I’ve enjoyed every play-through of 7 Wonders Duel. It’s a straightforward 2-player-only drafting and resource management game with an occasional one-time action. I also find it more interesting than the multi-player version of 7 Wonders. Specifically the decisions around the card draft shape – being able to “look ahead,” hate drafting, and card reveals/unlocks – feel very much at home in a 2 player only game, and more engaging to me than hoping to collect what you need from a circular card draft – at least in a game like this.
The Pantheon expansion is every bit as cool as I expected as well – except, I actually didn’t have a problem with the guild cards it replaces like some people have, and oddly enough I missed them a bit. I wonder if it makes the game a bit more swingy as well due to more powerful asymmetric effects, but it feels well-designed and our game came down to a single point.
I’m not sure if the expansion is essential, but I would always play the game with or without it.