I’ve craved a great civilization themed game for a while, but I think that building a real civilization from scratch would take less time than most games in the genre take to play. I bought Through the Ages a few years ago, and I played it once. It took hours just to get through the bronze age. I gave up on these types of games for a while, but then I sat down for a session of 7 Wonders. It is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.
If you don’t know what I mean by a civilization game, I’m referring to a game where you can control a faction of humanity from the stone age to the modern age, or some range of ages in between. You get to manage every aspect of the culture, from their art to their warfare. If you’ve played Sid Meier’s PC classic Civilization, then you have an idea of what I mean.
I love 7 Wonders because I can do everything I want to when raising my culture from nothing, and I can do it in under an hour. The game is framed around the idea of each player constructing one of the seven wonders of the world, and while the player’s work towards towards building the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, they are forming armies, studying science, and building trade routes. What makes all of this work in such little time is the simple card playing system the game uses.
7 Wonders is a drafting game, which should not be confused with the deckbuilding games that are so popular now. Each of the game’s three ages/rounds has a deck, and each deck is split between all of the players. Each player selects one card from the hand, and then the hand is passed to the next player. This system means you have to make some tough decisions each turn. Each age builds off of the last, so you also have to settle on a strategy early on in the game. This also makes the game difficult to grasp in the first few matches. People quickly understood the rules, but a few plays are required before players know why they might want to skip cards or play cards. One trap people fall into is trying to play catch up with military cards instead of focusing on the science or civics cards they began the first ages with. Like most games with multiple ways to win, it works best to focus on one strategy.
Along with the short play time, 7 Wonders can also be played with two to seven players. There are too few games that can play as low as two or as high as seven, so 7 Wonders wins a lot of favor with me for working both ends of that spectrum. It also has very few pieces, but they are all high quality and fun to play with. Each player gets a a small board that represents their wonder, and the art on these thick mats is outstanding. The color coded cards makes it easy to see what your neighbors are plotting, and the wooden coins add another tactile layer to the game. The game has a clever trading mechanic too, where one player gives their neighbor a few coins for the right to use their resource, but the only resources that actually moves around the table is the money. This means that no one has to argue with or swindle one another to get a resource they need, and it is one of the main contributions to the brief game length.
So I highly recommend 7 Wonders to gamers who crave a civ game that doesn’t take ages to play (a pun!). Some players might need something beefier, in which case I recommend Fantasy Flight’s recent game based on the Civilization PC game. But despite the light nature of 7 Wonders, I don’t think anyone will find it lacking any features.