7 Wonders Strategic Analysis

Designer: Antoine Bauza
Publisher:  Repos Production
Released: 2010
Expansions:  Leaders, Cities

Introduction

And here we have 7 Wonders, a keystone title for most of us hardcore gamers.  Although I have a lot of respect for it now, I admit I was not a fan of this game when I first played it a couple years ago because you constantly have to be making decisions about which cards to take, and it’s very frustrating not having any idea about which cards to pick when you are unfamiliar with the game.  This frustration is present over and over throughout your first few hands, and probably your first few ages.  Heck, probably your first few games.  What makes it difficult is that it’s fairly hard to explain how to play because there are so many very different ways to score points.  When you get down to it, there are 2 primary strategies (science or community) that you can use as the foundation for your game, so just pick one of them based on the wonder you are building and the cards you get in Age 1, and do the best you can with it by supplementing it with military, treasury, and guilds.  Of course I have plenty of other tips to scrape away a few extra points as well, so gather ‘round and let me tell you how to build the greatest wonders the world has ever seen.

As with all of my analyses, I am assuming you know how to play this game so I can focus entirely on the strategies to help you win it.  Check out the video above or the text analysis below.

This game, like many others, is about more efficiently gathering victory points than all of your opponents in a limited amount of time.  To put it simply, you are looking for the 18 cards that will give you the most points.  I am going to jump right into it with an overview of resources. The spreadsheet that I will use to compare each card is available here if you want to play around with the data: 7_wonders_statistics

Resources (brown/gray)

Resource management is very important in this game because each resource structure played is a point-giving structure you do not play, but if you do not build enough resources, you will not be able to efficiently build point-giving structures.  If you do not rely upon free builds, you will need 1 of each gray resource and 2 of most of the brown resources to be able to play all of the structures in the strategy you choose.  A few cards will require 3 or 4 of one type, but they are rare, so just beware of that need if your strategy (or wonder) requires one of them.  Of course the resource structures you play depend on what your neighbors build for resources, so there is no need to spend a precious play to build a Loom if one of your neighbors already has one since you can just spend 2 coins to use theirs.  Keep in mind that 2 coins is equal to two thirds of a victory point at the end of the game, but even if you use their Loom 4 times in a game, you only lost 3 victory points for it, which is worth saving yourself a play to build your own, unless that player is the one you are fighting for first place, because you then gave them 3 victory points while you lost 3.  But in most cases, you want to borrow instead of build.

As you can see in the table below, with less than 6 players, there is only 1 of each Glass, Loom, Papyrus in Act 1.  At 6 players, another of each is added.  For Act 2, there is only 1 of each for games of less than 5 players before another one of each gets added.  These resources are clearly very valuable to any strategy requiring them, which is most.

resource_stats

Playing many resource structures early in the game keep your options open and keep you more consistent.  However, you might be playing resources that you end up not using, so there will be a bigger point payoff if you only play resources you are positive you will need and hope you do not get stuck without any playable cards later.  Of course the reward comes with a risk.

Treasury (yellow)

Treasury cards will allow you to acquire needed resources without using up too many of your plays on laying down resource structures.  However, if you rely completely on them, you will be forced to spend your plays discarding cards for 3 coins so that you can afford the resources you need.  It’s another delicate balance in this game.

In Act 1, I recommend building either a Marketplace or Trading Post, either East or West depending on which resources your neighbors have available and which one you are passed.  Then you can play the Forum or Caravansery in Act 2 for free, giving you access to most/all of the resources needed in the game.

treasury_stats

Community (blue)

This is the most straightforward strategy you can choose where you get a bunch of community structures (blue), which allow you to play other community structures for free and also provide a chunk of victory points as well.  You can play pretty much everything with access to 1 loom, 1 stone, 1 ore, 2 clay, 2 lumber by using the free builds.  It is also a consistent strategy because you aren’t relying on a single card to score you a ton of points in the end.  See the table below for resource requirements and point payoffs.

community_stats

Community structures have an average of 4.52 victory points per structure over all acts, and they act as a good gauge for how many points all other strategies should be getting per structure.  Blue structures provide an average of 2.5 victory points per structure in Act 1, 4 points per structure in Act 2, and 6.5 in Act 3.

A blue-centric strategy with a splash of military is better in smaller player games because the science strategy is so easy to thwart by players discarding science cards, but nothing can stop slamming down a big-point blue.  This is also a strategy I would strongly recommend to a new player because the entrance barrier to this game is so hard to overcome and this is the easiest strategy you will find.  A new player is immediately forced to make decisions on cards to form some all-encompassing strategy of which they are not aware.  But here you can compete by: looking for blue cards, playing any of them you can afford, and collecting points.

Act 1 goals:

  • Get access to 1 loom, 1 stone, 1 ore, 2 clay, 2 lumber.

  • Build a Marketplace or Trading Post to help with getting access to resources.

  • Build the Alter, Baths, and Theater.

Act 2 goals:

  • Build a Forum or Caravansery (hopefully for free) to boost resource access.

  • Build any free Act 2 blue structures you can, particularly the Statue and Temple.

Act 3 goals:

  • Build as many Act 3 blue structures you can or scrounge up points through any other means, like winning the final military battle with neighbors.

Science (green)

You’re going for sets here.  If you went through a pound puppies, coin collecting, pokemon phase, or you collect shot glasses from any new place you visit, you might have fun with this one. It is often the winning strategy if you are one of the few/only players going for science structures, but if many others are too, you won’t get enough of them to make it viable.

In Act 1, a science player will be immensely happy if they can get access to 1 of each gray resource and 1 of each of the science structures (Apothecary, Scriptorium, and Workshop).  Then they only need an additional lumber to play all of the Act 2 science structures.  By getting all of the Act 2 science structures, you can build for free ALL of the Act 3 science structures.  So for the science player to build EVERY science structure in the game, they can get by with 1 of each gray and 1 lumber…  that will allow them to spend the rest of their plays on other types of structures.  Of course if they do not get one of the science structures, they will likely be unable to build the structure it allows them to build for free, so it is risky to base your strategy completely on the free builds.  The only exception to this rule is that the Scientists Guild, which is awesome for this strategy, requires 2 lumber and 2 ore, so if you are able to get access to those, it would be nice, but do not kill yourself over it since there is no guarantee that it’s even in the deck.

science_stats

Get two sets of each symbol for the 26 points and, if the opportunity arises and you want to take a chance, go for three sets for an astounding 46 points.  You usually want to aim for sets of 3 different symbols because each one gets you 7 victory points, plus you get points for any identicals you gather.  You also may want to secondarily go for one specific symbol because if you can hit 3 or 4 of those, you can really cash in on them.

Unlike some other strategies where the later age cards are much more valuable than the earlier age cards, for the science strategy, the cards in each age are equal, except for a couple unique exceptions like the Scientists Guild.  This means you need to commit to this EARLY if you want to get the most out of it.  If you see many others also playing science structures, do not be afraid to get out while you can and go for other stratgies to salvage your game.

A 5+ player game can support 2 people committing completely to the science strategy, where the person who is able to better execute it will have a chance at winning.  A game with fewer players can only support one hard-core science player.  If two people completely commit to science in a 5 person game, it is unlikely that either will get enough points from it to win.

Since the average point total for a community structure is 4.5, you must have a better average at the end of the game for your science structures to win.  For each Science structure you play, you increase the value of your existing Science structures as well, so again, you need to commit completely to this strategy for it to work.  If you do not commit to it, you probably do not want to waste your limited plays to build any science.  If you end up with a single set at the end of the game, they will be worth 3.33 points for each structure, while acquiring 3 sets of each will make each of the 9 structures worth 5.33 points each, which should be enough to defeat other strategies.  If you do not get 3 of each set, your chances of winning start to drop pretty quickly.  On the defensive side, if you see that someone has accumulated two of each set of symbols after Act 2, you should make sure everyone is aware of it so the whole team can stop them from adding many more symbols to their collection.  Any time I am discarding cards through wonder building or getting 3 coins, I always try to discard a science card because every science structure is so critical to winning with that strategy.

Act 1 goals:

  • Get access to 1 of each gray resource (loom, glass, papyrus) and 1 lumber.

  • Build 1 of each Act 1 science structure (apothecary, scriptorium, workshop).

Act 2 goals:

  • Build one each Act 2 science structure (dispensary, laboratory, library, school), hopefully for free if you completed your Act 1 goals.

Act 3 goals:

  • Build one of each Act 3 science structure, hopefully for free if you completed your Act 2 goals.

  • Build the Scientists Guild if it comes your way.

Military (red)

You cannot win a game with military alone, but it can give your victory point total a big boost at the end of the game if you are victorious.  The key is to win your battles without spending too many plays on military cards.

If you lose every battle in the game, you get -6 points.  Not too bad…  and this requires building exactly 0 military structures.  However, if you WIN every battle, you get 18 points over the course of the game.  That’s a lot of points that are well worth a few plays, but you cannot win on military points alone, so you need to win this with as little effort as possible so you can devote most of your attention to gaining victory points through other means.

For resources, you can build most of the military structures with 1 clay, 2 lumber, and 2 ore, as the table below shows.  If you find yourself dominating your neighbors, you will want access to a loom and a stone too so you can buy the Strategists Guild in Act 3 if it pops up for you.  If you can buy the Laboratory (science) in Act 2 for 1 papyrus and 2 clay, that will allow you to build the Siege Workshop in Act 3 for free instead of acquiring 3 clay to build it.  Even better, if you can build the Workshop (science) in Act 1, you can build the Laboratory for free in Act 2, and the Siege Workshop for free in Act 3.  Then you only need 1 clay for the military strategy and you steal away some important science structures from anyone going for that strategy.

military_stats

The earlier, act-wise, you muster an army, the more use you will get out of them because the age 1 military cards contribute to Age 2 and Age 3 battling.  I say “act-wise” because I discourage playing military structures early in a round since that can ignite an arms race with your neighbors that results in bad news for everyone involved.  One possible tactic you can use is to build a big army early on so that your neighbors don’t even bother trying to match you.  I am not a fan of doing this because you end up spending many plays on military structures you may not have needed and you can still end up losing battles when neighbors play late-act military structures.

I recommend not playing any Act 1 military cards.  If you think you can steal a victory point from it by laying one down near the end of the act, go for it because you will use that 1 shield it gives you in the next two battles as well, but only if you have nothing better to do.  In Act 2, you can only win 3 victory points from each neighbor, so military is once again more of a last resort.  You can usually find something better to do with your play than throw down a military structure, but it can help you in this battle and the next act’s battle so it’s usually not a waste to play one in Act 2, particularly Training Grounds or Walls, which allow you to build a free military structure in the next act.  In Act 3, most strategies will have more critical structures to build than military, but winning 5 points for each neighbor plus avoiding the negative 1 points for losing, is a 6-12 point swing for yourself, plus it can take some serious points away from opponents, so military is fairly worthwhile in Act 3.  The fewer the players in the game, the more powerful a strong military becomes because defeating the players on each side of you and taking points away from them means doing this to a larger percentage of all opponents.

Wonders

Early on, wait as long as is feasible to commit to a single strategy because if many people go for the same one, all of them will lose.  Since you do not necessarily know which strategy you will use right away, except for a few wonders (Babylon/Olympia/Alexandria).  You do know what you will need for each stage of your wonder, obviously with the highest priority going to the earlier levels, so at least you can start looking for structures that will provide those resources to delay your strategy choice.

Do not feel like you need to hurry up and build your wonder stages as soon as possible for most wonders because, often times you will get more victory point potential from continuing to play structures, assuming you’re being given structures you can/want to play.  The last wonder stage is usually very lucrative, so even if completing early stages seems like a wash, sometimes that last stage really makes up for it.

To achieve near-optimal efficiency in this game, you need to change your strategy based on  your wonder so you can use resources for both the wonder and the cards you are playing.  Also, keep a close watch on the resource cards your neighbors need for their wonder stages  during Act 1 and Act 2 because it is very possible for you to deny them the ability to achieve their next stage by discarding their critical resources for 3 coins or as your wonder stage card, which is a HUGE disadvantage for them.

Now I will cover each wonder individually.

Alexandria

This wonder allows you to get extra raw materials so you can use that for pretty much any strategy, which allows you to delay committing to a particular strategy until you see what everyone else plays for their first couple structures.  This is one of my least favorite wonders, but it can allow you to skip wasting a play or two on a resource or treasure structure.

Babylon

Babylon has a good second stage on side B because it allows you to play an extra card in each age.  If possible, just gather a bunch of resources and treasury structures (Marketplace, Trading Posts) in Age 1 so you can build that stage in Age 1 to get yourself off to a fantastic start and build a foundation for stockpiling science cards later.  If you don’t get the first stage before the end of Age 1, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s a great goal to attempt to achieve.  The only problem with that is that it contradicts going for the science strategy because science players should focus on playing science cards instead of quickly building up resources.  The resources required are lumber and clay, which aren’t very useful for playing science cards.

You want to go for science cards because Babylon has a powerful stage in that they get to add a scientific symbol of their choice for scoring, which can potentially pay off tremendously if going after the scientific strategy.  If you are on side B, you can just skip building the third stage because it won’t help you.  I want to like this wonder, but I just don’t, because the science benefits require getting resources you don’t need.

Ephesos

This wonder will provide you plenty of coins to use throughout the game, which is cool.  It’s not amazing, but money is good, right?  It allows you to rely less on your own resources if you want so you can buy them from your neighbors, but they will spend your coins on their own resource needs or victory points in the end, which is not good.  The wonder requires brown resources early on and gray resources in Age 3, so this wonder lends itself best to a community strategy.

Gizah

Gizah has a fairly straightforward strategy.  Each stage of their wonder just provides a straight up bundle of victory points.  This allows the player to have a clear view of which resources they will require throughout the game and then they can try to get additional victory points through structures as they see fit.  The B side is probably my favorite because it has 4 wonder levels and lets you get piles of victory points from it, plus you can try to grab any cards in Age 3 that will give you more points/coins corresponding to the number of wonder stages you have constructed, like the Builder’s Guild or Arena.  This is possibly my favorite wonder and works best with a community strategy.

Halikarnassos

The critical part about this wonder is that building a stage (all stages of side B or stage 2 of side A), allows you to look through all the discarded cards since the beginning of the game and pull out a card you want from it to immediately play for free.  You usually want to wait until:

  • you have committed to a specific strategy so you know which card will be most beneficial to you

  • you do not particularly need to play any cards in your hand

  • it is late in an age, because:

    • you often run into hands later in the age where you cannot play or do not want to play them

    • you have more discards in general from which to choose

    • you have more of this age’s cards in the discard pile (which are more valuable than last age’s cards)

You usually want to go for the science strategy for this wonder because, if people discard science cards, you will rake in the victory points in the end.  The only problem is the ore and clay needed for these wonder stages.

Olympia

Olympia allows you to trade brown resources with your neighbors at a cheaper rate on the B side early on, which leads to a fast start and reduces the number of coins you ship over to your neighbors throughout the game.  The A side second stage allows the player to build a structure from their hand for free in each age, which is very nice.  If you play on that side, you will want to try to grab that right away in Age 1 so you can put it to maximum use by activating it in every age.  The B side third stage is also interesting because you can copy a guild of a neighbor as if you built it, which can be really good, but usually isn’t that amazing it’s hard to plan around actions you cannot control.  Just make sure you have the resources so you can pull the trigger, if needed.  This might be my least favorite wonder and, if I am forced to use it, I would choose side A because it is easier to plan your strategy from Age 1 instead of hoping for something good to happen at the end.

Rhodos

Obviously, if you are building this wonder, you have an advantage in the military arena.  As I mentioned in the section on that strategy, you cannot win the game with only military points, although they can give you an outstanding boost if you do not spend many resources to win it.  This wonder allows you to go for any strategy you wish while winning military battles at a smaller cost.  Building that wonder stage for the military bonus doesn’t feel as aggressive as building a military structure so there is less of a chance you neighbors will retaliate by building their own military structures.

General Tips

As you begin the game, look at which resources you will need for your wonder stages and try to build a strategy where you can also build the wonder as you go.  For example, if your wonder requires a bunch of brown resources and you go with the science strategy, you will have to spend too many plays on resource structures to do both effectively.

It is CRITICAL to know what the player next to you (to the left for Age 1 and Age 3, to the right for Age 2) is trying to get for structures, especially later on in the game, because you are passing them their cards each turn and can take the one most valuable to them if it will also help you or you can either discard it for 3 coins or use it for your wonder so they can’t get it.  So basically, the selection of your card each turn should take into account its value to the player whom would otherwise receive it.

If you have a Halikarnassos or Olympia (side A) player in the game, be very careful which cards you discard because those players can retrieve the discarded cards as rewards for building stages of their wonder.

In a larger player game, you’ll probably only see each card at most once, but if playing in a smaller player game, you may see a card you pass up early in the act later if it gets back around to you.

If early in an age your hand seems depleted of a particular type of card, like military cards for example, you will likely get them later on because they are in there somewhere, so do not despair.  It can really suck, like if you don’t get any resource cards at the beginning of an age and you cannot afford to build any structures of that age without them, but that’s what happens when a game has a heavy card drawing component.

The fewer players you have in a game, the more important it will be for you to strategically discard cards that others need, either by trading them for 3 coins or by using them for stages of your wonder.  For example, if you have one person who you think will be going straight science and no one is really grabbing those science cards, you will want to get them out of the game through discarding them.  You may even want to suggest it to the other players in case they do not see the problem.  Another example would be noticing that you are in Act 2, someone needs two ore resources for the second stage or their wonder and have no access to them through their own resources or their neighbors, you can discard any that come through you to prevent them from ever getting their second stage.

Conclusion

The path of least resistance wins the game so don’t battle with your neighbors if you can avoid it and overlap on your resource usage as much as possible.  This game is also about delicate balances.  You need to have just enough resources as possible to build the structures you need at the right times.  You only have to play the 18 cards that will give you the most points with limited knowledge of the cards from which you will have to choose.  There are so many things to consider when making every decision, which creates a high cost of entry, yet once everyone has a handle on it, this game will keep hardcore gamers interested for a VERY long time.

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7 thoughts on “7 Wonders Strategic Analysis

  1. I would disagree with what you said about the A side of Olympia. I don’t think that there is a need to get to the second stage of your wonder in the 1st age so you get a free card, because there are zero cards in the base game that have more than one resource, and if you play with the cities expansion most of the black cards are usually worth playing in the first round.

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  2. Hm.. i think it is a kind of mistake to not recommend building military at the first age just because the difference in 1 military point during the next ages may be useful. It is at least worth thinking about. Also, there is often really nothing better to play at the first age. IMHO

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  3. I think that taking the grey cards should be done in the first age because in the second there are better things to do

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