Lucius peered up from his manuscript and watched the countryside burn from the tower window. Smoke disfigured the armies that were approaching their doors, but the messengers had already stammered out the eulogy of the outer provinces by the hands of thousands of garrisons. Soon the aqueducts, Pantheon and markets would be sacked unless their greatest minds could piece together the final equations for the development of masonry. Their strategic developments of agriculture, theology, law, mathematics and urbanism had kept their nemesis at bay, and with the additional progression in construction development they could hold the walls and convince powerful allies to assist them in regaining rule. However with resources scarce and their end days balancing on a knife’s edge, Lucius dropped his pen and his body to it’s knees as he began to pray. As he heard the stampede of feet rising the tower stairs he knew it was either the enemy combatants here to end his rule or his philosophers here with word of success. Before he lifted his head once more, he heard the unmistakable grating of steel across stone…
7 Wonders is possibly the best gateway title I have in my collection. The combination of light yet meaningful player interaction, multiple paths to victory and ease of explanation allowed me to introduce a few groups of very different people to modern board games. It expanded with Leaders to grant players unique powers, Cities to increase military interaction and Babel (released just over a year ago) included laws and taxes. With all this diversity already available, it’s amazing to discover during your first play how Duel manages to distil and re-engineer 7 Wonders into a sublime and thoughtful head to head race for the development of your civilization.
Tableau building, wonder development, and constructing building mechanics all stand tall on the immovable shoulders of the original as you play through three ages. Blue civic buildings add to end game victory points, brown natural resource cards form the basis of your construction economy, yellow cards grant economic and trade benefits and gray cards continue to provide you with refined goods. On your turn you are able to construct a building, build a wonder or trash a card in order to gain money to fund your empire. Should you reach the end of the third age, players will tally up victory points and a winner declared. This is where the similarities end and you unearth the marvel of Duel to watch it glisten before you.
You first age pyramid allows you to draft from the base unlocking face up and face down cards to make them available for use
Drafting has been completely overhauled into overlapping card arrangements that players will draw cards from, unlocking cards beneath them through the action choices. Each shape varies as the ages progress with face up and face down cards enticing players to pick their favoured option with one eye, while looking to simultaneously deny their opponent cards that will further their aims. Grabbing that theater in the above image will reveal two available cards for your opponent to choose from while picking the Scriptorium in the middle would force your opponent to reveal cards further up the shape. This ingenious variation of visibility in drafting creates an entirely new feel to 7 Wonders, making you focus more than a single card ahead while drafting and creating interesting conundrums that are obvious to both you and your opponent. While drafting in the original I would mostly focus on my own plans with a quarter eye on the other 4 players at the table as I felt less agency in my future drafts, while Duel exhilarates like a fencing match of drafting with a double edged blade.
Each player starts with 4 Wonders to develop that grant him instant or ongoing benefits.
As trading with a single opponent would hamstring early development due to their lack of resources, Duel has developed an intricate bank market with demand causing increasing prices through dominance. As with the original, should you require additional resources from those in your tableau to construct buildings and wonders, you’d need to pay 2 coins per resource, but this time to the bank and with an increased cost based on your opponents resources. The equation is simply the base cost of 2 coins + 1 for each unit of the chosen resource that your opponents city produces. Should I require 3 stone to build the pyramids and my opponent has a quarry that produces 2 stone and my tableau produces none, I would need to pay 12 coins to the bank to be able to build the pyramids! While seemingly exorbitant, trashing cards yields more money than before depending on your developments, with a base of 3 coins from the bank for the trash action + 1 for each yellow economy building you have in your tableau.
Military is no longer simply a victory point exercise with pendulum mechanism that can end the game!
Military and Science developments however are the strongest mechanical changes made to the 7 Wonders format as dominance in either tree can trigger an early victory. Duel comes with a side board that depicts the front lines of the war waging between the civilizations. When you produce shields by constructing military developments, the battle line (indicated on the board by the red sword and shield) moves that many spaces towards you opponent’s side of the board. Should your army force your opponent back into his middle third, they will need to pay 2 coin to the bank to sustain his forces and should your forces remain there till the end of the game it is worth 5 Victory points. If you military strength forces them into the final third, your opponent will need to pay further tribute and if you should reach the last bastion at the end of the track, you instantly claim dominance and victory!
No Longer simply victory points, Science offers player powers as well as a pathway to immediate victory!
Scientific developments no longer work in combinations for bonus points, but offer a victory condition and permanent benefits to the civilizations that focus on progressive study. With 7 different symbols, adding these cards to your tableau will grant you victory points, instant victory should you collect 6 different symbols and player powers when you own duplicate symbols. 5 unique technologies (disks) will be available each game which can grant players strategy (an additional shield whenever developing military), urbanism (6 coins instantly and 4 cards whenever you upgrade structures for free) and masonry (less two resources of your choice when building civic buildings) to name a few.
Cutting the third age of my thoughts short, much like most technological developments, Duel is my favourite version of 7 Wonders that I have played which is quite something as you may have seen how I fawned over the original masterpiece. The open drafting makes picking development cards more meaningful, creating military instant victory conditions ensures that you have to diversify in order to stem the tide of your opponents army and the scientific developments, while worth less victory points have the added dimension of permanent player powers. The intricate balance created in the new trading and trash mechanics, both costing and yielding more gold, creates new uses and benefits for economy cards, while making resource gathering crucial to drive up costs for your opponent. 4 Wonders instead of 1, each with a different power, cleaner iconography on the cards and the elegant shapes of the drafting decks clinically implemented all make this more than an equivalent to 7 wonders. It’s my preferred implementation of a civilization card drafting game.
Much like when you’ve seen John Carpenters version of “The Thing”, you remember the brilliance of the original but cant see past the effects and atmosphere of the remaster. Duel’s drafting, military and scientific additions all employ more evolved mechanics than 7 Wonders but sadly it’s clear that these improvements would break the core balances of the original and diminish its elegant simplicity. The silver lining of this cloud is that you can (and should) own both of these designs from artisan Bauza without any hesitation to benefit from all that his Wonders offer. The only aspect of the original that Duel completely obliterates is the two player version of the original. Never play that again…