14 September 2012
My wife and I aren’t speaking right now. That’s mostly because she’s in the kitchen making flat bread but if it were due to an argument, the most likely root of it would be Settlers of Catan, which I find to be a charming game which has done wonders for popularizing Euro-style games to the North American palate and while I’ve played my fair share of it and enjoy other games more, I can find nothing for which to fault it. My wife finds it loathsome and refuses to play. Her main criticism is that once you start losing, it’s painfully obvious and impossible to come back so you are left spending the rest of the game feeling crummy. Now while I have many arguments which show just how wrong she is and how right I am, I have learned that in marriage, sometimes it’s better to change the conversation.
Which leads me to 7 Wonders. If certain games make it obvious who is winning and who is not, 7 Wonders does the opposite. Oh, I am sure there are those who have played it through many times and have the card counting gene which allows them to see every statistical probability of victory at any given moment but for the rest of us pre-clears, the game does a wonderful job of hiding just how well people are doing.
The object of the game is to have the most victory points at the end of three distinct rounds of game play. Victory is scored through playing various cards before you that represent the development of one of the cities of classical antiquity- Athens, Rhodes, Babylon, etc. There are the expected Wonders themselves which offer huge potential for scoring but also we have military, political, economic, scientific, and resource cards all which directly or indirectly lead one to victory. Even the amount of unspent money in your bank contributes to your final score. With all these variable in play, scoring is always a bit of a surprise. You can certainly intuit a general feeling of how well folks are doing but so much changes throughout the game that unless you have made some terrible early decisions, it’s impossible to know just how bad things are for you.
For those of us who have played Citadels, Dominion, Agricola, and even Settlers, there’s a lot of familiarity in the game although the final structure is delightfully innovative. Building up your city, making sure you have access to stone, lumber, and coin, choosing that perfect card will all feel comforting but then there are the quirks that give this game a real unique feel. For one, you only ever interact with your neighbours to the left and right of you. So if you’re in a five person game, you’ll only be matching armies or trading with the same two people for the entire game. This means you have to keep watch on what they do and try to work with them to your best advantage. Another quirk is how the hand of cards is treated. Everyone draws a hand of cards at the start of the game, plays their cards at the same time and then passes their unused cards to their neighbour. This means that not only do you have to pick the best card for any particular turn but you have to consider whether or not your neighbour can make better use of the cards you are about to hand them. It’s a painful thing to decide between giving yourself the potential for a wackload of points and the risk of giving your neighbour even more. But pain is good for you.
The game is divided up into three rounds which correspond to what cards you have access to. There’s an Age I, II, and III and each age builds upon what you’ve done over the past ages while at the end of each age, you determine things like military clashes and whatnot. There are a lot of cards to keep track of and various rules and exceptions which make having the rule book and cheat sheets invaluable to game play, especially trying to figure out scoring at the end but once you get used to how everything works, it truly is a delightful game. On this my wife and I easily agree despite the fact that I’ve lost almost every game I’ve played to her.