7 Wonders Duel is a drafting game for two players. Designed by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala, and published by Repos Production. The playtime is approximately 30 minutes. If you have played 7 Wonders, then you are familiar with the theme and general mechanics of 7 Wonders Duel, but the game is actually quite different. Each player drafts four wonders to start the game after which the game is played out over three ages. Each age has cards set out on the table in various shapes, with alternate rows of cards face up and face down. Each successive row partially covers the row above it. The first round is a pyramid with two cards at the top and six cards at the bottom. On a player’s turn they will remove one card from the display and are unable to take a card that is partially covered. As cards are removed, the card in the rows above are uncovered and are therefore turned over if face down and are able to be drafted as well. When a player drafts a card they may do one of three actions with that card. The first is to buy the card by paying its required resources and place it in your city. Then, depending on the card, it may have some effect. For example if the card is red and has a shield on it, this counts for military action, and the token on the military track is moved toward the opponent. Brown and grey cards in your city have resource symbols on them which may be used to pay for cards on future turns. The second option with a drafted card is to discard it and recieve two gold coins. Each yellow building in your city gives you one additional gold when discarding. The final option is to place the card under one of your wonders, indicating that you have met the resource requirements and thus built that wonder. Each wonder has actions associated with them such as taking another turn, getting military actions, destroying opponent’s resources, and so forth which take effect one time when the wonder is built. Once seven of the eight wonders on the board have been built, the seventh wonder may no longer be built. When the first age card layout is gone, the second age layout is set up. Whomever is behind in military might takes the first turn. Play continues through the third age, after which victory points for the various buildings, military position, wonders, and other sources in your city are added up and the player with the highest total is the winner. There are two early victory conditions as well. The first is to win by military might which is accomplished by advancing the token along the military track to the opponent’s side. Once the token gets to the opponent’s end space the player instantly wins the game. The other early win condition is achieved by collecting science cards. These are green cards, each of which has different a symbol on it. If a player collects six different symbols, that player immediately wins. In addition, if a player collects two science cards with the same symbol, they may then claim a special token which will provide a bonus for the rest of the game.
I am really impressed by the mechanic of building a tableau of cards which are drafted by the two players. It was introduced in 7 Wonders as a two player variant to drafting and it is pure genius. In fact, I may try to use this drafting method the next time I play Magic: The Gathering with my friend. The fact that you can see some of the cards that you are drafting and not others means that you can draft defensively some times, but when a face down card is flipped over you are never certain if it will reveal something that your opponent really needs. You have to think a move or two ahead and sometimes figure out if you or your opponent will be forced to reveal the next juicy card choices. The inclusion of the early win conditions means that you really have to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, and if they seem to be trying to advance the military track or are collecting all the science cards that they can get their hands on, then you may have to draft and discard cards in order to deny them the early victory rather than taking the best card for your particular strategy.
I enjoyed playing 7 Wonders Duel and find it a great alternative to 7 Wonders when you are limited in players, but I ultimately enjoy the original 7 Wonders as I tend to like more players and more offensive play rather than being forced into playing defensively. I would say that if you enjoy 7 Wonders, but item find yourself with only two players, then 7 Wonders Duel is a fine edition to your collection.