Two more expansions from Asmodee this month for perennial favorites, 7 Wonders and Dixit. Not much more to say here; let’s get to work!
First, let me give some background on my view of 7 Wonders. It’s easily in my top five games of all time, alongside Magic, Dominion, Ticket to Ride, and Twilight Struggle (can you tell I like to play with cards?). I think it’s actually not a gateway game at all and a little difficult to grok for new players, but once you have it, it’s so smooth and so fun. I also really like to draft reactively, depending on what avenues other players take. That’s the main reason I did not like the Leaders expansion: to do really well with it, you have to tell everyone your strategy before you even see your first hand, at which point they’ll hate-draft against you. It was a really cool thematic thing though, so I don’t mind playing with it; I just don’t always reach for it.
Cities, on the other hand, is an absolutely fantastic expansion that adds just a hint of unpredictability, by adding a black color in the regular deck, and you don’t always quite know which of those cards are in. It integrates really smoothly, although there are some new icons and effects to remember, but overall no real new rules. I still don’t use it when teaching newbies, but I always want to include it with veterans. Again, the main thing for me is that it continues to let me play reactively, and it lets me have more stuff by playing an extra card each Age, which is to me the center of the enjoyment of 7 Wonders: figuring out how you actually can build that awesome building in Age III after all, and just enjoying watch your stuff grow on the table.
Tower of Babel
Babel is an expansion with two new modules, and I’ll talk about each separately. The namesake expansion, the Tower of Babel, has players drafting 3 pie-shaped pieces before the game begins, and then at any time they can play one of these by discarding a card as a fourth action on a turn besides discarding for coins, building a Wonder, or just playing the card. You get 2, 5, or 10 points at the end of the game depending on how many you build. The tiles themselves introduce a new “law” or “rule” into the game that affects everyone, until the law is eventually covered as you “build” the tower (only 3-4 rules are ever in effect, depending on number of players).
I did not like this expansion at all, for several reasons. The first strike against it is that it’s a lot more to remember and a lot more complexity – a bunch of new icons, but also things you have to keep in mind when looking through your hand, and it’s easy to forget that yellow cards don’t currently work, or that blue cards cost coins as well, or everyone has another resource, or whatever. That increase in complexity needs to have a very high payoff, and it doesn’t, which leads me to the second strike. There’ s just not enough incentive to build these – you can tell by the mere fact that they give a VP bonus, that they aren’t powerful enough to really choose over all the other options on your turn. In one of our four-player games, only two tiles were built all game. And it seems that people who really build a lot of tiles fall behind in points, because these just aren’t as useful as the actual cards you’re discarding. The only really useful time to build these is when you can totally screw someone over, which leads to strike number three. 7 Wonders is a game that, as I said, gives enjoyment from the ability to just figure out how to build expensive buildings and watch your empire grow. About half of the Babel tiles are just ways to ruin the game for everyone else by causing a coin tax on building certain colors, or just flat-out turning off yellow cards, or the majority of the brown cards. 7 Wonders is just not the game for this, and it makes what should be a fun experience really frustrating. And when someone screws you with a Babel tile, it’s not even really a good idea for them, as they’re wasting a turn to do it, and really just giving the game to the other unaffected players.
I read somewhere that Antoine Bauza designed expansions to deal with perceived flaws in the game, one of which is a lack of interaction with people who aren’t your neighbors. I think that the drafting gives enough interaction just fine, and you’re still indirectly interacting with someone two seats away, since their coin and military decisions, for example, affect the player in between the two of you, which in turn affects you – it’s just subtle. And to me the game is best at 3-5 players, so I’m willing to make that sacrifice of a lack of interaction with 6-7 players, because it’s still fun just to have that many people at the table. Now, Cities introduced negative interaction with the Debt symbol, but the main thing about that was that you could choose to lose coins or VPs, and although no one likes negative points, it never screwed your ability to build things, unless you did it to yourself by giving up too many coins. Building things is the fun part of the game – far more than just trying to do things for points. Cities never let someone just take that away from you. Likewise, if someone played a Diplomacy card, you might be screwed suddenly on military for one round, but it’s not like you lost your buildings forever.
The fourth and final strike against the Tower of Babel is the same problem Leaders has, which is that the strategy is dictated by that draft at the beginning of the game, which gives you very little flexibility. I don’t want to plan ahead around my Babel tiles, and in fact, I really can’t. I hate feeling pigeonholed in this game, because I think slightly altering course when needed is an absolute key to victory. So if you get tiles that seem unhelpful, then this whole expansion is just a big waste of time. And if they are helpful, they’re likely to just be mean, which isn’t very fun either. Unlike Leaders, I just actively don’t want to play with this.
The second expansion is called Great Projects. These are (gigantic) cards, one of which is laid out each Age, with one less token than the number of players. It shows when you can ‘participate’ (take a token), which is done by adding coins and/or a resource to a certain colored card. If all participation tokens are taken in one round, everyone who participated gets some sort of bonus, and if they aren’t, everyone who didn’t participate takes some sort of penalty.
I liked this expansion a lot better, and let me give the reasons why. The most obvious thing to talk about is that this expansion still has some harshness to it – the penalties can make you lose cards, or military tokens, or even all of your coins. And if you can’t pay the penalty, you have to take negative point tokens! (Aside: I have no idea why they felt he need to introduce a third kind of -1 token. I feel like more forethought should have went into this.) However, the big difference is that you know it’s coming, and you can do something about it, relatively quickly, by participating. Or you can even ignore it, if you’re confident everyone else will want the bonus enough to participate. In our games, it was rare that the participation tokens weren’t all taken – I think it felt like, well, if I’m going to do this, I want something out of it, not just to avoid a penalty. You can even participate twice and double-up on bonuses. In Babel, when someone screws you with a tile, it happens immediately and you can’t do anything about it. since playing even two Babel tiles in a row won’t cover it. I also felt like this expansion, just like Leaders and Cities, made a conscious effort to make coins more important, although I wonder if that’s now too far the other way if you used all three expansions. This expansion was a bit simpler as well, because there’s just one thing going on, and only a few icons to remember. It also forces everyone to interact with it, in one way or another, so there’s much more incentive. And it does that without wasting turns, since you just ‘add on’ to a card you’re already playing – I wonder how much more I would have liked Babel if it had used this mechanism for playing tiles instead. This was a great little addition, and one that would be very easy to add to even a game with beginners. This is even easier to integrate than Cities.
I should mention the components are great, although getting them into the base game box is a bit of a hassle – I think I might actually keep the Babel box, especially since I don’t plan on pulling the Tower of Babel out very often. The Tower definitely looks really, really good, as do the Great Projects and all the new tokens for it – however, the Great Project cards are way too freaking big, and even oversized Magic cards sleeves won’t fit them, and they’re really flimsy. I would have either preferred cardboard tiles or smaller cards. The expansion also costs almost as much as the base game ($40 vs. $50 MSRP), largely because of the Babel tiles and board, but also the many tokens that are used for Great Projects. I kind of wish they’d split them into two boxes, as it’s hard to recommend the whole package – I really like Great Projects, but I’m not sure it’s worth that much money. But hey, if you’re looking for a nastier 7 Wonders, maybe you’ll love the whole thing. I’m not looking for that, though.
This is just a pack of 84 more cards for Dixit, so there isn’t too much to say here. These are done by a new artist, Franck Dion, and they are really, really engaging pictures, more in line with the original artist Marie Cardouat, than Dixit Journey‘s Xavier Collette. However, when we played with just these cards, it was one of the ‘worst’ games of Dixit we’ve ever played. By that I mean, no matter how clever we tried to be, our turns almost always ended up with everyone guessing the answer or no one guessing it. And to be clear, we’ve played dozens of times, so it wasn’t lack of experience. It seems like these cards are somehow missing those tiny interconnected details that make it difficult to pick one over the other – that, or we’ve just gotten stupid with age and can’t play the game well anymore. If you’re feeling burnt out on the game, I don’t think this will push it back up for you, but I’m always happy to have more cards and love bringing this game out with new gamers. I wouldn’t play with these cards by themselves again, though.