Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game known for its fantasy basis, with players taking on the role of adventurers going on adventures, fighting monsters, looking for treasure, and getting themselves into trouble. Sometimes these adventures spawn from rumors at the tavern, but often adventurers are hired by someone with lots of cash.
Lords of Waterdeep is a board game based in the D&D universe and gives players a chance to play as the rich folk who do the hiring, rather than the adventures. These Lords seek political power through intrigue, manipulation, and of course paying parties of adventurers to do things for them. They are the invisible hands pulling the strings behind the scenes. They are… the Lords of Waterdeep.
How It Plays
In Lords of Waterdeep, players are assigned one of 5 houses and a Lord identity. They will then take turns sending their agents to various locations in the city of Waterdeep to hire adventurers, collect payments, and complete quests.
Mechanically, Waterdeep is a “worker placement” game – tokens are placed on various locations to claim actions, which are deprived from other players as a result.
Players take turns placing one of their agents on one of the buildings in the city. Each building provides some benefit – either a certain type of adventurer in the form of a color-coded wooden cube, a stack of money, or an extra Intrigue card. There are a few other special actions – claiming the first player token, nabbing quests, or playing intrigue cards. One placement allows buildings to be built, which add more placements in the city that provide additional benefits, and are usually more powerful than the basic starting placements. Wherever an Agent is placed, the benefit is gained immediately.
It should be noted that when a player builds a building, they get to mark that building as their own, and when another player uses that building, the player who built it gets a small benefit. Sweet!
Players can also play Intrigue cards that can block other players, force them to discard certain types of adventurers, or give themselves a few extra cubes of their own (while often requiring them to share the wealth with another player).
After placing an agent, a player has the opportunity to Complete a Quest. Quest cards have a set of requirements – generally, a certain combination of adventurers and money – that must be turned in in order to complete the quest. Points for a quest are awarded immediately, and some quests provide a long-term benefit that grants extra resources or points.
After 5 rounds, each player automatically gets an additional agent to place. After 8 rounds, the game ends and points are totaled. The Lord identity of each player gains extra points for specific types of quests that have been completed, which is secret until the game ends. Whoever has the most points has successfully pulled enough strings and will be THE Lord of Waterdeep. At least until the next game.
Grand Scheme or Evil Plot?
Lords of Waterdeep is an interesting beast in that it is a euro-style game – you know the kind that tends to focus on simple mechanisms over accurate representation of the theme – that actually relies heavily on the theme for the entertainment value.
Waterdeep is a basic worker placement game; you place a “worker” or in this case Agent, you get an immediate benefit, and no on else can use that location until the next round clears everything. There are no tricky rules or bait-and-switches or complex interactions. You place a worker, you get something. You use sets of those somethings to complete quests. You don’t even need to worry about expanding your worker base; that happens automatically about halfway through the game.
As such, this can be used as a gateway game to introduce players to the concept of worker placement without having to worry about complex resource-conversion systems. Especially if these players are fans of D&D but have not yet been introduced to the greater world of euro-style games.
Despite its simpleness, it actually has some replay value. Different Lords specialize in different types of quests; different types of quests have different sorts of requirements and rewards, and the quests that show up will affect what buildings are the most valuable. There is no “winning” combination of buildings because what you need depends on the quests available, your Lord’s specialties, and what the other players are doing. On top of that, there are far more extra buildings available than can be built in any given game, which means that you never know what special placements will pop up and which will even be built; you’ll have to stay on your toes and work with what’s there.
Quests come in different shapes and sizes; some of them award a ton of points; some of them provide valuable long-term abilities. Plot quests are fantastic early on in the game, if you can get them, so that their permanent benefit gets you more for the duration. Snagging a big 25-pt quest can be great, but other players might complete 2 or 3 smaller quests while you struggle to pool the adventurers needed to complete the beast. As a result, even though some quests are clearly desirable or provide significant chunks of points, players can succeed with almost any collection of quests as long as their placement strategies hold.
As I said above, the game relies heavily on its theme to be entertaining. If you’re a eurogamer looking for a point-crunching or engine-building game, you won’t find it here. Hardcore euro-ists may even get bored, if like @Farmerlenny they don’t see a draw in the theme.
If you can get into the theme – either as a fan of Dungeons & Dragons or a newbie to the D&D world taking the theme at face value, you can have a lot of fun. Quests are cleverly named to imply activity and illustrated excellently with modern D&D imagery, but not overburdened with text. Cubes are a lot more fun to wrangle if you imagine recruiting groups of adventurers and sending them on dangerous quests. It’s a solid case for a game that doesn’t rely on theme to connect with game mechanisms, but uses theme to enhance entertainment value. If you’re not into the theme, or if you outright refuse to use your imagination if the game doesn’t force you to, you probably won’t enjoy the game.
It’s a bridge between the two overarching styles of gameplay, but its more of a one-way bridge. You may introduce some RPG-ers or thematic gamers into the world of Eurogames but its not going to drag your eurogamers over into the thematic world.
Like many eurogames, Waterdeep is not heavily interactive, at least mechanically speaking. However, there are many cards that force players to give something to someone else, so there will be plenty of table banter. There’s definitely room to argue with your friends about who they should give the extra rogue to or why they should play that mandatory quest on Steve because he’s clearly running away with the lead. This is further facilitated by the fact that points are scored on a public scoring track whenever a quest is completed; the only hidden points are what’s on a Lord’s card.
Components are pretty solid. You’ve got your classic wooden cubes representing the rogues, clerics, wizards, and fighters, you’ve got slightly taller and more serious-looking meeples, you’ve got colorful art, unique money tokens, and a very well organized board. The card stock is classy and the cardboard of the buildings is substantial. It’s a nice-looking ensemble to have on your table and it would probably attract attention if you played in public.
Overall, Lords of Waterdeep is an enjoyable game. It probably won’t appeal to someone looking for a solid euro experience, but it could introduce new players or fans of D&D to the concept of a eurogame. It’s nice looking and thematically enjoyable – but you’ll have to use your imagination to enjoy the theme, the game mechanisms certainly don’t pull you in.