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I've been playing 7 Wonders for about 3 months now, and my friends & I love it. However, because of the complexity of the game and the large number of mechanics in it, I find it really hard to explain to someone new to the game. (I've seen this difficulty in others explaining it too.) I don't usually know where to start, and because of the amount of material to cover, the learner only gets more and more confused as I try to teach them.

Some of the people I play with believe that the best way to learn it is to just play it and see it in action. I'm not sure if I completely agree with this. Surely there must be a good way to explain the game simply and concisely (without merely saying, "Here's the rules; when you're done reading, we'll play") so that a newbie doesn't glaze over, but also isn't left completely ignorant.

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I find that using the rulebook is often not the best way to teach 7 Wonders. There's a lot of text there. While a "here are your cards, let's go approach," can work well, most new players appreciate some form of idea. I'll post the bullet points to my 7 Wonders Crash Course (given fairly regularly at game nights near me). Apologies for the impending wall of text.

  • This is 7 Wonders, in which you will receive a Wonder from an ancient Mediterranean civilization, which you must turn into a shining beacon of greatness.
  • To do this, you'll need Victory Points, which look like this (Point to a VP symbol). Building your Wonder will get you some Victory Points, and a cool ability (explain their wonder ability).
  • You can get Victory points by playing cards. Cards have a cost (Point to the cost of a card) and an effect (point to an effect). Not all cards have a cost, but most of them do.
  • There are seven different types of cards, which do seven different types of things.
  • First off, we have brown cards, which provide you with a basic resource: Wood, Stone, Clay, and Ore. (Have an example card on-hand for each)
  • Next, we have gray cards, which provide you with manufactured resources: Glass, Textile, and Papyrus. (again, have example cards)
  • Brown cards and Gray cards provide you with resources, which let you build other buildings.
  • Next up, we have Blue cards. Blue cards give you Victory Points, the currency of winners! As you progress through the game, you'll gain access to buildings that provide more Victory Points. (Show some blue cards, preferably from all three ages)
  • Yellow cards are Commerce Buildings. They mostly deal with gaining money, which you can use to buy some cards, and to get a discount on buying resources from the players sitting next to you. (Show them Trading Posts, explain East vs West & purchasing, and also show them a Tavern).
  • Red cards are Military Buildings. Military buildings increase your Civilizations strength. At the end of each Age (indicate Card backs), you'll compare your military score against your neighbors' military scores. If yours is higher, you get Victory Points! If yours is lower, you lose 1 Victory Point. (Show the tokens, along with a red card).
  • Finally, we have Green cards. Green cards are Scientific Buildings. They allow your Civilization to unlock new and exciting technologies, which are really just Victory Points. Science is complicated, but very rewarding, just like real life. There are three symbols on Green cards, Cogs, Compasses, and Tablets. (Again, get some examples) The more of any symbol you have, the better. At the end of the game, you receive Victory Points equal to the square of the number of cards you have for each symbol. So if you have one tablet, and two compasses, you'd get one point for the tablet, and four points for the compasses. If you got five cogs, you'd get 25 points! But that's not it! For every set of three different symbols, you get an extra seven points!
  • We also have purple cards. They don't come into the game until Age Three, so we can wait until then to worry about them. The important thing is that they get you points for what people next to you have.

That was a lot, huh. Don't worry. It all clicks pretty quickly. One last thing, and we'll get started. You'll start with a hand of cards. Each turn, everyone will pick a card to build, and place it face-down in front of them. Once everyone has selected a card, we all turn them face up, pay any necessary costs, and put them by our wonder. If you don't want to build one, you can also discard it for three gold, or use it to build part of your Wonder. Then, we pass our cards to the person next to us. The hands keep rotating around until there's only two cards left, so you never know exactly what cards you'll be picking from on your next hand. There's a handy chart for what all the symbols on the cards mean in the rules, so you can check it any time you want to, or ask the person that just gave you your cards, if you'd rather not.

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    This is mostly reasonable, but I strongly disagree with how early you introduce the Wonder itself. People learn things best when they're tied to things they already understand, which means it's in your interest to get them to fully understand something as soon as possible. And 7 Wonders is a complete game without the Wonders. So whenever I teach this, I leave the Wonders for dead last, and in fact if I'm playing with particularly novice gamers, I consider leaving the Wonders out of the game entirely. – Benjamin Cosman Jul 21 '16 at 0:03
  • Honestly, I often do as well, but I didn't want the post to be EVEN longer than it already is. I usually don't get into special wonder abilities and why they exist until I get to the "this is how you take a turn." But it also changes a little each time. – Reibello Jul 21 '16 at 0:04
  • Reordering Wonders to last wouldn't make it longer. (Another reason it belongs there is that its explanation pairs well mechanically with the discard-for-3-coins rule, which I assume you leave for late in the teaching.) – Benjamin Cosman Jul 21 '16 at 0:08
  • A decent explanation, but I find the most difficult part to explain is the way resources work (producing every turn, but not storing, not being used up, and still being used by neighbours), which I don't think you mentioned. – Samthere Jul 27 '16 at 14:27
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I think most board games become easier to play when you try to breakdown the wall of the game, with the wall of reality (3rd wall in film). What's important is to use the thematic nature of the game to make sense of the mechanics in real world terms that players can relate too.

I don't disagree with the previous explanation, but I would explain it the other way around i.e what your central goal is first, then the raw materials you need to build them.

Here's how I explain 7Wonders to a new player

  1. You're in control of a new but upcoming ancient city.
  2. Your goal is to build the most affluent and prestigious city. Your competitors are sitting right next to you.
  3. Every building you build creates value VP (Victory Points) for your city and the player with the most VP at the end of the game will win.
  4. Each building has a type of value, just like in real life, A library might help, research and a barracks might help your army. There are 7 types of building in 7Wonders, Raw Materials, Military, Science, Commerce, Victory, Advanced and the most special of all your Wonder! Show a player their wonder board and draw attention to the steps to build it
  5. Every turn you much build a building from the available hand you have, every turn you choose your building, pay the build cost and pass the remaining cards onto your opponent sat either side. Remember some build decisions are tactical, to prevent a player from taking a card that benefits them.
  6. Better buildings cost more resources point to the resource cost, show 3 examples from the 3 ages you can either own the resource by building it here, buy the resource cheaply by using a commercial building show yellow card or buy for 2 coins any resource either of your neighbours has. Due to the long distance of travelling in ancient times you can only trade with your direct neighbours.
  7. If at any point you don't want to build and gain the power of the building, you may pay the build cost of your wonder and sacrifice the building in the name of Production! Remember your wonder gives you special bonus' that other cards wont and is worth VP's too!
  8. Each round is of cards is called an Age and there are 3 Ages in the game. The better cards come in the last age but cost more resources, so make sure to build up a good stock of resources or gold in the early ages.
  9. Each Type of building earns VP in slightly different ways:
    • Raw Materials don't provide any VP but they help you build buildings more cheaply.
    • Science is Logarithmic i.e each one double your previous number
    • Victory is Linear i.e the number of VP is stated on the card
    • Commerce is Flexible i.e each 3 coins are worth 1 VP but can also buy you resources in game.
    • Advanced & Wonder is Magical i.e It usually adds a special rule that we will look up at the time.
  10. Military is special as it can steal VP's from your opponents but only winners are rewarded and losers punished, if it's a draw then neither party benefits. Sometimes investing in military can be a costly arms race for little benefit.

I think this lays out the game nicely for all players. You can then jump into the first round and explain it in finer detail when people actually make decisions.

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Teaching games is something of a art, that you'll get better at with more practise.

You're right that explaining things in certain ways can lead to more confusion that it's worth. To mitigate this I suggest explaining any in the following structure:

0. Setup.

I recommend giving new players the simpler wonders. The gold one, the points one, or the military one are the best.

1. Thematic introduction.

"In this game, we each the ruler of an ancient city, competing to build the most glorious city the world."

Here's your chance to be creative, and have fun. You're selling the game to your friends, and setting the scene. The one important thing you're doing is telling your friends what the game is about - in this case - you're building a city.

2. Game objective, and larger game structure.

"The game is played over three ages, represented by these three decks. At the end of the third age, all points are tallied, and the person with the most points is the winner."

The important things to highlight here are:

  • Winning condition. In this case earning the most points. In other games, it's the last person standing, or to go out first, for example.
  • Game end condition.

3. How to achieve game objective.

The previous step immediately begs a question - 'just how do we earn points?'.

"There are several ways to earn points."

I find the best way to explain all the different ways to get points, is to go over the scoring card.

enter image description here

"I'll go over these quickly now, and more detail later".

  • Red is for military victories. At the end of each age (remember there are three), each person will battle their immediate neighbour, and the person with the highest military strength will earn points. Military strength is earned by building red cards, like this one. [Explain military points structure].

  • Coins. Every three coins left over at the end of the game is worth one point.

  • Wonders. Some of you can earn points from building your wonder. For example you can earn x points. You can earn y points.

  • Blues. The blue civic structures are purely for points, as denoted on the cards.

  • Yellows. Some yellow cards can provide points, but these tend to a be a minor bonus.

  • Purples. In age three is the presences of purple guilds, which give bonuses for other people are built. For example this card would...

  • Greens. There are green technology cards throughout the deck. [Explain green scoring. Perhaps refer to the scoring sheet to show how points are counted horizontally and vertically]. You can potentially earn a lot of points through technology - for example if you got three of each you world earn 21+ 27 = 48 points.

4. Turn structure.

"At the start of each age, we'll start with a hand of seven cards. Each turn, we'll all select a card and play it face down in front of us. Note that we all play simultaneously!

We then choose one of three actions to do with the card:

  • Play it face up in front of our board, and pay the construction cost, to build that as part of a city. Note that you're only allowed to build each building once. You're not allowed two temples for example.
  • Play it face down on the bottom edge of board, and pay the wonder construction cost, to build that stage of the wonder.
  • Trash the card, and receive three coins. Note that if you select a card that you're unable to pay construction costs for, you're forced to trash the card.

After all the construction costs are resolved, we then pass the hand to left."

This leads well in to:

5. Construction costs

Note each card has a construction cost. For example this one here requires paying one gold into the middle, these (simple browns) have no cost, this one here requires two stone.

There are two cards that provide resources - browns and greys. Browns provide basic resources, and greys provide secondary resources. You typically only need one of each of the secondary resources.

Some yellow cards also provide resources. [Point them out].

So let's say I have these two browns providing stone already built, I can build this card because I have the required resource.

Note also - that each of us is already building one resource on our wonder card.

When building your wonder, you similarly pay construction costs, as denoted on your wonder card. Note that the Age the game is in doesn't matter for building your wonder. You can build them all in Age I or all in Age III, it doesn't matter.

6. Trade.

Now lets say only I have one stone, but my neighbour Jim here has the other stone.

I can buy that stone from Jim for two coins. I simply put two coins on his wonder card. Note that you don't require permission to buy someone's resource and you can't stop someone buying your resources. Note also that you're only allowed to buy resources from your neighbours. Also note that my buying Jim's resource doesn't prevent Jim from also using that resource, and vice versa. Also you can only buy resources provided by browns and greys. You can't buy resources provided by yellows or wonders.

There are some cards the make the resource buying cheaper. [Point our trading posts]. "

7. Upgrades.

"Some cards can be built for free, if you have build the prerequisite building. For example [who an example Age II card], this building I can either pay the construction cost of xyz, or if I have already built the [Baths/etc] then I get this building for free. Note here on the bottom right of the Baths card, that this shows me which buildings I can build for free. "

8. End of Age.

After we've played the sixth card each, the seventh card is discarded, and then we resolve military victories. The next Age we pass cards in reverse order.

9. Final notes and reminders.

  • Do a quick scan over all the decks to show people what to expect. Point out the cards that give you gold for neighbour's buildings.
  • You can't build the same building twice.
  • You can't buy resources from the bank. You or your neighbours have to be producing it.
  • You don't have to build your wonder. Treat building your wonder just like building another card.
  • "If there's any cards that you're not sure what it does, just show it to me and I'll explain it."

As a final note - note that games usually seem more complicated explaining them than they are playing them. But it is best to give a comprehensive explanation upfront, and then people will usually understand it by the end of the first game.

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I prefer to start upfront with what a turn looks like, so people feel like they can get started. They don't have to play perfectly or understand everything the first time through, they just have to make legal pays that feel like they are making some progress. Which in 7 Wonders, they will, because they are going to have a big pile of cards in front of them at the end of the game. And I tell people that we can play again right after, and it will go much quicker.

So I start with victory points, so they know the overall goal of the game, then I say "The basic mechanic of this game is card drafting. You'll get a pile of cards, and pick one, and pass the rest on. On your turn, you either throw the card in for 3 coins, play it and show that you can meet the costs, or build a level of your wonder, showing that you can meet those costs."

Then I start explaining all the types of cards. The yellow ones I usually explain as people stumble onto them, rather than explaining all of them up front.

Then I explain costs, where to see the cost, and paying your neighbor for his resources ("You just drop two coins on their board. They can't refuse, your using a resource doesn't affect them in any way at all, you can't buy more of a resource than they have displayed")

Then I explain everyone's Wonders, and advise people that if they don't know what to do, they should try and get resources to build their Wonder stages, and they should look at their neighbor, to see how much their neighbor will help. And I advise things like "Well, since HER neighbor has paper already, she's not going to build paper herself. So you need paper early, you should probably not pass it on, but build it yourself."

And I remind people at the beginning of the second age that there are no resource cards in the third age, so they can't let something crucial to their Wonder pass.

  • I haven't tried this method yet, but it sounds like a good idea. One shortfall of the accepted answer is that it leaves people wondering how to actually play a turn. Your method explains turn structure right off the bat, which has its benefits. – Zac Aug 21 '16 at 21:39

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