I always get asked "What's a good game for two people?" Now some game snobs might turn up their nose as such a question and claim that there's no such animal, but I think that's patently ridiculous. Chess, Space Hulk, BattleLore and most of my all-time favorite war games are only for two people.
In fact, there's a ton of great options, including games that either scale down well for two, like Splendor, or games that are specifically designed for a tandem, like Lost Cities. And since I tend to steer away from games that you have to tweak heavily in order to get them to work for two people, my preference is to recommend games specifically engineered for a duo.
One of the best new examples of the latter is 7 Wonders: Duel.
Before I present a detailed play-through of the game, here's some background info right from the realm-rulers at Repos Production, first in the form of a super-slick promotional vid:
And then via this synopsis on Board Game Geek:
"In many ways 7 Wonders: Duel resembles its parent game 7 Wonders as over three ages players acquire cards that provide resources or advance their military or scientific development in order to develop a civilization and complete wonders.
"What's different about 7 Wonders: Duel is that, as the title suggests, the game is solely for two players, with the players not drafting card simultaneously from hands of cards, but from a display of face-down and face-up cards arranged at the start of a round. A player can take a card only if it's not covered by any others, so timing comes into play as well as bonus moves that allow you to take a second card immediately. As in the original game, each card that you acquire can be built, discarded for coins, or used to construct a wonder.
"Each player starts with four wonder cards, and the construction of a wonder provides its owner with a special ability. Only seven wonders can be built, though, so one player will end up short.
"Players can purchase resources at any time from the bank, or they can gain cards during the game that provide them with resources for future building; as you acquire resources, the cost for those particular resources increases for your opponent, representing your dominance in this area.
"A player can win 7 Wonders: Duel in one of three ways. Each time that you acquire a military card, you advance the military marker toward your opponent's capital, giving you a bonus at certain positions. If you reach the opponent's capital, you win the game immediately. Similarly, if you acquire any six of seven different scientific symbols, you achieve scientific dominance and win immediately. If neither of these situations occurs, then the player with the most points at the end of the game wins."
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So here's how a typical game can shake out:
From the initial spread of options, player one Mark takes a free Clay Pool while player two Cleo selects a free Quarry. This, in turn, reveals the Baths.
Mark then opts for the free Garrison, which moves the Conflict Pawn one space in Cleo's direction. Cleo responds by taking a free Bath.
Mark then snatches up the Tavern which gives him a tidy l'il windfall of four free Coins. This reveals the Wood Reserve which Cleo is quick to procure for three Coins. In turn, the Workshop is flipped over.
In order to buy the Workshop, Mark is forced to do a Trade action. Since Cleo has no Buildings that produce Papyrus it only costs him a whopping two Coins. Cleo then decides to burn the Pharmacist to gain three Coins, getting the additional one thanks to her Wood Reserve.
Next up Mark snags the Theater fo' free. With the Stable, the Altar and the Guard Tower all now revealed as options, Cleo sinks one Coin into her Wood Reserve to gain the lumber required to buy the Stable. This moves the Conflict Pawn one space back towards the middle of the board.
On Mark's turn he decides to buy the Clay Reserve for three Gold. This, in turn, reveals the Logging Camp which Cleo promptly snaps up for a whole one Coin.
Next up Mark nabs the Guard Tower for free, which nudges the Conflict Token one space in Cleo's direction. On Cleo's turn she's itchin' to build the Piraeus Wonder. One of the required Wood comes from the Logging Camp but then she has to spend one Coin to get the second from her Wood Reserve. The Stone she needs is mined directly from her Quarry. Now she just needs one Brick, so she pays three more Coins to the bank, the additional +1 cost due to Mark's Brick- producing Clay Pool. The final construction step is burying a card in the sequence, so she burns the Altar and promptly takes another turn! Knowing that Mark really needs Papyrus, she callously discards the Press right in front of him for three Gold!
Since Mark's opponent doesn't have any Glass-producing structures yet, he only needs to spend two Coins to get the one Glass required to buy the Apothecary. This reveals the Palisade and the Clay Pit. In response, Cleo pays one Coin to pick up the Pit.
Mark battles back, picking up the sorely-needed Lumber Yard for free. This frees up Cleo to purchase the Palisade for two Coins, which, yet again, swings that Conflict Token pendulum right back to the middle of the Game Board.
In the final play of the Age, Mark nabs the Scriptorium for two Coins! With that requisition, he's half-way to a Scientific victory!
Normally the player with the weakest Military chooses who begins the next Age but since this a dead heat, the last active player, I.E. whoever played the last card of the previous Age picks who goes first. That's Mark, so he picks himself to start! Problem is: he can't afford anything right now so he burns the Walls for four Coins (with a +2 bonus coming from his Clay Reserve and Tavern). This reveals the Laboratory. Cleo is also poor as a church mouse and must make a big decision: dump the Customs House which makes Glass and Papyrus cheaper or the Laboratory which would give Mark a Progress Token. She decides the turf the latter for three Coins, enjoying a +1 bonus thanks to the Wood Reserve.
It comes back to Mark and he blows the four Coins required to pick up the Customs House. This reveals two news cards: the Archery Range and the Parade Ground. Cleo already has one Brick and one Wood for the latter so she pays a measly two Coins for the Papyrus since Mark has no matching Buildings. This gets her the Archery Range, which shifts the Conflict Token back two spaces in Mark's direction.
To prevent losing Coins to Cleo's surging Military, Mark spends one Coin to get a Papyrus from his Customs House and one Coin to get a Clay from his Clay Reserve. Coupled with the Brick from his Clay Pool, he buys the Parade Ground, which shifts the Conflict Token back to neutral ground. Cleo then burns the Library to keep it away from Mark and to generate three Coins for herself.
Mark responds by picking up the Drying Room for free. This reveals two new cards: the Barracks and the Forum. Cleo then uses the prerequisite Water symbol on the Baths to acquire the Aqueduct for the low, low price of zero! This flips over the Statue.
Mark can't resist picking it up the Statue since it's free thanks to the Theater . Eventually, though, he's going to have to generate some Coinage. Cleo replies by spending three Coins and a Brick from the Clay Pit to pick up the Forum.
Mark fires back by roasting the Rostrum for five Coins. This reveals the Glass-Blower and the Dispensary. Cleo responds by building the awesome Circus Maximus, getting one free Glass from the Forum, Wood from the Logging Camp, one Stone from the Quarry and buying the last Stone at the discount rate of two Coins, since Mark has nothing that produces Stone. To add insult to injury, she buries the School underneath it to keep it out of Mark's hands. The Circus lets her destroy one of Mark's Brown or Gray cards, so she goes after the Drying Room. It also shifts the Conflict Token one space in Mark's direction.
Mark decides that its time to start fighting back. He overpays for the Temple of Artemis by spending two Coins to wring one Glass and one Papyrus out of the Customs House. The Wood comes from the Lumber Yard but then he has to pay three Coin for the required Stone, the cost of which is inflated by one "thanks" to Cleo's Stone-producing Quarry. Of course, a card has to be sacrificed to complete the building process so Mark turfs the Glass-Blower. For constructing the Temple, he gets a whopping twelve Coins back and can now take a free turn. He snatches up the Barracks for free which, once again, pushes the Conflict Token back towards the middle of the Board. Cleo responds by picking up the incredibly-versatile Caravansary with two Coins, the required Glass coming from her Forum and the Papyrus coming from a two-Coin trade back to the bank.
Given all the Coinage that Mark just picked up, it makes sense for him to build The Great Lighthouse. The Wood comes from the Lumber Yard but he still has to pay three Coins for the Brick and two Coins to his Customs House to get two Papyrus. Mark then burns the Sawmill to bring this tremendous Wonder into being. Cleo then realizes that, thanks to the Logging Camp, the Caravansary and the Forum, the Courthouse is stone-cold free for her and worth a respectable five Victory Points.
With valuable resources coming from both the Great Lighthouse and his Clay Pool, Mark gets the Dispensary for free. Once again, Cleo is destitute so she plays keep-away with the Shelf Quarry and picks up five Coins.
Mark then spends one Coin to generate Papyrus from his Customs House to snag the Temple.
Once again the Military is in prefect equilibrium so Mark decides to play play first and erect a Statue of Zeus. With nearly everything provided by The Great Lighthouse, all he has to do is pay two Coins to produce the required Papyrus via the Customs House. He buries the Magistrates Guild to complete this Wonder, destroys Cleo's Clay Pit and then shift the Conflict Token one space in her direction. This, in turn, reveals an Obelisk. Cleo immediately picks this new monument up for free, with the Stone coming from the Caravansary and the Quarry and the Glass coming from the Forum.
Next up Mark snags the Pantheon for free since he has the prerequisite Sun symbol on the Temple. This reveals the Observatory and the Siege Workshop. Cleo goes after the Appian Way, which requires one Papyrus (from the Forum), two Brick (one from the Caravansary and three back to the bank), and two Stone, one of which comes from the Quarry and the other in Trade for two more Coins. To polish it off she torches the Observatory. This produces several immediate effects: Cleo collects three Coins from the Bank, Mark loses three and she takes another turn! Using the prerequisite Target icon on the Archery Range she picks up the Siege Workshop for free, which, in turn, moves the Conflict Token two spaces right back at Mark.
On Mark's next turn he picks up a complimentary Lighthouse, thanks to the Jug symbol on the Tavern. That puts four more Coins right back into his coffers! Meanwhile, Cleo picks up the Palace, with the two Glass coming from the Piraeus and the Forum, the Wood from the Logging camp, the Stone from the Quarry and Brick coming from the Caravansary.
This flips over the Arena, which Mark gets for free thanks to the Great Lighthouse. This also generates a whopping six more Coins for him, two for each Wonder! Cleo then goes after the Tacticians Guild, getting the two Stone from the Caravansary and the Quarry, one Brick for three Coins from the Bank, and the Papyrus from the Forum. This nets her a nice four-coin windfall as well!
Thanks to his Scrooge McDuck pile of Coins, Mark builds his last Wonder, the Pyramids. One Stone gets quarried from the Great Lighthouse, but he has to pay six Coin in total for the other two. He then parleys one Coin into a Papyrus via the Customs House. The last construction step is to discard an available Building so he chooses the Town Hall. With the titular 7'th Wonder constructed, Cleo has lost her chance to build the Colossus. As a consolation prize, she jumps all over the Builder's Guild, spending two Coin to get a Stone and mining the second from the Quarry. The Brick she needs for this purchase comes from the Caravansary with the Wood from the Logging Camp and the Glass from the Forum. This reveals the Chamber of Commerce.
Mark spends two Coins to get two Glass from the Customs House. The Wood and the Brick comes from The Great Lighthouse, which is all he needs to pick up the Academy. This, in turn, unlocks the Port. Cleo uses the Glass from Piraeus, Papyrus from the Forum and Wood from the Logging camp to snatch it up. This nets her two Coin for every Brown Card she owns, I.E. four Coins.
Now its Mark's turn and he's a bit stuck. He really doesn't want the Chamber of Commerce so he burns it for a whopping seven Coin. Unfortunately, this gives Cleo the ability to buy the mega-powerful Circus. To do so she pays one Stone from the Quarry and the other one she gets in Trade for two Coins. One Brick comes from the Caravansary and for the other she's forced to pay three Coin (+1 due to Mark's Clay Pit). This pushes the Conflict token two spaces in Mark's direction, which, in turn, forces him to discard two Coins! This also reveals Fortifications.
To bring balance to the Force, Mark feels compelled to buy that Fort. One Brick and one Stone comes from The Great Lighthouse, but he also has to spend one Coin to get Papyrus from his Customs House and three Coin to get the other Stone (+1 due to Clea's Quarry). This edges the Conflict Token back two spaces towards the center of the board. Knowing that if Mark nabs that University he'll win the game, Cleo gets a Brick from the Caravansary, one Glass from the Forum and one Papyrus from the Piraeus to play keep-away. This, in turn, brings up the Praetorium.
Mark doesn't have the eight Coins needed to build the Praetorium so he burns it for a whopping seven Coins! Cleo, just to be evil, decides to snatch up the Gardens, knowing that Mark can get it for free. She gets one Brick from the Caravansary, pays three Coins for the second Brick (+1 due to Mark's Clay Pit) gets one Wood from her Logging Camp and then pays one Coin to get the last Wood from the Wood Reserve.
In the last move of the game, Mark makes like Koch brothers and buys the Senate. One Brick comes from his Clay Pit, the other comes from his Great Lighthouse, which also provides the Stone. He then pays one Coin to the Custom House to get the final ingredient: Papyrus.
Mark...0 Cleo...13 (8 Points for the Builders Guild and 5 points for the Tacticians Guild)
Mark...12 /3 = 4 Cleo...10/3=3
Mark: 0 (Military) + 22 (Blue Buildings) + 7 (Green Buildings) + 6 (Yellow Buildings) + 0 (Purple) + 16
(Wonders) + 0 (Progress) + 4 (Treasury) = 55
Cleo: 2 (Military) + 31 (Blue Buildings) + 2 (Green Buildings) + 3 (Yellow Buildings) + 13 (Purple Buildings) + 8 (Wonders) + 0 (Progress) + 3 (Treasury) = 62
- I like how the difficulty scales up during the three Ages. In other words, after skimming the rules you can pretty just right into the first Age. Then, when more complicated options pop up, you can just pause the game, look up the appropriate iconography and then jump right back into the action. It's like a form of in-game programmed learning.
- Since Military or Scientific Victories are a constant threat, you have to be vigilant at all times. Handing your opponent one of these wins is like dropping a game of Tic-Tac-Toe.
- The ability to burn cards to generate Coins and turf things to construct Wonders is a major part of the strategy. I.E. you have to pay a lot of attention to avoid handing your opponent a big play on a silver platter.
- Since half the cards are face up, your encouraged to ponder future strategies. Conversely when unexpected cards pop up, you're forced to think on your feet.
- I like how the cost of resources is based on your opponent's holdings. Not only does this simulate inflation rather nicely, it could, in theory, make certain resources almost cost prohibitive in some games. In the above example both players didn't have a lot of gray and brown Resource Cards and this kept the Trade rates relatively low, but I can see the next game being completely different. This sort of variance certainly bodes well for game re-playability.
- Timing is critical! Its great to get first dibs on newly-flipped cards and the timely construction of a Wonder can also be a tremendous boon. Not only do these things give you some handy windfalls and / or permanent resources, some even give you the chance to take another turn. Time this perfectly and you can go on a mini-run that advances your strategy or shuts your opponent down cold.
- I like how the winner is always in doubt until the final score tally. I love how the Guilds and the Progress tokens make the scores just "swingy" enough to let someone come from behind.
- The cards, the Coins, the Game Board and the Conflict Token are all top-notice. The art is also quite nice.
- Thematically, it does kinda feel as if you're developing an increasingly-sophisticated civilization.
- Not much, actually. Some of the iconography is a challenge to memorize and you may find yourself reaching for the Help Sheet quite often at first. Plus the whole "player who chooses who goes first in the next Age is the last active player" rule seems a bit odd at face value, but clearly it didn't have a massive impact on the sample game above.
7 Wonders: Duel shocked the heck outta me, especially when you consider that I'm lukewarm at best on its parent game, which I especially dread with a full compliment of players. In a refreshing twist, this two-player version is short, sweet, and surprisingly nuanced.
As such 7 Wonders: Duel scores five pips outta six with a tilt up into the lingering and slightly awkward gaze of the Colossus of Rhodes!
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