7 wonders: Duel accessibility teardown


7 Wonders: Duel (2015) – Accessibility Teardown

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

Version Reviewed

English First Edition

Introduction

I made a reasonably big thing about the Splendor link in 7 Wonders: Duel – while the latter is a substantively different game, the central core engine building feels very similar.   Both are excellent games, and we reflected our enjoyment of 7 Wonders: Duel with a four star reviewSplendor is one of our highest ranking games in terms of accessibility – will we find that 7 Wonders: Duel has that in common too?  Let work out if we find a game of bricks and leave it a as game of marble.  I guess marbles is already a game.  God, this didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.  Shut it down.  Shut it all down!

Colour Blindness

The colour palette of the game isn’t great, but it also isn’t entirely inaccessible.   Colour is not the only channel of information for most cards, but it is definitely the primary one.  Most categories of colour blindness will experience some problems in differentiating between cards of different classifications.

Colour blind cards

To be fair, I consider science a tool of war anyway

The problems are particularly pronounced between red and brown (military versus production) and red versus green (military versus knowledge).  It’s less impactful on those affected by Tritanopia, but as that’s the least common of the colour blindness classifications that’s unlikely to be especially comforting news.

Is stone a military card? Is it because I want to hit you with a brick?

Is stone a military card? Is it because I want to hit you with a brick?

The largest impact of the colour blindness is not in the card choice itself, because each card comes with the production information displayed prominently across the topic.  Certain buildings encountered in the third age, along with some wonders, will have differing effect depending on the exact composition of placed cards.

Colour blind guild cards

Bugger it, I think I’ll go for a military victory.

The port for example gives the player that plays it two gold pieces for each brown card they have in play, whereas the armoury does the same for red cards.  The Tactician’s Guild gives one gold for each red card in the city with the largest number of red cards, as well as the equivalent in victory points at the end.   To understand the impact of these cards is to know how the cards are classified across each city.  Querying this may leak gameplay information, such as ‘Uh – how many red buildings do you have?’.  Why would you be asking unless it was going to be relevant?   You reveal a lot with that simple query – not just your intentions, but also a hint as to how the age pyramid is going to be revealed in the near future.

That said, these are not insurmountable problems.  Each of the cards after all comes with a thematic name, and the effects cards have tend to be grouped according to their type.  Shields are found exclusively on military buildings, and as long as you know they are red you can work out for yourself the likely number of cards available in that category.  You lose a degree of easy visual identification if colour blindness is an issue, but it doesn’t render the game unplayable.

We’re prepared to offer a recommendation for 7 Wonders: Duel in this category.

Visual Accessibility

Contrast is reasonably good throughout the cards, with the text presented with a coloured back-plate that ensures it can be clearly made out against the background.  The font used is slightly ornate, but not so much so that it’s difficult to read.   Colours chosen, issues of colour discrimination aside, are bright and vibrant allowing for reasonably easy identification of the cards in most circumstances.  The resources that cards produce too are large and easy to make out, although they employ a symbolic language.  That is likely to need considerable getting used to, and occasional cross-referencing with the manual.  There are too occasionally symbols that aren’t especially easy to tell apart if visual acuity is low.  This is particularly notable when dealing with victory points, gold production, scientific symbols, or the more complex guild cards.

Production

There’s a ‘got wood’ joke in here somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t grasp it.

This is all good.  However, the requirements to place buildings are presented in a small iconographic format – they’re easy enough to read if you can bring a visual assistive aide to bear, but may not be easily interrogated when placed in the pyramid or oval structures the game requires.

More than this, certain cards will be placed on top of other cards in this structure, which means that if you need to get up close to examine their requirements you’re signalling an intention to another player.  That’s often a problem in games like this, but it can be extremely unwise in 7 Wonders: Duel due to the way cards are revealed through play.  If your opponent suspects you’re looking for a specific card it opens you up to counter strategies.  Not only can they use that information to undermine your efforts they can also take advantage of the fact you’ll likely be flipping over the cards blocking it.  In the process, they reap the benefit of first choice on revealed cards whilst simultaneously forcing you to take the risk.   The issue is mitigated somewhat by the fact the manual comes with a comprehensive encyclopedia of all the cards and their building requirements, but you still need to know the names of the cards on offer to make use of it.  Sometimes the names will be obscured, and the nature of the structure means that you can’t easily move things aside in order to see what’s covered up.  Even with the best of intentions, you’re going to impart gameplay information to your opponent as a result of inquiry.

Cost of cards

Well contrasted, but teeny tiny

The game makes use of physical currency, and while the different denominations are all circular they are meaningfully different in terms of size.  I would have preferred some variation in form factor between adjacent currencies, but they can be identified reliably by touch.

Coins

Cha-ching

We’re prepared to offer a tentative recommendation for 7 Wonders: Duel in this category.  The tentative part comes from the fact that you will genuinely be revealing gameplay intention through examining the card pyramids.  It’ll require a degree of awkward play-acting and non-committal bluffing to hide it.  It’s not an insurmountable problem, but one to definitely bear in mind.

Cognitive Accessibility

7 Wonders: Duel is not a complicated game – once you’ve picked up the core set of rules you’ll rarely have cause to refer to them again.  However, it is a game that requires a reasonable degree of fluid intelligence.  While there isn’t an attached reading level, it communicates almost entirely in a symbolic language that is not particularly easy to understand at times.  The best kind of visual iconography converts conscious recollection into passive recall.  It gives mental affordance that leads our thought patterns in the right direction to reinforce and supplement our otherwise flawed memories.

That’s certainly true for a lot of the symbols here, but not for all of them.  Symbols are particularly unintuitive when it comes to things like the progress tokens, or some of the latter age cards:

Progress tokens

IT’S OBVIOUSLY A DUCK, FOR GOD’S SAKE. A DUCK. IT’S A GODDAMN DUCK GODDAMN YOU!

Some of the visual language in the game reminds me forcefully of painful games of Pictionary, in which a frustrated amateur artist attempts to sketch out ‘the concept of ennui’ in a way likely to be understandable to an indifferent audience.    That’s especially true of the progress tokens, where once you know what they represent you can say ‘Oh, I kinda see where you’re coming from’.  Strategy for example means ‘All new red cards get an extra shield when placed’.  Economy means ‘You get the money when an opponent trades for resources’.   Theology means ‘All your wonders get the ‘take another turn’ bonus’.  You can see how that works, but it’s not self-explanatory and as a result it doesn’t quite work as a prompt for memory. You’ll still need to remember what the effect of a token is, and that is the more cognitively expensive act of memory.

Symbols in the manual

This is only some of them

The game also requires a degree of numeracy, and while it’s not high in most situations the trading mechanics are likely to be troublesome.  Buying a resource costs two gold per unit, plus however many units an opponent is producing, unless you have the commerce building that allows it to be bought for a single coin.  Some cards require first the identification of the city with the largest number of cards of a particular kind, and then converting that total into coins or victory points as appropriate.   Some cards produce one of a range of resources, and you need to be careful you don’t double dip when using them to fund an acquisition.   The Great Lighthouse produces either a wood, clay or stone in a turn but it can’t produce more than one at a time.   These aren’t going to be insurmountable issue, but they’re going to need a degree of support and clarification from time to time.

The game state is not especially complex – even in later stages your cards are rarely doing anything unusual.  In fact, later age cards tend not to feel very different from earlier stage ones – their cost and power alters, but the fundamental systems don’t.  That changes a little when we look at the special guilds, as those introduce new scoring contexts for the end-game.  A few cards do have slightly more unusual effects, but on the whole if you can master the first age you won’t find the third age substantively different.    The game-flow too is reasonably reliable, although a few wonders do permit the player that constructs them an immediate second turn which may throw a small spanner in the ongoing works.

However, while the game isn’t complicated, it is deep, and part of that depth is a direct consequence of the system of revealing face down cards.  Effective play requires not only a mastery of the rules but a reasonable understanding of probability.  You never know all of the cards that will be available for purchase, but if you know what you’re doing you’ll have an idea of the rough proportion of different kinds of cards available.   The first age comes with six brown production cards.  The second age comes with three.  The third age comes with none.   As such, understanding how the offer changes as time goes by is key to ensuring the viability of your empire.  As the proportion of purchased/revealed cards to hidden cards changes, you’ll be able to make shrewd guesses at the likelihood of revelation uncovering a card you’re looking for.   That is quite cognitively taxing.

You’re also going to need to do a fair degree of forward planning.  Linked buildings are key in later stages of the game, and some of the cards have a full three-age upgrade cycle that needs to be taken into account.  It’s not just a case of making sure you take advantage of the riches of an age, it’s about setting yourself up for maximum opportunity in the next.   That puts a considerable pressure on memory.

The game isn’t built around heavy synergy, but it does present occasional opportunities to chain cards together into powerful combos.  It won’t always be possible to line these up, and so synergy is not a mandatory part of effective play.  You will benefit though from an ability to see the mechanical interrelationship between certain game systems.

Scoring at the end of the game is fiddly, but aside from the guild cards and a couple of progress tokens with victory point implications, it’s largely a case of simple arithmetic.   The game provides a pad on which to record and calculate scores, which allows the task to be made as simple as it can be.

Overall then, we can’t recommend 7 Wonders: Duel to those with either category of cognitive impairment.   The game is likely playable, but much of expressive play is bound up in your ability to manage probability, assess implication, and interpret a symbolic language that may have differing impact depending on when and how it is applied.   In this section we assess the cognitive accessibility of a satisfying game, and while there is enjoyment to be had from simply constructing an engine, it doesn’t fully capture the snap and crackle of what is often quite electrifying gameplay.

Emotiveness

You can’t really play 7 Wonders: Duel without being at your opponent’s throat.  The military track is a constant reminder that your empires are at war.  As you engage in attacks and counter-attacks you’ll find yourself adopting a militaristic pose out of sheer self-preservation.   However, since the military engagement is part of a tug-of-war, and since it’s largely unavoidable unless as a result of collusion, it’s hard to take it too personally.

More troublesome is the frustration that can come along with being on the wrong end of game momentum, or from being locked out of meaningful progress as a result of poor luck.  Through no fault of your own you can find yourself having to give up opportunities just to buy the coins needed to fund future construction.  If on the receiving end of military incursions as a result, you can find yourself being taxed by an opponent’s success as you discard coins in line with their aggressiveness.   Some wonders too have direct ‘take that’ mechanics, such as the Circus Maximus which forces an opponent to abandon a grey card from their city, or the Statue of Zeus which does the same for a brown card.  If you’ve worked hard to acquire those cards, it can be enraging to suddenly lose them and all the sustainability they represent.

Problematic too from the perspective of emotional accessibility is the role that you can play in your own destruction.  When taking a card, whether to build or discard, you’ll reveal any of the cards it is pinning.  In the process you might reveal exactly the card that you need, or the one that will allow your opponent to further transgress your borders.  You might pick up a card to burn so that you can afford to build something else, only to reveal a powerful military card that your opponent then grabs.   That doesn’t necessarily feel like fun, even if the tension that goes into selecting cards is driven entirely by that probability piston.

With only two players, it’s not necessarily to worry too much about the possibility of ganging up, or player elimination, except in the two alternate victory conditions.  It’s possible to get knocked out of the game before its end point by your opponent’s military marching into your capital, or by them collecting six scientific symbols.   You need to play poorly, or with bad luck, for that to happen and as a result it may feel unfair to be on the fuzzy end of that lollipop.

The largest issue in terms of emotional accessibility is in how difficult it is to undo early mistakes. You’re locked in to your empire as you build it, and if you picked the wrong cards the ramifications will last with you right through to the termination of play.  If you bought a building because you thought it would help with linking, only to discover its follow-through is missing from the current game, you can’t just cash it in for a replacement.    If you built a wonder too soon, or missed out on getting the necessary production cards, you won’t get to fix that.   The games are short enough that this doesn’t mean hours of disappointment, but it can render individual games quite frustrating.

Overall, we are prepared to offer a recommendation for the game in this category – while these issues may be a problem if emotional accessibility is to be fully considered, none of them are necessarily show-stoppers.  As usual, consider these discussion points in relation to the context of your own group before adopting the game/  It’s probably going to be okay.  Probably.

Physical Accessibility

The largest issue of physical accessibility is in the construction and manipulation of the age structures.  They require laying out of cards in a particular pattern, and spacing between the cards is key to having a neat layout that reveals the information it needs to.  Face-down cards are unavailable as long as an earlier card pins them, and so you can’t lay them out too haphazardly without impacting on the state of the game.  Likewise, when you collect or flip cards from the tableau you need to be careful you don’t mess up the layout too much.    Setup then is a pain for everyone, and something you need to do three times per game.

This is exacerbated by the size of cards, which are very small.  Shuffling is more difficult as a result, although you only do that once per game for each deck.  Manipulation of the cards though is awkward because of the diminutive dimensions.   However, you don’t need to hide them from your opponent.  They’re played face up so you don’t need to do much except take them from the offer and arrange them in some meaningful way in front of you.

Beyond that, there’s limited physical interaction required – just collecting a card, and occasionally cashing in money and moving the war token.    It wouldn’t impact negatively on gameplay for the other player to do any of this on your behalf.

Verbalisation, if necessary, is made simple by virtue of the fact everything has a uniquely identifying name.  Every building has its own title, and their effects are transparently listed along the top.  There’s no mystery to what’s going to happen, and no hidden game state you need to worry about.  There’s also no opportunity for your opponent to take advantage of judgement calls in interpretation – provided they adhere to the game rules, they’re always going to fairly act in your best interests.  Or at least, in your best interests as you expressed then.

We recommend 7 Wonders: Duel in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The box art does a good job of presenting a gender equality – the characters on the front are clearly presented as equals in competition with each other.   It even manages to put a fair degree of societal diversity in the background, showing a blend of building styles and historical landmarks.  Since it’s a two player game, there’s a limit to how many characters can be given special prominence, but with a Roman man and an Egyptian woman they’ve gone for a reasonable balance.

Box art

When you said we’d be dancing cheek to cheek I didn’t think…

The game cards carry a theme of inclusion in representation.  There is a variety of skin tones and a diversity of historical context that underpins a broad geopolitical context for the game.   They also show men and women in positions of prominence across the set, which is nice.  If I was being unfairly and over-sensitively nit-picky, which some would say is the entire defining feature of these accessibility teardowns, I’d point out that the men tend to be presented in positions of knowledge and power whereas the women are in positions of nurturing subservience.   It’s not egregious, and on the whole I think they do a reasonably good job of allowing almost anyone to identify with the roster of characters.   Unfortunately, this also includes dark-skinned figures acting as literal slaves in a quarry, but personally I like that they don’t attempt to sanitise the artwork too much.  The slaves are clearly labouring to construct the pyramids, and so it’s entirely in keeping with the theme and context of the time.  However, if you have a problem with running an empire that tacitly endorses slavery you’re going to have to avoid constructing a number of these cards.

Cards in the game

I feel white guilt just looking at the quarry card

While the game doesn’t show a diversity of body types, it also doesn’t explicitly sexualise the skin that is on display.   Well, except in one case.

Baths

What have the Romans ever done for us? Actually, this is probably plenty.

Even that, I think, is excused by the theme.  These are Roman baths, and as such the portrayal is entirely in keeping with historical precedence.  I’d regard it as a cheeky bit of sensuality rather than unnecessary sexualisation, although you can of course form your own judgements.

The manual generally avoids the assumption of masculinity, but explanatory paragraphs make use of the designer names to illustrate game mechanics:

Example: Antoine has just constructed the Colossus.  7 wonders have been built during the game (4 by Bruno, 3 by Antoine).  Antoine returns the Pyramids to the box.

Since both the designers are men, it does mean that there’s a lot of ‘he’ in the text.  This seems like a reasonable approach to take, so I’m not going to make a big thing of it even if it would have been just as easy to have invented two different names for illustrative purposes.  It’s their game though, and it’s very good, so I don’t resent a bit of justified pride.

With a list price of approximately £25, and a hard player cap of two, it’s not exactly the easiest sell in terms of cost per player or adaptability to variable play situations  You’re buying this as a two player game or not at all.  There is, of course, a 7 wonders game that goes up to seven players – and it is, as best I can tell, very well regarded.  However, I have never played it and can’t give you my views on whether or not it works as a ‘scaled up’ version of Duel.

This one though is a great game and at a brisk 30 minutes of play it’s something you can easily fit in at the end of a busy day without too much difficulty.   While it won’t serve as a favourite the whole family can accrete around, it will fill an enjoyable half hour for a couple.

We’re prepared to strongly recommend 7 Wonders: Duel in this category.

Communication

There is no specific need for communication in play.  You can play it in resentful silence that bubbles up into sullen anger as your opponent claims that one card you know that they know that you wanted.  Damn them to hell.

We strongly recommend 7 Wonders: Duel in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

The visual language used to represent card effects is likely to cause intersectional issues when there is a compounding cognitive impairment.  The symbols are easy to read for the most part, and most of them are easy to understand.  There are occasional rarer symbols though that may be difficult to differentiate or comprehend.  There aren’t many of them, but it’s something of which to be wary.  You’ll not only need to be able to see them, you’ll need to remember what they mean.

Since the game is relatively swift, it’s unlikely to last long enough to risk exacerbating issues of discomfort, but the game cannot continue if a player drops out.   It is possible though at any time to execute end of game scoring to work out who won to that point.  There are though no formal rules for handling it.

As a game explicitly about competition, we encounter the usual issue that in accessibility contexts we rely on opponents to fairly support those with impairments.   If playing ultra-aggressively, the game incentivises a player to keep quiet about opportunities their opponent may have missed as a result of impairment.  We invoke our traditional mantra here – if this is likely to be an issue, play with those as interested in your fun as they are in their own.

Conclusion

7 Wonders: Duel won’t be claiming the crown for accessibility, but there’s a reasonable amount to like in the way it is designed.

Colour Blindness B-
Visual Impairment C
Emotiveness B
Fluid Intelligence D+
Memory D
Physical B
Socioeconomic A
Communication A

For the most part, its key inaccessibilities are a consequence of the game design.  The depth of decision making that goes into selecting cards is heavily dependent on forward thinking, contingency planning, and balancing of probability.  As such, cognitive cost is considerable.  That makes the game interesting, but at the expense of accessibility.  Its other main issues are in its small icons, and the nature of the age structures you construct at the beginning of play.  The latter of these is one of the game’s most interesting features, and it’s difficult to imagine how it could be meaningfully different while retaining the gameplay it facilitates.  The icons though are an issue that could easily have been fixed.

Radar graph

Radar chart for 7 Wonders: Duel

7 Wonders: Duel is a great game.  We gave it four stars in our review, and it came close to getting four and a half.  We expect with expansion packs it will elevate itself even higher.  As such, if you can play it we thoroughly recommend you do yourself a favour and pick it up.   Now excuse me, I have an enemy empire to crush.  I am Meeplandius, King of Kings.  Look upon my cards, ye mighty, and despair.

 


If you like what we're doing with Meeple Like Us, please consider liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and sharing our content. If you want to support us financially, you could make use of our Amazon affiliate link to send a bit of cash our way - it doesn't cost you a penny! Drop us a comment too in the discussion section below! We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!

  • Pingback: 7 Wonders: Duel (2015) – Meeple Like Us()

  • I played this game for the first time yesterday and I did thoroughly enjoy it. Since becoming aware of your Teardowns I’ve become far more aware of accessibility in games and I now challenge myself to create my own primitive teardown of each new game I come into contact with, before comparing my thoughts to yours. I love the detail you go into and I’m especially a fan of the Socioeconomic Accessibility– something I think more designers and publishers need to more of considerate of.

    Where can I find working/layman definitions of the teardown criteria? I’m not 100% sure what Intersectional Accessibility means.

    Absolutely great stuff. Thank you

    • Hi Rory – many thanks for your kind words. This is essentially what I hope the teardowns do – just make people think a bit about the factors impacting on people. Nobody is going to be perfect at it (myself included), but one small change can be the difference between ‘impossible to play’ and ‘playable’, and enough small changes can add up into a huge difference. Short of testing every game with every possible combination of people, all we can do is try to see the obvious areas where we might be able to make changes.

      http://meeplelikeus.co.uk/on-accessibility-tear-downs/ is the closest thing that exists to a definition of the sections (that would be something worth adding, perhaps) but the intersectional section is really just ‘things that impact on two or more of these at the same time’, as well as (rarely) issues where fixing something in one category will impact on another. As a real world example of that – text to speech is a tremendous accessibility tool for people with visual impairments. However, artificial speech is more cognitively expensive to process than proper recorded speech, so you can actually make things worse if someone has both visual impairments *and* cognitive impairments. That’s an intersectional thing – it’s not visual, it’s not cognitive, it only emerges as the union of both. Issues of game length, competition, and so on all tend to come into this category too. Hidden hands of complex cards are a physical, visual and cognitive issue while they might not individually be a problem in any given section. That sort of thing.

      Thank you for your comment. 😀