As large and active as BoardGameGeek is, I think many people forget that the universe of game players dwarfs the BGG userbase, and in general that larger universe has a more casual relationship with games than BGG users. They don’t want to spend a lot of time learning how to play a new game, and they don’t want to feel stupid when they play something for the first time, and they are fine with a higher degree of luck in the games that they play.
7 Wonders: Architects was designed with this audience in mind, as noted by designer Antoine Bauza when the game was announced: “As I get older, I play more games with my family than a gaming group. This got me thinking about games that are welcoming to newcomers and can be enjoyed by friends and families.”
To show you what Bauza has in mind, here’s an example of the game in play:
You are me, the player in the lower right, and on your turn you can choose the top card of three decks: the deck to your left (which is associated with your wonder), the deck on your right (which is associated with my right-hand opponent’s wonder), or the deck in the center of the table (which is associated with no one). So your choices are:
• Take the mystery card in the center.
• Take the blue card worth 3 points, after which your turn ends.
• Take the yellow card with a coin that counts as a wild resource, which means it matches your scroll, thereby giving you two scrolls, which means you must complete the next level of your wonder, which is worth 3 points and gives you the bonus ability of taking the top card from any deck at the table — which means you can still grab a blue card worth 3 points, netting you 6 points total for the turn. That seems like the choice to make!
With this short description, you already know what a turn is like — choose one of three cards — and what two colors of cards do. What other card types are in the game?
• Dun cards are resource cards, which come in five types. As soon as you’re able to complete a level of your wonder — and the cost to do so varies from 2-4 resources, either matching or different as depicted on each level — you must spend the resources to do so. You must build from the ground up because you have not mastered the art of levitation.
• Green cards are science cards, and each card bears one of three icons. As soon as you collect two matching icons or all three icons, you must discard those cards and take a progress token from the center of the table, whether a face-up one or a mystery one. Some tokens are worth points, some give you bonus card draws each time you meet the right condition, and some give you a unique power.
• Red cards are military cards. Some show only a shield, and some show a shield with one or two horns (as with the one depicted above); if you take one of these latter cards, then you flip one or two of the octagonal conflict tokens to the red attack side. When all of these tokens are red, you compare your military strength (i.e., the number of shields you have) against each of your neighbors. For each neighbor you are stronger than, you score 3 points. (In a two-player game, such as the one above, you score 3 points for outranking the other player and 6 points if your military strength is double theirs.)
When someone has completed the fifth level of their wonder, the game ends at the end of their turn, then everyone tallies their points to see who wins.
You now know 93% of the rules to 7 Wonders: Architects, and if we had been sitting at the table together, we would already be through the first few rounds of the game. This is part of what Bauza means by “games that are welcoming to newcomers” — a game that you can learn as you go without having to download all of the information ahead of time, which is what is required to play 7 Wonders. (I know some people claim that 7 Wonders is a breeze to teach, but I think they’re underestimating how much a new player needs to absorb so that they don’t pick up their hand of cards and freeze.)
What else do you need to know?
Blue cards come in two types: 3 points and 2 points+a cat symbol, and when you take one of these later cards, you grab the cat totem from whoever has it. When you have this totem at the start of your turn, you can peek at the card on top of the central deck before drawing your card for that turn. In a two-player game, control of the totem is vital because it gives you an edge on the other player since both of you are drawing from the same three decks. With more players, the cat totem moves more frequently and someone might snatch the cat away before your turn even comes around again.
The value of many cards is situational, depending on the number of players in the game, which wonder you’re building, and how far you are along in the game. In the image above, I’m the player closest to the camera, and I can choose mystery, 2 points+cat, or a shield — and while normally I might not care about a shield, four of the five conflict tokens are red, which means we’ll like have a scoring soon, and if I don’t take the shield, then the player after me might take it (since we share that deck), which means they would score 3 points off me instead of me scoring 3 points off them.
One additional consideration in this case is that military cards with horns are discarded following a scoring, while those without horns stay with players until the end of the game. In this case, I wouldn’t be triggering the scoring myself, and I’d be halfway to matching the strength of the player to my right to keep them from scoring off me in the future.
That said, I have two progress tokens: one gives me a bonus draw from one of the three decks if I take a scroll or glass resource, and the other gives me a bonus draw if I take a wood or brick resource. (Apologies for the glare!) If I draw from the middle and get one of those resources, I’ll then have a bonus draw, which means I could still grab the military card. Should we take a chance on getting two cards this turn, or go for the sure thing rather than potentially having the military used against us?
I’ve played 7 Wonders: Architects six times on a review copy from publisher Repos Production, twice each with two, four, and five players, and the winning scores have varied widely, as has the components making up the winning player’s score.
In the case above, the player went all-in on Rhodes, used two science cards to grab the perfect progress token, then hit military regularly to score a bunch of points, while also constructing multiple levels of the wonder to end up with 52 points. In other games, a player has had 15 points in blue cards along with wonder points or multiple progress tokens that either provided points or drew extra cards, which sped building and ended the game before others really got going.
For more on the game, you can check out the videos below to see all the bits in the box — which includes my conjecture as to why this is a $50 game in the first place — and discover more examples of gameplay, while experiencing the “learn while playing” method described above and learning the powers of various wonders.