7 Wonders Strategy: Leaders Analysis Part I

By Brian Durkin

All the leaders that provide victory points
with no conditions attacched
[will-yuh m]
A card in a strategy game that possesses no powers or effects, or essentially provides no relevant ability without the aid of another card or effect.
The VS System trading card game released a new keyword called Willpower in the Green Lantern set. Many characters with this keyword had no additional abilities. Willpower by itself does nothing; other cards interact with it. Cards or characters that fit these descriptions earned the nickname William in the gaming community.
Nobody likes playing William-dot-deck. How could a deck filled with cards containing no effects ever succeed? Believe it or not, but some cards actually manage to provide worse utility than a vanilla card. Although not exciting, you know vanilla ice cream delivers every time. The real question comes from deciding whether Mint Chocolate Chip, Chucky Monkey, or Strawberry Blonde Rendezvous will better satisfy your taste buds.
With the new Leaders expansion for 7 Wonders you must decide which leaders will give the most bang for your bucks. Comparing a card against a William creates the simplest benchmark to determine the profitability of an effect. Sell high and buy low, so let’s take a look at the cheapest leaders.
One Cost Leaders
Every leader that costs a single gold besides Sappho (this category’s William) provides an effect that improves your cash flows. Nero and Vitruvius can potentially earn you at least nine gold pieces (equals more than two victory points). I believe Nero provides even more utility. If you declare more incentive to win military struggles it signals to your neighbors that they should dig in for a difficult fight if they want to compete in red cards. Tavern, excuse me. Croesus provides you with a boost in gold that can allow you to play other important cards. The flexibility to spend the money however you want proves difficult to compare to Sappho. If you expect a cash crunch, then take Croesus over Sappho. Same goes for Maecenas; however, his theoretical gold comes from saving money playing Leaders. He only really shines if you expect to play the most expensive leaders. You should not take Maecenas over a William if you draft a lot of the next cost category.
Leaders that cost a gold to play
Two Cost Leaders
Hannibal surpasses everyone in this category. One military structure can win a contest against both neighbors in Age I. Starting off with strength puts you in a great position to win military struggles in Age I and for the rest of the game. If he alone allows you to win two military conflicts then he provides you with four points (plus two instead of negative two). From my experience I find it rare when I cannot play a military structure because of resources, especially if I lose military when I strategized to earn victory tokens. If you set out to go on this strategy you would secure access to the resources anyway. I find it difficult to associate points to Leonidas, especially compared to Hannibal at the same cost. Hammurabi will never give three points from saving you from purchasing resources, but enabling you to play Palace or Pantheon does translate to a lot of points. Civilian structures demand the widest range of resources next to guilds, so I like the flexibility Hammurabi provides. He should allow you to play cards you might not play otherwise, which will translate into direct points. Leonidas cannot guarantee points because you could still lose in military strength to a neighbor. Xenophon and Hatshepsut both strengthen players who rely on commercial structures and or purchasing resources. Unfortunately the gold they provide will almost never account for more than three points alone.  Try to secure other synergistic cards with these two leaders otherwise you will turn out playing a leader worse than a William.
Three Cost Leaders
With about one third of the leaders costing three, you need to identify which ones provide a good investment. Nefertiti, the William, beats out six other leaders in her category. Midas requires you to end the game with at least fifteen gold pieces. Alexander requires you win almost all conflicts in order to surpass four points. Hiram demands you spend at least a third of your Age III picks on guilds, assuming these guilds provide a sufficient amount of points to justify taking them in the first place. Aristotle requires two scientific matches to surpass four points. Unless grabbing a key scientific structure, how often will Solomon convert into more than four points? Essentially all these leaders suffer from high risks that either do not give the player good enough payoffs or warp your draft in a negative way. You do not need to build matches to score well in scientific structures. Hording gold could prevent you from playing cards with better marginal utility. The three cost leaders worse than Nefertit require support from other leaders to really boost their effects. I find it tough to justify taking a risk on Alexander or Aristotle without Pericles or a leader who provides a scientific symbol.  A card like Pericles will provide you with a significant amount of points without little effort or luck; therefore, the best leaders that cost three give you points based on different color cards you play (excluding Hiram). Taking enough raw materials, manufactured goods, or commercial structures to equal or surpass four points should never prove difficult. Justinian might appear hard to maximize but do not let him fool you. If you play military structures, you usually want to play one every age. If you play scientific structures, you want at least three of them (build three of a kind or a match). Civilian structures come in all kinds of cost requirements, making every player capable of playing them. Justinian can reach nine points without diminishing returns to the rest of your picks, making him worth more points than the most expensive William.
The best three cost leaders
Who overthrows Cleopatra as the best four cost leader? Which leaders without a William comparison justify spending the gold to play? Find out tomorrow in Leaders Analysis Part II.
But do not forget to share your opinion. How do you feel about the leaders who cost three dollars or less? Do you agree or disagree with the analysis above, and why?
Let us know what you think.
Additional Information

For more information about 7 Wonders check the product page on BoardGameGeek.com.
Interested in purchasing a copy of 7 Wonders? Try the following links.
Amazon: 7 Wonders.
If you live in the tri-state area, consider stopping by AU to pick up a copy and play with the staff. They make up my play test group. We play usually every Monday Night.