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Monday, May 23, 2011

HOT BOX - '7 Wonders' by Antoine Bauza (Review) - Yes ANOTHER review of this 'Kennerspiel de Jahres' nominee

Seriously, you really want to write a review of 7 Wonders? Really? There are already 54 reviews on BGG. 54!? Wow.

The box for 7 Wonders - some of the nicest box
cover art I've seen

Well, this review has been rolling around in my head since playing it this weekend with 6-players at Lorna's house and then 3-player with my kids.

So, sorry to subject you to another. And, with the nomination announcements for the Kinnerspiel de Jahres today (although Spiel de Jahres seemed to me the more appropriate category for it), I'm sure there will be another 50+ reviews in the coming weeks. Ah well, I guess I'm 'on the bandwagon' with this one.

Ok, I've played this game a handful of times so far. And, I have to admit that I really do enjoy playing it. It is not an extremely deep game but it has some interesting decisions to make. It is light enough that I can play it with my kids (although I suspect they are nearing the point where they can wade into deeper waters) but it has enough meat on it to keep me interested. I love that you can play it as easily with 3 as you can with 7 (I've heard 2 might be ok, but it might not be - hopefully I'll get to try it that way soon). And, best of all, it's just a fun game!

Well, I guess you know my opinion so you might as well stop reading now......



No? Still there? Alrighty then.

I taught this game to my kids on Sunday evening. My son is 8 and my daughter is 11. They love Dominion, Thunderstone, Stone Age and other light-ish to middle weight sorts of games, although I was a bit concerned about their ability to parse the symbols and the variety of functions. Still, this is billed by many as a family-friendly game and they often surprise me in their ability to pick games up. I was probably most worried about my son due to the age of 13+ listed on the box (although BGG says 10+ which I think is probably more accurate) but he picks up stuff pretty well so figured this was be a good test.




Back of the box

  
Example of nice art even on the side of the box (inside)


Setup
I set up the game while they took their baths. I knew we had a small window of time to play so just wanted to get it set up ahead of time so that I could teach them quickly and get it moving.

I sorted the decks out (removing the cards listed with 4+ and higher, plus reducing to only 5 purple - aka Guild - cards for Age III) thus ending up with decks of 21 cards each. I pre-dealt 7 cards for each person for each Age then set aside the hands for Ages II and III. I picked 3 boards that had similar Wonders, set out the military award chips and bank money and set out 3 coins per player.

Stacks of Age I, II and III cards, plus the special
2-player cards (left) and civ. randomization cards (right)



The player boards



Money and Military point chips




Teaching

Once they were done bathing we sat down and I started in with how the cards are laid out with the cost in the upper left, the benefits and symbols at the top, the name on the left side and the buildings listed on the lower right that you can build for free if the card is in your tableau.

I talked about how the Wonders work where you must build the 3 parts of the Wonder in order from left to right by placing a card there instead of using the card for the actual building. I also mentioned how you can buy resources from your neighbors when building (and buy for less if you have special market cards that allow it) and you can discard a card instead of building something so that you can get 3 coins.

Finally, I talked about the key point generation features such as collecting sets of science symbols, gaining (or losing) points by having more (or less) military than your neighbors, building blue (Civilian) buildings for VPs, building purple (Guild) buildings that give VPs based on a variety of conditions, and getting VPs for certain levels of your Wonder.

The Symbols
Some concerns mentioned by others about this game relate to the number and variety of symbols on the cards and whether it's overwhelming to learn for newbies. Frankly, most of the symbols are pretty straight forward: wood/logs, red (clay) bricks, gray stones, blue glass, pink cloth, tan paper, crossed swords for military (always on red cards), 3 different science symbols (always on green cards) -- most are part of the 'cost to build' symbols and you just have to match them. You don't have to even know what they are called. Once you understand the concept of where you 'get' the resources from, the rest falls into place.

There are just a couple of special symbols like the arrows pointing to various areas of the board (yourself and your neighbors), the pyramid symbols that represent the levels of the Wonders, and....hmmm, I thought there was another one - maybe the colored card symbols and how the coin/vp symbols interact for generating money and VP. The card symbols aren't too confusing but the usage might not be obvious for everyone. I think I got a couple of questions from the kids about what the card symbols and the pyramid symbols meant later in the game. Otherwise, they didn't seem to have any questions after the initial teaching.

But, here's the thing - 90% of the symbols make sense just looking at them. The remaining symbols are all easily explainable, plus there's a really nice reference sheet that shows all of them.


Reference sheet included (back of the rule book
also has the same information)

 Actually, there are TWO reference sheets, one on the back of the rulebook and one that is a separate sheet. AND, the symbols that are difficult mostly come late in the game (Age III) when everything else has become familiar. Thus, they are easy to explain at that point.


Getting on with the game
Well, I explained the whole game in maybe 8 or 9 minutes and they seemed to get most of the concepts and only had one or two quick questions. As is typical with the kids, it's easiest just to start playing and explain the rest of the details as we go.

As expected, they jumped right in with their first building choices. I think they chose their buildings before I did! Jacob and I both paid each other 2 coins to use the default resource of each of our civilizations. We were on our way.

The first Age actually went pretty quickly. I had Babylon with the extra science symbol on my Wonder's middle section so I decided focusing on science was a good tack. Thus, my initial focus was on building my resources to support the Wonder builds. My kids each both built immediate VP buildings during the first couple of rounds, then military soon followed for both.

As we progressed through Ages I and II, I found I had focused mostly on resources and science while the kids had actually diversified quite a bit.

By the middle of Age III each of us had only built 1 section of our Wonders. Jacob and I eventually finished our Wonders with Jacob completing his on his last build. I was hoping for one final science symbol that would give me a bunch of points but I noticed Jacob had built it on his 2nd to last build of Age III. As a result my very last action was to discard for 3 coins as I had only 1 coin and none of the appropriate resources to build the last 2 cards in hand.

End game tableaus

The end
The final scores
When we added up our final scores, Emily had 39, Jacob 42 and I ended up with 38 (although I realized later if I'd used my optional Science symbol in a slightly different way I would have earned 3 more points giving me 41 - still one shy of Jacob).





General Observations
So, here are my observations of this game (note that this includes not just the play with my kids, but all my plays together):
  • The game is relatively easy to pick up and be successful at.
  • Plays can be primarily tactical, but there are also obvious long-term strategies to work towards as well.
  • It's very difficult to be highly successful at ALL scoring aspects of the game so you must pick and choose.
  • The game play is quick regardless of the number of players.
  • The symbols used don't seem to be an inhibitor in learning to play the game. (This, of course, will vary based on particular players)

Pros
  • Beautiful artwork.
  • Smooth, streamlined game play.
  • Good game play for wide range of players (3-7)
  • Short play time (I don't think I'd want this game to be too much longer than it is)
  • Interesting decisions (which expands as you get more experience)

Cons
  • Since randomization of the card deck occurs, the perception is that you may not have enough control over the game to make much of a difference.
  • Somewhat large box for what is essentially a card game with player boards, some chits for money and military VP. Yes, it fits in well with the nice insert, but it perhaps could have been smaller...
Inside the box

  • Some decisions are no brainers. This isn't necessarily bad, though, as many games have this from time to time.
  • A good amount of table space is required as you lay out more and more cards over the course of the game.

Final assessment
I have already stated previously that I quite enjoy this game. It's great to look at. Everyone gets to play at the same time so there is almost no downtime. The turns go quickly most of the time, even if you need to evaluate what the possibilities are for the cards in hand because you can usually eliminate some choices that you can't build due to resource issues. From the remaining choices you might have some free builds (due to previous buildings you've built) or some obvious builds based on your current strategy with focus on science, military, VP buildings, etc. This isn't to say that every choice is easy - sometimes it is and sometimes it's not, with more difficulty later in the game as you see what others are building and might want just as much to negatively impact them as to positively impact yourself.

Another part of the difficulties in making choices is deciding when to sacrifice building something in your tableau to build a portion of the Wonder (which is almost always beneficial to do). There are many nuances to consider as different cards will be beneficial to some players and less beneficial to others. I think as you gain more experience you will start to learn what cards are available and begin to expect to look for certain cards. You will also start to watch more what other people are doing at the table, even if they aren't directly next to you.

A typical response is that 7 Wonders plays really well with a wide range of players and this is always a plus - this game is likely to get played a lot just for this reason alone. Of course, people wouldn't even want to pull it out if it wasn't a good game, so the fact that gamers WANT to pull this game out when they have a larger group is terrific. No more suffering through mediocre party games (well, there are good party games too, but sometimes we don't want just a party game) and being able to play quickly as well.

Teaching the game, from what I've seen, is fairly straight forward and learning the symbols isn't too difficult. There may be a lot of them but most are not difficult to figure out. Also, some of them don't come out until later in the game, so it's not usually too overwhelming for newbies.

Finally, and the most important thing about a game like this, is that it's FUN! The theme itself doesn't necessarily speak to this but it really is. I think most people are intrigued by the 7 Wonders of the World so that certainly makes it accessible. And, interactions between players is there, but it's not mean or very direct, even when looking at the military aspect which more benefits the person building up military than it hurts the person NOT building up military. It's more of a trade-off aspect but it doesn't feel like you are being 'attacked' with things being destroyed, etc.

There are ways to bury cards to keep them out of the hands of players that would benefit from them, but it's not like you're directly affecting their civilization, just denying them something. This sort of interaction is appealing as it's not likely to cause undue strife with spouses/significant others, but still gives you a way to try to control other people a bit.

The terrific thing about this game is it seems to hit all the right notes together at the same time. Accessible, fast, scalable, indirect interaction, clean design, beautiful artwork, fun to play.

Sounds like a (SdJ? oops KdJ!) winner to me!

2 comments:

  1. "Once they were done bathing" - I'd like to see that phrase in more reviews!
    I share your feelings about the game overall. It is quick, has some (though by no means all) meaningful decisions, and it looks good! It just doesn't satisfy the desire for a game that fully engages the mind. As long as people don't expect that, they'll be satisfied.

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  2. ROTFL, glad you liked that part - I'll try to work it in some more reviews just for you :)

    Yes, 7 Wonders isn't a game that I'd pick to fully engage the mind, but it moves along briskly enough to not let that bother me at all.

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