One of the great advantages of 7 Wonders is that it allows up to seven players to complete a civilization style game using card drafting in under an hour. But how can that work with two? The variant in the box was clunky at best, so I was initially skeptical of 7 Wonders: Duel. But as it turns out, this version is actually the superior game.
Duel is a two-player only title which takes the core of 7 Wonders and makes everything more interesting and fun. Duel crams in increased tension, strategy, and thought into the whole experience. Like its predecessor, it runs on a card drafting engine. But Duel doesn’t simply pass cards back and forth until all the good ones are gone. Instead, the cards are arranged in a pyramid shape. On their turn, a player can grab any card that is fully exposed. And by taking it, she is likely to expose one or more cards now available to her opponent. So players can’t be too impulsive, but have to carefully consider what cards they are putting in their opponent’s reach.
As a result, Duel still feels like drafting. The players take turns selecting from available cards, but you have to carefully plan ahead. What’s the proper order of cards so that I eventually get what I want? Should I leave a juicy card out there to entice my opponent so I can pick up the better one underneath it? And what if my opponent has a Wonder that lets him take two turns in a row when built?
Just about every card has huge repercussions for both you and your opponent. As with the original, you can discard a card for coins. But instead of a static value, you get two coins plus one for each yellow building you’ve built. Similarly, resources are hotly contested. Of course, if you have a resource, it means it is easier for you to build other cards, but you can always buy from the bank. Once again, instead of a static amount, the cost is two coins plus one for each resource of that type your opponent produces. So when you take that last brick card, you are not only depriving your opponent of bricks, but you are also costing them additional coins when they have to buy one.
Like the original, the game is played over three ages and whoever has the most points at the end wins. Usually. You see, unlike the original, it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll play the game to completion. In the center of the table is a tug-of-war track. Every military symbol I get moves the marker toward your capital. Each one you get moves it back towards me. If the marker ever moves all the way to the end, whoever’s capital is conquered loses and their opponent wins, regardless of points.
And it isn’t just military, either. The science cards each have one of six symbols. If you manage to collect all six, you achieve an immediate scientific victory. And if you double up on a symbol, you can gain a progress token that gives end-game points or an ongoing power.
The result is that you are supremely engaged at all times. Every card you take is a critical decision that reveals options for your opponent. And, when your opponent reveals an opportunity for you, you had better be ready to capitalize on it. Planning for future turns, watching acquisitions of science and military, and staying ahead of your opponent on points are exhilarating challenges.
Two player games can often be combative and tense. Duel is no exception. But rather than a straight up fight, much of the competition is indirect. You hurt your opponent largely by interfering and capitalizing on their liabilities rather than simply tearing down what they’ve built. As such, the game is more welcoming than other aggressive games and is much more accessible to casual gamers.
Duel takes the core of 7 Wonders and makes the decisions more meaningful, the consequences more interactive, and the whole experience more enjoyable. It’s a shame that this system doesn’t really work with larger groups, because it makes traditional 7 Wonders look mundane by comparison.
Have you played Duel? Tell us your experience in the comments.
Feature Image Credit: Repos Productions