If you came up with a rating for boardgames that combined how good they were with how versatile they are (ie. how many different situations you can play them in), I think 7 Wonders would be the number 1 game of all time.
I have played 7 Wonders with everyone from non-gamers to family to hardcore gamers. I don’t know that it would be anyone’s all-time favourite game, but everyone thinks it’s very good. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it.
That’s astonishing! I don’t think I can think of any other game that everyone likes. Games are usually too long or too light or too complicated for at least one group of people. How does it manage it? How can it please all of the people all of the time? Let’s investigate…
7 Wonders came out (rather appropriately) 7 years ago (2010) and was an instant hit. It won the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Strategy Game of the Year) the following year, which, interestingly, was the first year the Kennerspiel was awarded.
One of the most incredible aspects of 7 Wonders is its ability to play up to 7 players in 30-45 minutes. That’s a very short play time for so many players. Usually in games, each player takes a turn one at a time so if you add more players, the game will take longer (there are more players taking turns).
You spend virtually no time waiting.
Not so with 7 Wonders. You spend virtually no time waiting for other players and it will always last about the same amount of time regardless of how many players you play with. How does it achieve such a feat? Through the wonders (pardon the pun) of simultaneous action selection.
Just in case you’re not familiar with 7 Wonders, it’s a drafting game. You start with a hand of cards and choose one to add to your civilisation. Some cards will provide resources or money, some will increase your military strength, some will develop your scientific knowledge, but you have a lot of choice initially about what route to go down.
Simultaneous action selection means that everyone is picking their card at the same time. So you’re effectively waiting for the slowest person each time before moving on, but unless you have some AP (analysis paralysis) players, most players will take about the same amount of time to pick a card.
After everyone has picked a card and added it to their civilisation, you pass all your cards to the person on your left and everyone chooses a card from the new hand of cards they have just been given. You carry on until you run out of cards and then repeat this drafting procedure with fresh sets of cards a couple more times.
You score points by collecting sets of cards effectively and you usually do best by specialising in one or two types. You have a mini fight with your immediate neighbours by comparing your military strength at particular points in the game and you can get more points by winning these contests.
It’s a very straightforward game.
If you’re new to the game, you can pretty much ignore what everyone else is doing and focus on collecting particular cards. If you play like this, it’s a very straightforward game. You just need to look at what your immediate neighbours are doing every now and then (eg. to see how many military cards they have).
However, if you play this way, you’ll probably lose. It won’t be obvious at first, but at the end of your first game, you’ll look around at the cards that other people collected and wonder (sorry) how they managed to score so many more points than you.
That moment ignites a spark in people. You see, the first time you play, it can feel a bit random. “Um, well, I guess I’ll pick this card this time…” You can’t see the connections and the implications of picking certain cards at certain points. At the end of that first game though, you realise that there’s a lot more to this than it first appears. I find a lot of people, after finishing that first game, say words to the effect of, “Let’s play again!”.
7 Wonders has one of the best kinds of interaction you can get in games (in my opinion!). The kind that requires you to pay attention to what everyone else is doing without directly interfering with what they’re doing.
For example, you might decide to collect lots of science cards, but if several other people are collecting science cards as well, you’re not going to do very well. If too many people are collecting science cards, you’re just not going to see very many of them, and fewer cards means fewer points.
To win, you need to watch what everyone is doing.
This is what keeps the game interesting for the hardcore gamer. To win, you need to watch what everyone is doing, not just your neighbours. You can’t go in with a pre-formulated strategy; you need adapt your strategy on the fly according to the actions of the other players. It’s very dynamic.
There are a bunch of expansions for 7 Wonders that I would recommend for more serious gamers, but honestly, you don’t need them. The base game will provide many hours of entertainment with many different groups of people.
There are other aspects that engage people as well: the artwork is great, the theme is accessible and has an historical romanticism to it. Playing up to 7 players (from new to hardcore gamers) in 30-45 minutes though? That’s truly wondrous (not sorry).
I’ve played 7 Wonders a lot and I’ve never tired of it. It’s one of my top 30 games of all time. It’s the very definition of a classic.
Have you played it? What do you think of it?