Originally published at: http://statelyplay.com/2017/11/14/review-7-wonders/
There were three board game ports that seemed stuck in development hell, never to actually make an appearance on our tablets. The first was Twilight Struggle which switched developers after years of development only for Playdek to save the day, releasing one of the best board game ports on the App Store. Then there was Through the Ages which was promised back when the iPad was a novelty, died when Codito’s license expired, and finally resurrected by CGE as one of the best board game ports on the App Store. Now we have 7 Wonders, which was nearly released several years ago, been through multiple beta tests, and has finally made its way to digital but, unfortunately, isn’t one of the best board game ports on the App Store.
Back in 2010, 7 Wonders took the game world by storm, winning the SdJ and brining the card drafting mechanism to the forefront of gaming. Like a zombie, I purchased everything 7 Wonders related as soon as possible and introduced it to our group as if it were the One Ring and all our gaming woes were soon to end. It was received as merely “okay”, it got a few more plays and was placed on my basement shelf never to be seen again.
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That’s not really my choice. I kind of love it for what it is: a fun activity. It’s something to do around the table with friends, but if you’re looking for strategic conundrums (as my group usually is) then you’re looking in the wrong place. The theme is paper thin and the only people you can remotely influence in the game are the people directly to your left and right. Still, it reminds me of the games I used play when I was a kid with my grandparents and parents that made me feel like I was a “big kid”. Games like Yahtzee and rummy, where 98.5% of the game is luck, but it somehow feels like you’re making decisions that matter.
It’s the kind of game where, when it’s over, you’re not sure why you lost or what you could have done to prevented the winner from winning, but you had fun nonetheless. It’s a light, fast game and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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In digital format, it’s faster than fast. You can literally finish a full game against six AI players in about 3 minutes and about 1/4 of that feels like animations between rounds. It’s zip-zip-zip, I lost. Repeat. It will definitely give you your 7 Wonders fix, so if you absolutely love 7 Wonders, you’re going to be in heaven.
The problem with digital 7 Wonders isn’t the gameplay, it’s the app. First of all, the UI is uninspiring and clunky. There’s no “wow” factor when playing. It’s sterile and lifeless, doing the bare minimum to ensure you can play a game of 7 Wonders. Drag a card to the middle, new cards appear in your hand. Drag a card to the middle, new cards appear in your hand. Which opponent is buying my stuff? Who am I paying? What cards are in everyone’s tableaus? None of this is easily displayed. I shouldn’t, after several turns, be surprised by how much gold I have. Turns out someone was paying me for goods. I wonder who? I could look through their tableau and figure out who doesn’t have the resources I have and see if they built things using them, but why doesn’t the game just tell me “player x bought your stone for 2gp” or something?
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That’s really the entire issue with the digital version. It’s lacking most of the features we’ve come to expect in our digital board games in 2017. No log indicating what was played by all players. No animations to make the game feel alive. Hell, nothing even happens when you build your Wonder other than a rectangle on your board turns white indicating it’s been built. For solo play, there is no option for different AI levels. And multiplayer…oh boy.
Multiplayer in 7 Wonders might be its biggest stumble. First of all, there is no way to create a private room to play with friends. The only online option is “Quick Match” which dumps you into a game with seemingly however many opponents it can find. I’ve selected 5-player online game Quick Matches multiple times and, each time, end up in 7-player games. The games are synchronous, but considering that even a slower game will take, at most, 5 minutes, I don’t see the lack of asynchronous being a deal breaker. There’s no option for private games or friend invites (I don’t even see the ability to create a friend list), and when you select online game you have to stay in the lobby until your game fills with players rather than being able to go do something else and be notified when your game is going to start.
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There’s no option for pass-and-play multiplayer at all, which makes sense due to 7 Wonders’ simultaneous gameplay [although CGE figured out how to make asynchronous work in the most un-asynchronous board game ever, Galaxy Trucker. Just sayin’ -ed.], but having some option for local play would be nice. Maybe have each of my kids and myself playing on our phones against each other in the same room?
That wouldn’t happen, anyway, because 7 Wonders is currently only available for iPad instead of iOS Universal. It’s coming out for Android in December, but that’s only Android tablets.
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7 Wonders is an absolutely fine digital port of the board game and, if you love the cardboard version, picking it up is a no-brainer. You’ll get everything you want from the app, albeit without any bells or whistles. If your main interest in digital 7 Wonders was being able to play against friends and family, then stay away. The multiplayer options here are so weak, they would have felt dated if the app was released way back in 2013 when we thought it was going to be released. It’s not a bad app, but feels undercooked considering the quality of apps we’ve been seeing throughout 2017.