Analyzing the Wonders in 7 Wonders

The delightful variability the titular wonders bring in 7 Wonders is one of the most fun aspects of the game. I specifically remember the first time I played 7 Wonders at a friend’s house. It was one of the first modern board games I ever played and I was mesmerized at the possibilities. I exclaimed “let’s play again!” after each game until my friends had to tell me that they were all ready to do something else. I couldn’t believe that someone would ever want to do anything else other than explore this game.

Ten years later and my enthusiasm for 7 Wonders remains. Earlier this week I posted 10 strategy tips for the game. Now let’s analyze the wonders themselves and see what information we can glean from them. I don’t think any are particularly over or under powered (I’ve seen them all win), but I do have some preferences. I’ll go in alphabetical order first and give a haphazard stab at ranking them all at the end.

Alexandria

Preference: Side B

Alexandria is the ultimate flexible wonder, though I think the B side is far preferable to the A side, for a number of reasons. First, the cost of the third stage of A requires two of the same grey resource. You start with one of them, but there is no other card in the game that requires two of the same grey resource. So either you need to use an action to gather another one just for that purpose (inefficient!) or rely on one of your neighbors to supply it, which is something they can easily not do.

The other major problem with side A is that the resource power in all the way in the second stage, which means you’re going to get less use out of it. Typically I’m building the second stage of a wonder towards the end of the second age. With the A side you want it earlier than that, but doing so can create some tough decisions.

The B side is one of my favorites. You’re losing 3 points but gain a wild grey resource and get your wild brown resource one stage sooner. It’s a no-brainer. The beauty of Alexandria B is that you can do anything with it. It’s amazingly flexible and you can easily build the first two stages of your wonder since the first stage actually helps you pay for the second. Once you have that you already down two of the three grey resources which makes a science play simple. Or you can maybe invest in yellow and not really worry about gathering many resource cards. You can do whatever you want.

Babylon

Preference: Side A

Here’s the only wonder I really don’t want to get. It’s also one of the few where I think the A side is much better than the B. Babylon can be powerful, but if you’re going to utilize its science power you need to overcome the fact that both of your neighbors will be extra-alert to block you. Ideally you’ll use the power to go hard on one particular science symbol, but that’s also the easiest strategy to block.

I can’t see any justification for selecting the B side. First, it requires all three grey resources, which is fine if you do go hard on science, but doesn’t give you much room to pivot if everyone else stops that strategy. In addition, you’re trading seven points for an ability that lets you play the final card in your hand at the end of each age. More cards is good, but these cards are rarely going to be valuable as they’re what everyone has already passed up. Compare this to Halikarnassos, where at least you get to select from all of the discarded cards, not just take the chaff you happen to have in your hand.

So I’ll take A over B, but I think there’s a good case to be made that either one is not ideal. My least favorite wonder.

Ephesos

Preference: Side B

Ephesos, on the other hand, might be my favorite, particularly the B side. As I explained in my strategy tips, you can’t forget that every 3 coins is a point. So the A side essentially provides 13 points, which isn’t bad at all. If you can secure resources for the second stage before the second age you don’t have to worry so much about carrying coins over into that part of the game. Unfortunately, the A side also has the double grey resource problem I discussed with Alexandria A.

The B side is even better, effectively providing 14 points. Both of those totals are a hair worse than Gizah A, which grants 15 points, but they’re also significantly cheaper and effectively impossible to block. The only downside to the B side is that the final stage requires all three grey resources, but that’s probably simpler than two of the same grey resource and the coins granted each stage easily make up for that cost increase.

Nonetheless, you can’t really go wrong with either side. Like Alexandria, this is a strategy neutral wonder. With the extra cash you can pivot to whatever strategy you want without feeling like you’re working against your wonder’s strengths.

Gizah

Preference: either side

There’s not a whole lot to say about Gizah. It gives you points. It’s not sexy, but it’s reliable. I can’t quite figure out if I prefer the A or B side, and I suspect there’s not much of a difference. Both require a lot of stone and other brown resources, so you’re probably going to be in a good position for military and not great in science. I’ve also found that people will assume that you’ll be a good trading partner and set themselves up to send you a lot of coins. Solid picks.

Halikarnassos

Preference: Side B

This is the oddest wonder, as its effectiveness is largely determined by how many players are in the game. At three players the ability to fish a card out of the discard pile is almost useless. At seven players it’s a gold mine of delicious choices. If you’re playing with three players I might consider choosing side A, though that does come with the same problems we had with Alexandria side A: namely, that you need two of the same grey resource to get the third stage.

Side A also has the problem that you can never mine the age 3 discards and get the seven point stage. Now that I type this out loud I don’t think there’s any reason to ever take the A side. With at least five players in the game you can really do some work with the B side, ideally sniping spare science discards and/or military cards to sneak out combat wins. In that situation Halikarnassos B is probably the most fun wonder in the game.

Olympia

Preference: Side B

I’ve really tried to make Olympia A work. I don’t think it works. The second stage power of being able to buy one card per age for free is incredibly enticing, as you can perhaps lay off of some resources and use those turns to gather points. The problem is that you need to buy cards in addition to your free one, so depriving yourself of resources is still expensive. Perhaps the ability lands you the 8 point blue card or a guild you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford, but that’s not consistent enough to be worthwhile.

The B side has some very interesting stuff going on, most significantly the first stage which gives you cheap trading in both directions. For points, you’re sacrificing five guaranteed points for the ability to copy one of your neighbor’s guilds. This is slightly risky, as your neighbors may not get any guilds or they may not be particularly valuable, but I suspect the average value of a guild is more than five points, and the upside can be ten or more. Even if you don’t get a good guild leech you’re still getting a great trade ability and five points for two cards, which is fantastic. One of my favorite wonders.

Rhodos

Preference: Side B

Last but not least we get to Rhodos, the only wonder that provides military support. This by itself changes the game, as the typical military tempo becomes skewed by your very presence. Military and wonder construction works great, as you typically want to do both towards the end of an age–military to prevent counterplay and wonder construction because that’s when you’re most likely to have a hand of cards you don’t want to play face up.

I think the B side is almost strictly better, though both are strong. In terms of points A wins with 10 vs. 9 ⅓. But the real advantage with B is that you only need to commit two cards to getting all of that, and certainly the card you get to play face up is worth more than 2 coins. The wonder is a bit expensive, but you can build up to utilizing the military strength in age two without much difficulty.

Most intriguing is the psychological effect Rhodos has. I’ve been in games where both neighbors completely abandoned military simply because I had this wonder, and I was able to get a full 18 point military sweep with only one or two red card purchases. That kind of value is incredibly powerful.

Rankings

In order to come up with these rankings I utilized the Pub Meeple Ranking Engine. It’s a super handy tool designed to create rankings for board games, though you can manually input any list you want. It provides you with head to head matchups until it can formulate a full list. For lists of this size it’s quick, though the time you need to spend picking head to head matchup winners increases quite a bit as the list size grows.

Please note that I’m ranking these assuming a mid-size game (5 players). Remember that science gets stronger as the number of players increases and military gets a bit weaker. Halikarnassos, Rhodos, and Babylon are the most affected by changes in player count. Without further ado, here are my wonder rankings!

Tier 1

1: Ephesos B

2: Alexandria B

3: Olympia B

Tier 2

4: Halikarnassos B

5: Rhodos B

6: Gizah B

7: Gizah A

8: Rhodos A

Tier 3

9: Babylon A

10: Alexandria A

11: Ephesos A

Tier 4

12: Olympia A

13: Halikarnassos A

14: Babylon B

Agree? Disagree? Have any additional thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

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