all but an hour before we added in expansionary content, and that content is what kept the game alive for me. In its base form, 7 Wonders uses the same cards every game, and I appreciated that the expansions breathed extra life into it, because I’m already at the point where 7 Wonders just feels barren without expansionary material.
Duel is very similar. Despite the three trashed cards in every deck, you’re pretty much playing with the same cards every time. This is enough to last quite a while, but I could see players wearing it out with too much play. Given the positive reception to Duel, I wonder if expansionary content will find its way to this game.
Overall, 7 Wonders Duel is highly replayable, but don’t sip it down too quickly or it might become bland. I think this game will stand the test of time if it’s not played over and over, all the time. That being said, this is highly subjective, and it’s very possible that others will disagree. Sound out in the comments if you have a different opinion!
7 Wonders Duel is a game that boldly sets off to recreate the experience of 7 Wonders in the context of a competitive two-player game, and in almost every count it succeeds with flying colors.
While fun and strategic, the game didn’t quite grip me like 7 Wonders did, and this was something that was hard to come to terms with until I realized that they are both very different games. You’re not guaranteed to like this if you’re a 7 Wonders fan, and you might just like it if you don’t like the original.
Duel’s biggest departure from 7 Wonders is that it turns the game into a much more competitive experience, requiring you to keep an eye on your opponent just as much, if not more, as your own play area. If the more aggressive nature of Duel is embraced, it turns into a unique game of its own, seperate from, but not completely divorced from its parent game. On the other hand, embracing a laissez faire, two-player Solitaire approach will turn Duel into a veritable bore, and will likely lead to huge upsets and seemingly imbalanced gameplay. 7 Wonders Duel is just that, a duel, and should be treated like one for maximum enjoyment.
The game makes significant changes to certain aspects of the original game, almost exclusively for the better. It’s going to be hard playing 7 Wonders in the future without Duel’s highly improved military/science mechanics, and the new drafting system lends a unique personality of its own, ripe with strategies that simply aren’t an option in the pass n’ play style of the original.
Overall, in an industry where two-player games are becoming a highly sought after hot commodity, I can heartily recommend 7 Wonders Duel. At the end of the day, however, I believe the game stands better on its own than as an extension or remake of the original game. It is quite different in nature despite its fundamental similarities, and embracing these differences is what made the game fun for me. Do yourself a favor and try to look at the game as something new and unique, because if you’re expecting a perfectly faithful adaptation of 7 Wonders, you might feel like something is lacking. Let the game shine in the areas that it intends to, and you’ll have a grand old time.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You’ve bought Leaders, Cities, and Babel and STILL can’t get enough 7 Wonders
- If you really like 7 Wonders but don’t commonly have a third player
- You wish 7 Wonders had a bit more player interaction
- You often get frustrated with the way science and military work in 7 Wonders
- You’re looking for a fun two player game in general
- You’re gaming on a budget
- You want a game that’s quick and easy to play
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You want 7 Wonders to be perfectly recaptured to a tee
- If your blood boils at the mention of 7 Wonders
- The (mostly) non-aggressive nature of 7 Wonders is a high point for you
- You want a game to be highly variable in nature with every replay
- You want a game that’s long or heavy in nature
- You don’t think 7 Wonders carries its weight without expansions
About the Author
Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he's not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, spending time with his lovely wife, or writing about video game stuff for Insert Gamer. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his (long neglected) gallery here, or follow him on Instagram at @artworkbyzach!