Getting Better: 7 Wonders
This is a column that helps you get better at your favorite games. Whether it's knowing the odds to draw black trains that are left in the deck in Ticket to Ride, or understanding the ramifications of picking a Rocket Courier X-99 early in a game of Ascension, if you're looking to gain an edge over your friends, this is the column for you.
7 Wonders is a wonderful, challenging, and intricate game with an incredible number of different possible strategies. If you have not yet read Ray Fong’s review and general strategy article, I suggest checking it out here before finishing this article. In 7 wonders, there are several ways to accumulate victory points and even some ways to lose them. While planning ahead can be difficult, it is possible with a fair amount of tech tree knowledge (see pg. 10 and 11 of your rulebook) and a keen eye on your opponents to form a simple yet effective strategy.
When first considering a plan of attack, it is important to remember that your main goal is to collect the most victory points at the end. One of the best parts about this game is that there are many different ways to accomplish this goal. A book could be written about the subject, but for now, I would like to focus on the more straightforward options.
Possible avenues for victory points:
With only 18 points possible, hording all the military cards is probably not the most solid plan, by itself. While you can lose up to 6 points during the conflict stages, you can lose a lot more than that by ignoring other cards along the way. You want to make sure you are never more than barely ahead of your neighbors in military power. If you have too many military cards, your neighbors will simply give up and choose a different game plan. If you are close, but ahead, they will be incentivize to spend precious draws to outrace you instead of building up a different part of their civilization. This can cost them points which ultimately can help you win. But don’t forget to have an alternate scheme as well because in the end, a final score of 18 points isn’t going to win you the game. The Military tree can work very well with the Science tree, allowing you to build some of the Age II and III buildings for free. This can be a very powerful combination.
Science-This can be a very profitable strategy with a total of 76 points possible in a 7 player game. However, it is unlikely that you would reach such a high number since someone else will probably catch on to your plan. Science can also help you build several of the military, civilian, and even one commercial building for free but only if you end up with the right ones. If you want to try for this plan, remember to build up the grey manufactured goods during the first Age because all the Age I science cards will require one of the three manufactured goods and will all allow you to build more science buildings for free in Ages II and III. If you happen to see a School during Age II, it can be one of the most powerful Science cards because it allows you to build both the Academy and the Study for free during Age III giving you a total of at least 10 points at the end of the game (even more if you have other Science cards). One last thing to note about Science buildings is that there are multiple copies of each one in each Age if you are playing with 7 players and it is very easy to accidentally play the same one twice which is not allowed.
Wonders-Each Wonder has a side A and a side B. The side B variants are often more complicated but also more rewarding. Most of the Wonders will reward you with about 10 points on the A side and between 3 and 20 points on the B side plus other bonuses. Most games I play end with fairly close scores and 10 points can often mean the difference between being first and last. They can also help you decide what strategy to employ by giving you a bonus or requiring certain resources. For example, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon will let you choose one of any Science symbol to add to the cards that you drafted at the end of the game if you build the second Wonder. However, the resources required are all raw goods which can be difficult to fulfill if you are drafting a lot of manufactured goods to be able to play your Science cards. It can be worth a lot of points at the end, but will take careful planning to achieve. It is also important to carefully choose the card you sacrifice to your Wonder. The cards often become less valuable as the Age progresses because the best cards have been chosen already. However, it can be worthwhile to pick a card for building your Wonder that you know your opponent is going to want a few turns before the age ends. If one of your opponents has an ability that allows them to build cards from the discard pile, be careful which card is used to build your wonder and which card is discarded.
Civilian Structures-The blue cards are pretty straight forward and vary between 2 and 8 points with no other bonuses.Keep an eye out for the Courthouse and the Senate which can be built for free using the Science buildings. The Palace is the only Commerical building worth 8 points and it requires one of each different resource with no potential to build for free. It is very expensive but can be worth your time if you plan ahead. Having one of each resource can gain you a fair amount of gold during the game as well allowing you access to many other types of buildings. For the most part, the Commerical buildings seem fairly balanced but with no potential for fun combinations and crazy end game points. The total amount of points, if you drafted every one, is 48 points in a 7 player game, but require a lot of varied resources. They could be used as a solid primary goal but it would be very useful to have a secondary scheme. Make sure to pay attention to the building chain to access some of these buildings for free during Ages II and III.
Commercial-These yellow cards vary in utility depending on what other cards you have on the board. They should not be relied on for many points, but can often help you achieve your primary plan. Most of the Commercial buildings will either give you gold or reduce the cost of goods which can help you build some of the very costly cards as you near the end of the game. Pay careful attention to the cards that depend on your neighbor for either resource trading or income. It would a waste of a turn if you draft the Bazar, which allows you to take one gold from the bank for each manufactured resource you and your neighbors have, if none of you had any of these grey cards. One Commerical building to watch for is the Arena. It gives you three gold and one victory point for each Wonder you have. This can be a very good card to draft if you are playing the B side of The Pyramids of Giza that have 4 possible wonders. While it is not a ton of victory points, it can help you when you need to pay for some of the expensive guilds during Age three.
Guilds-These purple cards require that you pay attention to not only what you have on your board but also what shenanigans your neighbors are up to. Out of the 10 different guilds, 8 of them are dependant on you neighbors boards. All of them are incredibly expensive, and most of them are concerned with the different types of cards. If you notice that the person on your right is building up a lot of military, you may want to make sure you have enough resources to build the Spies Guild that gives you a victory point for each military card your neighbors have. It may be worth memorizing or peeking at the rule book during Ages I and II to remember what resources will be require to build the guilds you hope to draft. Don’t forget that during each game, the guilds available will be randomly chosen. So, don’t waste too many actions preparing for a card that may not even be an option.
Leaders-These can give you very strong bonuses for choosing a strategy or two and sticking to it. As an example, you may pick a leader that gives you bonuses for building up your science cards making them suddenly more worthwhile than your civilian structures. However, the Leaders can cost a large amount of gold and it is important to make sure they are worth it. Even though you start with six gold at the beginning of the game when using the Leaders, be careful not to use too much of your gold on your first leader forcing you to discard cards for gold later in the game. When drafting the leaders, remember that, with a few exceptions, you can only play one Leader per round. Each Leader will be more or less useful depending on which round you choose to play it and since you can’t play all of them at the beginning or all at the end, it can be beneficial to plan which round you will play each one as you are drafting them. There are also certain leaders that work well with each other and would benefit different strategies. For example, one may benefit from playing Alexander and Caesar because they aide military domination but not Tomyris who will benefit you only if you are consistently losing military challenges. The Leaders adds a fun twist to the regular game by encouraging players to try different strategies and rewarding them if they succeed.
As a general strategy with the Leaders, you can break them up into two categories; ones with an easily calculated worth, and ones that are more situational. While both kinds can end up gaining you a varied amount of points, it is easier more likely that you will make the best decision with the more obvious Leaders. Therefore, until you have a strong handle or a very specific use for the situational cards, I feel it is better to start out by drafting two or three of the leaders that gain you points in a controlable way. For example, Amytis, give you two victory points for every Wonder you build at the end of the game. She costs you four gold to play so she will usually net you 4 ⅓ points. While she’s not amazing, you have an almost guaranteed number that you can work with to decide if she should be played. By contrast, Vitrusvius, allows you take gold from the bank every time you build a building for free using the tech tree. While this is still a simple concept, it can be difficult to plan around and calculate the usefulness of the card.
While it seems unusual to end the game with more than 15 gold, it can still supplement your final victory points and should be worth remembering that every 3 gold you spend is a victory point you could have at the end of the game.
Now that we know where victory points are coming from, how do we choose a winning strategy? The simplest answer is that you must know when a good opportunity presents itself. You must pay attention to your opponents and try to find your own niche while destroying theirs. In collectible card games, we call this “signalling.” If you really want to try for all the science points, don’t keep passing them around during Age 1 and just hope that no one else decides to play them as well. Choose the cards you want and if there is nothing that will help you win in a hand, choose a card that you know your neighbor would want (we call that “hate drafting”).
Once you have a strategy hammered out, it is also advantageous to be flexible and able to divert to an alternate plan if it is better than your initial plan. This may actually be my favorite part of this game. It feels very fluid and very different every time I play. While memorizing all the different tech tree building options and calculating every possible point total can help you inch along closer to the final point totals, the real way to win this game is by being able to quickly change directions and keep track of your strategy while evaluating your opponents’ as well. If you can accomplish this challenging but rewarding task, you will surely succeed.