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I know the rules claim the sides are balanced and can be mixed in the same game, but I have my doubts. In general, the B-sides feel a little stronger to me, but it's sometimes hard to compare because they are so different. In most cases, it probably comes down to style of play and strategy to be used in a particular game. However at least in the case of Rhodes, the B-side seems to have an advantage. Here's a comparison:

Completing all wonders of A-side yields:

  • 10 Victory points
  • 2 Shields

Completing all wonders of B-side yields:

  • 7 Victory points
  • 2 Shields
  • 7 Coins

Just looking at this alone, there is little difference between the benefits of the two sides. Since the 7 coins can be converted to 2.33 victory points, the A-side has only a very slight edge. However, there are some other things to consider which tip the scales in favor of the B-side:

  • 3 coins are worth more than a victory point. At a minimum 3 coins equal a victory point, but coins are the tie-breaker, so 3 coins is greater than one victory point. Also, coins have more utility as they can be used to purchase other things, if desired.
  • The B-side gets a Shield bonus and 3 coins after building the first wonder, making it much easier to get a military victory at the end of the first Age, and the coins are very helpful early on. The A-side doesn't give any benefit for the first wonder (aside from the victory points, which don't help until the end of the game).
  • The A-side requires 2 Wood, 3 Clay and 4 Ore to build its three wonders, respectively. The B-side only requires 3 Stone and 4 Ore. The 3 Clay and 3 Stone are basically equivalent, so the B-side avoids needing two of a third resource (Wood).
  • The B-side only requires two turns to build all wonders, while the A-side requires three. With the extra action a B-side player could simply discard a card for three coins, giving it a total of 10 coins, which then puts its rewards ahead of the A-side as the 10 coins would give 3.33 victory points. But the B-side player also has the option to put an additional card into play, which could be worth much more than 3 coins.

All of this makes a strong case that the B-side of Rhodes is not balanced with the A-side. About the only advantage I can think of that the A-side has is for cards that count number of wonders built: Arena and Builder's Guild. Depending on the setup, Builder's Guild may not even be in the game. And, the B-side has the advantage of weakening that card for your neighbors. Arena is a nice card, but it's not a big loss, IMO. Does the A-side have some other advantage I'm missing?

I'm not sure if the A-side of Rhodes is underpowered or the B-side is overpowered, compared to other boards. When using the wonder cards to randomly determine which wonder board each player will play, we've taken to letting players choose the side they want to play because the consensus is some sides are just weaker than others.

Do any of the other boards exhibit similar imbalance? I haven't examined the others that closely.

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I haven't played enough to write a real answer, but I did notice that as well. If nothing else, the A sides were terribly boring in comparison to the B sides. –  Alex P Nov 12 '11 at 22:12
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I wouldn't expect the two sides to be balanced. I've never played the B side but from the rules I got the impression that they are simply more complex than the A sides... I always expected that you'd either all play the A side or all play the B side. –  Kempeth Nov 14 '11 at 8:25
    
I would not even say that all A or all B are balanced to each other, Makes it hard to claim A and B being balanced –  Andrey Nov 14 '11 at 13:30
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@Kempeth The rule book claims they are balanced: "The B sides of the Wonders are slightly more complex. Nevertheless, both sides remain balanced and can be used in the same game." (pg. 9) Sounds like no one's buying that claim, however. –  Todd Nov 14 '11 at 17:04
    
Related threads on boardgamegeek.com: 1, 2 –  unor Dec 1 '12 at 5:29

2 Answers 2

From what my friends and I can ascertain, the board sides are not designed to be strictly balanced per se, but are instead designed to work best with different play strategies, or at least different skill levels.

In my experience, the "A" sides provide fewer opportunities for specialization than their "B" side couterparts. For example, if a player is playing with Rhodes, but fails to take advantage of the early military points and never plays a military card, that player would have probably been better off with side "A", which provides a few extra victory points and more closely matches the costs and benefits of the other wonders.

That said, it doesn't take much more than a basic working knowledge of the game to make the "B" sides more than pay for themselves, especially with a wonder as unbalanced as Rhodes (other wonders' "B" sides aren't quite as obviously better). In our games, even novice gamers rarely select side "A" after their first couple run-throughs, and when they do, it is rarely a winning strategy.

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No, they are not strictly balanced. It's impossible for such a thing to be true. Still, the degree of imbalance in a global objective sense is not as great as a the perceived imbalance of the boards given any particular set of players.

7 Wonders is highly interactive, so your choices affect your opponents and vice-versa. Due to a particular set of player's strategies, some boards will certainly provide an advantage over other boards. If you are finding one side wins more than another try adjusting your strategy (and getting other players to do so as well) to compensate, and you'll see a significant change in winning stats.

Even if a large number of games, with a wide and varying number of players with different skills in different groupings is played and collected (e.g. on BSW) differences in wins for different sides of the board could be due to the skill-level/complexity of playing that side of the board, and not an intrinsic imbalance.

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It's a good point that many games like this are self-balancing, but I don't think that Seven Wonders is particularly one of them; first of all, the boards look sufficiently close to balanced that I don't think anyone ever cries "Uh oh, Bob drew Egypt, everyone gang up on him!"; and, more importantly, what can you do if you're sitting on the other side of the table from someone with an "unbalanced" civilisation? Very little that's relevant, apart from maybe complain loudly about their good fortune. –  thesunneversets Dec 12 '11 at 18:31
    
I didn't mean to say the game is self-balancing. In fact, 7 wonders (like many games) is one that can turn early small advantages into big victory point swings without the ability for opponents to do much about it. From a game theoretic sense, it's quite interesting as, even if a neighboring player could do something about an advantage, its often still rational not to, since it would hurt you (relative to all other players) more than it would help him. –  Neal Tibrewala Dec 12 '11 at 22:19

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