So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving for Games! (Plus a Review of 7 Wonders)


But not so much for actually playing them.  At least not this year.

Normally games hit the table more at Thanksgiving.  We did spend Sunday with my brother and his wife, playing two games of 7 Wonders.  My son and I also managed to get in our first game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains.  The jury is still out on Fleet Captains, since it took about four times as long to play as advertised.  The game does have a lot of moving parts, but most of that was “first play delay” issues.  I have since made a player aid that will help, and we will go at it again and hopefully soon.

Promotional Image
This post I will talk about 7 Wonders.  Not only did we play it this past weekend, but it’s also in my Top 10 lists, so I thought a review was in order.  The game was published last year and was immediately a hot seller; my copy was back ordered for four months.  This is due to a combination of rare attributes that came together in this game:  a civilization building game that plays in under an hour and the wide range of players supported.

In 7 Wonders, each player is attempting to build the most advanced civilization, choosing from among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as the centerpiece:  the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Players lay down cards from their hand to represent building they construct, or alternatively construct a stage of their Wonder.  The structures built provide either victory points or more capability for construction later.  Players then pass their hand to their neighbor, and do it again.  There are three ages to build in, and six turns to build in during each age.  Each successive age has more advanced structures which are worth correspondingly more victory points.  The person with the most victory points is the winner.

A civilization on the rise (Photo by Igor Mustac)
 Games with this theme have a reputation of being long games; over four hours in play time is not unheard of.   As boardgaming becomes a more popular hobby, the demand to better fit games into a busy lifestyle has grown.  Games in general have shortened in playing time, and seem to be targeting that 60-90 minute playing time range, which seems to be a sweet spot.  This is also true of civilization games; only a handful of truly good games managed to get this down to that time frame.  7 Wonders is one of two or three civilization games that actually reduced it further: 30 minutes.  This always gets gamers skeptical attention.

The second promise7 Wonders made was to cover anywhere from two to seven players.  Really?  Many games of this type cover three or four, and occasionally five.  Two is particularly complicated for a civilization game, since there is normally some type of game mechanism, like negotiation, that needs three people to work well.  More players normally means more time, particularly in a civilization game, since the interaction amongst many players is so much higher.  To play seven players and keep the playing time at under an hour seemed like an impossible combination.

Since 7 Wonders is in my Top 10, it’s pretty easy to guess that it delivers.  There are three things that contribute to this.  The first is that it is a card game, which tends to shorten games to begin with.  Secondly, all actions are resolved simultaneously.  The third characteristic is truly innovative.  Regardless of the number of players, each player only interacts with their immediate neighbors to the left and right.  Limiting interaction and simultaneous resolution means that the play time of each round is completely independent of the number of players.  7 Wonders does work incredibly well from three to seven players.  Due to the lack of full interaction with two players, there are special rules for this situation, which I haven’t played.  (Honestly, there are so many great two player games that I probably never will play this game with only two.) 

A game that plays in 30 minutes can’t be too involved.  Playing time and complexity tend to go hand-in-hand.  However, civilization games are notoriously complicated as players work out the societal, commercial, martial and technological growth of their empire.  Packing all of those factors into a short game seems too good to be true.  7 Wonders does this by having different colors of cards, suits if you will, which correspond to different aspects of the society.  Brown cards are raw resources, gray cards are manufactured goods, yellow cards correspond to commerce, blue are cultural items, red represents military structures, green are scientific achievements and purple cards are guilds.  Seven suits of cards, coupled with the plethora of icons on the cards, are where this game does get somewhat complicated.  One or two plays, however will sort things out, since the colors aren’t as important as the icons, and there is a system to the icons that quickly becomes apparent.

A couple of the cards used in 7 Wonders (Images by Julien Kirsch)

Since my son is now 14 and an experienced gamer, he isn’t a good gauge on how kid-friendly this game is.  My wife, who as an educator really understands children, hasn’t played it.  It certainly wouldn’t be for every child.  I can’t give it a kid-friendly vote due to the above complexity.

For older kids and adults, 7 Wonders is a great game that has multiple paths to victory.  Part of the fun is that “look what I built – how cool is that!” feeling you get at the end of the game.  This is definitely a great family or casual game that can be pulled out nearly anytime.  While it would be best to have the game taught by an experienced player, a little time with the rules and patience in playing the first couple of games will quickly make this a family favorite.  At seven players, it almost covers those party game situations for those who (like me) aren’t the biggest fans of party games.  It’s not quite a must-buy, but is pretty close.





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2 comments:

  1. My first play of 7 Wonders was just last month and played it as a 2-player game.
    It was kind of strange learning it this way because of the special rules, but we both still got a good feel for the game.
    I didn't pick up a copy and thus haven't had the chance to play it with more, but can see how enjoyable it could be. The funny thing is that while we thought we were dishing off bad cards to the 'placeholder' third player, it actually drew quite a big score. But that's just because on our first run we didn't have a good feel for the scoring when we started out.

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  2. It's an excellent game. It is seeing play time in our group either as a super-filler or as a "let's play all of us together" kind of game. So far, everyone has liked it except one, who said it was so-so. However, he tends to like meatier games more than "family" games.

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