I've previously discussed the excellent board game 7 Wonders, and my thoughts on the game's strategy. As part of that post, I asserted that the various Wonder boards, while they do make an impact on the game, are usually not the determining factor in who wins or loses. That said, in any game with variable player powers, there are bound to be inequalities, and a tier listing is inevitable. Thus, in this post I present my take on the different Wonder boards, discussing each side individually, and create a general tier listing out of all of them. My list includes all the boards released up to this point including the base set, Leaders and Cities expansions, the official Wonder Pack, and the promotional Catan wonder. I do not rate the promo version of Mannekin Pis, since the version contained in the Wonder Pack is a very similar, rebalanced version.
Let's jump straight to the tier listing:
Simple, right? As I mentioned, the Wonders are fairly well balanced, and the various other aspects of the game are pretty important, so there's not a lot of room to divide the boards into a many tiers. Even the bottom tier wonders are still viable, you'll just have to work harder or get a little luckier to beat the top tier. Now, in case your group lets you choose which side of the wonder board to play, here are my recommendations:
And there you have it! Now that I've put my conclusions out there, let's discuss how I reached that point. Along the way, I'll also discuss a little of how you should play each wonder. These conclusions are the result of many games with varying numbers of players, as well as theoretical analysis. The wonders that I rank highest are ones that, given many different possible game conditions, will generally produce a winningly-high score most often, assuming approximately equal skill among players.
Rhodos-A: 3VP, 2 military, 7VP. A solid board, since those military can put you ahead of the curve early. Less observant opponents sometimes forget to count them, so this Wonder can trick your opponents into making mistakes. However, 3 clay to build stage 2 is sort of tough to achieve early when it gets you the biggest benefit.
Rhodos-B: 1 military+3VP+3 coins, 1 military+4VP+4 coins. Two stages means that Arena and other Wonder-related cards are weaker and you have less hate-drafting potential, but the payoff per card is pretty good. If you never spend the coins, it's 9.3 points and 2 military at significantly less cost in time and resources than the A side.
Alexandria-A: 3VP, Caravansery-equivalent, 7VP. A very solid wonder. The flexibility afforded by Alexandria's stage 2 lets you skip several turns of setup. It's always useful, and it doesn't invalidate getting the very similar Caravansery card; in fact, they work great together. The third stage sucks to build because your neighbors aren't likely to build Glass when they can borrow yours, and there's literally nothing else you can build that needs a second Glass. It's no problem if you build a Forum (which is a good choice anyway) but in the case that someone snags the Forum first, you're not in a good place.
Alexandria-B: Caravansery-equivalent, Forum-equivalent, 7 VP. Even better than the A side: the second stage is awesome and will almost certainly earn you back the equivalent of the missing 3VP step from the first stage, the caravansery-equivalent is easier to get to early, and the third stage is generally easier to build while still worth a lot. Most versatile and debatably the best wonder in the base game. The best way to pull off a variety of low-resource strategies, including heavy Science
Ephesos-A: 3VP, 9 coins, 7 VP. One of the weakest and most boring. Coins are only really good when you spend them, but you're literally giving points to your neighbors if you buy their resources. Plus, the third stage has the same problem as Alexandria-A and Halicarnassos-A where your neighbors probably won't build Paper because you have it built in, but nothing else needs a second one.
Ephesos-B: 2VP+4 coins, 3VP+4 coins, 5VP+4 coins. Better than the A-side, but still not that good. You get more coins (nice!) and the same total VP as the A version. Heck, if you only build two stages you get almost as many coins and 2 more VP at the exact same cost. And unlike the A side, the mix of resources you need for the last stage is useful for a lot of other good cards. Best supplemented with a good use for coins, like Midas or Gamer's Guild, as well as trading posts or Bilkis.
Babylon-A: 3VP, choice of science, 7VP. This one isn't too hard to build since you have some of the clay for the first and third stages already. The science icon isn't too useful if you don't go science, but fortunately science is one of the strongest strategies anyway. Having the flexibility to choose the symbol of your choice is awesome too, since it makes it basically impossible to block you from building horizontal sets, where most of the points are.
Babylon-B: 3VP, build both last cards, choice of science. This is one of the B-sides that might be weaker than its A-side. The wonder stages are harder to build, especially early, because they each require a different gray resource. The two-cards thing sounds awesome except that the last two cards of the age are generally the cards no one wants, and you'll probably end up just pitching one of them for coins (especially when you already built a card with the same name). And unlike Alexandria-B, you don't have that 7VP top end. On the other hand, with a little work you can make the science symbol count for about 7 points, too.
Olympia-A: 3VP, build one card free per age, 7VP. The cheapest wonder to build, since all three stages are only 2 brown resources each. The second stage isn't bad, since there's typically at least one card you can't play in any given age, but it's not always necessary, and it's hard to know when to use it. The cool thing about the second stage is that it gives you an out from tough packs, so you're less likely to have to discard for coins in the third age.
Olympia-B: Trade discount, 5VP, copy a guild. A strong wonder; the first stage is easily accessed and gives you a lot more options for building things without any tough decisions like which trading post to take. (As a downside, it doesn't stack with the trading posts, so they become dead cards to you. Fortunately, the trading posts usually go early enough that you won't be inconvenienced by that.) The second stage is a respectable number of points, and it's not hard to make the guild-copying stage worth 6 or 7 points. Sometimes you can get 9 or more points out of copying a guild, even. It's also one of the cheaper wonders to build all three stages. If anything, this one gets better in a 3-player game since it's unlikely both neighbors will go a resource-light strategy without any other players to mooch off, and no matter who builds the guilds they'll be available for you to copy them.
Halicarnassos-A: 3VP, build a discard, 7VP. The ability to resurrect cards from the discards is exciting but tricky. In order to get the most value out of it, you want to build it on the last turn of the game (when the Age III spares get discarded) but that means you won't be able to build the big 7-point third stage. Otherwise you're probably getting a card from the previous age (putting you behind the curve) and it's one of the cards no one wanted, at that. On the plus side, it makes it much harder to block you by hate-drafting things for coins, and you can meanwhile stockpile things you want by discarding them for coins and building them later. Unfortunately, discarding things for coins is very poor value so both you and your opponents should avoid doing that as much as possible. To top it off, the third stage has the same double-gray-resource problem as Ephesos and Alexandria. Probably one of the weaker wonders from the base set. Interestingly, I think Halicarnassos's ability is the one that scales most importantly depending on the number of players: it's much better in a big game.
Halicarnassos-B: 2VP+build a discard, 1VP+build a discard, build a discard. Probably worse than the A-side because it comes with very few reliable points, and you still have to deal with the tricky issue of when to build a discarded card. At least with this one, you aren't missing out on a big 7VP payday if you wait until the last turn to build from the discards. Its stages are not exactly cheap, either, but like Ephesos, they're at least easier than the A side. Scales even better than the A-side with more players, since you have three copies of the discard-pickup ability to work with.
Giza-A: 3VP, 5VP, 7VP. Solid all-around and efficient. Not only are the VPs balanced fairly aggressively per card used, the resource costs aren't too bad. You can potentially build all three stages early when the average card value is lower, but you sacrifice your outlet later on if you want to hate-drafting or get passed a pack where you can't build anything good. Still, having a clear and basically unblockable path to 15 points is super strong.
Giza-B: 3VP, 5VP, 5VP, 7VP. One of my favorite wonders: lots of point potential, lots of outs when you get bad packs, and lots of opportunities to deny your opponents cards. The stages are a little more expensive than the A-side, though, since now you need access to multiples in more resources plus a paper for the last stage. You also get fewer points than the A-side if you only manage to build three stages. However, it remains one of the most powerful and dependable wonders in the game.
Roma-A: 4VP, 6VP. Quite different from the base set's A sides, especially since it doesn't produce any resources but makes your leaders free. This means it can reasonably save you about 12 coins in leader costs over the course of the game, which is well above the benchmark for any single card in terms of coin production. If you build an extra resource card from Age I instead of using a later card for coins, you've almost certainly come out ahead. On the other hand, the wonder stages are solid but not extraordinary, and you don't get any other cool power, so it pretty much breaks even.
Roma-B: 5 coins+4 leaders, 3VP+build a leader, 3VP+build a leader. One of the more unpredictable Wonders, thanks to its ties to the Leader deck. The leader discount on this side is significantly nerfed: it provides at most 10 coins worth of value to you if you build all your wonder stages, and it benefits your neighbors as well. On the other hand, the ability to make more leaders is strong, since leaders are pretty good cards. Factoring in your discount, the 5 coins provided by the first stage is probably just enough to play two good leaders, which means that we can sort of dismiss how the second and third wonder stages have you paying twice to receive 1 card effect. Add in 6VP when fully built and we have a wonder that's probably worth 10-12 points total while providing more flexibility in Leaders throughout the game. Ultimately, how good it is will depend a lot on which Leaders you draw and how well they synergize with what you're trying to do, but it's unlikely to be bad.
Petra-A: 3VP, 7VP, 7VP. The second-highest fixed-VP total on a Wonder, tied with its B-side and behind Giza-B, makes this a serious competitor. The massive 7 coins you spend to build the second stage would be worth 2.3VP if you kept them, so it's not strictly better than Giza-A, but that comparison already places it in very, very good company. With reasonable (partly-overlapping) costs to build its other two stages, it's very likely you'll build all three.
Petra-B: 3VP+2 debt, 14 VP. On the one hand, 14 VP for one stage is mind-boggling. On the other hand, so is the 14-coin cost to build it. With prices that high, you'll need to spend valuable turns earning the cash to pay for it. The fact that the first stage causes two debt is sort of anti-synergistic, because it puts pressure on other players to take coin-making cards you want, or not buy resources from you. While still strong, Petra-B is too vulnerable to be as good as its A-side.
Byzantium-A: 3VP, 2VP+diplomacy, 7VP. I am not a fan of Byzantium. As much as Diplomacy is situationally good, it sucks that Byzantium basically forces you into it, making red cards far worse for you, and depriving you of the chance to win military victory tokens for one Age. You can read the 2VP as being worth up to 4VP if you'd have lost on both sides (because you don't get -1VP defeat chips), but it's not as good as getting those 4 points outright since you can't combine them with military victories. Timing the stages to get the most value is also a bit tricky. It can work for you, but your space of viable strategies is definitely decreased.
Byzantium-B: 3VP+diplomacy, 4VP+diplomacy. I like that you don't have to build up in order to get the Diplomacy tokens, but the problems of being pidgeonholed into a no-military strategy are only worse here. To top it off, the stages are about medium difficulty to build and produce only 7VP total. If you're intent on not fighting, then Byzantium makes it easy for you. Otherwise, it makes it hard.
Abu Simbel-A: 3VP, 5VP, entomb a leader. Abu Simbel's ability to entomb a leader card for twice its cost in points is interesting, but difficult. Ideally, you entomb a high-cost Leader who's not worth VP at the endgame, like Ramses or Bilkis; in this situation, Abu Simbel is pretty good. The problem is that most of the leaders that don't produce VP are cheap, and thus probably worth less than a typical Age III card you'd play instead of using Stage 3. Alternatively, you can go for a versatile approach by taking an expensive leader with conditional victory points like the ones who produce science symbols, and decide whether to entomb the leader depending on how the value stacks up. The bright side is that, even if you're unable to find any leaders worth picking up, you can build the first two stages for a solid 8 points.
Abu Simbel-B: Entomb, entomb. In the best-case scenario, you get 22VP from entombing Pericles (the only 6-cost leader) and a 5-cost leader, which comes out to a nice 5.5VP per card when you factor in that you have to play the leaders before you entomb them. You may even get the leaders' abilities for some turns before entombing them, but in most cases that won't be very useful. It's certainly viable, but the lost opportunities and coins paid in Leader cards add up to make this almost always worse than the top tier.
Great Wall-A: (In any order) 8 coins, choice of science, 2 military, build a discard. The Great Wall is an interesting board because it provides a toolkit of useful abilities, but no straight victory points. This makes it play very differently from the other wonders, since you use it less as a fallback and more to take advantage of situational opportunities. In my experience, it's difficult to parlay the tactical advantages into a high score, especially because several of the stages are expensive to build.
Great Wall-B: (In any order) 8 coins+2 coins to neighbors, Mask, Diplomacy+2 debt, build a resource you don't have. The B-side to The Great Wall has, mostly, the same strengths and weaknesses as the other side. For the most part, the stages provide a weaker variation on the same benefit as the A side (for example, the mask provides a science symbol that one of your neighbors has; the A-side version just provides any science symbol). To offset this, though, the B-side versions are generally cheaper, which works to their advantage, since it becomes more viable to build them in the right situations. Notably different is the fourth stage (equivalent to the Black Market Age II card), which is comparably strong to Alexandria's resource-generation powers.
Mannekin Pis-A: Copy stage 1 from the left; copy stage 2 from the right; copy final stage from the left. Since the wonder stages aren't even determined until you sit down to play, Mannekin Pis-A is basically unratable. Do note that, if you build one stage per Age, the stages are copied from the same direction you are passing, putting you in the prime position to snipe your neighbors' cards and to build their own abilities. In other words, sitting next to Mannekin Pis sucks. There is one other unique factor of this board: starting with 4 coins instead of a resource. Like Roma-A's alternate bonus, this one doesn't provide anything to your neighbors; but unlike that one, you're probably going to have to divvy out those coins in order to buy resources. It doesn't compare favorably to Tavern, the Age I coin card, and I still think having a couple resources is better than having only coins anyway.
Mannekin Pis-B: 7 coin+7VP+Military. The only one-hit-Wonder in the game costs one of every resource to make. It's not a bad deal, since it probably pays you back for the coins spent buying resources from your neighbors to build it. The military icon probably won't matter unless it makes the difference in a tight race, but that's fine. The bigger problem is that, with only one stage, you're going to have to depend more on getting good cards from the draft to make all your points. It also doesn't help that, like the A side, you start with coins instead of a resource.
Stonehenge-A: 3VP, 5VP, 2VP-per-stone. Most people will have a singular gripe when they see this wonder: it rewards you for having stone, but the wonder neither produces nor requires stone anywhere else. Sadly, after having played with it, the complaint is well-founded. The third stage is not likely to earn you anywhere near enough points to justify building so heavily in stone, since the wonder stages are fairly expensive in other resources. Remember, you can't even take duplicates of the stone cards! Its theoretical maximum is 12 points, but that requires 6 or more players, a lot of luck, expending 5 cards and three coins, and a lot of opportunity cost. Of the few cards that require triple stone, you can skip it by chaining into almost all of them, which means that all you're accomplishing by hoarding the stone is making it harder for Giza to build (if it's even in the game). Your best bet with Stonehenge-A is probably to build the first two wonder stages and forget about stone.
Stonehenge-B: 1 coin & 1VP per stone; 1VP per neighbor's card of the same color used to build this stage. The B side of Stonehenge is even harder to use than the A side, for much the same reasons: it rewards stone but doesn't provide it, and it requires a lot of other resources. It's very possible that you may never get a good opportunity to build either stage; your first stage will probably be a very expensive 2-4 points. As for the second stage, it's unpredictable. If both your neighbors are going hardcore science, it makes sniping one of their green cards potentially worth a staggering 10+ VP, but that requires a perfect storm of events. Because you need to use an in-demand color to build it, you may have to wait around for the perfect opportunity to build it; it's not cheap, though, so that's also difficult.
Catan-A: 3VP, 7 coins+2 debt, 7VP. I appreciate the references to Settlers of Catan in this promo: the first stage has the cost of building a road; the second stage represents rolling a 7; and of course there's the two-for-one port. In practice, though, it's a decent but boring wonder. It's frustrating that the port can only be used once per turn, but it would be unstoppable otherwise. The second stage is pretty much on par with Éphesos's; maybe better, since it can screw over another player if you're lucky. Conveniently, the third stage is one of the cheapest to build.
Catan-B: Draw a leader + play a leader, 5VP + 2 military. I think the first stage is meant to be a reference to buying a development card in Settlers of Catan, and just like dev cards, it's unpredictable in value. It can provide an awesome boost at an opportune time, or it can be a waste. Make sure you have the coins to play the leader, because it's not free. As for the second stage, it's decent. (Or better than decent if your opponents are bad and they forget to look at your wonder when counting up military, but don't count on that.) Like other two-stage wonders, Catan provides good value for each card, but fewer outs to use when you get passed a bad pack.
It's actually impressive how carefully and closely balanced the various wonders are, with just a couple sad exceptions like Stonehenge. In general, the base set's A sides tend to be weaker than their B-side counterparts, but the base set also seems to have the highest overall concentration of powerful boards. The best wonders are the ones with straight-up victory points and either versatile resource generation or even more straight-up victory points. The Wonder Pack is particularly weak, because all the boards require special circumstances to score as much as the average board for the amount of investment. Still, every wonder is capable of winning, especially in the hands of a good player. I'm sure this tier ranking will be somewhat controversial, and I feel that there is more room to further separate the tiers after I gain even more experience and the metagame evolves. I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this tier list and this style of article in general. Anyone interested in a tier ranking of the Leader cards?