A recent discussion on BoardGameGeek has prompted this post, which considers the various Age I wonders in relation to each other and the general game state. So let us remind ourselves what they do:
Taj Mahal: Cost 2/4/2. 3 Culture per turn.
Great Wall: Cost 2/2/3/2. 1 Culture per turn, 1 Happy Face, +1 Strength for each Infantry or Artillery unit.
Universitas Carolina: Cost 3/3/3. 1 Culture per turn, 2 Science per turn.
St Peter’s Basilica: Cost 4/4. 2 Culture per turn, each Happy Face (but not Unhappy Face) counts double.
Not a Wonder for which there is much love, and for good reason: it improves neither your infrastructure nor your military strength. It can net you 40 or so Culture over the course of a game, which might win you the game… or might make you the target of somebody else’s War Over Culture.
A more interesting one. Its cultural impact is practically meaningless, but its other two abilities are nice. In particular, the happy face may allow you the option of diverting more workers to military than you otherwise would, for a good self-synergy. The main drawbacks of this Wonder are that it meshes badly with cavalry-heavy tactics, and it takes four stages to build (so you might want to get Masonry).
Leader Synergies: Any leader who gives you actual (Caesar, Napoleon, Robespierre) or virtual (Barbarossa) military actions on which to use your military strength.
Non-Leader Synergies: Masonry/Architecture for building it. Also any blue warfare tech or advanced government (except Republic); its military strength is useless without military actions to use it on. It also combines well with those Tactics cards that require investment in Artillery or Infantry – Legion, Defensive Army, Modern Army and Entrenchments being the optimal ones for combining with it.
My personal favourite of the four, and a great complement to an early Science-heavy strategy; its effect can be to net you 20 or more Science over the course of the game.
Leader Synergies: Aristotle (for playing all the tech cards you’ve brought into your hand with his power), plus the play-tech-for-benefit three (Leonardo, Newton and Einstein).
Non-Leader Synergies: Combining this one with an early Alchemy can get you a very fast research rate.
St Peter’s Basilica
Doubling your happy faces goes the full range from priceless to worthless, but it’s generally nearer the former. It’s one of the few cards that , and it can also be combined with the Hanging Gardens to essentially solve your Happiness problems for a very long time. Its main drawback is that it is seriously vulnerable to the Ravages Of Time event.
Leader synergies: Michelangelo’s synergy with the Basilica is famous, and there’s no doubt that this combo will earn its owner plenty of Culture. Of course, this is subject to the usual vulnerabilities. Its affinity with Theatres also makes it a good mix with Shakespeare, Bach or Elvis.
Non-leader synergies: Temple, Theatre and Arena techs. The Hanging Gardens and Great Wall wonders.
Strategic points on building Age I Wonders
An Age I Wonder is quite a hefty investment, costing 8 or 9 rock (which is 3 turns’ production at the time it arrives). And usually it will go behind one’s second Philosophy in the queue, as well as some military investment, and it will necessarily go behind an Age A Wonder you’ve picked up. The result of this is that you’re not usually going to complete an Age I Wonder in Age I; you’ll be going into Age II with it still under construction. Thus these Wonders have a tendency to interfere with strategies based on taking a particular Age II Wonder (especially as they raise the cost of taking one).
This doesn’t necessarily mean taking an Age I Wonder is a bad idea, but it’s certainly not the automatic decision that the Pyramids or the Hanging Gardens tends to be. As with many things in this game, it’s situational.