The game 7 Wonders is without a doubt one must have games any tabletop gaming group’s collection. The subtle blend of ways to win and complex interactions between strategies make it a game that can be played over and over again. Since it hits the table so often at Timewarp central, we’ve been dying to give it the deep dive treatment strategy map we gave Scythe a few months ago!
There are already some great strategy posts for 7 Wonders out there (here, here and of course this epic post here to mention just a few!). In this post though, we wanted to dig as deep as possible and build the same kind of strategy map that we’ve used for a few other games and our own game Mitropia (upcoming on Kickstarter in Spring 2020 – sign up for notifications here!).
We’ll first go over some good standard advice already out there, then create the map and lastly go over a compendium of some of the most interesting deeper strategies.
This version of the Strategy map covers only the base game and we’ll aim to come back to it at some point to add in pointers for some of the expansions as well.
General 7 Wonders Advice
We won’t cover the base rules here, but if you’re not too familiar with 7 wonders then there are some great explainer videos available like this one from Dicetower’s Ryan Metzler and this one from Victory Point. Recurring themes from 7 Wonders strategy posts include:
- With military cards, consider going “all in” or staying out: By appearing to be a bully intent on winning the military lane early on, you may well scare your neighbors into submission and avoid a costly arms race. If one of your neighbors is doing this already then you might want to spend your precious cards elsewhere.
- Maximise your Wonder: Wonders convey specific advantages to you and make certain strategies more or less attractive. While it is not always the right choice, building out all the levels and using the wonder’s abilities to the max is often valuable.
- “Block” Science: unless you’re playing a science strategy yourself, keep a particular eye on neighbors playing the science strategy. With its geometric scoring rules it can generate very high scores if science focused players get all the cards they need. (As we’ll see later on though, in a lot of ways part of what’s needed to win 7 Wonders is not just “block science” but “block everything valuable”!).
- Keep a close eye on your neighbors in general: while science is an especially obvious case, watching your neighbors resources and needs is very useful in general. This is particularly true for the kinds of resources they play and need since this partly determines what you yourself can build.
- If in doubt, play blue cards to build civilian buildings: this strategy is often good for first time players since it’s easy to make progress racking up points while figuring out what everything does!
These are all solid strategies to play the game but it quickly becomes clear that there really is no silver bullet to success. To understand why these strategies and some deeper strategies work, we need to dig into the mechanics a little more.
A 7 Wonders Strategy Map
Under its civilization building covers, 7 Wonders is really a card drafting and set collecting game with a fine array of threads of interdependency between cards. The starting conditions of each player (their wonder), who is seated where and the mix of cards all play a major role as well.
Right out of the gate, something that often gets missed is that 7 Wonders is a game of only 18 turns. This is obvious when reading the manual, but it often seems to get lost in the excitement of seeing your initial hand of cards for the first game. This is great game design!
A number of other structural elements of the gameplay are also “hidden in plain view” in a similar way:
- There are different numbers, values of and types of cards in each phase and this significantly affects what you can do,
- The nature of some elements of the game changes considerably depending on the number of players playing, (for example as Red shows in his BGG analysis: 3 and 7 player games are highly resource constrained and 4 player games are not),
- In play, you need to continually trade-off between actions that score directly, actions that will enable future scoring and actions that will foil your opponents’ plans in some way.
- This further means that while some strategies have a high potential number of points, it may turn out you can’t play all these moves since the necessary preparation is not in place or there are not enough moves to play out all the cards you need. (Not to mention the fact your adversaries might be burying some of the cards you need.)
- There are different number of points “available” in each era and it’s possible to estimate what the average number of points per play might be as well as the value of a move. It is therefore possible to tell roughly if a move you are making is above or below average. As we’ll learn later though it often isn’t about good and bad, it’s about when the scoring potential of something shows up.
- 7 Wonders isn’t a zero sum game. That is, it isn’t the case that the same number of points will be scored each game and it is a matter of dividing them. While each type of card has the potential to generate certain numbers of points, the number of points actually scored and their totals will change somewhat game to game.
To capture what can be scored when we dug through the rules, cards and scoring to put together the strategy map below. We did this for both 3 and 5 players, but the same principles apply for other player numbers. As you can see though, even between these two numbers of players there are some interesting differences! Science and Guild tables are further below.
The yellow scoring values on the right of the maps are estimates of the number of points a single player can reasonably expect from each of the scoring categories. The scores in the main table indicate what is potentially available to all players.
This starts to highlight for example that getting a 3 point building in the first era is actually a fairly beneficial move or that playing two military cards in the 3 player game will win you the military lane, but at that point you are only scoring 1 point per card for those two moves.
The science cards in the game are always intriguing since they have a geometric scoring function: points are gained for the number of each type of Symbol and the sets of three collected. This means early moves often score little and later moves up-level the average. It’s often hard to estimate what the real result will be and other players can try to “foil” a science strategy since they think it will win the game if it comes off (not necessarily so).
The table below map the benefits of playing up to 16 science cards (which is the number you can just about reasonably play at maximum). In addition there are two “free” symbols in the game. These free symbols come from the Babylon wonder and the Science Guild.
Guilds are one of the least understood parts of the game. Often they seem to be an after thought that shows up randomly at the end of the game. Partly this is because you never know which guilds will be in the deck. However, it is possible to do some planning and this could be worth a 10-12 or more point swing at the end of the game.
Knowing which guilds could be available, which are valuable to you and other players is important in Era three. It also means that the raw and manufactured materials cards player in Eras 1 and 2 are not in fact dead plays in terms of scoring. They often form the basis of scoring with guilds.
The Underlying Score Dynamic
Perhaps the most important thing about looking at the game in terms of what’s available in terms of cards per era is that it becomes obvious that there is an “average” or “good” score per move both across the game as a whole and per era.
If you’re making a move which scores equal or better than this average level you’re likely doing well in that Era and overall. Be careful though, what counts is the value of that card at the end of the game, not the value when played. A military card might not win you a battle in round one but it might tip the balance later on.
A few people have already highlighted the average scores which could be considered good in any era. One of the most obvious clues is the “A” side of the pyramids of Giza wonder which looks like it might be the “base” case for a decent score in every era with three slots scoring 3, 5, and 7 each and no real “special” benefits: it’s just straight victory points all the way.
There are quite a few other indicators though that roughly 4.5 per card overall and 3, 5 and 7 respectively in each era are good levels of points to be scoring with each play of the game. For example:
- The average of the blue cards in Era I is about 2.5, in Era II about 4, and in Era III about 6.5.
- It’s generally feasible to win straight military victories (which gains 18 points and takes 3 away from each neighbor) with 5, maybe 6 cards. Depending on how you count those negative points (and how many players there are) this is in the range of 4.2-4.5 points per card played.
- As can be seen from the science map, it requires at least four cards (in the right combination) to start to reach 3 points per card (a good score for era I) and it actually takes 7 or 8 cards (assuming you are not playing Babylon and don’t get the science guild) to go significantly above the 4.5 target average across the whole game. This is approximately half the moves in the game.
While not every move you play will net you the desired number of points per era, it is good to bear this target in mind.
The Non-Zero Summness of 7 Wonders
As we already observed, 7 Wonders has fixed amounts of points available for perfect plays of certain types of cards, but how many of each type of card end up on the table is very much dependent on the strategies all the players take. This means the totals of the scores of the players will not always add up to the same thing.
The non-zero sum nature of the game plays out in three important ways:
- Science, Guilds and to some extent military will depend on the right cards reaching you, hence certain strategies can be foiled by others. The turn order is important here.
- One of the standard pieces of advice is to use the powers of your Wonder. This is good advice, but it goes deeper, you actually should go one step further and look at the relationship of your wonder to those of your neighbors. In other words, not only what does their wonder have? but how will it encourage them to play?
- Games with more players arguably become more strategic than smaller games. In smaller games everything you do affects your neighbors directly. In larger game you need to think about moves which will deny scoring to players half way around the table as well. (e.g. grabbing resources in resource constrained games).
Additional Strategy Tips
Based on our analyses and these posts we pulled out what we think are the top few “deeper” tips that you can unleash in your next game!:
- Make your 18 moves count: you’re always scoring, setting up scoring or denying scoring, try to evaluate things in those terms. In particular think about the benchmarks of 3, 4, and 7 points per move as good targets in each Era.
- The number of players really matters: 3 and 7 are really resource constrained, military matters more in small games and large games are generally more strategic with a need to deny points to players across the table. Knowing the number of each type of card in play can really help here.
- The key is not just in the Wonders but in their relationship to each other: relationships between you and your neighbors really matters: but how but how do you know what that relationship will be? A priori it’s hard to know – but incentivize your neighbors early to take the path you need.
- The guilds are an underrated final multiplier and leveler: while it’s not known which exact guilds will be in the deck you can assume that played well they are easily worth >7 points to someone. Memorizing what combinations are good for certain guilds can be valuable to add a few more points.
- Raw and Manufactured Goods are not dead cards: While they are obviously needed to play other cards anyway, it isn’t true that resources and so on are not worth anything at the end of the game: they are with the right guild cards. Playing two guild cards could net you significant numbers of points from your own and your neighbors resource cards.
- Block everything valuable: the general advice to block science is natural since it becomes so much more valuable with high card counts. However, in reality this advice applies to all the potential moves which score “above average”: the highest scoring Civilian Buildings, the perfect guild for another player, the right resource to complete final wonder stages.
- Go for science “early”: reaching only 3-4 science cards means a very low score per card. It’s best to get some science moves in early in Era I where the expected scores available are not so high anyway and this maximises you chances of adding a few more to get the 7 or 8 later in the game. Starting science late is almost always a losing bet.
There is micro-strategy about which cards are better than others, but on the whole the game is well balanced. Certainly watching which cards grant free builds is also an important thread. Hopefully though the maps here provide a useful overall strategic context for how the game works.
7 Wonders is truly a fantastically well built game with a great deal of balance built in. There is a lot of subtle interdependence between players. Finally it feels like Antoine Bauza’s brilliant final twist of throwing in the unpredictable guilds adds a fun leveler in right at the end!
Lastly, if all this is too much we’ll just have to leave you with this one simple tip for you – our favorite default strategy: You can never have enough Papyrus!
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you’re interested in strategy games generally follow our upcoming Strategy Game Kickstarter Mitropia.