Have at you!
I have mentioned it before (no, I really have. Look it says so right here) but when I got into board gaming I got into it for the social aspect and co-operative gaming was the way forward for me because low conflict “nicey nicey” gaming looked to be the best thing for me and my gaming group. This may well have something to do with the fact that the first game I bought was Pandemic though. Since then so much has changed! The beast within me has awoken and it’s such a good feeling utterly trouncing an opponent when the opportunity arises.
One game which was instrumental in awakening this beast for me was 7 wonders duel (now known throughout this review only as duel because I’m too lazy to keep typing 7 wonders duel all the time). It was given to me as part of the Board Game Geek Secret Santa last year and has seen some considerable table time since. Thank you Secret Santa!
One way to Duel, 3 ways to Win
First things first, as the name would imply, Duel is 2 player only. I think that a duel with several people would be interesting (in a really messy kind of way) but a little hard to judge a winner for!
From the research that I have done it seems that 7 wonders prime is a really good game but impossible to play with 2 players. Since I game a lot solely with my wife this really wouldn’t work too well for me. Besides, given how good Duel also is I think I’d feel a bit traitorous picking up a copy of 7 wonders now. It may also have something to do with the lessened satisfaction of rubbing one person’s face into the table so they can much better taste their defeat; it’s much harder to do it with several faces at once.
So how do we play? You set up a tableau of cards in one of 3 different shapes (as Duel is played across 3 in-game ages) depending on which age you’re playing. On your turn you can either take a card from the tableau and build it, you can build a wonder (if you have the resources to do so) or you can burn a card in the tableau for some good ol’ fashioned money.
As the (not just cleverly named) title suggests there are 3 ways to win a game of Duel. You can amass as many victory points as you can through means I’ll go through shortly, you can win by collecting green cards with science symbols on them (if you collect all 6 different symbols then that’s a insta-win) or if you’re so inclined you can take on some age old Military might, march an army to your opponents doorstep and then light a bag of dog poo on it to show that you mean business before taking over the place like all of the bad parts of “invasion of the body snatchers”.
But Chris, how do I do these things? And how come you know so much about lighting bags of dog poo? Alas, I will only answer one of those questions and leave the other to your imagination. When I were a lad there was this one time….
More wreaths than a florist at Christmas
In the tableau there will be a veritable rainbow of different coloured cards for you to get your megalomaniacal (best scrabble word ever) grubby little mitts on. Brown cards give you basic materials (wood, bricks etc), grey cards give you more advanced materials (parchment and glass) and both of these are factored in later on in the game when you’re trying to purchase more “expensive” and much more useful cards. They are also necessary for you to build Wonders.
You can get green cards which have scientific symbols on them if you want to try for the science insta-win and they also have symbols which can sometimes equate to free cards later on. Coupled with this use, if you get 2 of the same you can snag a token which has various uses. Blue cards mostly look pretty and give you some victory points at the end of the game.
Last but not least you can acquire yourself some yellow cards which can reduce the cost of materials you might need to buy, but also increases the money you get from “burning” cards from the tableau.
Some cards have a monetary cost to them, some are free (and not just from a 5 finger discount) and some will be free assuming that you already have the right resources to build them.
I’m seeing Red!
As you can imagine, you need a good way to be able to track if the military wolf is at your door and Duel has a well thought out way to show this. I’m sure it has a proper name but I affectionately call it “THE DOOM TRACK” *dun dun dun!*. It starts off nicely in the middle of your 2 cities and as you start to tip the duel in one direction or the other, the pawn on the doom track draws inexorably closer to your city or your opponents.
To shift the pawn you need to collect the Red cards from the tableau and they will have either 1, 2 or even 3 shields on them signifying how far you can move the War Pawn along the track. After your reach certain points along the track, your opponent has to give some money away and you’re guaranteed some victory points assuming that you end up in the same space. If the pawn reaches the end, then you’re in the victory position I mentioned near the beginning.
7 wonders and a Duel
Let’s not forget about the titular Wonders. These are drafted in the beginning of the duel and you get 4 each. Assuming you get the resources to build them then you can build a wonder on your turn. Once built you benefit from a variety of useful bonuses for building them from a large cash injection and an instant extra turn, to being able to get your opponent to get rid of one of their precious materials and then netting a tidy sum of victory points at the end.
It can turn in to a bit of a race to do this as there can be only one… sorry, sorry… I did the Highlander thing again didn’t I? There can be only seven. That means one of you will always have the one that got away.
Questions, questions, questions!
Now, I realise that there are some things in my explanation which I haven’t touched on, but I’m sure you don’t read these to learn how to play the game, you read them so you can read about what I think of the game. For those of you that would like to know more about Duel then you can find the rulebook here.
A show of Might or a Flaming bag of dog poo?
I’m going to come right out and say it now… I likely wouldn’t have gone and bought Duel. It was released at the time that I was still thriving on low conflict games and was worried about hurting peoples’ feelings. There’s nothing wrong with caring, but I’d have really missed out if I didn’t have a copy.
There are just so many things that make duel great. There’s the 3 ways to win, there’s the very personal 1 on 1 interaction (and mocking that goes with that) while playing and there’s also the different paths that you can take to achieve a victory point win.
Duel has been exceptionally well thought out and made and empowers you to make risky decisions for high rewards or to have them blow up in your face, in the same way that any risky decision will. There’s a beauty to be had in snatching a military win in the 3rd age of the duel which snatches a victory from your opponent which has been stashing victory points like an autumnal squirrel stashes nuts and there’s also something humbling about tasting the bitter defeat when you know after half an age that you’re well and truly done for, but still need to see the game through. Or feign illness, flip the table, go Jackie Chan on your opponent, or forcibly eject them from your house before the game is over. As with everything, the choice is yours of course.
Duel is also a game which has brought out the best and worst in people; myself included. Both players can always appreciate a masterful strike if you manage to pull a combo out of your behind and dominate an age, but you can also sometimes wallow in guilt when your purposely burn every card that you know is useful to your opponent and then shower yourself in the money you have earned… not that I have ever done that of course.
In a nutshell, if you play with 2 often, then 7 wonders duel is THE game to have.
I give 7 Wonders Duel 8.5 flaming bags of dog poo out of 10. It’s a game which will not be leaving my collection for some time.
So, now you’ve read about how epic 7 Wonders Duel actually is, you may be interested in the newly released expansion, the mouthful named 7 Wonders Duel Pantheon. What does Pantheon bring to the table? Check it out here. No dog poo references this time, I promise.
If you think that 7 wonders Duel could be for you, but you’re not ready to take my word for it (don’t worry, I’m only a little bit offended) then you can head over to BGG and ask questions about it until your heart’s content:
If you would like to pick up your own copy of Duel: Pantheon, you can do so here:
If you’re just wondering what the publisher are up to their address is *removed* and you’ll need binoculars. Failing that, their website is here:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.