We regularly review board games that are great for when you’re planning a game night, but what about a date night? Especially around Valentine’s Day, it’s nice to have some two player options that you can bring out after dinner. Today we’re looking at 7 Wonders: Duel, which was designed from the ground up as a two player game.
That last part is important, as there are plenty of games that can be played with two, but ultimately end up feeling like they’re more fun with extra players. 7 Wonders is such a game, but while Duel shares a thematic resemblance with the original game it also feels different – with a firm emphasis on two player mechanics and a shorter runtime. It’s still a card drafting and collection game (like Architects, which we looked at recently), and an average game will take about half an hour.
As with other games in the franchise, 7 Wonders: Duel is all about building up your civilization as quickly as possible. Drawing cards, you’ll make advances in the economic, cultural, scientific, and military fields – the latter two also having the option to grant instant wins that shorten the game. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll progress through three Ages, where at the end it’s up to victory points to determine who won.
At the start of every game, each player picks from the available Wonder cards – which determines not only what your objectives are but also tells you more about your opponents’ possible decisions. This is something players will become more attuned to over time, but it’s nice to see that the strategic decision making process starts early here.
After that, the age you’re in determined the layout of your cards (a pyramid or hourglass shape), which factors into which cards can be played – they have to be fully exposed and not be overlapped by another card. Different cards have different attributes and perks, creating different routes to a win. An economic card might not make a big difference in the short run, but gold cards come with the benefit that every card that you sell afterwards is worth an additional coin. Military cards can lead to a military win by advancing you on the military track, but even when you’re not chasing that goal you can enjoy the side effect of draining the other player’s access to (monetary) resources.
With enough (of the right) resources, you can also proceed to build Wonders. Each player has four wonder cards, but the eighth card gets locked out once seven wonders have been built – which can ultimately cost one player the game if they’re stuck with an unused wonder card they were saving resources for. This is where 7 Wonders: Duel showcases how important it is to plan ahead, and while it may pay off to focus on one particular aspect (like military might) in one game might be a good idea even though hedging your bets was the path to success last time.
Watching your opponent’s moves is important here, because the right cards can block their path to an early victory, while at the same time giving you an edge because they poured a lot of resources into a path you just closed for them. Part of that also extends to thinking about which cards are going to be important in the next age, but you can also influence the short term decision-making process. One example of this is grabbing a card to unblock two possible new paths, which might sway your opponent to anticipate a move you were never going to make anyway.
It’s fair to say that 7 Wonders: Duel has somewhat of a learning curve, though we also have to add that we can see the game eventually settling into certain routines if you play a lot of games in quick succession. An expansion has also been released that should help with that, but we can’t vouch for that as we haven’t played it with those added cards.
Looking past the excellent core gameplay of 7 Wonders: Duel, we did notice that the playing cards are on the small size here – especially for larger adult hands. The artwork is consistent with other games in the franchise and looks great, but we do wish that Duel came with slightly larger and sturdier cards. On the plus side, however, it’s a game that comes in a relatively small box and doesn’t need a whole lot of table space either.
With its 30 minute playtime and engaging two player mechanics, 7 Wonders: Duel is a great game for when you’re looking for a smaller scale version of game night. During a pandemic where many are still eager to avoid crowds, that makes it a lovely ingredient for a date night as well. If you’re planning on staying home for Valentine’s Day, consider this for an evening of friendly duels.